I can’t quite believe the Mardi Gras Festival and Parade have already come and gone. What a surreal whirlwind the last year has been.
We have been so taken with the positive feedback we have received to date. There’s no doubt that this was a complete change to how we normally run things, but despite this, the Parade was a spectacle and a sight to behold.
After such a tough year, it was so nice to come together again and celebrate what it means to be LGBTQI+ people. I personally felt a real sense of togetherness and relief that we were able to celebrate but also to have our voices heard as we continue to highlight the injustices we still face today.
I wanted to take a moment to share some of the things that stuck with me during the Parade and acknowledge some very important people.
Welcome to Country
We started the night with a Welcome a Country. Because of the format of this year’s Parade, we were able to hold an extended ceremony and in true Mardi Gras spirit, our Welcome to Country was a sight to behold. It was curated by Ben Graetz and featured a welcome from Nana Miss Koori. In her own words:
“On this day I acknowledge the strong history and survival of First Nations people of this country. And in doing so I also acknowledge well over 500 Aboriginal clan groups who have existed on these ancestral lands and surrounding areas for well over 70,000 years.”
"I rise not only as a Gadigal and Bidjigal man but as a proud gay Koori and I say to you, this earth is our mother.”
This was a reminder that each and every year when we celebrate Mardi Gras, we do so on the Eora Nation – and in so doing, we recognise that this land belonged to our first nations people.
Dykes on Bikes
I think we all felt the moment – and certainly heard it – when the Dykes on Bikes careened into the SCG. Met with thunderous applause, this was the moment when I think we all realised that Mardi Gras was actually happening – that we had made it through 2020 and that we were finally ready to celebrate again.
Mardi Gras Community Show: Bloom & Rise
Our theme of Rise was brought to life exquisitely in this year’s Mardi Gras Community Show.
While searching for inspiration for this year’s performance, our amazing curator, Virginia Ferris, came across the 1995 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Poster, which featured people dressed as waratahs surrounded by Australian flowers.
We saw the rich diversity of Australian flora, with their many beautiful shapes, sizes and colours, as an analogy for the diversity of our community. As a community, we bloom, we flourish, we thrive, and we burst into colour. And so, the theme of ‘Bloom of Rise’ was born.
Leading the performance were 6 colourful Australian native flower costumes, also leaders within our community; Jude Bowler, who was our fearless Kangaroo Paw; Peta Friend, our trans champion as Wattle; the fabulous Sydney Dance Company icon, Ramon Doringo as Bottlebrush; Mitch Westwood, our youngest gender fluid leader who shined as our Banksia; Coco Jumbo, the legendary drag queen, say no more; and finally Andrew Wiltshire as Mademoiselle Coco, our much-loved deaf drag queen, as our Grasstree.
Along with these wonderful leaders, our cast of 70 performers made up a wonderful cross section of our community as aged from 13 to late 60s.
The symbolism of inclusiveness certainly wasn’t lost. The Deaf community were front and centre.
Our performers come together at the end to perform a piece of AUSLAN as part of the choreography which also featured a cohort of queer deaf community performers.
It was Leonie Jackson, Executive Manager for Advocacy and Strategic Partnerships for the Deaf Society and Deaf Services, together with Virginia, collaborated to bring this piece together. Tragically, Leonie passed away just weeks before the Parade. She was a champion of diversity and equality. Leonie was a hero in many ways.
It was the wonderful Leah Benson who designed the costumes in our workshop, each representing a colour from the rainbow flag. They were breathtaking.
Of course, I don’t think I need to say much about Rita. It was witnessing her own emotions – of performing again, doing what she loves – that really struck a chord with me.
We’re so lucky in Australia to be living in a very COVID safe environment, where we are free to gather and get back to supporting the arts.
It’s not the same for everyone, everywhere, at the moment. To all of our community, worldwide: we hope we can all come together very soon.
WHY WE MARCH
Like you, I was incredibly disturbed to hear of people being attacked after the Parade.
To the survivors of these attacks, thank you for speaking up. We stand with you and we hope you find justice and healing.
Everyone deserves the right to feel safe walking down the street. Not just after Mardi Gras, but every night, on every street and in every town.
It is a powerful reminder of why we march and why Mardi Gras is so relevant today.
When these attacks happen, it only strengthens our resolve to continue to press forward to achieve true equality. You can read my joint statement with the CEO of Equality Australia, Anna Brown here.
Partnering with Equality Australia
This is why our partnership with Equality Australia, which we announced last week, is so important.
We have moved so far in the past 50 years in moving the dial on LGBTQI+ rights and in making this country a safe place for our community to live and work. But despite how far we have come, we do not have true equality yet.
Our partnership with Equality Australia means we will campaign together and rise for equality. This is our pledge, and we want you to be part of it too.
There are just too many people to name personally but know that we are incredibly grateful for your support. I am truly humbled by the support that we witnessed from our community, our volunteers, our partners, our COVID marshals, our emergency service providers and all levels of government to make this year’s Mardi Gras possible.
It was not too long ago that the thought of holding the Parade seemed absolutely impossible. Initially, our exemption requests to NSW Health to hold the parade were declined.
Yet, despite the continuous setbacks and the many months of planning, then re-planning, we were able to come together and that is what matters.
And, this is all thanks to the small, yet fiercely resilient, team at Mardi Gras.
Each of you holds a special place in the hearts of our community.
Looking to the future
One week on and we’re already planning the next Mardi Gras, if you can believe it.
We are also busy planning events and programs that will bring us together year-round, and we look forward to announcing plans with you soon.
Until then, take care and speak soon,
Chief Executive Officer