The lifeblood of Mardi Gras: its volunteers

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras volunteers pictured at Fair Day, Victoria Park, Sydney on Sunday, 20 February, 2022. Photo: Ann-Marie Calilhanna.

Queer editor Brandon Bear meets the people who grease the wheels of Australia’s largest and best-known pride event, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

While the 2022 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras might look different to usual – a necessary yet temporary evolution in response to the ongoing Covid situation – there’s one aspect of this jewel in the Emerald City’s crown that has, and always will, remain constant: its volunteers.

Mardi Gras is the largest pride event in Oceania, one of the largest pride events in the world, and one of the largest annual events of any kind in Australia.

An event on this scale simply would not be possible without the army of volunteers who grease its wheels. The Sentinel spoke to three volunteers from this year’s festival to find out what being part of Mardi Gras means to them.

Adrian Hinder (he/him)

Adrian Hinder is a rare breed amongst the volunteer community, honoured with the distinction of being one of the two Volunteer of the Year recipients in 2021. For a number of years, Hinder has been the manager of the Parade Community Team, overseeing the safety and comfort of every Mardi Gras Parade entrant and working with them to deliver their vision.

“It was incredibly humbling to win the Volunteer of the Year award last year. So many excellent volunteers make the festival work and I am always inspired by them,” he says.

The dedication is evident for Hinder, who began volunteering when he was 18, and has worked on the Parade Creative and Community Team every year since then, making him a familiar face for many long-term entrants.

“It’s always so nice to see people come back year on year and get to work with them again and again – and even nicer when we see new friendships forming between old and new entrants who share their skills and knowledge.”

Hinder says the decision to move the Parade last year to the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) – where it will be held again this Saturday, 5 March – has been an excellent example of how the organisation and volunteers have shown their dedication to the community.

“Everyone had to work incredibly hard and with a lot of unknown elements, but at the end of the day we all got to come together and be a community. Seeing the volunteers take up their usual spot at the end of the Parade at the SCG to the cheers of the crowd was such a great moment.”

Adrian Hinder began volunteering for Mardi Gras at the age of 18. Photo: supplied.

Reo Lynch (they/them)

Like Hinder, Reo Lynch has been on the volunteer circuit for a while. We meet Lynch on Fair Day before the sun rises, sheltering from early rain at 5am while preparing for a seven hour shift supporting stallholders and visitors.

“I started volunteering when I was 18,” Lynch tells The Sentinel. “As soon as I could get involved with Mardi Gras, I did.”

Lynch has worked in a number of roles across the Parade and was excited for their first Fair Day shift. “I love working with the public and the overall spirit vibrating through the air. You are accepted and despite any challenges you face, you can always volunteer and feel a part of something bigger.”

As the sun starts to rise and early morning revellers begin to arrive with their prams and puppies, Lynch puts down the clipboard and starts chatting to people as they walk in.

“You’re out there out of love, and that’s the biggest reward. I love each and every year.”

Each volunteer we spoke to had an amazing moment to share from their experience. “I will always remember my first ever time volunteering,” reflects Lynch. “The energy was infectious and you felt hyped and excited to be a part of it. It sucks it’s only once a year.”

Reo Lynch loves working with the public as a Mardi Gras volunteer. Photo: Reo Lynch/Facebook.

Fiona Carter (she/her)

Fiona Carter has been volunteering for six years, working as a team leader and now assistant area coordinator for the Parade Entrants’ Team.

“2020 was such a great year, I was a team leader and the volunteers in my team were mostly made up of my friends and husband,” she tells The Sentinel.

Carter has always loved volunteering, especially for Mardi Gras. “It takes an army to put on an event of this calibre. Mardi Gras does not discriminate – everyone is welcome to participate.” The sentiment was shared by all the volunteers we spoke to, each of them feeling like they were part of something bigger.

Carter enjoys sharing the experience with those she loves, and while there are not a lot of husband and wife volunteers, she relishes the opportunity to make memories together.

“The best moment I have ever had was at the end of the 2020 Parade, marching with my friends and husband at the end of all our volunteering shifts. The look of pure joy on everyone’s faces was infectious.”

Fiona Carter has been volunteering at Mardi Gras for six years. Photo: supplied.

“Volunteers are truly the lifeblood”

The importance of the volunteers is not lost on Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras: a dedicated team of staff coordinate the process from start to finish – recruiting, training, supporting and even feeding the volunteers.

The investment is vital, according to Jesse Matheson, Co-Chair of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

“Volunteers are truly the lifeblood of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. For a lot of people who attend Mardi Gras, volunteers are the first person they meet at an event, they’re the person who helps them find their way when they’re lost or takes care of them in medical,” says Matheson.

“And for a lot of volunteers, working with Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is a way of life. It’s where they meet new friends, their chosen family and pick up new life skills.

“No matter your age, gender identity, sexuality, race or ability, there’s an opportunity waiting for you!”

The 2022 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival continues until Sunday, 6 March. For more information on the festival, visit www.mardigras.org.au. For information on volunteering, visit www.mardigras.org.au/volunteer.

Brandon Bear is the queer editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

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