Sydney’s WorldPride 2023 was a Smash Hit – Part One

My last post was about my upcoming visit to Sydney to be part of their 45th annual Mardi Gras celebrations as well as WorldPride. I’m here to tell you that I made it safely there and back and now I’m ready to tell you all about it. Lucky you!

In my opinion, Sydney WorldPride, combined with Mardi Gras, was a Smash Hit. For one thing, not just the “gay ghetto” but the entire city of Sydney seemed decked out in Pride colours from top to bottom, dedicating itself to plunging headfirst into showing the world that it was a city that celebrated its brilliant, proud and diverse LGBTQIA+ community. Well, that’s what the publicity said and, to me, it certainly was true.

Even the corporate ads in the bus shelters were Pride oriented. Pinkwashing, I know. But pretty clever pinkwashing at times. More than just tacking on a Pride flag.

Even the Post Office was getting into the swing of things.

Secondly, the number of events was mind-boggling. The annual Mardi Gras celebrations have always been massive, including its climactic MG Parade, so imagine that plus all the additional events for WorldPride. Plus the Queer Film Festival. Plus WorldPride Sports. Plus WorldPride Arts. Plus the 192 events as part of what was called “Pride Amplified”. If there were many fewer than a thousand events, I’d be surprised: concerts, parties, sports competitions, plays, comedy nights and other events “to unite and inspire”.

I had been to WorldPride in Toronto (2014) and London (2012) and I have no memory of the celebrations being anywhere near as omnipresent and multi-dimensional in those cities as in Sydney. I’m happy if anyone wants to challenge me on that!

Reconciliation was front and centre

Overriding the entire celebration was the constant and important emphasis that Sydney WorldPride was taking place on the lands of the Gadigal, Cammeraygai, Bidjigal, Darug, Dharawal and Awabakal people. The overall theme of WorldPride was Mana, Nangamai, Djuralli – Gather, Dream, Amplify in the Gadigal language. Something we certainly didn’t hear in 2002 which was the last time I was in Sydney – for their Gay Games.

Every event from large to small (including the announcements on airplanes) had a land acknowledgement and each one I heard tried to be original and relevant to the event rather than just tokenistic and rote. Even the public transportation system wanted to make their statement.

At WorldPride, a First Nations Gathering Space called Marri Madung Butbut (Many Brave Hearts) was set up for six days to highlight global First Nations creativity “sharing their artistry and voices for the world to hear” with many events, dining and drag including The First Nations Gala Concert at the Sydney Opera House. Apparently it was “the largest Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander and global First Nation LGBTQIA+SB program ever to take place in Australia”.

Having observed all this, I would say that Australia is quite a few steps ahead of Canada as both of us undergo reconciliation efforts with the indigenous peoples of the land.

This next bit is all about me! I was on display at WorldPride – twice

For those of you who are my regular readers, you will know that I kept a large collection of photos and ephemera from my past. I’ve used them to help me write my stories on this website. At WorldPride, some of the archives from my time living in Sydney way back in 1972/73 ended up in not just one, but two exhibitions which I was both proud of and humbled by.

1. Pride (R)Evolution exhibition at the State Library of NSW

“…Our history has no straight lines…”

This Pride (R)Evolution exhibition was a huge, astounding and magnificent look at multiple angles of queer/trans culture in New South Wales from indigenous times to the present. Hundreds of items, mostly from the Library’s own collection, were displayed in creative ways through at least seven large, colourful spaces – “to reflect, mourn or share our incredible histories”, as it said in the introduction plaque. There was no one path to follow through the exhibition – we were encouraged to wander where our nose/eyes/ears led us.

To create this major exhibition, I was impressed to learn that the curators had brought together a consultation group of 30 activists and creators from different generations and communities in Sydney and beyond to ensure that as many voices as possible would be heard. The consultations gave the exhibition a legitimacy and added deep value to it. Do all libraries/museums do this?

I was delighted to see how the curators had used my 50 year old slides. The photos I’d taken of friends at home and in the community were used as an illustration of “gay share houses as spaces for reinvention and kinship” as we lived the Gay Liberation Life – where the personal is political, as we used to/still do say.

What I learned was that my snapshots, although certainly not professional, were apparently the only photos in colour from that time of early Gay Liberation, which gave them a particular value.

You can click on the following photos if you’d like to see them in more detail.

Not only were the slides used, but they had asked me to write commentary on my photos, telling my story, combining it together on a long display table. Absolutely fabulous, in my opinion, and I thank them very much for treating my bits and pieces with so much respect.

Drinks on the roof of the State Library after my tour with my supportive curators. What a treat.

2. The Party exhibition at the University of New South Wales Galleries

I had also donated some pieces from that period to the Australian Queer Archives, located in Melbourne. The absolutely charming Nick Henderson, its curator and volunteer collections manager, not to mention major mover and shaker, had motivated me to send to the archives any of my items that they didn’t already have, which I was very happy to do.

My donation included a small bag full of ticket stubs that I had collected from shows, films, concerts, train and bus rides and parties that I had attended in 1972/73 Sydney. On each stub, I had diligently written the date, name of the event and with whom I went.

I had no idea that those stubs would end up being used in a very unique way as part of an exhibition called The Party.

Yes, that’s right, a very large exhibition solely about Parties – “from early Gay Liberation dances and fundraisers at the Paddington Town Hall to larger productions in warehouses and at the former Sydney Showgrounds … like Mardi Gras, Sleaze Ball, Sweatbox, and Inquisition … a defining period of social and sexual freedom in Australia”. It included lots of posters, original photography and artwork, videos taken at the partes – and my ticket stubs.

