Unlike the negative publicity of police heavy-handedness and violence following last year’s parade, there was a more celebratory and calmer mood on Saturday night between both police and revellers that resulted in minimal amount of incidents.
Approximately 10,000 participants took part in the 144 floats and groups that marched down Oxford and Flinders streets for over two hours to the delight of hundreds of thousands of spectators. The Dykes on Bikes roared the parade into action followed by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and a First Australians group of Indigenous Australians.
The Chief of the Parade, Gary Potter from the long-running Polly’s LGBTI social group, was then followed by a group of 78ers – participants of the first-ever Mardi Gras in 1978 that transformed into a riot with police.
However, the Star Observer understands that some 78ers were aggrieved and have filed complaints to Mardi Gras organisers after they were allegedly disrespected by marshalls on the ground with some also left locked out of the holding gates on College St. Other 78ers were then left to fend for themselves after their bus float was diverted closer towards Bondi rather than Moore Park, resulting in the contingent not being allowed into a viewing area to watch the rest of the parade.
“Too many people even in our own community don’t know what a 78er is and the weekend’s experience showed that again,” 78ers co-ordinator Louise Caulderone told the Star Observer.
“The ones on the bus we couldn’t use a toilet for hours and were stuck nowhere far from the parade. We ended up being forced to view little of what we could see of the parade at the back of Flinders St.”
Float highlights included various entries mocking Russian President Vladimir Putin, including the Amnesty International contingent, as well as a group that had created a large puppet version of the Russian leader.
Queer science fiction fans were also well represented with Daleks and a group of LGBTI Star Trek fans.
Meanwhile, comedian and actress Magda Szubanski marched with LGBTI youth support group Twenty10.
The Stop the Floats group drew plenty of attention for their satire of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s “stop the boats” immigration mantra, and there were plenty of cheers for faith groups supportive of the LGBTI community, such as the Dayenu Jewish group and the 100 Revs float that included a hundred Anglican, Baptist, Uniting Church and Pentecostal clergy marching under a banner that read “equality through marriage”.
The Labor, Greens and Liberal parties all had group entrants with marchers including Greens leader Christine Milne, Liberal councillor Christine Forster, and Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek, Anthony Albanese, Senator Penny Wong in the Rainbow Labor contingent.
In a nod to last year’s accusations of police brutality, Jamie Jackson marched in his first-ever Mardi Gras with the DIY Rainbow float while Community Action Against Homophobia also put the spotlight on the issue with an entry featuring police uniforms.
Delta Goodrem and Paulini performed atop the closing floats of the parade, which came to an end with a Baz Luhrmann-produced Strictly Ballroom finale.
“Last night’s Parade was one of the biggest and best we’ve ever seen in Sydney since the 30th anniversary in 2008,” Mardi Gras CEO Michael Rolik said.
“From the show-stopping performance by Delta Goodrem, and Magda Szubanski marching with Twenty10, to Baz Luhrmann’s epic Strictly Ballroom finale, the night did not disappoint.
“It was also truly special to have Australia’s oldest and largest gay and lesbian social group the Pollys as our Chief of Parade. I know it meant a lot to many people to have them represented in their 50th year.
“And having the first trans* and intersex float was something very important to all of us here at Mardi Gras. We know it won’t be the last, and this is a group we will continue to work with in the years to come, alongside all in the LBGTQI community.”
Afterwards, thousands packed into Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park for the official Mardi Gras Party – which saw live performances by Courtney Act, Tina Arena, Samantha Jade and Marcia Hines, as well as a plethora of DJs both Australian and from around the world.
On the night, police arrested 16 people for a range of offences including stealing, breach of bail, drink-driving, drug-driving and assault. One 25-year-old man was arrested after allegedly indecently assaulting a 15-year-old girl watching the parade.
NSW Ambulance Paramedics and other medical volunteer staff treated 58 patients for a range of injuries, with alcohol and drugs playing a significant role in a number of incidents according to emergency services staff.
The parade was also the first test of the Sydney CBD’s 1.30am lockout and 3am “last drinks” trading laws that applied to many of the inner-city’s bars and clubs.
Police said while there were some incidences of violence around licensed premises – including an assault on a 25-year-old man over a cab on Oxford St – police and security were quick to intervene and prevent serious injuries. A further 12 people were arrested within the CBD precinct for offences relating to assault police, affray, resist arrest, breach of bail, assault and drug offences.
“Despite the rain, most people maintained a positive attitude and celebratory spirit as they moved from Oxford St to transport hubs or other venues around Sydney,” Assistant Commissioner Alan Clarke said.
“Once again, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade has made its way through the streets of Sydney with flair and celebrated safely.”
(Image credit: Ann-Marie Calilhanna)