/Mardi Gras legend who famously asked why dont we have a street party? dies aged 90

Mardi Gras legend who famously asked why dont we have a street party? dies aged 90

Updated

April 14, 2019 10:15:01

“From little things big things grow” would be a fitting epitaph for Ron Austin, a gay rights activist and member of the 78ers, who has died in Sydney at the age of 90.

Mr Austin had a major role in the beginnings of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which took place in 1978 after his famous words: “Why don’t we have a street party?”

It went from a small celebration that ended in multiple arrests and police brutality — to a world-famous pride parade, attracting hundreds of thousands of participants and spectators.

Ron was in the first parade along Sydney’s Oxford Street making him a member of the select group called “The 78ers”.

“For decades, Ron proudly marched in every Mardi Gras parade. Each year the ‘Most Fabulous Parade Entry’ Mardi Gras award is named in his honour,” the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras posted on social media.

“RIP to our dear friend Ron Austin.”

Paving the way

The 78ers paid heavily for their celebration, but paved the way for the evolution of the Mardi Gras.

The 78ers started out from Taylor Square on June 24 at 11:00pm — they had a sound system mounted on a flatbed truck, some were skipping and dancing, holding signs, and all were chanting “out of the bars and into the streets”.

Despite having a permit for the parade, police moved in and hurried them along the street.

When they reached Hyde Park the police confiscated the truck and sound system.

The crowd marched on Kings Cross police station in protest and were swooped on by officers.

Fifty-three people were arrested after police blocked the dispersing crowd and some of those were severely beaten.

Ken Davis, a 78er, said: “You could hear them in Darlinghurst police station being beaten up and crying out from pain.”

“The night had gone from nerve-wracking to exhilarating to traumatic all in the space of a few hours.”

Mr Davis said the events just made them more determined to hold the Mardi Gras the next year.

In the aftermath, the Sydney Morning Herald published the names, addresses and occupations of all those arrested, causing some to lose their jobs, accommodation, and causing family rifts.

In all, 178 people were arrested between June and August that year.

A lot has changed in the 40 years since Mr Austin had his kernel of an idea.

Police now proudly take part in the parade, and parents take their children along — same-sex marriage is legal and homosexuality is no longer a crime.

Tributes are flowing in for Mr Austin’s historic role in promoting tolerance in society.

Topics:

lgbt,

arts-and-entertainment,

sydney-2000

First posted

April 14, 2019 10:13:44