I first came to Sydney in 1969. The main thing that happened to me were my artistic horizons widened and also I was able to come out as a gay man fairly easily in the early ‘70s. I always say I never consciously came out as a gay man, I was swept out by events at the time. That kind of changed my life then.

Oxford Street had an attraction to me during its heyday, in the ‘80s that was, it was really after the ‘70s with the commercialization of the gay scene. That’s got a very fond association with me because I used to photograph the Mardi Gras. It’s big because it attracts, they say, 600,000 people. So that’s a spectacle in itself, that many people.

It started off as political event where people were arrested and then it became like an annual parade or march, actually. People contest this actually. Some people say it was always a fun event. But it wasn’t really.

The next thing that happened was AIDS came along which absolutely decimated the gay community and also within the media and the public eye. It was also a chance for all those homophobes to put the boot into the gay community and say this is the punishment of God or whatever. Mardi Gras was certainly the flagship of that time, and so it became important then and it had a meaning.

During those dark years the community melded together and formed a very strong unit. We were being stigmatised, so really, it was a fight of life or death.

When it got into people’s living rooms then you just couldn’t evade that conversation. It gradually seeped into the social consciousness and that’s how things change.


Fireworks, sweat and a whiff of amyl from the dance floor


William Yang