With Mardi Gras’ 40th anniversary coming up, the Star Observer is taking a walk down memory lane and revisiting iconic moments in the festival’s history.
In the early eighties, raids on gay nightclubs were rife and the relationship between the community and the police was tense.
In the early hours of a Saturday morning in January 1983, the police raided Club 80 on Oxford Street, detaining between 200 and 300 of the people present for several hours.
Roughly 30 people were taken to Darlinghurst Police Station and further detained, before six individuals were charged.
The event sparked a major action campaign by gay groups and individuals, and provided a contextual backdrop for that year’s Mardi Gras.
In a statement before the parade, Mardi Gras’ organising committee reinforced the political nature of the pride event.
“There are some gay people who say that Mardi Gras should be non-political,” it read.
“This is not the view of the organising committee. Mardi Gras could not be non-political, even if we wanted it to be.”
When the parade finally hit the streets, it stopped the city of Sydney for more than two hours as over 20,000 people filled Town Hall Square and the route of the parade.
International special guest Harry Britt, supervisor of San Francisco and one of the most openly gay elected officials, spoke to the crowd about the ignorance and bigotry that made LGBTI people’s lives difficult, before exhorting everyone to be proud of who they were.
As the parade and its 44 floats reached Oxford Street, the crowd swelled and the entire street became the community’s own.
Patchs, Disco, and The Exchange Hotel were festooned with brightly coloured decorations, as were all the venues on the parade route.
When the parade finished up at the Showgrounds, more than 6,000 people packed the party venues for the largest party ever held in Australia.
It was an event that brought the community together amidst the recent raids and encouraged everyone to celebrate, even if the celebrations were short lived.
One week later, members of the Sydney Vice Squad raided Club 80 for the second time in a month.
During the second raid 11 men were handcuffed together in pairs, with the odd man out afront. They were charged immediately with “scandalous conduct” and the raid went off like clockwork in a matter of 20 minutes.
In the weeks that followed a fundraising party was held at Club 80 to cover the legal defense from the first raid, proving that despite animosity from the police at the time, the LGBTI community always knew how to rise above it.