EXCERPTS FROM THE BOOK
“A COLD June winter night. We assemble at Taylor Square for an event with no fixed identity; some labelled a ‘street party’, a festival; others, a parade and a Mardi Gras. Almost certainly, the police and the self-righteous would have fixed other names to it—maybe an assembly of sinners, sickos and criminals. For us, it was to be a night of fun, a refreshing change from the morning march through the streets of Sydney and the afternoon public meeting at Paddington Town Hall, both highly politicised events.
Furthest from our minds was what fate had in store for us on the night of 24 June 1978 and the early hours of the next day, and how a ‘street party’ along Oxford Street, of no apparent consequence, was to turn into ‘a two-hour spree of screaming, bashing and arrests’ in Kings Cross; in time becoming one of the country’s top tourist money-spinners and shifting the direction of the gay and lesbian movement in Australia. Indeed, we never imagined that the one-off event would be commemorated annually, that years later those of us who made up Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras would be at the forefront of a parade, watched and cheered by thousands upon thousands of spectators even if marching to a changed beat, in a different season, and following a route dissimilar to that of Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras. And who would have thought that the NSW parliament, The Sydney Morning Herald, and the NSW Police Force would be issuing apologies to the 78ers almost 38 years after the event?
Expectations were that it would be a light-hearted event, a kind of disco-on-wheels with no overt political messages. The GSG grudgingly included the event in its program for International Homosexual Solidarity Day, putting little (if any) effort in its planning. It expected few revellers and ‘settled’ for one of the shortest of routes, from Taylor Square to Hyde Park. At the end of the street party, as Terry Goulden explains, the plan ‘was to park the truck at Hyde Park and have a disco in there’. As far as he was concerned, ‘It would have been pretty bloody awful. Trying to dance on churned up mud—in the middle of winter. Wouldn’t have been crash hot … That corner of Hyde Park was where all the winds meet’.”
“The plan was simple enough: organise a street party, late at night, in a public space, along the Golden Mile or Vaseline Alley, as it was often called, away from the glare of cameras where spectators were likely to be other gay men and lesbians. Give everyone a chance ‘to come and join [a] parade [and] make a fun night of it, get them … involved in celebrating their own gayness’.”
Ron Austin was a member of CAMP. On Sunday 21 May 1978, Ron came up with the idea of a street party while watching a documentary, possibly Word Is Out, screened at Sydney’s Paris Theatre, one of several screenings during Sydney's first gay film festival (21–27 May 1978).
Copyright Joseph Carmel Chetcuti