This is the second post looking at life for gays and lesbians in 1978, and the start of the Mardi Gras celebration.
2018 marks 40 years since the first March, held on Saturday June 24, 1978. It’s also the first Mardi Gras since the passing of the Australian “gay marriage” legislation, allowing any two adults of any gender to marry. Mardi Gras is always special, but these 2 events make it doubly special this year.
In Part 1, I looked briefly at the life of a gay man 40 years ago, as exemplified by Harry’s friend Jaroslav.
In this post, we’ll hear from Buzz about the beginnings of Mardi Gras in Sydney on Saturday June 24, 1978. For those who haven’t met Buzz, she’s a feisty lesbian social justice warrior living in an anarchist squat. She tells it like it is:
Gough promised us free education but
Gough’s not in charge any more, so
it won’t be free for long. Not much is,
(‘cept love an that’s not free for all,
Only for straights like you).
The Guardian did not run any stories about the events of that Saturday — why should it, since they didn’t happen on the Guardian’s patch: Newtown, Enmore and Marrickville, and strangely, Balmain. My research was done through reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sun newspapers, and memoirs of some of the originals, the much-loved and revered 78ers.
The way Buzz tells it, there was nothing gay — in the sense of bright and cheerful — in the way events turned out. This is an important part of Australian social history, not just for LGBTIQ+ people, but for all of us, to remember how our society has moved from bad to good, from oppression to grudging acceptance in some areas, and to hope for future shifts towards inclusion and acceptance for everyone.
In ‘I nearly got arrested’, she tells Harry about going to the International Gay Solidarity Day in Hyde Park:
got myself arrested. Wouldn’t a done me any good,
what with squattin’ illegally (yeah, yeah, I know, all
squattin’s illegal, smartarse), bein picked as a lesbian
I’d lose my job at the garage an WEA wouldn’t
want me teachin car maintenance anymore
Buzz went to the consciousness-raising protest day in Hyde Park with some of the girls from the Tin Sheds (more about them in a later post),where they listened to talks about
what life’s like
for homosexuals—gays AN lesbians, after Stonewall
in the US, an in England, where they’ve got that Festival of Light shit run by Mrs Mary Whitehouse.
The old bat’s comin here in a coupla weeks to speak
at a national conference on homosexuality, an she wants to tell us how wrong an evil we are, an how
we wanta destroy society. It was a beaut day
The march was planned for the evening, but Buzz dipped out, saying she had to start work early at the bakery in the morning. Lucky for her. She missed all the excitement and the horror that ended Australia’s first gay and lesbian march.
Like me, Buzz read about it in the papers. (I assume the police worded up the media beforehand, like they did with the Greek migrants, to make a good front page story.) A huge group of people marching and singing along Oxford St at 11 pm, past the pubs and clubs and bars, gathering more people as they went, some estimates being around 2000. Until
Corralled em all in Darlo Rd that they’d closed
off an got stuck into them with batons an boots
(readin between the lines). They arrested 53
people…I coulda got caught too, if I’d gone with
the girls. Life’s tough when you’re not straight.
This is why the Mardi Gras celebratory parade — which gets bigger, louder, more flamboyant, and with more community groups and organisations taking part each year — marches, sings and dances down Oxford St, with the 78ers in the place of honour.
Note: For the sake of ‘poetic licence’ I put the police bashings in Darlinghurst Road (‘Darlo Rd’), when in reality the brutality was inflicted back at the cells. The cops weren’t going to kick and bash unarmed people in front of journalists and photographers.
[Information and photos from the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives can be found on The Guardian Australia (TGA) website here. Note: The Guardian Australia has no connection with the 1970s Newtown and Balmain Guardian.]
You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices