The History of Sydney's Mardi Gras Parade

The History of Sydney's Mardi Gras Parade

Mardi Gras is one of Australia’s most famous and well-loved events, bringing tens of thousands of visitors to Sydney to join in the celebrations. It all began on a chilly winter's night in 1978, when the police descended on a street festival bravely celebrating gay rights when homosexuality was still illegal. This timeline reveals over four decades of Mardi Gras passion, protests and pride - with each year’s heroic moments creating Australia's unique life-affirming kaleidoscope of LGBTQI+ self-expression.

Sydney Mardi Gras timeline

  • 1969 - Police raided popular gay bar Stonewall Inn in New York
  • 1978 - First Australian Mardi Gras – 53 people arrested. Most charges eventually dropped, The Sydney Morning Herald published the names, occupations and addresses of those arrested in full, outing many and causing some to lose their jobs.
  • 1978 - Further protests. 178 arrested in total (inc. first Mardi Gras)
  • 1979 - NSW Summary Offences Act legislation repealed
  • 1979 - Incident-free Mardi Gras in Sydney (about 3,000 people)
  • 1980 - Post-parade party introduced
  • 1981 - Moved forward into summer for better weather, 700 people at the after-party
  • 1981-1984 - Numbers double every year 
  • 1984 - 50,000 people attend, 6,000 people at after-party
  • 1985 - AIDS Task Force head appealed for it to be cancelled
  • 1989 - 200,000 people attend
  • 1993-  More than 500,000 people attend – getting interstate and international interest and generation $38mil for NSW economy
  • 1994 - ABC aired highlights – got stations best Sunday night ratings ever
  • 1997 - Channel 10 covered the parade 
  • 2002 - Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras went into receivership (reduced tourist numbers post Sept-11, high costs
  • 2002 - Community organisations joined to fund New Mardi Gras and continue the tradition – 100 different arts events, a 70,000-person daytime picnic called Fair Day, the Parade Post-Parade Party
  • 2006 - Conde Nast named it as one of the world’s top ten costume parades in the world, Planetout named it as the best gay event in the world
  • 2008 - 30th anniversary
  • 2011 - Changed the name to New Mardi Gras, but it received backlash when people criticized it for erasing its gay and lesbian roots
  • 2012 - 10,000 people are in the parade
  • 2013 - the organisation voted to change its name back to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
  • 2016 - NSW Government, Fairfax Media and Police apologised to 78’ers
  • 2017 - Federal Government announces postal survey to give the Australian public the opportunity to vote yes or no to marriage equality. The yes vote wins
  • 2017 - The Australian parliament legislates for marriage equality
  • 2019 - Sydney voted to host WorldPride 2023

Today, Sydney Mardi Gras is attended by hundreds of thousands of people from around Australia and overseas. One of the largest such festivals in the world, Mardi Gras is the largest Pride event in Oceania. It includes a variety of events such as the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade and Party, Bondi Beach Drag Races, Harbour Party, the academic discussion panel Queer Thinking, Mardi Gras Film Festival, as well as Fair Day, which attracts 70,000 people to Victoria Park, Sydney.

WorldPride 2023

InterPride, at their October 2019 Annual General Meeting of three hundred delegate organizations, held in Athens, Greece chose Sydney, Australia to host WorldPride 2023 - the first time WorldPride will be held in the Southern Hemisphere or Asia Pacific region. Sydney received 60% of the vote. 

WorldPride 2023 will coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the first Australian Gay Pride Week, 45th Anniversary of the first Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras and 5th Anniversary of Marriage Equality in Australia. According to the bid document, the stated objective of WorldPride Sydney 2023 is to celebrate the diversity of culture and identity in the Asia Pacific region, while shining a light on widespread human rights abuses.

WorldPride Sydney 2023 will be held between 16 February and 4 March during Australia's summer and consist of a 17-day combined 45th Anniversary Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras/WorldPride 2023 Festival. the centrepiece will be a three-day LGBTQI Human Rights and Health Conference focusing on LGBTQI people's experiences of violence, torture, abuse, discrimination and persecution in the Asia Pacific region and more broadly

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