The First Sydney Mardi Gras: What Happened on the Night of 24-25 June 1978?

by Gavin Harris and John Witte

The backlash was heating up. Mary Whitehouse’s Festival of Light was promoting ‘family values’ and lobbying against abortion, pornography and homosexuality. And Fred Nile was bringing her to Sydney. Meanwhile, Anita Bryant was fighting to save Florida’s children from homosexuals and Senator John Briggs was campaigning to stop them from teaching in California’s high schools.

Fighting back, San Francisco’s activists called for international support.  ‘Paula and Buddy’ sent form letters (8 March 1978), urging their friends to: parade or demonstrate; screen films; send representatives to San Francisco and telegraph support. They finished:

Imagine the positive impression millions of people marching peacefully and proudly for gay rights will have on world opinion!

Alison Britten, an Australian expat, told them to contact Ken Davis and Ann Talve, two Sydney activists.[i] Davis approached the local groups and Sydney University’s Active Defence of Homosexuals on Campus (ADHOC) hosted a meeting to discuss the letter (20 May 1978). They decided to support the Americans, to protest against Mary Whitehouse’s visit, to promote the next National Conference and to introduce gay lib to ‘new layers of homosexual men and women’. The SRC would help with money and facilities[ii].

01 Word is Out
“Word Is Out” documentary. Image: “Word Is Out: Stories Of Some Of Our Lives”, New Glide Publications, San Francisco, 1978.

At the same time, the Paris Cinema staged Sydney’s first gay film festival. It screened Word Is Out, a documentary which featured out-and-proud gay men and lesbians. Seeing its campy street parades, Ron Austin, a member of CAMP’s Political Action Group, imagined a ‘street party’.

02 SF Gay Pride Day Parade 1977
San Francisco Gay Pride Day Parade 1977. © Marie Ueda Collection from Calisphere.

It needed to be non-political, it had to be a party. It had to be a celebration. It had to be devoid of banners and slogans and daylight because people were afraid to be seen.[iii]

Austin talked to Lance Gowland, Kym Skinner and Jim Walker, who was a medical doctor. They took his idea to CAMP’s Political Action Group – where Margaret McMann said: ‘you mean a Mardi Gras’. The Action Group introduced it at the University meetings, which took it on as part of its International Day of Gay Solidarity (DIGS) project. Garry Bennett and Graham Chuck joined them. Chris Jones designed butterfly posters and Peter Murphy helped paste them up because he thought: ‘it would be easier for people to come out. They won’t be carrying placards, doing a rigid type of performance…’[iv] If ADHOC and the academic feminists abhorred the commercial scene, Lance and some of his comrades wanted to broaden gay lib’s outreach[v] (KD, GC).

Gowland booked a flat-back and went, with Chuck, to the Police Headquarters in College Street to get the permit. They wanted to go down Oxford Street, Liverpool Street and George Street – so they could zap the movie-goers. When the senior police insisted on a short route[vi], Gowland suggested they finish up at Hyde Park. The cops went apoplectic. Gowland was determined to make it happen and they agreed to end at Liverpool Street.  This meant they could go past the gay bars and urge the patrons ‘out of the bars and into the streets’. Gowland could address the revellers from the back of the truck. But it was only a 600 metre sprint.

The main team had already formed the Gay Solidarity Group (GSG) as an umbrella group of socialists, communists, feminists, Christians, CAMP and Young ALP. They resolved to theme the DIGS as ‘Come Out Fighting’[vii] and they issued three demands: stop the police attacks on gays and lesbians, repeal the anti-homosexual laws and end discrimination.

Gowland got his permit. Three days before the weekend, Roy Hyde, Assistant Commissioner of Police, authorised their ‘procession’.

03 NSW Police page 1
NSW Police permit (page 1)
04 NSW Police page 2
NSW Police permit (page 2)

The permit read, in full:
…in accordance with Section 44 of the Summary Offences Act No 96 of 1970, I consent to the holding of a procession under the terms and conditions set out hereunder

NAME OF APPLICANT ORGANISATION:                    International Gay Rights Day

TIME & DATE OF COMMENCEMENT:                       10.30pm                             24 .6.77 [sic]

STARTING POINT                                                           Oxford Street, east of Flinders Street

FINISHING POINT                                                          Hyde Park, at Liverpool Street

ROUTE:                                                                            Oxford Street, Riley Street to Campbell Street,      return along Riley Street, Oxford Street, Hyde Park

The consent is granted subject to the specified conditions:

  • A red light shall be carried on a bar between two persons at the rear of the procession or at the rear of a motor vehicle in the case of a motorised procession, such red light to be of sufficient size and brightness as to be clearly distinguishable to drivers of vehicles overtaking such procession.
  • No articles are to be distributed to spectators during the conduct of the procession
  • No loud speakers or amplifiers to be used
  • Serious obstruction not to be caused to pedestrian or vehicular traffic
  • Any police direction given to be promptly obeyed
  • Unseemly conduct by speakers or persons in attendance will result in consideration being given to the cancellation of the permit issued
  • That the number of vehicles taking part in the procession be limited to not more than six (6) and that they all joint the procession at the assembly point.
  • This instrument of Consent must be carried by a person accepting responsibility for the conduct of the procession and be produced on demand to any Police Officer for inspection.
  • Persons participating in the procession to disperse at Hyde Park
  • No meetings or speeches to take place in Hyde Park.

Yours faithfully

R C Hyde
Assistant Commissioner

We don’t know who proposed the Riley Street detour, which meant they could have passed Ruby Red’s, the women’s bar.

It was going ahead. The posters were up, the leaflets were out, the papers were covering it, friends were ringing around. Come Friday night, Sheila, a women’s band, was entertaining them at Petersham Town Hall. They raised $3000 and Maurice Blackman took it home for safe keeping. Meanwhile, Oxford Street was grooving to the Bee Gees, Patrick Juvet and the Village People.

