I had NO idea what I was in for.
I’d watched the SBS coverage for 10 years and Mardi Gras had always seemed like a rather controlled celebration of rights – for the acronym that seems to get longer every year. I believe it’s now LGBTQIA.
My 13-hour night began at 4pm at the Watson’s Bay Boutique Hotel, where I found various new friends and an array of sexual orientations. A fairy-floss “Martini Gras” cocktail caught my attention and I may have had a few too many of the pink carnival drinks.
The train from Edgecliff to Martin Place was a colourful experience. It was as if the biblical prophet Noah had hand-picked a kaleidoscopic cluster of people and dumped them all on a city-bound ark: “Two gay men in tight hot pants, a Muslim family, a drunken group of university girls, a couple of affluent business men, a young Australian couple, several transvestites, a destitute old man & some kids.”
When we arrived, straight, gay, tight-laced, and inquisitive went their separate ways.
Hyde Park was the dressing garden for the Mardi Gras entertainers and enthusiasts. Men in leather shorts arranged each other’s suspenders in an excited flurry while the women tucked their cleavage into vibrant bustiers and donned their fancy feathered eye masks.
I’ve realised that Mardi Gras is not just a celebration of the LGBTQIA community; it is also a night where the usually boring and conservative adults let loose. Mardi Gras is the one evening in the year where the wild and secretly-wild crawl out of the woodwork and sprawl across Sydney streets in a polychromatic frenzy.
Peppered across the CBD on Saturday night came the dancers, the drunk, and the disorientated. As I stood awaiting the Dykes on Bikes, a gay man decided to begin braiding my hair without my consent. It was rather bizarre, but he was intent on styling my ash-blond hair so I let him do his thing. Halfway between styles, he was not happy when my friend decided we should move closer to the action and pulled me away. “But I’m not finished!!!” he said, distressed.
On my tippy-toes in Anzac Parade, I watched on with half a million others as floats full of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transexual, queer, intersexual, and asexual performers passed by, including a sparkling helicopter with a pink stripe – the “Bronnycopter” recalling politician Bronwyn Bishop flights of fancy. Floats that caught my eye included the bedazzled QANTAS plane, a Facebook float with a sparkling “like” symbol, and a rainbow proclaiming “Share the love”. Following that, a group of men in glitter and tight black shorts dancing a routine to David Guetta’s When Love Takes Over. Yes, the parade is totally over the top… It has to be; it’s designed to impress the masses. There were glittered faces, feathered wings, marching men with 6-packs and “nuns” with sequinned tunics and coloured rosemary beads.
Halfway through we had finished our water bottle filled with vodka and raspberry soda, but two German backpackers came to our rescue, decanting some of their outsized Mount Franklin bottle of red wine to sustain us. The friendly strangers even offered their shoulders; the parade proved a lot more interesting from above ground.
As the parade wrapped up, we headed to George Street via Surry Hills with hundreds of other rowdy revellers. By now my high-heeled boots were a drag, so I was stoked when a Mardi Gras volunteer provided me with a pair of thongs and a bottle of water – so Australian. The first stop was Star Bar, a multicultural melting pot full of middle-aged men trying to talk to me. Fleeing that, I darted across the CBD in and out of various clubs. The entertainment included an under-age drunken teenage fight, a blue eye-shadowed grandma with long rainbow-dyed hair and too many people asking for a bloody lighter.
By 3am, I sat in Hyde Park with a group of 17-year-old Catholic schoolgirls who had snuck out of their parents’ Glebe house for the night. Scattered across the park were the remnants of the festival: LGBTQIA couples, drunken youth, confetti, and a Swedish couple sharing food they’d bought at Ogalo.
A 373 bus trip later, 5am, I was at a Coogee McDonald’s enjoying a McMuffin and hash brown breakfast. A peculiar, dreadlocked man on a bike, who claimed he had “dropped acid”, invited a friend and me for some tea. We politely declined and headed home, exhausted, enlightened, and happy.
The full Mardi Gras experience, we discovered, is far more than viewing a glitzy parade. The real-life characters and sights surrounding it make it so much more, an impromptu exhibition well worth the trip. – Olivia Grace-Curran
All photos of Mardi Gras by Noel Fisher for The Newsroom.