Sydney is a place like no other, but Sydney Mardi Gras 2019 promises to be the best party around.
Sydney’s answer to Pride is unique because it’s one of the only parades in the world to be held in the evening – starting at around 8pm.
But it’s more than just a fabulous parade down Sydney’s Oxford Street, it’s a three week festival of fun and diverse events.
The Mardi Gras Film Festival (or Queerscreen) kicks off the festivities around mid-February. Then you have events such as Fair Day (the family friendly concert in the park), the official raising of the rainbow flag at Sydney’s Town Hall, art shows, theatre shows and the wrap-up Laneway Party – held as a little hangover cure party on the day after the parade.
So without further ado, here are the five reasons you need to book your holiday to New South Wales and experience everything LGBTI Sydney has to offer during Pride.
The gay neighbourhood (or gaybourhood) tour is a must if you’ve never been to Sydney before. Even for a seasoned Sydney-sider, there’s still a lot to learn on this historic walk.
Operated by Planet Dwellers, the tour takes you around Darlinghurst, Taylor Square and Kings Cross.
As a little taste for the tour, we were told protestors gathered in Hyde Park for the first ever Sydney Mardi Gras in 1978. As they began marching, police forced them towards Kings Cross, before rounding them up, arresting and even bashing some of them.
The original protestors are called the ’78ers and they protested homophobia and police brutality long before homosexuality became legal nationwide.
The tour starts at Hyde Park and goes all the way up Oxford Street, past iconic bars and shops.
It then continues towards Kings Cross, where the famous Coca Cola sign is. The tour talks you through the illegal gay bars run by the underground mafia at the time.
After the tour, we joined the tour guide Mario for a few drinks at the Oxford Hotel and asked him a load of questions on our mind. Having grown up in Sydney, Mario knows the history of LGBTI Sydney like the back of his hand!
After a few warm up drinks, we danced the night away at kitchy gay bar Palms, just a few seconds down the road.
Drag queen bingo brunch
There’s nothing like a little gender bender boozy bingo drag queen brunch to get you through a Sunday afternoon. Look no further than Drag Brunch Sundays, hosted by a fabulous drag queen and an accompanying DJ.
Eat and drink your way through a two hour bottomless brunch while you’re treated to entertaining performances and then a hilarious game of bingo.
I went to a session hosted by drag queen Tora Hymen, held at the Puntino Trattoria on Oxford Street.
Throughout the brunch, servers replenish huge plates of food, as well as make sure there’s never a dry glass in sight.
Make friends with the people on your table over bottomless mimosas, chatting the afternoon away. After the brunch, you can head upstairs to the bar or walk two minutes down the road to Stonewall, one of Sydney’s most-loved LGBTI establishments.
If you’re still there for the evening, you can head to Arq – arguably Sydney’s biggest nightclub. Or the Bodyline sauna, just next door. All venues only a couple of minutes walk away from each other.
At the end of last year, six indigenous drag queens and sistergirls made history by competing in the first ever Miss First Nation competition.
The competition is the brain child of drag queen Mis Ellaneous. She wanted to showcase the best of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander drag queen talent. It featured drag queens Jo Jo, Shanique, Josie Baker, Nova Gina, Isla Fuk Yah, Crystal Love and Sasha Fearless.
Then film makers followed the girls around for a week during the competition to film documentary Black Divaz.
The film’s world premiere came out during Mardi Gras season. On the same night, the girls also did a series of performances at the Bearded Tit in Sydney’s Redfern.
I never thought I’d see the day when I see a mash up of indigenous anthem ‘Treaty’ by Yothu Yindi and Beyonce’s ‘I Was Here.’ But it was absolutely amazing.
We enjoyed a (very Australian) Wildbrumby gin and tonic and Hillbilly Apple Cider over a ‘Jacuzzerie’ board of Bourbon Barrel Smoked Beef and Mon Pere Brie.
Halfway through the night, Orange is the New Black stars Lea DeLaria and Danielle Brooks snuck into the club to watch the final few performances.
There’s no doubt organizers are keen to hold another Miss First Nation competition in years to come.
Sydney Mardi Gras 2019 parade
The next Sydney Mardi Gras parade is 2 March, 2019 (it’s always held on the first Saturday of March).
So what can you expect? If you’re perfectly happy watching from behind the barricades and perusing the glittery parade, you’ll want to get there in the afternoon to grab a good vantage spot. Otherwise, bring a milk crate or something to stand on so you can see over the shoulders of eager onlookers.
But if you’re like me and want to experience it from ground zero, nab a spot in the parade itself.
There’s usually an entry fee, but the exact amount depends on which float you march with. I marched with the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, who just celebrated 30 years since the group first started.
James Bolster told Gay Star News it was an honor to march in the parade for such an important milestone of the organization.
During the parade, we marched down Oxford Street, waving signs and dancing to Lorde’s ‘Green Light’.
There’s nothing like seeing the smiling faces of people who want to do nothing but cheer you on and celebrate diversity.
Join any of the random street parties along the parade route or visit popular bars around Darlinghurst to experience the Pride buzz.
Sydney Mardi Gras After Party
The official Sydney Mardi Gras After Party has to be seen to be believed.
Not for the faint-hearted, it’s a huge multi-arena event filled with back-to-back DJs and special live performances.
And what better live performance than the one and only Cher? That’s right, for the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Mardi Gras, Cher sang a medley of her greatest hits.
The Believe singer joined partygoers on the sidelines of the parade, wishing people a happy Mardi Gras and even taking a selfie with the Prime Minister of Australia.
Tried Hard to be good last nite, but our board went down from humidity….Couldn’t hear,so Went on instinct 🙏🏻
It was Wing & a Prayer🤗
Was Great to play for
LGBT Brothers & Sisters💃🏻🕺🏼
OMG… PARADE ROCKED THE HOUSE
— Cher (@cher) March 4, 2018
But during the official After Party, it was so packed in the arena, it reached capacity. The leftover people had to watch the performance on screens outside or in the other arenas.
It’s a non-stop party from 10pm until the early hours of the morning.
Then if you’re feeling particularly rough the next morning, you can get back on it with the ultimate recovery party, called Laneway.
Literally in a laneway between The Beresford and Flinders Hotel in the centre of Darlinghrst, the event started years ago among a small group of friends but grew into an official multi-level party of mayhem. Lose yourself in a sea of sun-kissed skin and summer smiles as you party the day away.
So, why haven’t you booked your flights to Sydney yet? Find out more about Sydney Mardi Gras 2019.
Destination NSW sponsored the Drag Brunch, Black Divaz night at the Bearded Tit, Gaybourhood tour and the official Mardi Gras After Party.