05 Day of International Gay Solidarity poster
GSG plastered these posters around Darlinghurst and East Sydney. © Chris Jones 1978.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE… (IN)VISIBLE?

New York’s summer heat had sparked Stonewall, nine years earlier. Here in Sydney, it was all but the shortest day – and the longest night – of the year. The DIGs dawned. It was a sunny day and Sydney woke to The Weekend Australian‘s special report on homosexuals and society.  The main article presented the Mardi Gras as ‘an act of defiance’ and Jill Neville thought that homosexuals were ‘a potential for revolution’. Amanda Wilson thought that it might incite a backlash. Citing Bryant’s success in repealing some American laws, she concluded that the march would ‘do more harm than good to many individual homosexuals’. Peter Blazey’s piece argued for and against demonstrations when ‘most Sydney gays are happy living in their closets and private ghettoes of bars, discos and close friends’. His headline read: ‘Come Out Fighting’. At the same time, Garry Bennett lambasted the bar scene and promised Margaret Roadknight and Robyn Archer at a concert in Hyde Park.

Later that morning, 500 activists gathered at Town Hall Square and marched along George Street to Martin Place. They were coming out to the Saturday morning shoppers. They called on the Macquarie Street to repeal all its anti-homosexual laws; to bar discrimination and to end police harassment as well as ‘a bill of rights which includes freedom of sexual preferences’.[viii] Their banners read: ‘gay rights are human rights’; ‘repeal all anti-homosexual laws & end police harassment’; ‘international gay solidarity’, ‘lesbians & homosexuals demand the right to work’. They chanted ‘ho- ho-homosexual’; ‘disarm rapists and disarm poofter bashers’ and ‘get your laws off our bodies’. [ix] Women took the frontline. Chuck remembered a relatively happy atmosphere and Davis felt

There were a lot more people than we expected. And they came from a wide variety of groups…But there was a lot of conflict within the march…because lots of people came with expectations about what was a good image for lesbians and gays. For some men, the lesbians weren’t dressed properly. Some lesbians thought the guys in leather were a problem. And lots of people thought the Metropolitan Christian (sic) Community Church and the Acceptance contingents were inappropriate. Like, why are we marching with these Christian stuff, because they are our oppressors? The Jewish people…had an enormous Israeli flag and I thought that was inappropriate. [x]

When they got to Martin Place, they listened to speakers, sang community songs and drifted away.

06 George St 24 June 1978
Day of International Gay Solidarity, the morning march along George Street, June 24 1978. © Green Left. Photographer: Anthony Forward.

The public meeting started at 2 o’clock that afternoon, when 30 or 40 die-hards turned up. Dennis Altman spoke about the gay rights movement in Australia[xi] and others reported on gays in Cuba, Chile, Canada and the USA. Gowland went home to decorate the flat-back and Chuck sorted his cassette tapes and set-up a scrappy sound system.[xii]

OXFORD STREET

That night, some 500 people gathered on Oxford Street, just east of Taylor Square.[xiii] The posters had advertised a 10 o’clock start: the permit said they could begin at 10.30.  There was a ‘light buoyant and vibrant atmosphere’ and several people thought, retrospectively, that the half dozen or so cops were benign. [xiv] [xv] [xvi]

04 Peter Tully in full feathered glory
Peter Tully, in full feathered glory. © Branco Gaica, photographer (1.11).
05 Bob Russell went Popish
Bob Russell went Popish, and blessed the crowd © Branco Gaica, photographer.
06 Balkan Restaurant
They gathered outside the Balkan restaurant and got going before 11 o’clock. © Branco Gaica, photographer (1.6).
07 Greenleaf Grey Errey RESIZED n CROPPED
Kaye Greenleaf, Heather Grey and Genevieve Errey. Greenleaf is weaving her protective ensemble. A veteran demonstrator, she came prepared for a tussle. © Branco Gaica, photographer (1.13).
08 Some people camped it up
Some people camped it up. Other wore their winter woollies. Ken Davis doubled up with a gay lib flag to ward off the winter chill. © Branco Gaica, photographer.

But whatever the organizers’ intentions, some bar queens and dykes saw it ‘as a way of expressing gay identity’[xvii] while others thought it was ‘a fun thing to do’[xviii] or ‘a get together thingy, not really a protest march’[xix] – and dressed accordingly. Some people had painted their faces.  Others wore makeshift fancy dress and gender-bending outfits. Christine Pearce was wearing a double-breasted pin-striped suit and smoking joints. Austin had a vivid green caftan. Both he and Skinner had painted their faces with clown make-up – ‘we were hiding our identities to some extent’.[xx] avis wore a cowgirl outfit, Peter Tully wore ‘Red Indian’ gear. Kate Rowe had army pants and a duffle coat. Bob Russell wore his Pope outfit and Peter C Langford wore a crazy dress, blond Shirley Temple curls – and his everyday moustache. Kay Greenleaf had a heavy duty boiler suit – she was used to police violence. Gowland thought he should look respectable, so he wore his work uniform – a white Quarantine Officer shirt and cap. Craig Johnston dressed ‘clone’. Vaughan Hinton ‘wore casual conservative’, so he could pass as a by-stander. Jeff Kinder’s friend had told him to wear something ‘a bit camp’ so he wore ‘a kind of army outfit à la Village People’.[xxi]

There was a good number of people there in costume… Some seemed a little self-conscious in their outfits. [xxii]

12 Ken Skinner and Ron Austin
Kym Skinner and Ron Austin ready for festive fun and camouflage. © Branco Gaica, photographer (detail 1.13).

