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From its beginnings as a gay rights demonstration in 1978, Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has grown into a fortnight of culture and debauchery writes OutUK Australia correspondent Christopher Kelly.

It's almost upon us: the largest, most fabulous, most diverse queer celebration in the Southern Hemisphere - Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Running with the theme 'Creating Equality', the 2017 Mardi Gras calendar includes comedy, exhibitions, music, theatre, and film. And, of course, parties!

2017 highlights include Sydney's Biggest Underwear Party (note to self: Kmart pants won't do), a Pool Party, and Extra Dirty - a leather/fetish/rubber party.

In all, more than 80 events will take place from Friday 17 February until Sunday 5 March 2017. Full details can be found here mardigras.org.au.

Photograph by Mazz Images.
Unless you're the Energiser Bunny, you'll be hard pressed to attend everything, but there are three main perennial events you should try not to miss: Fair Day, the Parade and the official Mardi Gras Party. Held in Camperdown Park, Newtown, on Sunday 19 February, Fair Day is a free community gathering featuring cabaret, DJs, stalls, sports and entertainment. Fair Day is fun for all the rainbow family, so bring the kids, bring the dogs and bring a picnic.
The big day of the Parade is Saturday 4 March. Every year before the event, a mean-spirited group of God-botherers pray for rain. Imagine the horror on their faces when, one year, after a brief shower, a rainbow appeared!

Come rain or shine, the Mardi Gras Parade is a dazzling affair featuring around 10,000 people marching, dancing and generally whooping it up through the streets of Darlinghurst. But it's not all glitter and sequins. And with Australia one of the last countries in the developed world yet to achieve marriage equality - a sad fact that's beyond embarrassing - the Parade's civil rights roots will be very much on display.

Photograph by Mazz Images.
After the Parade, the Official Party. Spectacular and raunchy, the Mardi Gras Party (Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park; 10pm-8am) is a time for the community to come together en masse, glam up and go hard. And being Sydney, we'll be mad at it for days on end. Recovery parties will be on all over at all times. Check gay press (SX, Star Observer) for details.

SYDNEY SIGHTS

One thing you should definitely do is catch the Manly Ferry. Seriously. It leaves from Circular Quay, and takes you to Manly Beach and back. And it's one of the best (and cheapest) ways to enjoy a cruise with the locals on Sydney Harbour. At Manly, wander down The Corso to Manly Beach, pick up some fish and chips, and enjoy the sun, sand and surf. It's magic.


Ferry arrives at Manly Wharf, Manly.
(c) Destination NSW
A less-touristy alternative is to catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Old Cremorne, then take an easy walk along the foreshore to Cremore Point and pick up the ferry on its return to the Quay ... wonderful views, without the crowds.

One of the most successful additions to Sydney's "must do" list is BridgeClimb. So get your gear on, strap up, and join a small group climb over the top of the ultimate Sydney icon, the Harbour Bridge. The views are to die for. Contact BridgeClimb on 61-2-8274 7777.

You can't come to Sydney and not enjoy lunch while gazing out over the Pacific at Bondi Beach. Bondi's main drag, Campbell Parade, is lined with cafes and restaurants: try Sean's Panorama at the northern end; Yulla or Fu Manchu at the southern end. By the way, alcohol is no longer allowed on the beach itself. After lunch, go for a walk along the cliffs to Sydney's gay beach, Tamarama, renamed Glamarama in honour of the beautiful people.

It may not be an obvious choice, but as a Norwegian visitor put it "leaving Australia without trying to surf is like visiting Norway and not going skiing." And where better to have your first surfing lesson than at Bondi Beach? The local surf school caters for beginners who have never ridden a board before, and for 16 provides boards, wetsuits, and two hours of friendly tuition in small groups of about six. The experience is loads of fun, and those wet suits can be very sexy. Contact Let's Go Surfing on 61-2-9365 1800.

