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The first gay Mardi Gras did not appear out of nowhere. Starting with the formation of the Cam­paign against moral persecution (CAMP) in 1970, gay men and lesbians began to ‘come out’ in large numbers. More importantly, we also ‘came together’ in organisations like CAMP, Sydney Gay Liberation and Acceptance—the Catholic group. We ‘came out’ in a hostile environment when the law still criminalised sexual relations between adult men. But the 1970s was also a decade of hope. We were outrageous long before Mardi Gras, and we enjoyed every minute of it.

Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras – What brought it on and how it changed us recounts what happened on the night of 24 June 1978 and the early hours of the following day—it looks at the why, how, where and when the idea of a ‘Mardi Gras’ took shape, and who were the activists behind Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras.


The book also explores other events that followed in the second half of 1978. It discusses the impact of Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras on our communities and the 2016 apologies by The Sydney Morning Herald, the NSW Parliament and the NSW Police Force.


With Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras, the politics of celebration gradually began to take over from the politics of protest. Activists on the fringe of the political arm of the movement were marginalised as former ‘outsiders’ of the inner sanctum of political activism—artists, musicians, writers, dancers, drag queens, scene queens, disco bunnies, theists, bar owners and patrons, and members of social, cultural and religious groups—ultimately made their way into the Mardi Gras parades.


Many activists on the fringe of the political arm of the movement took to formulating narratives of the event that suited their political agenda. Their claims of what happened on the night of 24 June 1978 and the early hours of the following day have become the stuff of legend. We have all been socialised to think of that first gay Mardi Gras as a political demonstration. A protest. The time to confront the menace of promoting a constructed, post-truth and, at times, self-serving history is well overdue.


Political partisanship—and some attempt at political correctness—have generated Mardi Gras narratives designed to accommodate the political agendas of some of the activ­ists. These narratives have transformed some activists—among them some who were critical of Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras—into ‘heroes’ and ‘Mardi Gras organisers’. Those who organ­ised and were crucial to Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras—Ron Austin, Lance Gowland and Marg McMann—have been sidelined, as we witnessed during the NSW parliamentary apology. The bar patrons—most of them male because Oxford Street was that ‘den of iniquity’ that we, gay men, loved so much, peddling pleasure, promiscuity and political incorrectness—have been written out of the narratives or given grudging mention.

The book challenges the exclusionary discourses of some of the narratives. As the for­tieth anniversary of Sydney’s first gay Mardi approaches, we should not be afraid to ask the tough questions. As the saying goes, ‘the devil is in the detail’, not in the political interventions of those who have an axe to grind.


I hope you find reading the book interesting.

Joseph Carmel Chetcuti


5 December 2017

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