It's that time of year again when Sydney has its biggest party, the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. It's a celebration of gay and lesbian pride, tolerance and diversity, with a big emphasis on fun. And partying wildly with 25,000 people, you'd be hard pressed not to have a great time.
The parade is Australia's largest outdoor event. And to find a good spot to watch it, be sure to arrive early. People who plan to spend the bulk of their time and energy at the main party usually don't stand around there for hours, usually heading home before the head for a shower and nap to re-energise for the "big night".
On the other hand, however, if you're catching it for the first time, the parade is an incredible spectacle and the vibe is fantastic. From local and international gays and lesbians, straights, straight people, older people and families and friends of gays and lesbians - everyone is there to support it, making it a true community event. It starts at 8pm but if you want more information check the Festival Guide which is available everywhere.
Fox Studios where the party is held is walking distance from the centre of the parade, and it's only a 10-minute walk from Oxford Street. The party goes from 10pm - 10am and is a private party for members, a scheme introduced to keep out the not-so gay friendly straights.
Fox has four main party areas: deep house and progressive house will be explored in the Hordern with gay icon and "godfather of house" Frankie Knuckles, who'll appear with two local DJs. The Royal Hall of Industries will be pretty much hard house with guest Trade London DJ Wayne G. The Dome will be slightly cooler with less frenetic beats and more vocals than it usually has, making it a good place to groove. But if you are a fan of harder acidic tech and the like, you can get it in the multi-levelled, air-conditioned City Live venue from 1am.
While Mardi Gras does not officially condone the use of drugs, let's face it - people will be using them. Which is why a harm minimisation approach is taken. Like all big events in Sydney, Mardi Gras provides easily accessible medical tents where you'll be looked after by medical staff if anything goes wrong.
Australia takes that approach in general, so if you do find yourself a bit overloaded don't hesitate to get help, you won't get in trouble and the police will not be involved. Most people will be taking ecstasy and ketamine (an anaesthetic) but being in a foreign country users are better off sticking to ecstasy because the wrong dose of K can cause big problems. As for where, well, discretion is always.
Fox Studios is a fantastic venue, there's loads of space to fit everyone in comfortably, and there's outdoor cafes and entertainment to keep you occupied if you need a break from the dancefloor.
As for cruising, there are no hard and fast rules, but the emphasis of Mardi Gras is on flirting rather than sleazing. But if you are after a bit of harder action there's separate women's and a men's areas where you can pretty much indulge yourself in whatever takes your fancy. Just ask someone to point you in the right directionů
Cruising in Australia is the same as cruising anywhere else except that people are very open about it. In Sydney, at least, the gay community is extremely prominent, with no police interference in any aspect of it. You can still be arrested if found engaging in a sex act in public, but it's not as if police spend their days running around with bloodhounds trying to bust people for having a bit of fun.
After the sun has risen, poofs, dykes, trannies, drag queens and straights head to the traditional recovery, the Flinders Street laneway. Yep, it's a laneway. It's the first pit stop in a long line of places to go after the party, and don't worry about finding it, just follow the crowds and you can't miss it. It goes all day and is right beside a pub so the partying doesn't stop. It's also straight across the road from one of Sydney's most popular saunas, Bodyline. Not everyone goes there but if you're in the mood it's there. The same rules apply as saunas the world over. As for the other venues, sex doesn't happen in nightclubs and beats anymore - they're considered too dangerous and not very cool.
There's load of pubs, lounge bars and clubs to go to all along Oxford Street, the main ones being Stonewall, Midnight Shift, Arq, Gilligans and the Oxford Hotel. The other big parties happening on Sunday night are Frisky (sold out) Frankie Knuckles at Home and Ice. If you're interested in that, try the website at www.backdoor.to/ice.
The other really popular recovery is Milk 'n' 2 Sugars at the Woolloomooloo Hotel, but you need to get there by about 4-5 pm to get in without membership. If you're looking for any of these places though just ask anyone - Sydney's an incredible friendly city.
There's loads to do so remember to pace yourself, but be prepared to have the time of your life. As someone said at the Mardi Gras launch party:
"It's summer, it's hot, it's Mardi Gras. So get out there, everywhere, this is the month that Sydney belongs to us."