This Guide is taken from the Pilot Guides Book: Great Festivals of the World
When: Annually, Feb – March.
Where: Mardi Gras is celebrated throughout the world but Sydney Australia is the heart of the thriving gay carnival scene.
Remember to Bring: Plenty of cash and the capacity to party.
What to wear: An outrageous costume, or even nothing at all.
Where’s the party?
Sydney is the capital of New South Wales and is the largest city in Australia, with a population of four million. Most of the festival activity is concentrated in Darlinghurst, five minutes east of the city and about a half hour bus ride from Circular Quay. Increasingly though locals favour King Street in the inner west suburb of Newtown to celebrate Mardi Gras, where there is a thriving local scene.
Dates for the Diary
The festival takes place at the end of summer each year. It¹s still hot enough to get your gear off but it’s also timed at the end of the summer tourist season. The festival kicks off in early February and reaches its climax with the Parade on the first Saturday in March at 8pm.
What’s it all about?
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is all about freedom of self expression and the community claiming it¹s place in the city. It’s lots of hard partying and preening but it also embraces families.
The grand opening ceremony is held on the steps of the Opera House, signalling the start of a 3 week whirlwind of music concerts, art exhibitions, fairs and dance parties. In fact, countless events run during the weeks preceding the parade and many are one offs or unadvertised.
A starting point for those wishing to discover the Sydney scene is the local gay paper, theSydney Star Observer which can be picked up at many hotels, venues, cafes and shops. Cafés are usually plastered with posters advertising local events and talking to likely looking people will often lead you to events that are unadvertised.
Nationals from 31 different countries, (including the UK, United States and much of Europe) who are staying for less than 90 days others can enter Australia with an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), organised by the airline or tour operator when you book your trip.
If you want to take part in the Parade, you¹ll need to submit your theme to the organisers in advance and arrange your own costume. Participation is open to lesbian, gay and transgender individuals or groups and organisations which support the community.
You may have to be selective and plan ahead if you want to buy tickets to some of the more popular events..
The international airport is a 10-minute drive from the city. On the train, it’s takes about 40 minutes to reach the centre of the Mardi Gras festivities in Darlinghurst.
Where to stay
All of the good accomodation will booked up early and so some advance preparation is recommended. The Oxford Koala (Tel: +61 2 9269 0645) on the corner of Oxford & Pelican Street has rooms with balconies from which you can watch the parade. Kings Cross has a number of hostels but doesn’t offer the most salubrious surroundings. Glebe (in the inner west and close to Newtown) also has a number of hostels and is a centre of student life. Try the Glebe Point YHA at 262-264 Glebe Point Road (+61 2 96605577) or Glebe Village Backpackers at 256 Glebe Point Road (Tel: +61 2 96608133).
The inner eastern suburbs such as Surrey Hills, Kings Cross, Paddington and Potts Point are all close to Darlinghurst. Although it is more convenient to stay as close to Darlinghurst as possible, if you have to stay further afield, stick to the inner west or eastern suburbs.
This is a festival where self-indulgence is a priority you should allow at least US$20 a day for food, drinks and frolics.
Many of the events that take place throughout the festival, such as Frocks at Fox and Fair Day (a massive party in Victoria Park), are free-for-all family affairs. Other concerts and exhibitions charge an entry fee of up to around US$6. If you want to ensure you have a good view of the Parade, you can get a seat at the stands on Taylor Square for between US$35 and US$70. For tickets, contact the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation.
Tickets to the Official Dance Party tickets can now only be purchased by members of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Association and will set you back over US$50. If you are not well enough connected or solvent enough to obtain these there are countless alternative Mardi Gras dance parties and Sunday morning recoveries which are usually much cheaper – many of the clubs and venues charge between US$10 to US$15 for entry on the night.
Once you’re there
Try to avoid Oxford Street itself during the parade. It is better to head down Moore Park Road which attracts slightly fewer crowds. Make the extra effort to dress up for the biggest party on Sydney streets. The festival is about feeling sassy and sexy, but be sure to wear comfortable shoes, as the chances are that you will be on your feet for at least four hours (though if you wear trainers you won¹t be able to get into many bars or clubs afterwards). There are certain clubs and bars that are off limits to straight people but most gay venues welcome everyone, as long as you are gay-friendly.
The Blue Mountains are only an hour’s train ride away while the Hunter Valley wine growing region, is within a few hours drive.
Bondi, Bronte and Tamarama beaches offer great swimming and fantastic perving opportunities, as well as boardwalks, cafes, and people watching. South of Tamarama is Coogee Beach, where there are more locals and a less fashion conscious crowd.
At the southern end of beach are the Coogee Women’s Baths. Lady Jane nudist beach and Obelisk Beach in North Shore can get quite crowded at times. If you want to get away from it all, try Palm Beach, DeeWhy and Curl Curl North of Sydney, where it’s quieter, there are no cafes and the scene is characteristic of the eastern suburbs.
The Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton pool on the Domain by the harbour is usually filled with beautiful bodies and can be quite cruisy.
Sydney’s Sleaze Ball is traditionally held at Fox Studios in September to raise money for the Mardi Gras Festival and Party. It’s the second largest gay and lesbian party in the world, after Mardi Gras itself. New York’s Gay and Lesbian Pride happens every year in June, in commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. In Amsterdam, there are several city-wide gay events during the year though biggest and best takes place in August. Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras in London (formerly known as Gay Pride) is a one-day event which also happens in August.
Official Mardi Gras Website
For more information about Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras visit the official website.
Bobby Goldsmith Foundation
The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation assists people directly disadvantaged by HIV and AIDS in NSW. Their website contains information on fundraising events and how you can help.
An excellent online guide to Sydney, which includes accommodation listings.
For more information on visiting Australia visit the website of the Australian Department of Immigration & Multicultural Affairs at www.immi.gov.au or contact the Australian High Commission in your home country.
Guide written by Denise Jeremy