Mardi Gras Festival Part 2

the beginnings of Mardi Gras in Sydney on Saturday June 24, 1978

Blurred picture of a gay rainbow flag
Blurred picture of a gay rainbow flag at a pride parade

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:

Coulda

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

The cops

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

 

Mardi Gras Festival, Part 1

look at the life of a gay man 40 years ago

Blurred picture of a gay rainbow flag

The last two weeks of February are celebrated in Sydney as Mardi Gras Festival, culminating on the first Saturday in March with the fantastical celebratory Grand Parade down Oxford Street. 2018 marks 40 years since the first March, held on Saturday June 24, 1978. We’ll hear about the Day of Solidarity and that March from Buzz in Part 2.

In Part 1 I want to look at the life of a gay man 40 years ago, as exemplified by Harry’s friend Jaroslav.

In 1970s Sydney, Jaroslav has two black marks against him: he is a Croatian migrant, AKA “a wog”. [It didn’t matter what nationality a migrant or “New Australian” was, they were termed “wogs” or “dagos”, often interchangeably.]

Even worse, he is a homosexual, AKA “a fag” or “poofta”.

We understand Jaro is gay through his reminisces of his poet/political activist lover, Damir in Zagreb.

He was so beautiful: those wide bright eyes

and curling light brown hair, his footballer’s legs

his wandering hands, his kisses.

 In outback Australia after fleeing civil war in Croatia, Jaro has brief encounters with men like him, mining at Kalgoorlie and Broken Hill. In Sydney, he finds his way to the fringes of homosexual society, beats in Hyde Park (the toilet block, and certain large trees), and in Newtown,

the toilets in Hollis Park.

It is in Hollis Park, as he is leaving the toilets —I’d hoped someone would come back to me— that he is retraumatised by the bombing.

However, when Harry and Jaro become friends, she has no inkling of his carefully hidden homosexuality, appreciating instead his courteousness: he’s such a gentleman and European sophistication. It’s not until Tom yells at her in the disco that Jaro’s a sad old poofta … he’s a fag, that she realises.

Unlike many gay men then —and up to quite recently— Jaro was never beaten up, bashed, stomped on, punched, kicked or stabbed just for being gay. Often these attacks were by gangs of men on streets leading to parks, or in the parks, regardless of whether they were actual beats.

Jaro’s friendship with Harry: meeting often at the Art Gallery, cafes and the ‘underground bar’, combined with his naturally discreet demeanour, may have protected him, acting as cover for his sexuality. Not that he was using her — he genuinely enjoyed her company — but it didn’t hurt that Harry believed Jaro was courting her.

Lock the toilets

Not one of the Guardian’s front page screamers, this was a small item, reporting a discussion at Marrickville Council on a motion “that public toilets should be closed at night to avoid any public nuisance”. I rewrote it as a prose poem.

Problems were caused by homosexuals, he said, who

frequented public toilet blocks after dark. “I don’t have 

anything against homosexuals,” Cr Broad told the Voice,

“but problems develop from their activities.” Asked what

were the problems, he declined to answer, but stressed

“We’ve got to stop these people loitering in the toilets

in the late hours of the night.” Homosexuals regularly

gathered in groups at Petersham Park, he said, and could

appear threatening to other people wishing to use the park

or its toilets. “Toilet blocks in Marrickville, Erskineville,

Enmore and Newtown are well known magnets for homosexuals.”

If this motion is passed all the public toilets ill be locked after dark.

When I moved to Newtown in 1997, all public toilets in Newtown and Victoria Park were permanently locked, day and night. The nearest available one was at Broadway shopping centre, 20 minutes walk away. I suspect the City of Sydney’s ordinance that cafes and restaurants must provide toilets for their customers was to get around the problem of permanently locked public toilets.

In 2001, I rented an apartment in Alpha House, (just round the corner from the infamous 2 Fitzroy St) and Hollis Park became my daily walk. Its toilet block was an ugly brick building fronting onto Wilson St with rusty bars and wire netting over the windows.

I didn’t take any photos of the park then, but after South Sydney Council demolished the toilets and magnificently refurbished Hollis Park, I took quite a few.

Hollis Pk corner 2006

Mardi Gras Festival, Part 1Hollis ParkThis is a corner of Hollis Park in Warren Ball Avenue, looking across Fitzroy St to the ‘60s public housing towers over in Waterloo.
You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices