Forty-two years ago, a group of activists and allies spilled out onto the streets of Sydney to celebrate before police brutality turned the night into a riot. 

The historic event has since become known as the first Mardi Gras.

None of those attending could know that a short time later police would unleash on the revellers which saw many hurt and others arrested.

In 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic, some of these activists – now known as the 78ers – gathered to commemorate the memory of that day and celebrate the hard-earned victories since then. 

78er Meredith Knight was still a young teenager when she decided to join two friends after work for the parade. 

 She added that at the time, she was living away from home and had already come out as a lesbian. 

“I had just turned 17, but I had come out as a lesbian when I was 15,” Meredith said. 

“We went up to Taylor’s Square… we basically danced and walked down Oxford Street and one of the sayings we had was ‘out of the bars and into the streets’. 

“People came and joined us. When we got down to College Street, the police there I felt were very threatening.”

In the fray, Meredith lost her friends and she decided for her safety to leave rather than follow the crowd to Kings Cross. 

“It was almost like survivor guilt… for a long time I didn’t think I was a 78er,” she said. “But, now I know I am.”  

Steve Warren can still remember feeling scared and exhilarated on June 24, 1978 as the events unfolded. 

“There was a lot of camaraderie amongst other 78ers, even though a lot of us didn’t know each other then,” he said. 

“With the clashes with the police… that made quite an anxious, scary moment.

“We have come a long way since then.” 

 The time of year not only marks that very first Mardi Gras, but also aligns with the 41st anniversary of the Star Observer itself. 

Steve said the paper, then known as The Sydney Star, gave the community a voice they could relate to and drew people together. 

78er Mark Gillepsie can remember growing up in Townsville knowing the Star Observer was being surreptitiously smuggled around to members of the LGBTQI community – even among those in the army who were hiding their true identity.

“It was a very homophobic area,” he said. 

“That opportunity through the media, through the paper, let people know that it was OK to be who you were and you were not alone because it can be very lonely in small country towns or even big regional cities like Townsville.

“I think the Star Observer has played a bigger role than just in the metro areas.” 

With the anniversary of both the first Mardi Gras and the Star Observer, 78er Peter Murphy looks to the future encouraging the community to continue to fight the good fight. 

“I think we should all be much more forthright in opposing the oppression of women, LGBTQI abuse, and the real willingness to use violence to crush people you don’t like,” he said. 

“We have a lot of work to do.

“We have done so much, it’s really remarkable with what we have done in my lifetime, but it’s only the beginning.”

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