Sydney Mardi Gras guide: how to get the best out of the parade

If you’re marching, cheering or watching from the sofa, here are some of the highlights of the closing weekend of celebrations

The climactic final weekend of the 39th Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival is upon us, and deciding what to do can be difficult. With that in mind, here is a guide, whether you’re a couch potato or haven’t seen a carb in months.

If you’re marching in the parade

By now, hopefully you’ve found a group to march with during Saturday night’s parade, as you won’t be able to just rock up and stroll down the centre of Oxford Street. From its origins as a 1978 political protest that resulted in the violent arrest of 53 people, the parade is now a well-oiled spectacle that shuts down the “gaybourhood”. There are 183 parade floats this year, including First Nations people, people living with HIV, marriage equality campaigners, trans people, rainbow families, and, of course, the rip-roaring Dykes on Bikes.

If you’re one of the marchers, get ready to get wet. The current weather forecast is for rain, so if the only thing you’re wearing is body glitter, make sure it’s waterproof.

If you’re attending

The parade starts at 7.30pm, but get there much earlier if you want a good spot. Parade-viewing devotees know not to give up hope if Oxford Street is crowded: just wander up around the corner to Flinders Street where more viewing spots are usually available. Alternatively, you could make friends with someone in one of the hundreds of apartments with a bird’s eye view of the parade. Grab a poncho in case the weather turns, grab yourself an Eric Abetz-disapproved rainbow flag, and cheer on the parade entries.

Highlight: There are so many to support, but make sure you cheer loud and proud when the 78ers bus goes past. The people on board were part of the original protest march that paved the way for the parade, and we owe them a great deal.

If you’re partying

In Mardi Gras days of yore, there was really one option for post-parade partying: the Party. More than 20,000 partygoers, mainly men and mainly shirtless, would descend on the Hordern Pavilion, now beside the Entertainment Quarter AKA a fraction of the fun. These days, the Party is still the biggest post-parade celebration you can find, but there are also a number of other options for revelry his weekend.

Elsewhere, dozens of other bars and nightclubs throw open their doors, and god knows what else, to celebrate the season. If you’re out and about on Saturday evening, every venue on Oxford Street will be busy – and that’s half the fun.

Highlight: Laneway is the infamous daytime recovery party that takes place on Sunday in the back streets of Darlinghurst (and is part of the official Mardi Gras calendar).

If you’re more into canvasses than bare asses

Firstly, it’s cool to like both. Beyond the parade and parties, the final weekend of Mardi Gras is a great opportunity to engage with the vast array of exhibitions and performances that have been running throughout the festival. If you’re on the hunt for history, you can partake in Planetdwellers’ Original Gayborhood Walking Tour this weekend.

Onstage, dance artist Craig Bary’s In Difference is showing at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre, while The Mystery of Love and Sex can be discovered in the beautiful Eternity Playhouse.

Highlight: Have a wander through some galleries this weekend to take in some queer visual art. The Insta-famous Phil Ferguson’s Chili Philly: Crochet Social is on at Australian Design Centre, and “Good Looking!” can be found at Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative.

Mardi Gras 2016
Mardi Gras is the largest pride celebration in the southern hemisphere. Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Guardian

If you’re queer and alternative

Mardi Gras is the largest pride celebration in the southern hemisphere, a reflection of a diverse and outspoken community. As the festival has grown, some in the LGBTIQA+ community feel it is no longer as political or diverse as it once was, and so a series of unaffiliated queer events have sprung up over time – not unlike a fringe festival leveraging off a traditional arts festival to provide an alternative perspective.

The legendary Club Kooky party is far and away the glittering jewel of the Sydney queer scene crown and has been running for over 22 years. Kooky is so beloved that it requires barely any marketing. You can’t even buy tickets online, and it sells out within hours every time. Including Sunday’s recovery party.

Highlight: Lucky for you Kooky’s little sibling, Monsta Gras party, is being thrown on Saturday night at the Red Rattler, deep in the heart of Sydney’s decidedly queer inner west.

And finally … if you’re not in Sydney, and/or not leaving the house

Mardi Gras isn’t just for Sydneysiders, or those who mightn’t enjoy sitting in the rain watching 12,000 homosexuals and their chums sashay down Oxford Street. If you’re staying in this weekend, you can check out the livestream of the parade on the Mardi Gras website on Saturday night, then tune in for the SBS broadcast on Sunday at 8.30pm with commentary from their all-LGBTIQA+ panel. (Priscilla Queen of the Desert is on afterwards too.) Plus, SBS has an extraordinary suite of content available, including documentaries, films, and of course, think pieces.

Highlight: Apart from the live broadcast on Sunday night, make sure you check out the new four-part miniseries When We Rise. It’s a sprawling epic that documents the LGBTIQA+ rights movement in the United States, and features Rachel “Muriel’s Wedding star and thus gay icon” Griffiths.

Whatever you’re doing this weekend, remember to have fun, be kind, and let love win.


Nic Holas

The GuardianTramp

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