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’.

                                                                                            An excerpt from "Sydney's First Mardi Gras: What It Brought And How It Changed Us" by Joseph Carmel Chetcuti

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Ron Austin, 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 the first gay film festival (21–27 May 1978).

The late Lance Gowland, born-and-bred a Communist, was a member of CAMP and its representative on the Gay Solidarity Group.

The late Marg McMann, was a member of CAMP. She was a frequent visitor to the Enmore home of Lance Gowland and his then partner, the late Jim Walker. She was also good friends with both of them. Jim, a medical doctor, was also her doctor.

Marg is the woman who christened the event ‘Mardi Gras’. While the idea was not original—the Festival of Sydney’s 1977 program offered a lengthy list of ‘celebrations’ including a Mardi Gras—Marg was able to ‘market’ the event in line with Ron’s desire to create a public but safe space that would attract the bar patrons along Oxford Street.

SYDNEY'S FIRST GAY MARDI GRAS

WHAT BROUGHT IT ON AND HOW IT CHANGED US

A BOOK BY JOSEPH CARMEL CHETCUTI • RELEASED FEBRUARY 2018

 EXCERPTS  FROM  THE  BOOK 

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       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’

                                                                       An excerpt from "Sydney's First Mardi Gras: What It Brought And How It Changed Us" by Joseph Carmel Chetcuti

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Description of photo.

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      Just about single-handedly, Lance Gowland carried out most of the tasks associated with the preparation of Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras. He applied for the police permit. Lance’s name and home address were set out in the police permit, clear proof of his centrality to the event. He hired the truck. He and Marg McMann picked up the truck. He leased the sound and public-address system from AWA, which he installed on the back of the truck. He appointed Graham Chuck to take charge of the sound system and the music. He (and others) selected the music for the night. He planned to infuse some ‘politics’ in Hyde Park, at the conclusion of the street party, even though the police permit explicitly disallowed it. On the day, he drove the truck along Oxford Street, carried the police permit as he was required to do, and snubbed police requests to drive the truck faster to Liverpool Street, away from the crowd. He paid no heed to police threats to revoke the permit if he continued to disobey their orders. Media outlets had his home telephone number. Calls from newspapers and radio stations began to reach his Enmore home early on Sunday 25 June 1978.

 

An excerpt from "Sydney's First Mardi Gras: What It Brought And How It Changed Us" by Joseph Carmel Chetcuti

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         Most likely on 24 May 1978, Ron Austin, Kym Skinner, Lance Gowland and Jim Walker made their way to 33A to discuss the proposal with Marg McMann. Marg’s response is well known, ‘Oh, you mean a Mardi Gras!’ Sometime later, she is reported to have said, ‘these boys always want to party’. Marg also enjoyed partying. At CAMP’s Annual General meeting of 21 February 1977, during a short break in proceedings, she and Brigitte Seega ‘wanted everyone to [continue to] grog on’, the chair putting a damper on their wishes.

                                                                     An excerpt from "Sydney's First Mardi Gras: What It Brought And How It Changed Us" by Joseph Carmel Chetcuti

Description of photo.

People identified in photo.

Photographer.

Description of photo.

People identified in photo.

Photographer.