In 1978, Sydney’s first ever Mardi Gras took place.

The Australia in which the parade happened, however, was profoundly different to today. LGBTQI people faced intense discrimination and persecution, with consenting sex between adult men considered a crime and coming out an act that jeopardised employment, housing and personal relationships. Entrapment and violence at the hands of the police was rampant, and even wearing non-gender-conforming clothing or holding hands with someone of the same sex risked arrest.

In the face of all of this, on 24 June 1978, marchers took to Oxford Street in Sydney in a massive street party and an assertion of pride in gender and sexual diversity. The resulting riot, mass arrests and police brutality led to an explosion of protest and activism and saw the federal offence of homosexuality abolished by 1985.

In this episode, we speak with Peter Murphy, an activist in the 1970s gay liberation movement who was arrested on the night of the 1978 Mardi Gras. Peter tells the story of his involvement in the movement, the years of organising and work that went into LGBTQI activism before the Mardi Gras, and then the fateful night of 24 June 1978 itself.

Opening and closing music courtesy of Glitter Rats. People’s History of Australia logo design courtesy of Nissenbaum Design.