Party Down Under: Sydney's Gay Mardi Gras

For the most recent issue of Frontiers IN/LA, in which my Delphine review appeared, I was also supposed to have a piece on Sydney's Gay Mardi Gras, and Melbourne's Midsumma festival, run. Unfortunately, due to space limitations, the piece was not included in the issue, but my editor gave me permission to publish it here on my blog instead since the main event, the parade that attracts hundreds of thousands of participants and spectators, ran last Sunday, and events continue for another two weeks.
So if you've ever been interested in heading Down Under for a spot of February fun, here's a quick hit list of activities you can look forward to during Australia's Mardi Gras season. Laissez les bons temps rouler!


Sydney’s Gay Mardi Gras
By Eric Rosen

Though the first city to come to mind when someone mentions Mardi Gras might be New Orleans, gays look even farther south come February for one of the biggest events of the year: Sydney’s Gay Mardi Gras. Part Pride march, part cultural festival, part circuit party, New Mardi Gras, as it’s called, has become one of the biggest gay events in the world over the course of its 32-year history. This year, the festival will take place from February 19-March 6, just in time to enjoy the perfect weather of late summer in Australia.

The History

Sydney was not always the fun-loving, safe environment for gays that it is today. In fact, Mardi Gras began as a protest march by a few hundred courageous souls in 1978 (in June, actually), when homosexuality was still a crime and police discrimination and brutality were everyday occurrences. As a sign of just how much things have changed since then, last year over 300,000 visitors watched the Parade. Banks, schools, and churches participated, as did the Australian Federal Police, the Defense Department, and state firefighters. The whole event is even televised on Australian national television.

The Events

Fair Day launches the official Mardi Gras festivities on Sunday, February 21st, when 75,000 people come to Victoria Park to spend the day in the sun grazing at food stalls, shopping, and sipping cocktails. It starts at 10:00am and is free.

By far the biggest draw is the Parade. This year it falls on Saturday, February 27, and is going to be bigger than ever, with 140 floats and over 10,000 participants. The fun starts at 7:45pm on Sydney’s main drag, Oxford Street, though if you’re thinking of going, you’d better line up early that morning to get a good spot along the 1.5-mile parade route. Check out the SX Parade Guide ( for a detailed map of the route and descriptions of the floats.

Every year, the Parade adopts a theme in an effort to bring politics back to the forefront, especially in the wake of LGBT legislative victories in Australia that included equal partnership benefits, though not same-sex marriage. This year’s theme is “History of the World.” There’s sure to be all sorts of naughty schoolboys learning lessons.

This year is the first time there will be a post-Parade Carnival Party starting at 10:00pm at the Entertainment Quarter at Moore Park ( Harbour 2010 the next day from 3:00-11:00pm is an all-day outdoor dance party held at the Royal Botanic Gardens with the famous Harbour Bridge and Opera House in the background.

There’s a Pool Party on Monday, March 1, at the Ivy Pool Club, and a new beach party this year on Friday, March 5 at Bondi Beach from 3:00pm-midnight. It’s the perfect vantage point for what is perhaps the most gleefully idiosyncratic event: the Bondi Drag Races, where drag queens compete in Olympics-style events like handbag discus, the Dainty Dune Dash (in high heels), and competitive feminine posing.

Though bars and clubs around town will be hosting parties throughout Mardi Gras, the celebration everyone comes for is the official Mardi Gras Party at Moore Park on Saturday, March 6, from 10:00pm-8:00am. Every year, there are world-class DJ’s like this year’s headliner David Guetta ,and secret celebrity guest performers to entertain nearly 20,000 party-goers at several different venues. Previous years have seen performances from the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Olivia Newton-John, Kylie Minogue, and Grace Jones. No word on this year’s guests, but the organizers promise “you’re sure to be left breathless.” Tickets cost $135 AUD.

The next day, revelers can head to the Luna Park amusement center for Toybox (, the final official party of Mardi Gras. It takes place from noon-8:00pm.

There are also a number of cultural events including film screenings, literary salons, and appearances by world-famous celebrities. Whitney Houston will perform two concerts, on February 24 at the Acer Arena on her Nothing but Love Tour. Back in Australia for the first time in 22 years, George Michael will perform a selection of Wham! classics and recent hits on the 26th at the Sydney Football Stadium, and John Waters is putting on a one-man show at the Sydney Opera House on March 2.

The Seymour Centre will host a series of workshops, panels and seminars with the thinkers from the gay community like novelists Paul Burston and Sarah Waters, and photographer Erwin Olaf.

More socially minded visitors should get tickets for the excursion and gourmet three-course dinner at the Taronga Zoo in support of Australian Marriage Equality on March 3 from 6:00-11:00pm. Tickets start at $230 AUD.

For the whole roster of over 80 events, check out the official Mardi Gras site:

Getting There

V Australia ( is one of the major sponsors of Mardi Gras, and is also responsible for helping lower prices on trans-Pacific routes since its inauguration last year. Plus, no other airline has the cool soundtrack and trippy lighting effects to get you in the mood for the party to come.

Hautes Vacances ( is a boutique gay travel agency that offers a variety of Mardi Gras packages from 4-10 days starting at $185 AUD per day, while Spring Fling ( and Rainbow Tourism ( offer packages for the main events including flights.

Or make Mardi Gras part of a larger 11-day itinerary with a cruise on Atlantis ( that stops in Auckland, Melbourne and Sydney.

Gay Mardi Gras has it all: the beautiful backdrop of Sydney, perfect summer weather, a social conscience, events for every taste…and did we mention all the hot Aussies? No? Well, you’ll just have to head there yourself to find out what you’re missing.

Midsumma in Melbourne (Sidebar)

Not all the action is in Sydney this February. Australia’s second city (though its first in style), Melbourne also hosts an annual LGBT event called Midsumma, now in its 22nd year, just before the Mardi Gras fun kicks off.

This year Midsumma ran from January 17-February 7, starting with a Carnival and party in the city’s historic Alexandra Gardens, and ending with the Pride March ( Though it features its fair share of blowout parties, Midsumma is primarily a culture and arts festival, holding 130 events in over 60 venues spread across the Melbourne area’s five municipalities. Over 100,000 people come to the festival over its course.

This year’s program of events included film screenings, spoken word and literary events, performance arts like cabarets and stage productions, and, of course, fabulous parties with fanciful names like Lady Lovers Let Loose, T Dance, Butt Naked, Satin and Silk Ball, Closet, Slut Truffle, and Buck & Ride. So saddle up.

To find out more, visit the Midsumma web site: