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Mardi Gras and the Sleaze Ball

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The year’s highlight is the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras (http://www.mardigras.org.au): three weeks of exhibitions, performances and other events, including the Mardi Gras Film Festival (http://www.queerscreen.com.au), showcasing the latest in queer cinema. Mardi Gras starts the second week of February, kicking off with a free Fair Day in Victoria Park, Camperdown, and culminating with a massive parade and party, usually on the first weekend of March. The first parade was held in 1978 as a gay-rights protest and today it’s the biggest celebration of gay and lesbian culture in the world. The main event is the exuberant night-time parade down Oxford Street, when up to half-a-million gays and straights jostle for the best viewing positions, before the Dykes on Bikes – traditional leaders of the parade since 1988 – roar into view. Participants devote months to the preparation of outlandish floats and outrageous costumes at Mardi Gras workshops, and even more time is devoted to the preparation of beautiful bodies in Sydney’s packed gyms. The parade begins at 7.45pm (finishing around 10.30pm), but people line the barricades along Oxford Street from mid-morning (brandishing stolen milk crates to stand on for a better view). If you can’t get to Oxford Street until late afternoon, your best chance of finding a spot is along Flinders Street near Moore Park Road, where the parade ends.

The all-night dance party that follows the parade attracts up to 25,000 people and is held in several differently themed dance spaces at The Entertainment Quarter in Moore Park. You may have to plan ahead if you want to get a ticket: party tickets sometimes sell out by the end of January. The Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Guide, available from mid-December, can be picked up from bookshops, cafés and restaurants around Oxford Street or viewed online on the Mardi Gras website.

Sydney just can’t wait all year for Mardi Gras, so the Sleaze Ball is a very welcome stopgap in early October, and acts as a fundraiser for the Mardi Gras organizers. Similar to the Mardi Gras party, it’s held at The Entertainment Quarter, and goes on through the night. For those who miss the main event, the recovery parties the next day are nearly as good; virtually all the bars and clubs host all-day sessions after the parties, especially the lanes behind the Flinders Bar, which are packed with exhausted but deliriously happy party-people.

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