Some of them had been to the pubs. Some had cans, long-necks and joints. Some were there because they went to all the demos. Some women thought they were going to another demo. But Vaughan Hinton was almost catatonic at gay demonstrations and felt more comfortable going to something like this. Rick Dowdle was making his first public statement about his gay pride. Frank Howarth had read about New York’s gay scene and thought it was important, but he hadn’t dressed up. Branco Gaica & Libby Bessell-Browne, a straight couple, were supposed to meet their gay mate, who didn’t turn up. Branco had his camera with him. So when people started to move, they went with the flow. Terry Goulden and Peter Trebilco, from CAMP, expected trouble, had some bail money and walked on the side as ‘observers’. Stuart Round, a journalist, was another ‘observer’.

Meanwhile, Inspector Ken Millar, of the Communications Branch, was the rostered Night Officer for the inner eastern suburbs, got a phone call when he signed on. He rushed to Taylor Square where Sgt Cassidy showed him the permit. Davis reckons that Millar and Cassidy were confused about what the permit meant[xxiii] and Gowland reckoned, retrospectively,

They didn’t even want us to start. They came over and said ‘what are you blokes doin’ here?’ Cos they hadn’t been told apparently, so we got the permit from the City and this was the Darlinghurst cops.[xxiv]

The revellers didn’t know what to expect. Hinton and Skinner thought they would disperse at Hyde Park and head back to the bars. Davis and Goulden thought they would disco in the Park.[xxv] ‘Sue-Ellen’ thought they’d listen to speakers; Gowland himself thought they’d have ‘just music and a few speeches’.

They started off. Gowland was driving as slowly as possible. On the back of the flat-back, Chuck was playing Tom Robinson’s ‘Sing If You’re Glad To Be Gay’; Meg Christian’s ‘Ode To A Gym Teacher’, Robyn Archer’s ‘Dicks Don’t Grow On Trees’ and salsa music. People were dancing on the back.

 

Bruce Laidlaw was driving the Acceptance Kombi-van at the back to meet the permit specifications. [xxvi] Four or five cops were trailing him. The revellers were chanting ‘out of the bars and onto the streets’. Kate Rowe ‘was just wild, ecstatic and screaming… up the lezzos!’[xxvii]  Another kid was skipping around and shouting ‘I’ll never go back into the closet again’. People came out to gawk. But some were joining the party. Their chants ‘worked like a charm’.[xxviii]

09 Passing Patches disco
Passing Patches disco, they called, ‘Out of the bars and onto the streets’. © Branco Gaica, photographer (1.19).

Gowland drove straight down Oxford Street, stopping at Patches to let the revellers catch-up.[xxix] [xxx] The police kept hassling him. [xxxi]  He relayed all their directions. If he stopped the truck, they’d revoke the permit, arrest him and pull the plug on the parade.[xxxii]  By Crown Street ‘they wanted to get rid of us’; ‘they wanted to sweep us down the street’.[xxxiii]  Gowland reckoned they were ‘completely beside themselves’. He protested loudly.

Other activists, including Peter Murphy and Geoff Evans, joined them at Hyde Park. Garry Wotherspoon and his friends drifted back to the bars

I didn’t want to listen to any more stories about how late capitalism was the scourge of homosexuality and how, when we had socialism in place, homosexuals would be living the life of heaven.[xxxiv]

HYDE PARK

But, by the time they got to the corner, Gowland was driving erratically and Chuck was still playing the music, oblivious of the fracas. Gowland turned into College Street and stopped right in front of the Police Headquarters.

14 Gowland parked the flat at College St
Gowland parked the flat-back at College Street. © Branco Gaica, photographer (2.37).
10 Police switched off the sound system
The police switched off the sound system. Gowland turned it back on and called to the crowd to jump in the flat-back so they could protect it from the cops. © Branco Gaica photographer. (2.38).

(The police) tried to smash the window in my van…They didn’t want us to be there, they hated us, well in those days they were all homophobic bastards… It was terrible… They pulled me out of the truck and they were going to arrest me. But the crowd pulled me away from them. It was a tug of war and we had the numbers. But they got in the truck and drove it away with people on the back and the PA system and everything. They just took it away.’[xxxv]

One cop had him, until Brian McGahan bit his wrist.[xxxvi] [xxxvii] A scuffle broke out.

11 Cops pull Gowland out of truck
The cops pulled Gowland out of the truck and the crowd tried to protect him. ©Branco Gaica photographer (2.39).

A few of the younger ones were giving lip. It was 11.00pm. Some women shielded Gowland and he got away. The police drove the truck into Francis Street, tossed the keys into the cabin and stormed off.

Nobody could marshal the revellers. No one knew what was going on, what to do, where to go. A ranger told Gail Hewison that they couldn’t go into the park and called for reinforcements. Jeff Stanton and his GSG mates had a loud hailer and said ‘To Kings Cross!’ Others took up the idea. A few people went up Francis Street and others went up Stanley Street.[xxxviii] [xxxix] Gowland and Chuck locked up the sound system and the truck. They couldn’t see anyone and they didn’t know what was happening, so they headed for the Cross.[xl]

Most people wanted to party on and headed down College Street. Paul Terrett realised where they were going and followed the crowd. Hinton wondered why they’d extended the route – but he was still having fun. Inspector Millar tried to channel them into Park Street, but they brushed him aside. [xli]

12 Inspector Millar tried to direct crowd
Inspector Millar tried to direct the crowd away from William Street and toward the city. © Branco Gaica, photographer (2.41).

Millar phone for back-up and told them to keep the crowd out of the Cross. Shane Brown and some of his anarchist mates joined them.[xlii] They linked arms to support and defend each other. Their street party had become a march. They were buoyant and chanting[xliii] and blocking traffic.

