What’s the collective noun for ‘highlights’? An embarrassment of highlights? A delight of highlights? Simply an abundance? And no, we’re not talking Kylie’s hair during the opening concert of Sydney’s gayest ever period, a two-week-and-counting extravaganza that took in, first, Mardi Gras, the annual celebration of all things LGBTQ+ and then, a week later, WorldPride, the global gathering setting down for the first time in history in the southern hemisphere. In between was a week in which most people would have been well advised to lie down in a darkened room with only water and high-vitamin vegetables for sustenance. Broccoli for instance.
The rainbows began as soon as you set foot in SYD, the airport. Everywhere, they were. Big brands, small car companies, the floor, the ceiling, everywhere. But that was nothing compared to the city proper where whole buildings had been rainbowed, Progress Rainbow flags flew from every public pole and lamp-post and every organisation – whether public or private – had gone the extra mile.
Over in the Royal Botanic Gardens, for instance (and we were thinking, what can they possibly roll out to mark the moment) there was Fleur de Villes, a Pride floral show at The Calyx, where they had constructed full-size gay icons from Kylie to Courtney Act out of flowers… then they took us on a Queer Plants Walk highlighting same-gender attraction between plants. Or something.
Over at the gorgeous Art Gallery of New Wales, including the stunning newly opened Sydney Modern Project – a design-lover’s wet dream of a building stacked with diverse art – there’s a queer tour, picking up on LGBTQIA+ themes in the gallery’s impressive collection, whether it’s a story about the queer artist or a noticing of same-sexiness in the works.
But we could be here all day talking about the effort, imagination and panache that had been put into all of this Mardi Gras/World Pride spin-off activity across the whole town – Mardi Gras Laugh Out Proud comedy festival, Briefs burlesque, UltraViolet women-only party – without ever getting to the nuts and bolts of the actual celebrations, which started in The Domain, a central park set-up, with Live and Proud: Sydney WorldPride Opening Concert (we were already pre-lubicated from a rooftop brunch and drag quiz at the legendary King’s Cross Hotel, but that’s just us).
Taking over the whole park with drinks stands and VIP areas and grass to lay down on to watch the huge cartoon Batman bats swirl around as dusk fell, The Domain was submitted to wave upon wave of excitement, from Charlie XCX through a draw-dropping aerial drone show spelling out words like Pride to Kylie her very self. And just when you thought everyone was going to explode… out comes Dannii in a very rare ‘sisters doing it for themselves’ moment that led – in some cases near to us – to actual meltdown.
The following night – after a morning at the high-larious Poof Doof Drag Brunch out at Coogee Pavilion right on the beach – was the annual Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, which kicked off with Dykes on Bikes ripping up Oxford Street. From our VIP position in the Diamond Club (the Sugababes were just mixin’ and minglin’), we got the best view ever of a parade that apart from being legendary was moving and funny and sexy and even managed to rope in the Prime Minister, the first time a sitting Prime Minister has joined the parade, even though he made it clear it was his personal 35th.
And usually, that’s where things would end, apart from parties and carryings on but with this being WorldPride as well as Mardi Gras, there was plenty more to come, even if we were having to squeeze in not-to-be-missed tourist experiences like a specially gayed-up Sydney Harbour Bridge climb led by a drag queen and visits to Pride Villages, a closed-to-traffic area of bars and stalls right on the main drag of Oxford Street. Certainly not to be missed was the annual Mardi Gras Kaftana Pool Party at the Ivy Pool Club, a deck with bars and DJs crammed with scantily-clad Ls, Gs, Bs, Ts, Qs, Is and As as well as quite a few Ss with in-water action and dancing till our heels were in a worse state than we were. And that kaftan will never be the same again.
So it was with huge dark glasses that we got ourselves – somehow! – to Sydney Seaplanes the next day to be greeted by a drag queen bearing watermelon martinis before being whisked by seaplane – yes! Those planes that can land on water! – to lunch. Have you ever heard of such decadence! It’s a tie-in with the utterly gorgeous Bert’s Bar & Brasserie, a classic restaurant along Ivy lines where huge bottles of champagne and Whispering Angel were lugged around the tables until those seaplanes came back to pick us up.
But the biggest and the best was still to come with Saturday hosting the Bondi Beach Party, a mash-up of 12,000 people – mostly in swimwear: they have the bodies and/or the confidence so why not? – right by the sea with Nicole Scherzinger no less headlining. We will draw a veil and leave how that went to your imaginations.
And even that is not the end of it. Oh no. Even though it’s Sunday, the temperatures are high 30s and there’s a whole lot of recovering to do, there’s simply no missing the Rainbow Republic Sydney WorldPride Closing Concert at The Domain, where just days earlier, that Kylie/Dannii combo had got everyone so over-emotional. Same set-up, same VIP area, same huge bats but this time an edgier set climaxing with the one, the only Kim Petras, the first trans woman ever to win a Grammy alongside Sam Smith. As the filth from songs like Throat Goat floated out across the loved-up crowd while Kim made her coconuts bounce up and down (it’s her song! Don’t blame us!) the crowd turned into a mosh pit of love, a coming together of the LGBTQIA+ community the likes of which Sydney has never seen before. We reckon Mardi Gras next year is likely to have a little extra sparkle left over from this massive couple of weeks.
Because WorldPride or no WorldPride, Sydney is clearly the gold standard for Pride celebrations. Quite simply, as Carly Simon once sang for some James Bond film before they were cool again, ‘nobody does it better’. Now let us bathe in Berocca and leave us the hell alone for a couple of weeks.