Part Two – Sydney’s WorldPride 2023

OK. I promise. This is the last post about my trip to Sydney. A short-ish one too. Here you can read about the old and new friends I met up in Sydney with as well as see bits of the two big parades. Not to mention discover some quirky and marvellous differences between Canada and Australia. Oh – and a bit of football, too.

The Mardi Gras Parade

You probably know that Sydney has been holding its nighttime Mardi Gras (Pride) celebrations each year since its infamous first one in 1978 where the police brutally beat up and arrested the peaceful marchers. Those who were in that first event have been lionized as “the 78ers”. They have their own float right at the front of the Parade – and bus, now that we/they are all getting older!

Now that the pandemic had wound down, the Mardi Gras Parade – on its 45th anniversary – was able to return to its traditional route down Oxford Street, through the “old” gay/lesbian area. I got there a bit late so had to squeeze in at the end of the route where the drivers were being told to turn off their music! But I still managed to get a good view and the participants still seemed pumped despite the fact they’d been marching for miles.

Watching 200+ floats and groups go by, mainly from Sydney and NSW, the thing that impressed me the most was that each group had not only dolled themselves up with elaborate costumes and innovative placards but they all had also choreographed themselves some quite fancy dance numbers. Even the queer librarians, squash teams and scientists!

The energy…the coordination…not to mention the time needed to practice!

All much more dancing and glamour than I’d ever seen in any of the many Pride marches I have observed over my multiple years in multiple cities. And certainly a toned down corporate presence, although some might say that one is too much. There were also police floats cohabiting with “no police in our parades” groups. Click photos to enlarge.

The WorldPride Parade

A week later, there was the once in a lifetime WorldPride march over the Sydney Harbour Bridge – that icon of the city. Sunday morning traffic had been diverted giving us queers and our allies thrilling views of the harbour and of the queer/trans love all around. Click photos to enlarge.

Even the Prime Minister was there as you can see in this two minute clip all about the parade from the ABC Evening News:

Side Trip to Melbourne

I couldn’t go all the way to Australia without also visiting Melbourne, so Henry and I took off to that city for a few days. The main goal for me was to visit the new “Victorian Pride Centre”, a magnificent multi-purpose, uniquely-designed building for meetings and hanging out.

The Centre also houses the Australian Queer Archives where the archivist and old friend, Graham Willett, came in to give us a thorough tour of the impressive area. Not only does the space house the archives but there is a display area and plenty of tables to work on. Click photos to enlarge.

Now I can picture where my archives are stored.

Old Friends

And then there were the people I met up with from my past who warmly welcomed me to Sydney and Melbourne.

You may remember that I spent a very formative 16 months of my life living in Sydney back in 1972/73 when I was just 22/23. At that time, I came out as gay with a big bang and became intimately involved in the politics, consciousness-raising, sex and parties of Sydney Gay Liberation and all that that entailed. I was plunged into a new way of thinking that changed my life forever. You can check out all the details of that seismic event for me here on this website. Here are some of those people from then and later.

Henry Tunbridge & Jeffrey Stewart are two of my oldest friends. We all first met in Sydney in 1972. In London, a year later, the three of us ended up sharing a flat, chores, outings and demos. We have stayed in touch ever since. They looked after me very well on this trip with parties, shows, trips and dinners with many walks down memory lane.

Given that they have spent most of their lives in Sydney, they had a deep knowledge of the city and its various scenes and sections which proved to be vital in enabling me to reacquaint myself with the city.

Party Time at Jeffrey’s

Dianne Reggett – In 1972 in Sydney, I got a job as a primary school teacher at St. Mary’s Catholic School, despite being neither a trained teacher nor a Catholic. Dianne, a more experienced teacher at the school saved my bacon from the wrath of the kids by generously taking the time to help me out and up my teaching skills. We also hung out socially during that time.

After I left Sydney, we lost contact with each other. Fifty years later, Dianne, remembering my name and wondering what I’d been up to, googled me and found my website. Dianne read the post I wrote about my time as a teacher in Sydney and saw herself mentioned! She contacted me and we emailed back and forth several times, deciding that we must get together when I came to Sydney. We had a delightful reunion, visiting our old school, getting a tour and meeting the principal.

Below are photos of Dianne and I at our old school where we met the 73 year old “I’m going to retire next year but I’ve said that many times before” principal. As well, you can see a photo with my Year Four class visiting the Warragamba Dam in 1973. Unfortunately, I don’t have a early photo of Dianne so I can’t do a “before and after” shot.

Bruce Jones – Bruce was my boyfriend for the last few month of my time in Sydney and we spent lots of time together. Not only that but he met up with me several times when I was travelling through Southeast Asia after I left Australia. We also reconnected sporadically in London during the years I lived there, the last time being in 1985.

Again, Google allowed Bruce to find me a few years ago, leading eventually to several joyful face-to-face reunions in Sydney going into detail on our lives and loves over the last few decades. I write about our relationship in several posts on my website but the first mention is here.

Jenny Small – I only met Jenny face-to-face for the first time on this trip. But we’ve known of each other for a long time – ever since John Storey, one of my best Sydney friends and a professional photographer, wrote to me in the late 70s and told me that he and Jenny were in a relationship. A bit of a surprise to me but all good.

