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The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is Australia’s most sensational, disruptive and beloved celebration of gender diversity. The National Museum is honouring its 40th year with a new exhibition, Towards Equality: From Mardi Gras to Marriage.

Man attaching sequinned ball to costume
Award-winning Sydney costume designer Ron Muncaster with his 1994 creation, ‘Lucille Balls’. Costumes and dressing up are now central to the Mardi Gras spectacle.

The free exhibition in the Museum’s new Xplore gallery traces great social changes in Australia, including the decriminalisation of homosexuality, awareness of HIV and AIDS and, most recently, marriage equality.

Marriage equality

The exhibition includes Love Wheels, the rainbow crocheted ‘yarn bombed’ bicycle made by Eloise Murphy, aka Treble Maker, as a tribute to the marriage between Lucy Turnbull AO and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The Museum was delighted to receive this beautiful object as a donation.

Love Wheels 2:41

First Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras began on 24 June 1978, when the Gay Solidarity Group staged a day of events in Sydney. They were marking the ninth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a watershed moment in the gay rights movement. Late in the evening, a crowd gathered in Taylor Square and walked down Oxford Street towards Hyde Park. When police moved in to disperse them, open confrontation ensued and 53 people were arrested.

Participants in a parade
The first Sydney Mardi Gras parade, a protest march by the Gay Solidarity Group in 1978. Photo: Ross Macarthur or John Cousins for Campaign magazine. Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

Mardi Gras has since transformed into a festival held over several weeks, which culminates in a parade that attracts more than 200,000 participators and spectators in a celebration of gender diversity.

Towards Equality: From Mardi Gras to Marriage is on show at the National Museum until 8 August 2018.

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