WHEN John Hannaford decided to volunteer with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, he had ulterior motives.

“It was terrible trying to get a view at the parade,” he explained.

“I saw the volunteers in the parade were getting the best view, so I became a volunteer.

“Also, the initial reason I signed up, and it’s shameful a reason, was to get a discounted ticket to the Mardi Gras party.

“But giving your time is to give to something greater.”

This year will be Hannaford’s ninth year as a volunteer, and since his beginnings entertaining the parade crowds he has become one the event’s most passionate advocates.

In 2015 he took out the prestigious Volunteer of the Year at the annual Mardi Gras Awards.

“Our season theme for 2015 was Passion and people saw the passion in what I do,” he said.

The 34-year-old public servant credits Mardi Gras with helping him come to terms with his sexuality.

“I grew up in western suburbs in Sydney and it took a while to adjust in that environment,” he explained.

“I was the last person to recognise my sexuality, everyone else knew and accepted it.

“I’ve grown as a person (and Mardi Gras) helped me find my identity.”

Hannaford started his Mardi Gras volunteering working in the parade, but he wasn’t all that comfortable because “it takes a certain person to engage the crowd”.

“I found my home with Fair Day, that’s where my relationship with Mardi Gras began,” he recalled.

Starting off as “bucket-shaker” greeting guests at the gate, Hannaford was quick to earn his place in the Fair Day fundraising team, where he has become fundraising manager.

John Hannaford (front, centre) with Mardi Gras volunteers in 2015. (Supplied image)

John Hannaford (front, centre) with Mardi Gras volunteers in Fair Day 2015. (Supplied image)

He now has the responsibility in coordinating the event’s fundraising efforts and has worked in operations, researching relevant legislation and writing policy documents.

He believes being a Mardi Gras volunteer for nine years has allowed him to “meet people he wouldn’t have met otherwise”.

“My favourite moment every year is when the volunteers come to fundraise with us (on Fair Day),” he said.

“It’s an incredible rush of emotions as I meet the people that will make the magic.”

Another unexpected reward of volunteering for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for almost a decade is his professional development.

“I’ve had the good fortune to develop personally and professionally… I’ve worked on my management abilities and techniques,” Hannaford said.

For the first time, his place of work — the NSW Trustee and Guardian — will have a stall at this year’s Fair Day.

“I’m excited to see my two professional worlds come together at Fair Day,” he said.

Hannaford credits the festival goers across the different Mardi Gras events with making his experience as a volunteer an enjoyable one.

“I’ve noticed over the years the guests really respect the role of the volunteer,” he said.

“Sydney really is a good place to volunteer.”

Hannaford’s reason for his ongoing volunteering commitment at Mardi Gras is the same reason the event exists in the first place.

“We’re approaching 40 years of the original parade in 1978… we’ve come a long way and it’s remarkable to think how far we’ve come,” he said.

“But we still have so far to go in terms of equality.

“(Mardi Gras) culminates in a parade to spread the message that whatever your identity or your journey, it’s a chance to express it will be okay.

“If one person gets that message, then it’s all been worth it.”

Do you know of an unsung community hero who deserves recognition? Email [email protected] with your tip.


The Star Observer is a proud media partner of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

For all of Star Observer’s Mardi Gras coverage, click here


**This article was first published in the March edition of the Star Observer, which is available now. Click here to find out where you can grab a copy in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.

Read the March edition of the Star Observer in digital format:


Read previous instalments of “Community Hero”:

Margot Fink                          Robert French

Christabel Millar                Rowland Thomson & Crusader Hillis

Jen Yates                               C. Moore Hardy

Jamie Gardiner                  Yvonne Gardner

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