13 They rushed up William Street
They rushed up William Street. © Branco Gaica, photographer (2.42).

Banks compared it to ‘running of the bulls’. [xliv] There were more and more police sirens and flashing lights.[xlv] Witte ‘sensed doom’.[xlvi] Johnston was ‘exhilarated’.[xlvii] Maria Wilson thought that the cops were stopping the traffic to help them: she thought they were sanctioning their parade[xlviii]. Banks saw some police vans going into the Cross and wondered ‘whether it had something to do with us’.[xlix]  Murphy saw paddy wagons at the top of William Street: ‘It was like a military operation’. He sensed trouble, found a payphone and rang Barbara Ramjam, whose partner was a lawyer. [l]

The revellers stopped at the top of William Street. Should they go into the Cross? It might be dangerous. Some of the anarchists went into Darlinghurst Road. People followed.[li]  haryn Lee sensed something was wrong and bailed out.[lii] Some cops were standing on the side. People with megaphones urged them on.[liii]  They had to squeeze past a paddy wagon to get into Darlinghurst Road. [liv]

19 They sidestepped a paddy wagon
They sidestepped a paddy wagon that was blocking Darlinghurst Road. From the film Witches and Faggots, Dykes and Poofters © Digby Duncan 1980.

 KINGS CROSS

People came out of the strip clubs. They were drunk and rowdy.[lv]  Some people started abusing them. Others climbed onto the awnings and cheered them on. The police were diverting the traffic. There were loud, endless sirens. The police had removed their identification numbers. [lvi] [lvii] [lviii] [lix] Some paddy wagons came up Macleay Street and swung around, so their open back doors faced the crowd.[lx] They blocked off Macleay Street, Elizabeth Bay Road and Barncleuth Square. Others blocked off the Bayswater Road end.  Cops spewed out of vans.[lxi]

The front people got to the El Alamein Fountain.

14 Revellers got to El Alamein Fountain
The revellers got to the El Alamein Fountain… © Branco Gaica, photographer.
15 But the Police were waiting RESIZED n CROPPED
…but the police were waiting for them, with paddy wagons. © Branco Gaica, photographer.

They were still singing and clapping when Inspector Millar told them that their march was illegal and they would be arrested if they didn’t disperse[lxii]  or move off the road. Austin, Skinner, Ian Smith, John Terry (Redfern Legal Aid) and Walker asked him if he was going to read the Summary Offences Act and wanted a loud hailer, so they could disperse the crowd. [lxiii] The cops told them to fuck off. [lxiv] [lxv] They stopped chanting, turned around, linked arms and walked back along Darlinghurst Road, trying to get into the side streets. The police (claimed that they) tried to stop them, shouting ‘you’ve had enough! Go back to the fountain!’ (ibid). But there were up to 2000 people on the street and they had lost control.

Well we started dispersing, by going back up Darlinghurst Street (sic) but there were too many of us to fit onto the crowded pavements already, from people that were just there anyhow, but who were also looking at this march.[lxvi]

They got past Roslyn Street. But Millar had told his men that he had informed the crowd that they were in an unauthorised march. He had told his men they could arrest them ‘if, and where, necessary only’. [lxvii] They went for it and this sparked the resistance. The paddy wagons drove at them. [lxviii]  Watching from a friend’s flat, Kinder saw them driving into the crowd – two abreast.[lxix] They had blinding, high beams. They had blocked the side streets, sandwiching everyone between the Coke sign and the Fountain. The street erupted.

15A Revellers backtracked along Darlinghurst Road
The revellers backtracked along Darlinghurst Road. © Branco Gaica, photographer.
16 Inspector Millar gave the word
Inspector Millar gave the word. The arrests began and Darlinghurst Road exploded. © Branco Gaica, photographer (2.11).

Gowland and Chuck had caught up and saw the cops punching and kicking people.[lxx] They were grabbing, thumping, bashing and pulling hair.[lxxi]  Someone threw a crate at one of the paddy wagons, smashing the window. [lxxii] Someone kicked a policeman in the balls.[lxxiii]  The people on the awnings were hurling stuff at the cops. People were chucking garbage bins, boxes, bottles. The cops were kicking, thumping, punching. One cop threw a man into a van. He landed on his stomach and the cop slammed the door on his legs.

17 They tossed men and women into paddy wagons
They tossed men and women into their paddy wagons. © Branco Gaica, photographer (3.4).

The police were targeting women. ‘They seemed to make their attacks especially sexual’. They were dragging women along by the hair. They dragged one woman by the tits. She called, ‘Let go of my tits’, so they charged her with offensive language’.[lxxiv]

Robyn Plaister remembers:

…there was about three or four women that had grabbed me on one side and I had the cops pulling the other way… And there was a paddy wagon there and they were going to throw me into the paddy wagon… I was on the ground, lying on my back, and there was these cops looking down at me and this cop leaned over me and said ‘piss off quickly into the crowd’, which I thought was really weird. They let go of my arms, the women still had hold of me. Meanwhile there were guys trying to rip the police off from behind. And the women sort of dragged me out from underneath. [lxxv]

Sandra Banks remembers:

They picked me up and threw me towards the paddy wagon … my chest was black and blue from having hit the truck. And my arms both had huge marks [from] manhandling by the police there… [lxxvi]

Murphy and Mackinolty raced into it. Murphy tried to drag someone away from the police. A cop grabbed his arm and swung him through the air. His glasses fell off. They tossed him into a paddy wagon. He got out. They tossed him back in. Chuck was already there.[lxxvii]  Ten minutes later the cops tried to toss a seventh person into the wagon. Chuck, Murphy and the others took their chance. Two got away, but:

… I dropped my bag. I had a green shoulder bag and somehow or other I had it in my hand and I should have had it over me and I dropped it on the ground and it made me lose momentum. I picked it up and when I stood up a policeman was there and he hit me right between the eyes and I was knocked down and [he] grabbed me and threw me back in, and they managed to put all four of us back in.[lxxviii]

Rowe was abusing the cops and Gulliver was dragging her away. She retrieved Rowe’s glasses and gave them back to her. Gulliver, Clarke and Lyons were all trying to help Hewison, who was screaming ‘let me go!’ because they were ripping her apart.[lxxix] The cops picked her up and threw her, head first, into a wagon. She (and the others) were so stunned they didn’t try to escape.[lxxx]

Evans joined the chants of ‘stop police attacks on gays, women & Blacks’ and tried to rescue people. He heard the cops say ‘get him’ and took off through the crowd. He collided with a pile of newspapers. The cops nabbed him and threw him into a wagon. Leigh Holloway tried to stop them, so they tossed him in as well. Inside, people were proud of the stand they’d taken. Some other cops surrounded Shane Brown. They dragged him by the hair: his mates pulled him by his feet. The cops tossed him into another wagon. It was noisy and people were trying to escape.[lxxxi]

Some people got away.

They threw us into a paddy wagon, but when they opened the door to throw some more people in, we made our escape. It was really funny to have the cops yell after us while we were running away ’get back here you poofs or you’re dead!’ We kept running… [lxxxii]

Some people restrained their friends and lovers. Some fled. Craig Walker has written, retrospectively,

I remember, like a coward, I ran away when people started getting bashed and thrown into wagons. I was scared. I couldn’t afford to be arrested. I was 17. I was just down from the country and staying at my grandmother’s place in Stanmore… I remember running around and hiding in Victoria Street, down near what is now the Site Nightclub, working my way back to see that (well I thought) 100 of my ‘friends’ – I didn’t know them that well – were being hustled into vans and taken away. [lxxxiii]

Paul Terrett’s brother told him to duck down a side street.

A policeman grabbed me, and said something like, ‘you can come with me’. I said I was 17. For some reason he let me go. I ran to the side street and met my brother. We managed to get away. When all this was going on, a woman spat on my brother and said ‘you dirty poofters!’ [lxxxiv]

Others hid. Minnis had a broken leg. Her girlfriend stuck Davis and her in a doorway, so they could see what was going on, but wouldn’t get caught. Kimberley O’Sullivan and her girlfriend hid under a car.We stayed there for ages and were frightened that the police would look under the car, see us and drag us out’.[lxxxv]

It was crowded and people surrounded the paddy wagons so they couldn’t move.[lxxxvi] It stopped when they were full and they could drive away, but some cops stayed at the fountain.[lxxxvii] The paddy wagons sped up Victoria Street and rammed on their brakes. The people inside screamed. [lxxxviii]

DARLINGHURST POLICE STATION

It was over by 12.40am. A lot of people headed off to Darlinghurst Police Station. They were blocking the traffic. Craig Walker and some other people stood near the old toilets, watching for a couple of hours.[lxxxix]  Others congregated outside the Station, huddling together for warmth and comfort [xc]  chanting ‘get the laws off our bodies’[xci]  ‘let them go’, ‘stop police attacks on gays, women & Blacks’[xcii] ‘All we are saying is give gays a chance’[xciii]  and singing ‘we shall overcome’.[xciv]

18 Hundreds of people chanted their support
Hundreds of people chanted their support for the men and women who were in the cells. © Branco Gaica, photographer (3.15).

Some people sat in the pavement – they had been walking for hours.[xcv]  Some appeared to be in shock. One man was still clutching the garbage can lid he had used to defend himself. One woman was in the doorway – she was on all fours and oinking like a pig. The cops arrested her, but let her go. [xcvi] There were probably 100 people. Friends, lawyers and lovers joined them. Others drifted away. [xcvii] [xcviii]  The Station was virtually barricaded and people refused to leave. One of the lawyers remembered

A uniformed policeman posted by the garage entrance held a truncheon at the ready. When I approached him for a comment, his only response was to give a few emphatic taps on the nearest vehicle. The cops were charged up, agitated, as if prepared for a counter attack. The atmosphere was surreal and threatening all at once.  Stories flew about people who had been seen beaten and injured, paddy wagon doors slammed on legs. No one knew exactly who or how many had been locked up. The cops outside gave no information and no one was allowed in.[xcix]

Tempers were high. A Citroen drove into Forbes Street, the driver honked his horn and started screaming at the gays, people began kicking it. Someone yelled ‘fucking straight’. He got out of the car and it rolled and smashed into a parked car.[c] [ci]

Owen Sullivan claimed that he got caught up in the fracas. He told the court that he and his mate had eaten in the Cross and were walking back to his car when he squatted to adjust his sock. The cops claimed he was trying to let down their tyres and dragged him into the station. When he got out at 8.30, his mate said he had facial bruises and a bloody nose.[cii]

Dr Jim Walker and John Terry, from Redfern Legal Aid, kept asking to see the detainees. No way. And they were still pulling people in. One cop went for one of Pearce’s friends.

I went after them to get them and then I was grabbed and booted in, and thrown in… I had a couple of joints in my pocket – and I had to flush them down the toilet! We were all of us in one room and we could hear kind of yelling and screaming… I was on the dole and there was some idea, ‘Oh, I’m going to get my dole taken away from me’ so I thought, I’ll just give a false name, so I made up one. [ciii]

She landed in a cell full of women. It was freezing cold and they were sitting on the floor; shoulder-to-shoulder, comforting each other. The police threw two blankets and a tin of water into the cell. They weren’t frightened; they were wondering: what was happening.[civ]  It was fun and alarming at the same time. The men and women were wise-cracking to each other. They were singing: ‘what should we do to the cops and judges come the revolution’.[cv] They could hear the chanting and realised that their mates were mobilising support.[cvi]  Rowe heard a woman yelling ‘I’m heterosexual, get me out of here’. [cvii] A couple of men said they were straight, so the cops let them go.[cviii]

