FROM TAYLOR SQUARE TO HYDE PARK

For those of us living and working in and around Sydney, Sydney’s first gay Mardi Gras was an event without precedent. Revellers turned up to a parade not knowing what to expect or, importantly, what to wear. Peter de Waal guessed ‘it was going to be … a lot of fun because people were asked to dress up if they wanted to’.[1] Incredibly, people were invited to celebrate and take pride in their identity in a parade with no overt political agenda. There was no expectation that it might turn into a ‘riot’ at Kings Cross or that it might become the most significant gay and lesbian event in Australia until and since then. Revellers were not being asked to make any overt demands such as an end to police harassment, the repeal of any legislation or call for any particular rights such as the recognition of same-sex relationships.[2] The street party was no more than a bait, one that would hopefully sway some gay men and lesbians away from the bars and onto the streets in the hope that they too, some day, might join the ranks of the political arm of the movement. It was a street party not to startle bystanders or harangue participants with political speeches and dogmas. And dogmas there were aplenty!

 

[1]       Peter de Waal, 13 May 1999.

[i2]      Ibid.

It took revellers, many of them soon-to-be recruits to the movement, some twenty minutes to reach Hyde  Park. Everywhere he looked, Lance Gowland saw new faces: ‘it was [a] great thrill being on the street ... [experiencing that sense of] solidarity’.[1] For many, the street party was their first time to be out and proud with other gay men and lesbians, a welcomed opportunity to come out publicly with like-minded men and women. But revellers became more outraged when they realized what was happening. Incensed at the conduct of the police for confiscating the truck and putting a stop to the party, they were unsure what to do next even as police were ordering them off the street.

 

In College Street impromptu discussions followed. Groups of revellers huddled together to make sense of the night’s events and co-ordinate a response strategy. Ron Austin bemoaned the fact that ‘in our naïvety, we didn’t plan how to … disperse the [crowd]’.[2] The confusion was ended when someone, possibly Jeff Stanton, grabbed a megaphone off the back of the truck and yelled out ‘To the Cross’. Others took up the cry including Jeff McCarthy and Robyn Plaister. Revellers rallied behind the call. ‘We’re out and we’re going all the way!’[3] Peter Trebilco thinks Ron Austin ‘led us off to the Cross’.[4]

[1] Lance Gowland, 26 February 1999.

[2] Ron Austin, 28 March 2000.

[3] Ron Austin, 29 March 1998.

[4] Brougham, William interviews Peter Trebilco, February 2016.