Mardi Gras History

History of Mardi GrasHistory of Mardi Gras

On a cold night in Darlinghurst, Sydney in 1978, a small group of protestors formed to contribute to the international Gay Celebrations, the resulting police violence and arrests created a defining night in not only Sydney’s GLBTQI community but Australia’s cultural heritage.

“You could hear them in Darlinghurst police station being beaten up and crying out from pain. The night had gone from nerve-wracking to exhilarating to traumatic all in the space of a few hours. The police attack made us more determined to run Mardi Gras the next year.”

Over the months that followed, more protests and arrests took place - and the actions of the authorities came to be seen as heavy handed. By April 1979 the Parliament
of New South Wales repealed the NSW Summary Offences Act legislation that had allowed the arrests to be made. As such that first Mardi Gras march was a major civil rights milestone beyond the gay community. Up to 3,000 people marched in an incident-free parade in 1979.

In 1980 a key new element was introduced – the post-parade party. The face of the modern Mardi Gras we know today was taking shape.

The event began to enjoy extensive media coverage from the mid-80s onwards and the crowds continued to swell, from 200,000 in 1989 to over 500,000 in 1993. Large numbers of interstate and international travellers had started flying in for the event as well, generating an estimated $38 million for the NSW economy.

Mid History of Mardi Gras

Throughout the late ‘90s and early part of this century, Mardi Gras continued to grow in tourist and spectator numbers along with an increase in the quality of the events and the scope of the festival. Its themes each year represent the issues of the day and encourage marginalised groups to join a larger family of supporters.

Today, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of Australia’s most famous and well-loved events, bringing thousands of visitors to Sydney to join in the celebrations. It captures the imagination of Australia’s LGBTQI and mainstream communities, taking over the city for weeks on end, culminating in the world-famous Parade: a colourful and dazzling night of pride, celebration and self-expression.

Learn more about the history of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras on our interactive Timeline here.

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is a non-for-profit member-based organisation with deductible gift recipient status. Donate here.

Every Mardi Gras Parade date ever, and their themes:

Year Date Theme
1978 Saturday 24 June marking 'International Gay Solidarity Day'
1979 Saturday 30 June Power in the Darkness
1980 Saturday 28 June Outrageous Gay Mardi Gras - Festive Ball
1981 Saturday 21 March (postponed from 21 Feb due to torrential rain) We are the People our Parents Warned us Against
1982 Saturday 27 February On Our Way To Freedom
1983 Saturday 26 February Our Lives/Our Selves
1984 Saturday 25 February We’ll Dance If We Want To!
1985 Saturday 23 February Fight for our Lives
1986 Saturday 22 February (no theme)
1987 Saturday 21 February (no theme)
1988 Saturday 27 February Celebrating a Safe Sex Summer
1989 Saturday 18 February (no theme)
1990 Saturday 17 February (no theme)
1991 Saturday 16 February (no theme)
1992 Saturday 29 February (no theme)
1993 Saturday 27 February (no theme)
1994 Saturday 5 March We Are Family
1995 Saturday 4 March Fairy Tales & Lesbian Legends
1996 Saturday 2 March (no theme)
1997 Saturday 1 March (no theme)
1998 Saturday 28 February 20 Years of (R)evolution
1999 Saturday 21 February Equality in Diversity | Celebrate the Future
2000 Saturday 4 March 2000gether
2001 Saturday 3 March Out There, Everywhere
2002 Saturday 2 March Happy Mardi Gras!
2003 Saturday 1 March 25 Years of Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Bisexual and Queer Culture
2004 Saturday 6 March Metamorphosis
2005 Saturday 5 March Our Freedom, Your Freedom
2006 Saturday 4 March Dance · Love · Radiate
2007 Saturday 3 March Objects of Love
2008 Saturday 1 March Brave New Worlds
2009 Saturday 7 March Nations United
2010 Saturday 27 February History of the World
2011 Saturday 5 March Say Something
2012 Saturday 3 March Infinite Love
2013 Saturday 2 March Generations of Love
2014 Saturday 1 March Kaleidoscope
2015 Saturday 7 March Passion
2016 Saturday 6 March Momentum
2017 Saturday 4 March Creating Equality
2018 Saturday 3 March 40 Years of Evolution
2019 Saturday 2 March Fearless
2020 Saturday 29 February What Matters
2021 Saturday 6 March Rise
2022 Saturday 5 March Theme to be announced
2023 Saturday 25 February WORLD PRIDE 2023 - Gather, Dream, Amplify


If you would like to learn more about Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, you can download our Constitution and Annual Reports from the links below.