Sgt Gregor Nicol and Constable Callum Currie grabbed Murphy, pushed him into the station, along a passage and into a big room stuffed with gym equipment. Nicol was yelling at him ‘you fucking little cunt!’ and smashed him in the head. He was purple with rage -, claiming Murphy had kicked him in the head when they were wrestling in the riot. Nicol, who had been a champion javelin thrower, belted him around the walls. He kept yelling. Murphy tried to stand up. Nicol bashed him in the guts, knocking him down. Murphy started to convulse and lost control of his bladder and bowels. Nicol kicked his leg. Murphy thought he was going to die. Currie said, ‘that’s enough!’ Quietly. He said it twice. They stopped and picked him up. Murphy couldn’t stand. ‘Not so smart now, eh!’ Nicol said. They dragged him to a cell and left him there – alone. He could hear people yelling his name. About an hour later, they took him to the charge room, which was jammed with all the other men. He was feeling incredibly sick. At about 3 or 4 o’clock, they took him to a big room, where he saw Walker, a lawyer and a senior police officer. Walker inspected Murphy and said he should go to hospital – whereupon the senior officer told his men to take him back to the charge room. At about 4.30, the police started to release people on bail and Murphy was one of the first to get out. Joan Watts took him to St Vincent’s Hospital in the Kombi-van, but it was too busy so Meridith Burgmann drove him to Pat O’Shane’s place, to get legal advice.[cix]

After some arguing, the police let Terry and Julie Lambert in to get a list of the arrestees and find out where they had been taken. Due process took ages. Every time the doors opened a crack, a barrage of protests and demands regaled them. The police told them to get them to cut it out. [cx]

The new shift came on and started the bail proceedings. Blackman had $3000 from the fundraiser. Trebilco and Goulden had another $300, from the CAMP coffers. People emptied their pockets, raided their household kitties and handed over their rent money.[cxi]  Someone went to the bars and Trixie Lamont, the lippy drag queen, passed the hat around.[cxii] Penny Gulliver went to Bessie Smythe, the abortion clinic, and The Women’s Health Centre to raid their cashboxes. [cxiii] They had raised over $5,000. [cxiv]

Murphy had bruises all around his skull. He had a badly bruised left leg, kidneys and ribs. He had severe concussion, but he didn’t have any broken bones. [cxv] And he wasn’t the only casualty. Mackinolty had badly injured legs and a burst ear drum. The cops had broken another student’s leg and he ended up at St Vincents’ Emergency, along with some others who were treated for minor injuries.[cxvi]  Banks’s arms and chest were bruised for weeks and Ellen McIntosh went to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. And the last man to be bailed out complained of a burst eardrum after a cop bashed him in the Station garage.[cxvii]  On the other hand, Premier Wran claimed they’d injured two cops.[cxviii]

CENTRAL STREET POLICE STATION

The cops transferred the women to Central Police Station In the middle of the night. The crowd roared encouragement and rage, and some people followed them.[cxix]  Inside, the women shared cells with the drunks. [cxx] There were wooden racks on the floor; a single naked light globe; no blankets; no water. The cops charged them, fingerprinted them and released them into the cold morning. Trebilco had enough money to get a couple of women out, so he bailed out women who could raise enough money for the others. Some women had given phoney names and their mates didn’t know how to bail them out.[cxxi]  Chris Pearce was one of these. We were kind of the last ones out, I think. And, you know, I just had a big kind of [bump] on my head, don’t know how I got that.[cxxii]

29 January 2018

[i] Ken Davis interviewed by Larry Galbraith 1995. Pride History Group 200602048_292 KD.

[ii] Ken Davis, 2017 email to John Witte, 29 October. Email address withheld.

[iii] Ron Austin, interviewed by Larry Galbraith 1995, Pride History Group, Sydney, 2006/02/13 RA.

[iv] Peter Murphy, interviewed by John Witte 2011, Pride History Group, Sydney, 110312 PM.

[v] Gavin Harris, John Witte and Ken Davis, New Day Dawning: the early years of Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Pride History Group 2008

[vi] Graham Chuck, telephone communication, 21 October 2017.

[vii] Peter Blazey, ‘Come out fighting – the case for’, The Weekend Australian, The Australian 24 June 1978.

[viii] Amanda Wilson, Mardi Gras an act of defiance, The Weekend Australian, The Australian 24 June 1978.

[ix] Canberra Times 26 June 1978 p3.

[x] Ken Davis, interviewed by Larry Galbraith, 1995, Pride History Group, Sydney, 2006/02/048, 2006/02/292.

[xi] Sydney Morning Herald, 24 June 1978, p5.

[xii] Graham Chuck, interviewed by John Witte 2008, Pride History Group, Sydney, 080315 GC.

[xiii] Bob Russell, 2017 email to John Witte 29 August. Email address withheld.

[xiv] William Brougham (2016, May 16) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Joseph Chetcutti from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g3FuVULSQQ

[xv] Sally Colechin interviewed by John Witte, 17 October 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney, 161017 SC.

[xvi] Branco Gaica and Elizabeth Bessell-Brown interviewed by Gavin Harris and John Witte, 27 October 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney, 161027 G_BB.

[xvii] Craig Johnston interviewed by David Abello and Gavin Harris, 4 November 1997, Pride History Group, Sydney, 090630 CJ.

[xviii] William Brougham (2016, May 6) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Vaughan Hinton OAM  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZFobgE3a2c

[xix] Jeff Kinder, 1998 email to John Witte, 13 February. Email address withheld.

[xx] Karen Michelmore ABC Local (27 March 2012) History: The Birth Of Sydney’s Mardi Gras  from: http://www.abc.net.au/local/videos/2012/03/27/3464465.htm?site=sydn..

