Sydney’s Mardi Gras marches on despite virus venue change

Participants wearing costumes march in the parade during the 43rd Sydney Mardi Gras at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney on March 6, 2021. Photo: David Gray | AFP

SYDNEY: The gleaming pageantry of Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade couldn’t be dulled by a Covid-forced venue change Saturday as marchers moved from the streets to a stadium.

Revellers usually line the traditional parade route through the city’s LGBT hub, but due to Covid-19 concerns, the event was held inside the Sydney Cricket Ground to an audience of 36,000.

“It is such an amazing event we’ve had this year, to really be together, to fight what we’ve had,” Dr Bushan Joshi, who marched with other frontline health workers. 

Joshi, one of the 5,000 parade participants, said it was amazing to see so many people together, safely celebrating at the SCG.

The usually boisterous street parade was corralled inside the sports ground in an attempt to prevent the potential spread of Covid-19.

But the tightly managed spectacle, filled with pyrotechnics, dazzling performances and speckled with corporate sponsors, was a far cry from the first 1978 protest, which ended in the violent arrest of activists on Oxford Street.

A large contingent of the original marchers took to the ground alongside several groups pushing for political change, including calls for transgender rights and an end to deaths of Indigenous Australians in police custody.

With the official parade moved off the streets, a separate protest of hundreds of activists instead took to the traditional route earlier in the day.

Organiser Charlie Murphy, from Pride in Protest, told AFP that street protest was an integral part of Mardi Gras, particularly important in the ongoing fight for rights across marginalised groups. 

“(Protest) should and always continue to be part of what Mardi Gras is, whether it’s in the parade or the broader festival for years to come,” Murphy said.

Around the city countless more partied at pubs and bars, as Sydney’s state of New South Wales went 48 days without a local transmission of the virus.

The ability to celebrate the event at all is a mark of Australia’s success in suppressing Covid-19, with over 29,000 cases and 909 deaths linked to the virus in a population of over 25 million. – AFP