When it comes to flamboyance, flesh, and full-on partying, Sydney’s Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras is the reigning queen, leaving the Love Parade tottering in its sequinned wake
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION Sydney lies on the east coast of Australia and is the capital of the state of New South Wales
From mid-February for three weeks
VISITORS PER YEAR
Mardi Gras parade: 10,000 participants and 500,000 spectators; final party: 20,000
Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, unlike Germany’s Love Parade, is not merely a one-day party – it’s an out-and-out revelry blitz. The same-sex season kicks off in mid-February with a series of art exhibitions, film viewings, theater performances, and live concerts that take place three weeks before the main Mardi Gras events – an infamous parade along Oxford Street in Sydney’s Darlinghurst neighborhood and a raucous, glitzy final party.
This global gay event, which began more than 30 years ago when a handful of pioneers took to the streets demanding their rights, has both a political and a playful message – acceptance, tolerance, and diversity go hand in manicured hand with tinsel, tulle, and toned bodies. It is also a very eclectic affair, unlike the Love Parade, which moves to a samey thumping techno beat. Events in Sydney include the Sol y Luna Harbour Party, known for its cool cocktails and live sounds, the family-friendly Fair Day, and a pooch parade par excellence known as Doggywood. But for most people, the highlight of the three-week period is the main parade and its notorious after-party, which has hosted everyone from Chaka Khan to Rupert Everett under its pulsing lights. One airline even stages a special “pink flight” to carry muscled merrymakers from San Francisco to Sydney for the big day.
Leading the parade is the Dykes on Bikes motorcycle group, which is followed by 150 floats manned by every kind of costumed dancer under the sun. Some 10,000 partygoers strap on soaring stilettos, technicolor outfits, diabolical wigs, infinitesimal shorts, codpieces, and lashings of leather for this wild event, leaving a 2-mile (4-km) trail of glitter behind them. Police officers and military personnel keep step with dancing drag queens in flying-saucer-shaped dresses in what has been hailed as one of the world’s top ten costume parties.
Some 500,000 onlookers line the streets to take in the spectacle, cheering and waving rainbow- patterned flags as the parade sashays towards the Royal Hall of Industries in Moore Park. Here, a star-studded line-up of live performers and DJs get the party started at 10pm and keep it pumping until 8am for the more enthusiastic revelers.
FORGET THE LOVE PARADE?
THE BUILD-UP The Love Parade draws hard- core hedonists from all over to worship at the shrine of electronic music. Each float has a DJ and a sound system blasting out a techno beat, with painted ravers dancing wildly alongside.
The party was started in 1989 when German DJ Dr Mott decided to hold a free, moveable acid-house street party in Berlin. Only 150 people turned up for the original event, but by 1999, it had exploded to 1.4 million people to become the world’s biggest dance festival.
THE LETDOWN The Love Parade’s original message of using music as a means of spreading peace and love has long been lost in a surge of drug-fueled antics, property damage, sporadic injuries from flying bottles, and general street chaos, prompting the Berlin authorities to ban the event. There’s little room to flail independently in the dense crowds, and the high-pitched sound of whistles is constant and deafening.
Also, ticket prices to clubs rocket at this time.
GOING ANYWAY? Now dubbed the Loveparade Metropole Ruhr, the event is touring different cities in the German region of North Rhine- Westphalia, after which it’s hoped it might get a permit to return to Berlin. There’s no avoiding the crowds, so just go with the flow.
Getting There and Around
Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport is 5 miles (8 km) from the city centre. The Airport Link train takes you directly from the airport into the city, where taxis are plentiful. The best way to get around Sydney is on foot.
Where to Eat
Sydney has a fantastic dining scene, as multicultural and distinctive as the city itself. Try Icebergs Dining Room and Bar (www.idrb.com), with its fresh seafood and Italian-influenced dishes and fantastic views of Bondi Beach.
Where to Stay
Try the elegant and contemporary Kirketon Hotel (www.kirketon. com.au), located just moments from Oxford Street.
72°F (22°C) during Mardi Gras.
Budget per Day for Two
Around US$200 including food, lodging, and transportation.