Proving Pride can be more than just a party and a parade, Sydney WorldPride 2023 gathered in March under the banner “Gather, Dream, Amplify” and centered the history and significance of Indigenous First Nations people alongside those of the LGBTQ+ community in Australia.
And yes, there were a few parties and concerts, but more on that later.
Sydney WorldPride coincided this year with the city’s famed Mardi Gras parade. Sydney Mardi Gras is both a de facto Pride celebration as well as a remembrance of the first recognized major struggle for LGBTQ+ rights in the country and often bears little resemblance to other Mardi Gras events around the world.
Aunty Pinkham Smith speaks at the Human Rights ConferencePHOTO BY MAJA BASKA
Combined, Sydney WorldPride and Sydney Mardi Gras put on one heck of a two-week extravaganza filled with history, culture, activism, and reflection, alongside over-the-top events and costumes, artists and drag queens, and well-hung budgie smugglers and other speedo-clad men of all shapes, sizes, and mouth-watering flavors.
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Sydney Mardi Gras has evolved from the city’s version of the Stonewall riots into the textbook definition of a parade with a purpose. On June 24, 1978, a small group gathered for a permitted march along Oxford Street, but police turned violent when the group decided to march on Kings Cross, brutally arresting and beating scores that night. Over the next two months, thousands of Australians protested the police actions and anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Mardi Gras became the rallying point for the city's LGBTQ+ community and the beginning of a 25-year tradition in the city. Those who participated in the historic events are revered as “78ers” to this day and were honored repeatedly throughout Sydney Mardi Gras and Sydney WorldPride.
Andy Cohen and friends celebrate Sydney Mardi GrasCOURTESY SYDNEY MARDI GRAS/DESTINATION NSW
Australia’s history of humanity existed long before the events of Oxford Street in 1978, though, and before Dutch navigator Willen Janzoon first set foot on what is now the Cape York Peninsula along the country’s northern coast in 1606. The continent’s Aboriginal people have a history dating back at least 65,000 years making it the oldest continuing known culture in the world. Sydney WorldPride made sure to center that culture and history throughout its two weeks of festivities and exhibitions.
Each event began by honoring and acknowledging the Gadigal, Cammeraygal, Bidjigal, Darug, Dharawal, and Awabakal people and Torres Strait Islanders as the land’s traditional custodians. And Sydney WorldPride did more than pay mere lip service to their history and contributions.
The Human Rights Conference included First Nations Elders and leaders alongside LGBTQ+ activists, policymakers, and experts from around the world. There were also exhibits of art from Indigenous artists at museums and spaces throughout the city alongside those of other Australian artists.
Si‘ou alofa Maria: Hail Mary (After Gauguin), 2020 by Yuki Kihara from Paradise Camp seriesCOURTESY OF YUKI KIHARA AND MILFORD GALLERIES, AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND
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The Powerhouse Museum hosted exhibitions highlighting the works of Pasifika, Asiand, and Fa’afafine (Sāmoa’s third gender) artist and photographer Yuki Kihara with Paradise Camp. The exhibit repurposed and upcycled paintings by post-impressionist French artist Paul Gauguin believed inspired by Sāmoa into 12 photographs shot and modeled by Kihara.
The historic Art Gallery of New South Wales featured an extensive exhibit of Aboriginal art, and a smaller exhibition at the Boomali Aboriginal Artists Cooperative featured local publishing house Blackbooks and their new book of poems from First Nations LGBTQIA+ writers entitled Nangamay Mana Djurali (Dream, Gather, Amplify). The book is available online at Amazon and Blackbooks (blackbooks.online) and all funds raised from the sale of Nangamay Mana Djurali will go to support Blackbooks’ outLOUD First Nations LGBTQIA+ SB Story and Writing Program.
Kween Kong brings down the Sydney Concert Hall at the Blak & Deadly First Nations Gala ConcertPHOTO BY JOSEPH MAYERS
And, finally, the Blak & Deadly First Nations Gala Concert centered LGBTQ+ aboriginal and First Nations artists at the famed Sydney Concert Hall. Hosted by the sassy Steven "Faboriginal" Oliver, the concert featured artists like Jessica Mauboy, Electric Fields, Casey Donovan, and Kween Kong.
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Other Australian artists, both past and present, were also featured at Sydney WorldPride. The Powerhouse Museum hosted Absolutely Queer which featured the kaleidoscopic vision of nine queer artists. Powerhouse also had a stunning collection of original pieces from the late iconic Australian fashion designer Carla Zampatti. The exhibit included her famously customized 1978 Ford Lancer.
Carla Zampatti exhibit at the Powerhouse MuseumPHOTO BY ZAN WIMBERLY
The Art Gallery of New South Wales highlighted the works by LGBTQ+ Australian artists included in their existing collections. Appropriately entitled Queering the Collection, the exhibit featured By tranquil waters (1894) by gay painter Sydney Long, which showed nude males bathing in Sydney’s Cook River. Also featured was the 1917 painting The model disrobing by Janet Cumbrae Stewart, a lesbian who later formed a lifelong personal partnership with the European bohemian Argemone ffarrington Bellairs. The museum also paid homage to the country’s history of bushrangers, Australia’s 19th century stagecoach-robbing outlaws although reportedly less violent to ordinary citizens than their American counterparts. One bushranger, Andrew George Scott, known as Captain Moonlite, was reportedly gay and openly wept at the shooting death of his fellow bushranger and suspected lover, James Nesbitt, kissing him passionately as he lay dying and later writing a letter expressing his undying love for the man at his own execution.
Sydney Long 'By tranquil waters' 1894 oil on canvas on hardboard Art Gallery of New South Wales Purchased 1894COURTESY OPHTHALMIC RESEARCH INSTITUTE OF AUSTRALIA
But what of those parties and concerts for which WorldPride has become famous?
The festivities kicked off with the open-air Live and Proud: Sydney World Pride Opening Concert in The Domain, an 84-acre grassy field in the city’s famed Royal Botanical Gardens. Performers included Courtney Act, Jessica Mauboy, and Charli XCX, but the highlight of the evening was Australian megastar Kylie Minogue. She is not just an icon within the local LGBTQ+ community but is wildly popular throughout Australian society. The crowd went wild when she took the stage, and she even brought out her sister Dannii for a rendition of All The Lovers, which evidently included everyone in attendance.
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The Mardi Gras Kaftana Pool Party took place at the Ivy Club. The libations flowed freely as the pool deck – and the pool itself – was packed with hundreds of hunky men dancing the night away to drag performances and a rocking DJ. Australia’s burgeoning ballroom scene was on full display at the annual Sissy Ball, as the various houses from near and far strutted their stuff at the Sydney Town Hall.
There was plenty of action onstage and off and the Bondi Beach PartyPHOTO BY CAIN COOPER
Sydney’s famed Bondi Beach provided the backdrop for the Bondi Beach Party. The grassy promenade overlooking the beach was filled with thousands of partygoers in the best beach attire dancing the night away to the beats by an all-Australian lineup of DJs including dameeeela, Jarred Baker, Jacqui Cunningham, DJ Charlie Villas, and DJ Dan Murphy. But perhaps the best performances of all came from uninhibited members of the audience who were hot to trot their stuff in the smallest speedos and thongs this side of the equator. It was the best kind of meat buffet, with a selection of body types sure to please every taste and palate.
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While Sydney Mardi Gras might be considered by some as an event exclusively for gay men, all the letters of the LGBTQ+ spectrum were represented. Lesbians had their own play space at Bar 83 atop the Sydney Tower for UltraViolet, the premiere event for gay women. The venue was packed as partygoers danced to music provided by DJs and producers Sveta Gilerman and Jess Hill, along with Jesswar, Bec Sandridge and Okenyo, and global sensation Peaches.
Laughter was on the setlist at Mardi Gras Laugh Out Loud at the Enmore Theater in Newton. The crowd was in the mood for mirth and comedian and host Rueben Kaye did not disappoint. Fresh off making national headlines about an on-air joke concerning a certain historical religious figure getting nailed, Kaye was a rapid-fire delight and looked quite ravishing in his facial makeup and red jumpsuit. Comedic performers included Dazza and Keif, Rosie Piper, Rudy-Lee Taurus, and Spankie Jackson.
Pride March across Sydney Harbor BridgePHOTO BY DAVID GREY
Sydney WorldPride closed with a Pride March like no other as an estimated 50,000 people put on their best and brightest Pride gear and marched across the picturesque Sydney Harbor Bridge. Later that night 120,000 people gathered to hear Ava Max, Kim Petras, MUNA, Keiynan Lonsdale, and more at the Rainbow Republic closing concert.
Not to be forgotten in this celebration of Sydney WorldPride and Sydney Mardi Gras is Sydney itself. Sydney more than lived up to its reputation as a world-class city, with a great food scene and enough nightlife, culture, and natural beauty to make it worthy of an extended visit any time of year.