By Kelly Hughes and Charlotte Lemmon.


2018 marks the 40-year anniversary of the annual Mardi Gras parade in Sydney’s Oxford Street.

The first Mardi Gras, a celebration of Australia’s LGBTIQ community set out to be a peaceful celebration advocating for the civil rights of gay and lesbians.

The night took a violent turn when police terrorised and clashed with protestors, instilling a mix of fear and homophobia into the event.

Diane Minnis cowered in a shop door with her friend as she witnessed the police brutality of the 1978 march unfold before her.

“It was appalling, brutal and shocking. Police stopped the march before Hyde Park. They took their identification numbers off and honed in on the protestors,” she said.

Ms Minnis, the co-chair of First Mardi Gras Inc. was involved in the Gay Solidarity Group meetings that organized the morning street march.

The march was to mark nine years since the Stonewall riot in New York.

Ms Minnis recalled the anger and terror she experienced over the immense homophobia that erupted during the march, describing the police as “vicious and uncontrolled”.

“Police blocked off both ends of the street and were picking people up and bodily throwing them in paddy wagons, slamming their legs on the door.”

“In protest, we marched up to the cross, linked arms and chanted, ‘stop police attacks on gays, women, and blacks’,” she said.

The Sydney Morning Herald published the names of all 53 people arrested at the march the following morning.

“They very prominently published the names, occupations, and addresses of people who were arrested. They suffered trauma and some even the loss of their family and jobs,” Ms Minnis said.

During the first Mardi Gras, the 78-ers took a huge risk coming out at a time when homosexuality was deemed abhorrent and unnatural behaviour.

It was only three years before that South Australia become the first state to decriminalise male homosexuality under reformist SA Labor premier Don Dunstan and Attorney-General Peter Duncan.

However, despite the groundbreaking legislation by Dustan it was a quite a while before national reform took place.

Ms Minnis says despite this, Mardi Gras paved the way for future change and was a real beacon for hope.

“I really value the Mardi Gras parade.”


Attendee of this year’s Mardi Gras parade and gay rights activist, Joshua Hill, says the 2018 Mardi Gras has more prominence than ever before.

“This year will be really special due to the recognition of Marriage Equality within Australia,” he said.

40 years on from the discrimination protestors suffered that night to march for civil rights, Mr Hill says the sacrifices of the ’78 marchers has changed Australia.

“Without them first campaigning for our rights and our lives we would not be where we are today.”

“The overwhelming feeling of love and joy outpoured from the crowd on either side is the best feeling in the world.”

You can watch the Mardi Gras parade at 7pm from wherever you are via SBS On Demand.


Image Source: SBS/AAP