Mardi Gras Apology “Hollow & Meaningless”


Sydney Mardi Gras appears to have sleepwalked into a controversy over the official parliamentary apology to the original marchers, known as the 78ers. Here are their words, using existing published sources, about what happened to them, and about the apology. Many are angry, feeling that the apology is inadequate: mere word with no practical restitution or genuine attempt to right past wrongs, or prevent future ones.

What follows is eyewitness testimony from Peter Murphy and Sally Colechin, with responses to the proposed apology by Mark Gillespie, Coco Lossill and Jo Harrison.


The man most severely beaten by the NSW Police was not even consulted about the apology, and is considering his reaction to it. His story of the beating he received and its impact is chilling:

When we got into the yard of the nearby Darlinghurst Police Station the other three were ordered out and I was ordered to stay, by a police officer contorted with rage. In a minute or two he and another came back to get me and walked me fast down a corridor past cells, around to the right and then right again into a room with some equipment stored in it.


The angry cop, who turned out to be a former Australian javelin throwing champion, flogged me until I was convulsing and the other police officer called him off… I could hear a large crowd outside chanting against the police bashing, calling for our release, calling out my name. I felt elated that people cared about me and fearful that the cops would come in and bash me some more.


I had to give up my volunteer work for a while, give up selling Tribunes and try to recover… I had the symptom of trauma where I dreamed day and night about the bashing repeatedly, and in my dreams and day dreams I always managed to beat up the police man. My head ached where it had been struck for many months. It took me about three years to feel I had recovered.


Watch William Brougham’s interview with 78er Sally Colechin, one of the organisers of the original march, and an eyewitness to the events of that day. It gives a good sense of what it was like to be caught up in the events of that day.


Another organizer of the event, Ken Davis, said of those arrested

“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. The police attack made us more determined to run Mardi Gras the next year.”


Writing about the apology on The Conversation, Mark Gillespie called for a “living apology”, plus an apology from Fairfax Press for publishing the names and addresses of those arrested, causing many to lose their jobs and homes:

Sadly, any apology now is too late for so many who were present at that first Mardi Gras and are no longer with us. Many were cut down before their time in the HIV AIDS epidemic.


The efforts of these NSW parliamentarians, though, are important and mean a great deal to the 78ers that survive. Back in 1978 we called, in vain, for a Royal Commission into the police violence of that June night. We also called for an apology from Fairfax for publishing the names, occupations and addresses of all of the 53 people who were arrested that night.


Till this time no formal apology has been received from Fairfax. After nearly 38 years since the first Mardi Gras an apology by the NSW State parliament would help to heal the wounds.

So as an original 78er I welcome an apology by the NSW Parliament. But it needs to be a “living apology”. A living apology is one where Parliament affirms the need for ongoing vigilance so that the human rights of LGBTIQ people are respected and protected in law.


It also has to affirm the need for ongoing social investment in educational programs that create a more inclusive NSW community where differences are respected and where the power of diversity is celebrated.


Also on the Conversation, Coco Lossil remembered the savage repercussion for many 78ers, and echoed the call for “more tangible reparations”:

I am a 78er… I still carry the police baton injury sustained to my knees. When younger it was a mild limp and inconvenience, but each year as I age is becomes more painful and a greater source of pain and mobility problems. I do wonder whether something like an online veteran’s service where any of us who would like help from the community could post our request and someone interested in helping could respond would be a useful gesture.


So much is done for veterans in other conflict contexts and many would no longer know the huge financial, career, educational and family connections that were put on the line when participating in public protests like this.


A student at MU had in fact lost her Commonwealth teaching scholarship, and threats to her liberty via psychiatric threats simply for publishing a poem celebrating her love for her girlfriend. Her teaching career ended as a result but pleased to report she managed to survive the trauma to make a life doing something else. Another boy at MU was kicked out of student college. The Sydney Morning Herald photos and use of names resulted in another female teacher at a private girl’s school being given her marching orders.


The repercussions were savage for many of us… The apology is a lovely gesture and especially appreciated by those of us subject to homophobic abuse as students by Christine Forster’s brother and his sniggering conservative mates but consideration of other, more tangible reparations should be the next step.


Jo also wrote (on Facebook) about the need for some practical measures and not just a form of words, calling for a Royal Commission into the many unsolved and miscategorised murders of gay men in Sydney over the years, and the removal of religious exemptions to discrimination law..

I am a 78er. As far as I am concerned, an apology without concrete action and reparations / redress / compensation in some form attached to it is hollow and meaningless. Just like the apology to the stolen generation.


Oh sorry, but forget about compensation or not having your communities shut down or your legal services and health services gutted. It’s the same. If you want to apologise to me and have me even remotely take it seriously then tell me what actual PRACTICAL things you intend to do IMMEDIATELY by way of recompense.

  • Royal Commission into the gay murders?
  • Sort out the ongoing problems with the community and the NSW police force?
  • Remove ALL RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS NOW from ALL AREAS of discrimination?


Otherwise it is just more hollow words and they mean nothing. I would rather you worked on getting the actual reason why the event took place and what it actually was in 1978 right first. Continuing to convolute and distort my history insults me. Then offering me an apology without concrete action insults me more.


If some 78ers think the apology is sufficient for them, fine. That’s not the case for me. I was never one for words without action. And whoever ‘the 78ers’ are, we are not one body, one entity, which government can say it has ‘agreed’ or ‘sorted out the wording’ on this with.


We are many, and we have NOT all been consulted about this apology or its wording. We are as diverse as we were in June 1978. For me, sorry seems to be the hardest word, but hard action is always what really counts. I await something concrete and meaningful.



A good source for what really happened – and to help understand why the proffered apology is inadequate – is the Sydney Pride History Group.

Click HERE for a timeline of events in 1978

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)