Both sides of each of my ticket stubs had been labouriously photographed side by side… (click to enlarge)

… the resulting images were turned into a poster…

…and dozens of these posters were combined to form a wall of the exhibition on which dance posters and photos from that early period were placed and which speakers would come to speak in front of!

And I came to pose in front of it too, with The Party‘s delightful and brilliant curators – Nick Henderson and Jose da Silva.

Here are some of them in colour:

Looking more closely at the number of films, shows and musicals I went to during this period led me to think about how rich my cultural and learning experiences had been during that time in Sydney – thanks to my many gay mentors. For one of my next posts, I’m considering listing everything I saw and ask you how many of them you’ve seen and what you make of it!

At this exhibition, I also searched out posters from parties that I had attended – and found them.

1973 – Below is the poster for the party I went to on my last day before departing Sydney for Asia and London

1988/89 – Below is the poster for the New Year’s Eve Party I went to with friends on my first visit back to Sydney since 1973. Designed by Ian Jopson.

2002 – Below is the poster for the party I went to with my partner, David, when we were at the Sydney Gay Games

If you know me, you won’t be surprised that I made several visits to “my” exhibits during my 17 days in Sydney!

So Many Events, So Little Time

But there was also so much else going on.

Here is a list of what I managed to get to. I won’t describe each one in detail or we’d be here forever.

  • Exhibitions:
    • R(evolution) at the State Library of NSW (described above)
    • The Party at the Gallery of the University of New South Wales (described above)
    • The Air is Electric: David McDiarmid in America (described in the next post)
    • Queertography by the HeadOn Foundation: “an outdoor photography exhibition celebrating queer/trans experiences that give depth to queer representation”. I was excited because this exhibition included photos from my photographer friend in Montreal – Pierre Dalpé
    • Sydneyphiles Reimagined – William Yang
    • At the National Art School:
      • Braving Time: Queer Art in Contemporary Australia
      • Eulogy for the Dyke Bar
      • Ward 17 South
    • Art Gallery of New South Wales – “foregrounds lesbian and gay artists acknowledging the resonance of queer histories while also critically engaging with the past and showcasing the breadth of contemporary queer practice”.
  • Plays and Live Presentations:
    • Hubris & Humiliation – “This laugh-out-loud comedy is a kaleidoscopic pastiche of Jane Austen’s writing and an outrageous satire of life and love in the Emerald City’s pumping gay scene.”
    • Laugh Out Proud – stand up queer comedians
    • CAMP – A play that captured “the excitement and spirit of revolution present at the birth of Australia’s fierce gay rights movement, charting the struggles, successes, and legacy of early pride activists who risked family, careers, and imprisonment to achieve social reform in Australia.”
    • Gay Sydney: A Memoir by William Yang telling his story with his photographs, narration and music
  • On TV
    • ABC Queerstralia – a quirky three part series on Australia’s queer history produced by the Australian Broadcasting Company, no less
  • Pride Villages including Oxford Street – for all the family!
  • Mardi Gras Fair Day – packed with hundreds of community, city, state and federal booths, not to mention a few of those corporate people. Canada had a booth there too – the only other country to do so. Our tax dollars at work.
  • Mardi Gras Domain Dance Party – the one and only dance party I got to – and that was because it was over by 10 pm!

Random photos from random events. Click to enlarge.

There is more to say but, at 2000 plus words already, I’ll stop here for now and finish my Sydney story in my next post which will concentrate more on the friends I reconnected with.


One question, though. Despite all the events and publicity, I wonder if Sydney WorldPride was able to attract the number of international visitors that they might have anticipated. As my time in Sydney wore on, I began to wonder how much of the world had come to WorldPride. Maybe the stats will prove me wrong, but I didn’t hear or see many non-Aussies and I didn’t know anyone in my circles who made the trip. Not that my circle is indicative of “the world”! And we’re certainly all older now.

I can’t help but make a contrast with with the Sydney Gay Games in 2002 when I came with my husband David to compete and have fun. There were at least 40 of us just with Équipe Montréal alone, much less from all of Canada, not to mention the world. Maybe the competitive spirit drew a larger crowd, not to mention it wasn’t at the tailend of a pandemic.

It’s just that Sydney put on such a smash hit, I would be sorry if they didn’t attract the numbers it deserved.

However, I will add that a Canadian friend of mine (who lives in Beijing) told me that many of his young Southeast and East Asian friends did go to WorldPride. From them, he received dozens of photos of themselves having a fab time bare chested at their big late night/early morning parties. In contrast, from me, he said that all he received were photos of exhibitions and daytime activities. No party photos! Maybe that’s it – while I was tucked up in bed, all the international people were at the parties dancing and making out with the Australians!

This Highlights Video tells the WorldPride story in a different way than I have!

Bounce along to this!

Thanks to Jeffrey Stewart and David Tacium for giving me feedback on a draft of this post.

5 thoughts on “Sydney’s WorldPride 2023 was a Smash Hit – Part One

  1. Tyrone Deere says:

    Thankyou Gregg for your long and detailed pictorial description of the event. You certainly seem to have enjoyed your participation in Sydney.

  2. Christopher DiRaddo says:

    Looks like you had such fun!! Sometimes I feel like I want to get rid of my old stuff, but look at how valuable it becomes! How great that they celebrated your archives, and amazing that you got to go and see it in person!

  3. Bob cant says:

    Great stuff. Compare and contrast the bare chested partying perspective with the well slept more academic perspective. A PhD study in there xx

  4. Peter says:

    I’m very glad that you made it to Sydney for such a rewarding and interesting experience, Gregg.

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