The history of Mardi Gras – The young, the old and the police unite

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A truly uniting, passionate and teary night at the Wayside Chapel and across television screens around Australia last night recognised the seminal events of 24 June 1978 with the arrest and charging of 53 participants in a gay rights march on Darlinghurst Road. These events led to the establishment of the now internationally acclaimed Mardi Gras Festival.

The ABC telemovie, Riot, shines a spotlight on Australia’s 1970s Gay Rights Movement and the passionate individuals who were unwavering in their fight for decriminalisation, recognition and equality. In 1978, when the push to decriminalise homosexuality has stalled, a group of activists decide they must make one final attempt to celebrate who they are. Led by former union boss, Lance Gowland, they get a police permit and spread the word. On a freezing winter’s night, they cloak themselves in fancy dress, join hands, and parade down oxford street. But they have no idea that angry police lie in wait, and the courage they find that night will finally mobilise the nation.

The event screening of the Riot, Candles in the Cross, concluded with a procession led by Mother Inferior of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to Fitzroy Gardens where a ceremony laying of 53 candles took place. The ceremony recognised that the 53 people arrested on that fateful night shone the light on the way forward to equality.

Missed the screening? Grab the tissue box and catch up at ABC iview until the 27th of March.

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