Jenny and I connected via email around 2015 when John had become quite ill due to cancer. I’d written to John to find out how he was doing and Jenny responded continuing to keep me in touch with his condition. John sadly passed away in 2019.

We finally met up in person on this trip and had two very pleasant days together. We reminisced about our memories of John, his photography and the ups and downs in his – and our – lives. Jen accompanied me to my first viewing of the Pride R(E)volution Exhibition which I talked about in my previous post.

On another day, Jen and I visited the The Air is Electric: David McDiarmid in America exhibit in Bondi Beach. David McDiarmid was from the period when John and I lived together in Sydney in the early 70s. David became a extraordinary artist who lived in the US for several years in the 70s and 80s before returning to Australia. This exhibit was of his photos from that period. Click photos to enlarge.

Dennis Gray – Quite coincidentally, an old friend of mine from the London 1980s, Dennis, was visiting Melbourne, his home town, to celebrate his 70th birthday at exactly the same time that I was visiting the city. We had met when both of us were volunteers working for Gay Switchboard in London in the 80s and spent several years in a Men’s Group together with five others, exploring our souls and hearts.

We remained in touch after I had returned to Canada from London in 1990. We saw each other on various trips we both made. This, however, was the first time I’d seen him on his “home turf” and it was fun to see Melbourne through his eyes. Click photos to enlarge.

Just in case you’re curious, the green sweater I’m wearing in 2009 is not the same one I’m wearing in 2023. I think.

Stephen Souch & Thomas – Stephen is the only friend from Montreal who I know who turned up for WorldPride – and that’s because he lives near Sydney part-time! He brought his son, Thomas, to the Oxford Street Parties and we enjoyed sharing stories about the different ways in which both of us have strong connections to both Sydney and Montreal.

Stephen with his son Thomas and a friendly drag queen

Sports with Balls

You may remember that in my last post, I told you how gobsmacked I was at how thoroughly Sydney had devoted itself to WorldPride. But I gained a somewhat different impression when one evening I walked in a different direction from my apartment and ended up outside the gigantic and very new Allianz Stadium just as the crowds were gathering for some match.

I think it was soccer/football (Sydney FC) but it also could have been Rugby League (Sydney Roosters) or Rugby Union (NSW Waratahs). I’ve never been able to get my head around the rugby differences. Not to mention cricket. I think it’s something you need to grow up with.

I later learned that it was soccer/football and Sydney FC lost to Melbourne Victory 1-0 that evening.

But my point is that there was not one Pride flag/sign to be seen anywhere! A different world. However, I did discover that Sydney FC had participated in some Pride activities and were trying to combat homophobia in the sport. Here’s the link for the curious.

A few Pride flags at that match might have helped!

To finish, here are some random things that Sydney has that Montreal doesn’t.

Ubiquitous overhanging roofs for protection from the sun.

Vintage/Retro Metro/Subway/Train Stations

Communal Urinals and Wee Walls at Festivals

A Vintage and Fabulous Luna Park

Sleek New Electric Street Trams/Trains

Not to forget iconic world-renown landmarks

That’s it! The End. Bye Bye to a fabulous time!

14 thoughts on “Part Two – Sydney’s WorldPride 2023

  1. Barb Mason says:

    Very interesting read Gregg with great photos. Well done comparing older photos with present day ones. Bravo!

  2. Brock Cummings says:

    The energy and drive you had to have had to do all you did, to absorb what you saw then reflect on it later is stunning. Well done and thanks for giving us the chance to live vicariously through you.

    1. Gregg Blachford says:

      You have been a wonderful supporter of my work here since the beginning, Brock. Thank you. In this post I was happy to post a photo of you from the “old days” with Dennis.

  3. Tyrone Deere says:

    Dear Gregg,
    You certainly seem to have enjoyed a great time during your recent holiday in Australia. You met up with many special friends going back over fifty years in various places. You must have cherished the time with many of them over the years. You can now relive great memories.

    At this stage in my life I miss the presence and company of so many friends. Many have died, or gone from my area, and I also shifted 1000 miles away. I can still cherish a few friends when we meet. I guess it is the same for you now. In Canada. May our God (and their God) bless us all to the end. Tyrone

  4. Phoebe Warren says:

    Looks like you had a fabulous time, Gregg. Love the photo comparisons and how vibrant everywhere looks.

  5. Peter says:

    As illustrated in your post, Gregg, during your relatively short stay in Australia years ago, you made numerous friends. Wherever you went through life you continued meeting friends and staying in touch with them. That’s a great and rewarding skill.

    1. Gregg Blachford says:

      It is true, Peter, that I like holding onto special people from my past. And I was happy to have held onto you as a friend since we first met in high school in Don Mills in 1965! Thank you so much for your friendship and support over the years. xo

  6. Roy Lyster says:

    Such an enriching (and enviable) experience to reconnect with friends from the past and from far away. Thanks for sharing, Gregg!

  7. Dennis Gray says:

    Thanks, Gregg. It is lovely to read your take on Sydney and World Pride.
    And how could I not have enjoyed my fifteen minutes of fame – a write-up (with photos!) about our get-together in Melbourne.

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