Australia Travel Guide: Mardi Gras in Sydney

April 20, 2009

mardiflagWhen I started planning this trip, I was only expecting to visit New Zealand. I knew that even with almost three weeks there, it would be exhausting trying to see everything I wanted to.

Then my friend, Jorge, said the magic words to get me to spend a few days in Sydney: Mardi Gras.

Sydney’s Mardi Gras is one of the most famous gay events in the world, and in 2006 Conde Nast named it as one of the world’s top ten costume parades. The LGBT community held their first parade in 1978 with a couple thousand participants, and now the parade and other events bring around half a million people to Sydney.

The magic words worked on Elizabeth too, and so the two of us flew to Sydney from Christchurch to join the party. Once Elizabeth and I arrived, Jorge gave us our next choice: Watch the parade, or be in it? He said that trying to find a place to watch the parade could be difficult, as people show up hours ahead of time to stake out a piece of sidewalk. But marching in the parade, besides being tons of fun, gives you a front-row seat to the action.

mardigras1We agreed to march with his group, a counseling hotline, and so I put on my best dancing-in-the-street shoes.

The parade doesn’t start until after dark, so you get to enjoy all the lights and disco balls on the floats, like little traveling nightclubs. Walking around before the parade started, we got to take in some of the wild and colorful, metal and leathery costumes people had created. I’m pretty sure I also saw more naked butt cheeks in one night than I’ve seen in my entire life. Some were nice and fit, but others old and wrinkly or pale and flat and a little disappointing.

Sydney has some of the best drag queens I’ve ever seen (and I’m from San Francisco), and the music and energy of the pre-parade festivities seemed to spread through the entire city.

mardijorgeOnce the parade started, all we had to do was have a great time as we walked, jogged, danced and skipped down Oxford Street. Athough plenty of straight people participate and watch, all of Sydney is covered in rainbows and pink Australian flags for the event and Oxford Street in particular in bright colors.

Marching in the Mardi Gras parade was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you ever have a chance to do something like it, go for it. We all felt like rock stars with thousands of people waving and smiling and shouting and taking our pictures. It was much different from the local St. Patrick’s Day parade my high school band used to march in, surrounded by boy scouts and baton twirlers.

mardicrowdThe only downside? While most people kept partying the night away, we were so exhausted by the time the parade was over, we caught a cab home and crashed. But my time in Sydney wasn’t up yet.

Next: More of Sydney!


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