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of New South Wales repealed the NSW Summary Offences Act legislation that had allowed the arrests to be made.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:

Saturday 24 June 1978 - marking 'International Gay Solidarity Day'

Saturday 30 June 1979 - Power in the Darkness

Saturday 28 June 1980 - Outrageous Gay Mardi Gras - Festive Ball

Saturday 21 March 1981 (postponed from 21 Feb due to torrential rain) - We are the People our Parents Warned us Against

Saturday 27 February 1982 - On Our Way To Freedom

Saturday 26 February 1983 - Our Lives/Our Selves

Saturday 25 February 1984 - We'll Dance If We Want To!

Saturday 23 February 1985 - Fighting for our Lives

Saturday 22 February 1986

Saturday 21 February 1987

Saturday 27 February 1988 - Celebrating a Safe Sex Summer

Saturday 18 February 1989

Saturday 17 February 1990

Saturday 16 February 1991

Saturday 29 February 1992

Saturday 27 February 1993

Saturday 5 March 1994 - We Are Family

Saturday 4 March 1995 - Fairy Tales & Lesbian Legends

Saturday 2 March 1996

Saturday 1 March 1997

Saturday 28 February 1998 - 20 Years of (R)evolution

Saturday 21 February 1999 - Equality in Diversity | Celebrate the Future

Saturday 4 March 2000 - 2000gether

Saturday 3 March 2001 - Out There, Everywhere

Saturday 2 March 2002 - Happy Mardi Gras!

Saturday 1 March 2003 - 25 Years of Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Bisexual and Queer Culture

Saturday 6 March 2004 - Metamorphosis

Saturday 5 March 2005 - Our Freedom, Your Freedom

Saturday 4 March 2006 - Dance · Love · Radiate

Saturday 3 March 2007 - Objects of Love

Saturday 1 March 2008 - Brave New Worlds

Saturday 7 March 2009 - Nations United

Saturday 27 February 2010 - History of the World

Saturday 5 March 2011 - Say Something

Saturday 3 March 2012 - Infinite Love

Saturday 2 March 2013 - Generations of Love

Saturday 1 March 2014 - Kaleidoscope

Saturday 7 March 2015 - Passion

Saturday 6 March 2016 - Momentum

Saturday 4 March 2017 - Creating Equality

Saturday 3 March 2018 - 40 Years of Evolution

Saturday 2 March 2019 - Fearless

Saturday 29 February 2020 - WHAT MATTERS

Saturday 6 March 2021​

Saturday 5 March 2022​

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.