[xxi] Jeff Kinder, 1998 email to John Witte, 13 February. Email address withheld.

[xxii] William Brougham (2016, March 28) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Kym Skinner  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tou-HcHnFls

[xxiii] Ken Davis, interviewed by Larry Galbraith, 1995, Pride History Group, Sydney, 2006/02/048, 2006/02/292.

[xxiv] Lance Gowland interviewed by Ken Davis and John Witte, 29 October 2007, Pride History Group, Sydney, 071029 LG.

[xxv] Sue Ellen interviewed by John Witte 16 November 2006, Pride History Group, Sydney 061116 SE.

[xxvi] Bruce Laidlaw, 2016 email to John Witte, 29 October. Email address withheld.

[xxvii] Kate Rowe interviewed by John Witte, 13 December 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney 161213 KR.

[xxviii] Paul Terrett, 1998 email to John Witte, 6 February. Email address withheld.

[xxix] William Brougham (2016, May 16) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Joseph Chetcutti from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g3FuVULSQQ

[xxx] William Brougham (2016, March 28) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Kym Skinner  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tou-HcHnFls

[xxxi] Lance Gowland interviewed by Ken Davis and John Witte, 29 October 2007, Pride History Group, Sydney, 071029 LG.

[xxxii] Witches, Faggots, Dykes and Poofters, film, One in Seven Collective, Sydney 1980.

[xxxiii] Sally Colechin interviewed by John Witte, 17 October 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney, 161017 SC.

[xxxiv] William Brougham (2016, February 25) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Garry Wotherspoon  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDnSohJHKjM

[xxxv] Lance Gowland and Barry Power interviewed by Larry Galbraith 14 November 1995, Pride History Group, Sydney, 2006_02_267 LG_BP

[xxxvi] Terry Batterham interviewed by Gavin Harris 10 March 1996, Pride History Group, Sydney, 090705 TB

[xxxvii] William Brougham (2016, May 30) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Graham Chuck  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qK8AWMJvuZU

[xxxviii] Sally Colechin interviewed by John Witte, 17 October 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney, 161017 SC.

[xxxix] Joseph Chetcuti interviewed by John Witte 28 October 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney 161028 JC.

[xl] Graham Chuck, interviewed by John Witte 2008, Pride History Group, Sydney, 080315 GC.

[xli] Branco Gaica and Elizabeth Bessell-Brown interviewed by Gavin Harris and John Witte, 27 October 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney, 161027 G_BB.

[xlii] Shane Brown interviewed by John Witte 19 March 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney, 160319 SB.

[xliii] Branco Gaica and Elizabeth Bessell-Brown interviewed by Gavin Harris and John Witte, 27 October 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney, 161027 G_BB.

[xliv] William Brougham (2016, March 2) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Sandra Banks from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujy-fMsls8I

[xlv] William Brougham (2016, May 6) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Vaughan Hinton OAM  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZFobgE3a2c

[xlvi] John Witte

[xlvii] Craig Johnston interviewed by David Abello and Gavin Harris, 4 November 1997, Pride History Group, Sydney, 090630 CJ.

[xlviii] Maria Wilson, 2016 Facebook message to John Witte, 27 May.

[xlix] William Brougham (2016, March 2) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Sandra Banks  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujy-fMsls8I

[l] Peter Murphy, 2017 emails to Gavin Harris, 13, 16 & 19 January 2017. Email address withheld.

[li] Shane Brown interviewed by John Witte 19 March 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney, 160319 SB.

[lii] Sharyn Lee interviewed by John Witte 15 April 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney, 160414 SL.

[liii] Shane Brown interviewed by John Witte 19 March 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney, 160319 SB.

[liv] Paul Terrett 1998 email to John Witte, 6 February. Email address withheld.

[lv] William Brougham (2016, May 6) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Vaughan Hinton OAM  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZFobgE3a2c

[lvi] William Brougham (2016, May 6) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Vaughan Hinton OAM  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZFobgE3a2c

[lvii] William Brougham (2016, February 26) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Peter Trebilco  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrP39zaLLsA

[lviii] William Brougham (2016, February 11) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Bon and Peter  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zC7yU7AFAQc

[lix] William Brougham (2016, March 2) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Sandra Banks from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujy-fMsls8I

[lx] William Brougham (2016, March 2) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Sandra Banks from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujy-fMsls8I

[lxi] William Brougham (2016, March 2) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Sandra Banks from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujy-fMsls8I

[lxii] William Brougham (2016, March 28) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Kym Skinner from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tou-HcHnFls

[lxiii] William Brougham (2016, March 28) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Kym Skinner from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tou-HcHnFls

[lxiv] ‘Gay Scuffles lead to seven arrests’, The Australian, Sydney, 27 June 1978.

[lxv] Sydney, Pride History Group, Image Collection/78ers ‘WHY DID A GAY MARDI GRAS TURN INTO A POLICE RIOT? Geoffrey Knight, Margaret Lyons, Anne Abbotts, Jeffrey McCarthy, Janice Eddy to Neville Wran MP QC, 28 June 1978.

[lxvi] Robyn Plaister interviewed by Rebecca Jennings 20 December 2007, Pride History Group, Sydney, 071220 RP.

[lxvii] Sydney, Peter Murphy private papers, May 27 1980 notes taken at Liverpool Street Court by Murphy during the hearing of three charges against him.

[lxviii] Peter Murphy interviewed by John Witte, 12 March 2011, Pride History Group, Sydney, 110312 PM.

[lxix] [lxix] Jeff Kinder

[lxx] William Brougham (2016, May 30) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Graham Chuck  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qK8AWMJvuZU

[lxxi] William Brougham (2016, March 2) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Sandra Banks from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujy-fMsls8I

[lxxii] Graham Chuck interviewed by John Witte, 15 March 2008, Pride History Group, Sydney, 080315 GC.