CLUBBING & BARS

Despite the closure of a number of iconic gay hang-outs, Darlinghurst is still the place to circulate and degenerate. The main drag - Oxford Street - is home to some of Sydney's busiest gay bars. One of the oldest is the Midnight Shift (85 Oxford Street). Once a dingy, smoke-filled space where you could perv on blokes playing pool, these days the Shift is a pink-hued affair offering go-go boys and cocktails. There's a club upstairs and a bistro next door. Expect the place to be heaving.

A hop, skip and fandango away you'll find the Stonewall Hotel (175 Oxford Street). Featuring three floors and four bars, Stonewall is twink central and one of the very few places in Sydney to still showcase drag. Famous for its midweek pickup night 'Malebox', on Wednesday 1 March Stonewall will be hosting a Mardi Gras 'Mega Malebox' with DJs on hand to keep you dancing all night.


Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade,
Oxford Street.
(c) Destination NSW / Steven Yee
Another mainstay of the Oxford Street strip is the Oxford (134 Oxford Street). Over the years, the place has gone through more changes than Mr Benn. These days, the Oxford exudes a more chilled vibe offering grub, cocktails and entertainment.

Across the way, off Taylor Square, you'll find Arq (16 Flinders Street). For 18 years, this spacious multilevel club has been packing them in. Upstairs you'll find wildebeests of shirtless brawn strutting to beats, while down below there's more groove than corrugated iron. Over 30s will especially appreciate the soft furnishings where acting laidback couldn't be easier.

If Darlinghurst gets a bit too much, you can always head to Erskineville where you'll find another gay icon of the scene: the Imperial (35 Erskineville Road). Under new ownership (and still milking its Priscilla cachet), the Imperial hosts drag, cabaret, and top-notch DJs. In nearby Newtown, while not exclusively gay, both the Bank (324 King Street) and the Newtown (174 King Street) are lively spaces that attract a mixed bag of punters.

Both Erskineville and Newtown have the advantage of having escaped the city's notorious 'lockout laws'. In response to incidents of alcohol-fuelled violence, the NSW government has introduced laws preventing bars and clubs from accepting patrons after 1.30am - so it pays to think ahead about where you want to be spending the latter part of the night.

DOWN UNDER'N'DIRTY

If you want to play down 'n' dirty Sydney has no shortage of saunas and sex clubs. Investigate Headquarters (273 Crown St, Darlinghurst), Sydney Gay Steam (357 Sussex St, Darlinghurst), Sydney Sauna (1st flr, 38-42 Oxford St, Darlinghurst), Bodyline (10 Taylor St, Darlinghurst), The Den (1st flr, 97 Oxford St, Darlinghurst), Signal (cnr Riley St/Arnold Place, Darlinghurst) and Ken's at Kensington (83 Anzac Parade, Kensington).

Being Sydney, there's also a beach scene to explore. Obelisk, Tamarama, Lady Jane and La Perouse are all good for a cruise.

Above is just a microcosm of the carry on to be had. As you'd expect from the party-pig capital of the Asia Pacific, Sydney has something for everyone. So enjoy, stay safe and happy Mardi Gras!

WHERE TO STAY

Like any big international capital you've got a big choice. If you're looking for great deals on apartments and gay-friendly hotels check out the special offers in real-time with OutUK's online service Bookings.



Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade,
Oxford Street. (c) Destination NSW
THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Midnight Shift (85 Oxford Street)
Stonewall Hotel (175 Oxford Street)
Oxford (134 Oxford Street)
Arq (16 Flinders Street) Website
The Imperial (35 Erskineville Road)
The Bank (324 King Street)
The Newtown (174 King Street)
Headquarters (273 Crown St, Darlinghurst)
Sydney Gay Steam (357 Sussex St, Darlinghurst)
Sydney Sauna (1st flr, 38-42 Oxford St, Darlinghurst)
Bodyline (10 Taylor St, Darlinghurst)
The Den (1st flr, 97 Oxford St, Darlinghurst)
Signal (cnr Riley St/Arnold Place, Darlinghurst)
Ken's at Kensington (83 Anzac Parade, Kensington)

Revised January 2017.

 

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