The History of Sydney Mardi Gras

Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade
Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade | © Tripping The Light/Shutterstock
Caitlin Morahan

Fun Fact: in French, Mardi Gras actually translates to ‘Fat Tuesdays’.

Why, you may ask? It seems like the term has nothing to do with the biggest LGBTIQ celebration in the world, set in glowing Sydney, with people flocking from all over the world to sing, laugh, dress lavishly, dance provocatively, and feel that glorious feeling of togetherness.

It might surprise you to learn that Mardi Gras is actually a Catholic term describing the celebrations leading up to Lent. The Carnival starts on the day of the feasts of the Epiphany (Mary’s, to be precise) and finishes on Shrove Tuesday, or, Fat Tuesday. Basically, it’s a festival of gluttony, with everyone fattening up before the 40 days of fasting during Lent.

On a cold night on the 24th of June, 1978, a group known as the Gay Solidarity Group took to the streets of Sydney, peacefully marching during the day and organising a street parade for the evening. They wanted to promote LGBTIQ culture and encourage political activism against the discrimination they suffered daily. The group initially staged the event to mark the ninth anniversary of riots that had taken place in New York City following a police raid on a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn – riots that were considered the beginning of gay rights movements around the world.

Back in Australia, the Gay Solidarity Group began their slow march down Oxford Street, toward the heart of Sydney city. The trouble began when the parade reached Hyde Park. To try and stop them, police hijacked the truck heading the parade and its loudspeaker. The crowd, seeing that access to Hyde Park was blocked, headed toward Kings Cross isntead. The police moved in and arrested 53 people.

Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade

The authorities’ response was considered heavy-handed. The violence that was seen that night went down as a significant turning point in Australian history, because it made the LGBTIQ community just as determined to make the event even bigger the following year. By the time 1980 rolled around, there was an event that had become even bigger than the parade itself – the post-parade after-party. It rapidly transformed into one of the most sought-after nights out in Australia’s history, and by the mid-1980s the event began to be covered by major media outlets, which saw the turnout begin to swell. This turned the Sydney Mardi Gras into the huge, modern, multicultural celebration it is today. Travellers come from all over the world to take part in the festivities, and every year numbers spectators, and number of spectacles, continue to grow.

The theme of Mardi Gras changes annually, often reflecting the current issues of the day and even encouraging marginalised groups to join the larger family of supporters.

The Tiwi Islands Sistagirls on Mardi Gras

Today, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of Australia’s most renowned events, bringing thousands of supported of the LGBTIQ community to Sydney to join one great, big party. It’s the time of year where Sydney and its inhabitants display their most dazzling selves, capturing imaginations and taking over the city for weeks on end, culminating in the world-famous parade – a spectacular night that is definitely a bucket-list opportunity.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article