[lxxiii] Jeff McCarthy quoted in David Marr, ‘How the beatings and humiliations of the 1978 Sydney Mardi Gras made reform inescapable’, The Guardian (on line) 24 February 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/24/how-the-beatings-and-humiliations-of-the-1978-sydney-mardi-gras-made-reform-inescapable

[lxxiv] Jeff McCarthy quoted in David Marr, ‘How the beatings and humiliations of the 1978 Sydney Mardi Gras made reform inescapable’, The Guardian (on line) 24 February 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/24/how-the-beatings-and-humiliations-of-the-1978-sydney-mardi-gras-made-reform-inescapable

[lxxv] Robyn Plaister interviewed by Rebecca Jennings 20 December 2007, Pride History Group, Sydney, 071220 RP

[lxxvi] William Brougham (2016, March 2) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Sandra Banks from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujy-fMsls8I

[lxxvii] William Brougham (2016, May 30) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Graham Chuck  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qK8AWMJvuZU

[lxxviii] Peter Murphy interviewed by John Witte, 12 March 2011, Pride History Group, Sydney, 110312 PM.

[lxxix] Penny Gulliver interviewed by John Witte, 25 July 2010, Pride History Group, Sydney, 100725 PG.

[lxxx] Gail Hewison

[lxxxi] William Brougham (2016, March 2) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Sandra Banks from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujy-fMsls8I

[lxxxii] IG

[lxxxiii] Craig Walker, 1998 email to John Witte, 7 January. Email address withheld.

[lxxxiv] Paul Terrett, 1998 email to John Witte, 6 February. Email address withheld.

[lxxxv] Kimberley O’Sullivan, 1998 email to John Witte, 21 January. Email address withheld.

[lxxxvi] William Brougham (2016, May 30) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Graham Chuck  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qK8AWMJvuZU

[lxxxvii] William Brougham (2016, February 26) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Peter Trebilco  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrP39zaLLsA

[lxxxviii] Diane Minnis

[lxxxix] Craig Walker, 1998 email to John Witte, 7 January. Email address withheld.

[xc] DD

[xci] William Brougham (2016, March 28) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Kym Skinner from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tou-HcHnFls

[xcii] William Brougham (2016, May 16) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Joseph Chetcutti from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g3FuVULSQQ

[xciii] Peter Murphy, 2017 emails to Gavin Harris, 13, 16 & 19 January 2017. Email address withheld.

[xciv] William Brougham (2016, March 1) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Diane Minnis  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fi2-QGWPBs0

[xcv] William Brougham (2016, May 6) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Vaughan Hinton OAM  from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZFobgE3a2c

[xcvi] Joseph Chetcuti interviewed by John Witte, 28 October 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney, 161028 JC

[xcvii] Diane Minnis

[xcviii] Craig Johnston interviewed by David Abello and Gavin Harris, 4 November 1997, Pride History Group, Sydney, 090630 CJ.

[xcix] Julie Lambert 2002 email to John Witte, 29 October.

[c] Branco Gaica and Elizabeth Bessell-Brown interviewed by Gavin Harris and John Witte, 27 October 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney, 161027 G_BB.

[ci] Peter Mitchell, ‘My first Mardi Gras’, Capital Q, Sydney, Number 23, 5/2/1993.

[cii] Police v Owen Noel Sullivan, 29 November 1978, Court of Petty Sessions transcript p 23.

[ciii] Chris Pearce interviewed by Rebecca Jennings, 6 November 2007, Pride History Group, Sydney, 071106 CP.

[civ] William Brougham (2016, March 2) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Sandra Banks from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujy-fMsls8I

[cv] Geoff Evans interviewed by John Witte, 11 October 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney, 161011 GE.

[cvi] Gail Hewison interviewed by Shirleene Robinson, 10 August 2012, Pride History Group, Sydney, 120810 GH.

[cvii] Kate Rowe interviewed by John Witte, 13 December 2016, Pride History Group, Sydney, 161213 KR.

[cviii] Graham Chuck interviewed by John Witte, 15 March 2008, Pride History Group, Sydney, 080315 GC.

[cix] Peter Murphy, written statement 25 June 1978, collection Peter Murphy.

[cx] Julie Lambert 2002 email to John Witte, 29 October.

[cxi] DD

[cxii] Terry Batterham interviewed by Gavin Harris, 10 March 1996, Pride History Group, Sydney, 090705 TB.

[cxiii] Gail Hewison speaking at a PHG forum Memories of Mardi Gras:Voices of the 78ers William Brougham video (2016, April 3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSXKVrdiVKA.

[cxiv] William Brougham (2016, May 16) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Joseph Chetcutti from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g3FuVULSQQ Note: not primary evidence.

[cxv] Peter Murphy, 2017 emails to Gavin Harris, 13, 16 & 19 January 2017. Email address withheld.

[cxvi] Peter Trebilco

[cxvii] David Marr, ‘How the beatings and humiliations of the 1978 Sydney Mardi Gras made reform inescapable’, The Guardian (on line) 24 February 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/24/how-the-beatings-and-humiliations-of-the-1978-sydney-mardi-gras-made-reform-inescapable

[cxviii] Witches, Faggots, Dykes and Poofters, film, One in Seven Collective, Sydney 1980.

[cxix] Gail Hewison interviewed by Shirleene Robinson, 10 August 2012, Pride History Group, Sydney, 120810 GH.

[cxx] Peter Trebilco

[cxxi] William Brougham (2016, March 2) Remembering Sydney’s First Mardi Gras – Sandra Banks from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujy-fMsls8I

[cxxii] Chris Pearce interviewed by Rebecca Jennings, 6 November 2007, Pride History Group, Sydney, 071106 CP.

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