Behind the scenes with Sydney Queer Irish at an incredible Mardi Gras 2022

Ruth Goodwin captures preparations for the big day and hears from the team how much the celebrations mean to them.

A smiling man with face paint and feathered angel wings
Image: Ruth Goodwin

Saturday 5 March marked the most fabulous event in every Sydneysider’s calendar, the 2022 Mardi Gras Parade, and Sydney Queer Irish showed up in all their glory for another unforgettable day.

This year the group marched with the theme Rainbow Love Language in the colours of the progress flag. They paid tribute to those who had come before them, with elements from the hanky code of the 1970’s built into the feathers of large wings worn by the marchers.

SQI President Brian Murphy spoke about what the 2022 theme meant to him, “I think it’s great that Sydney Queer Irish get to bring this love language to a global platform at the Sydney Cricket Ground, when 40-50 years ago it was done in secret. So us being able to bring it forward is a beautiful tribute to our elders.”

Brian also shared a tribute to Declan Flynn. “This year also marks 40 years since Declan Flynn’s death. I think his death is the reason I’m in Mardi Gras today. His murder led to a huge resurgence of the fight for LGBTQI+ rights in Ireland, and indeed the world. It enabled us to march today, so for me it really is a tribute. Declan should still be with us, it’s a real injustice and I want to give him some justice today.”

The group came prepared with ponchos and waterproof mascara at the ready after a week of devastating torrential rain along East Coast of Australia, and a forecast of heavy rain showers.

But with the luck of the Irish, not a drop of rain fell on the group, meaning the focus of the day could stay where it belonged – highlighting the importance of love, acceptance and equality.

Enjoy the incredible photos by Ruth Goodwin of Sydney Queer Irish in action.

Caroline McKenna has her makeup done at the Gaelic Club before heading with the group to the 2022 Sydney Mardi Gras parade. Like every year, it’s not Mardi Gras unless there is a lot of glitter involved!

Rosie Keane shares some laughs with the group. Rosie, the newly appointed Consul General of Ireland based in Sydney, spoke to Sydney Queer Irish about the progress made in Ireland for equality, LGBTQIA+ rights and the work still to be done. Rosie emphasised the importance of the Irish voice being heard, and the Irish experience being shared, with World Pride coming to Sydney in 2023.

The group pose for a photo together before heading to the Sydney Cricket Ground. This year’s outfits saw them dressed in the colours of the progress flag for the theme ‘Rainbow Love Language.’ The large wings were inspired by Cupid, the god of love and attraction.

Daire and Adam marched in the purple colour of the progress flag, representing Sprit, in remembrance of those who have gone before. Daire, from Waterford and Adam, of Greek Australian heritage, have been together three and a half years and went for their first date in one of Sydney’s most iconic pubs, The Glenmore.

Wadie returned to Sydney to march with the Sydney Queer Irish group for a sixth year. His distinctive laugh cuts through the crowd as he prepares his wings to go. The wings of the outfits were decorated with floral paisley feathers, as a tribute to the hanky code culture of the 1970’s.

Matt Burdess strikes a pose before the parade begins.

For Vicky, participating in Mardi Gras is all about identity. She loves seeing all the things that people marching together have in common – whether it’s nationality, age group or even being part of the same sports group. “Sexuality is what brings it together for everyone, and whatever their identity, everyone believes in equality and acceptance,” she said.

Anticipation builds as the group assemble in the tunnel, only minutes away from taking their turn marching around the Sydney Cricket Ground. Trevor, in pink, is proud to represent the Trans community as he marches this year. With the Trans community facing ongoing discrimination globally, Trevor emphasises how important it is to celebrate diversity. “People need to remember your mind is like an umbrella, it works best when it’s open,” Trevor said. “We should be celebrating everybody being different in any way, shape or form and not being the same, as it’s better.”

The group is cheered on by 40,000 members of the public in attendance for the parade. It’s the second year that COVID has moved the parade from its traditional route along Oxford street in Darlinghurst into the Sydney Cricket Ground stadium.

Choreographer Kristy developed the dance routine for the group. “Once you get out there it’s just about having fun, nothing else matters,” she said.

The Sydney Cricket Ground provides an incredible atmosphere. As the crowd cheers and the music blasts, the group make their way around the parade route, being sure to absorb every moment of the euphoric experience.

Caroline McKenna is pictured as the group prepares for their dance routine in front of the crowd.

Brian and Fergal make up two of the members of the front row of the parade formation. The couple are new arrivals into Sydney, arriving from Ireland in early November 2021, just days after Australia reopened its international borders.

The couple met at Dublin Pride in 2014 so the event holds a special significance – “We’ve attended lots of Pride marches and just watched, we’ve never marched. For our first one to be in a stadium in front of 40,000 people, it’s going to be a buzz!”

Bryan Dolan wears the black colour of the progress flag. Adopting the progress flag with its black and brown stripes honouring people of colour and the indigenous community was important to the group. Each marcher also wore a pin from the Nungala Creative, paying respects to the queer indigenous community and the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land on which the Mardi Gras Parade took place.

SQI President Brian Murphy shared about the group’s Rainbow Love Language theme this year. “It’s an ode to the LGBT+ pioneers who came before us,” he said. “While fighting for their rights they communicated to each other in really subtle and beautiful ways.”

The group take their walk through the centre of the SCG ready to commence their dance routine. Cormac Henry shared his thoughts afterwards from this moment of his first Mardi Gras with SQI: “You’re nervous about the choreography, then you realise everyone watching is just super excited about the wings,” he said laughing.

Choreographer Kristy developed the dance routine to the song ‘What’s your Pleasure’ by Jessie Ware. Kristy connected with the lyrics around sharing love and receiving love and made sure to do a routine that everyone could connect with, to make sure everyone had the opportunity to enjoy it. “It’s about the personal expression” she said, “I suggested the movements then let the crew to make them their own.”

The 2022 Mardi Gras proved to be yet another triumph for the Sydney Queer Irish team – we can only imagine what they’re planning for next year!

Ruth Goodwin is a photojournalist based in Sydney, Australia. Visit her website and follow her on social media @ruthgoodwinphoto

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