5 March 2024

Excitement over Wagga's Mardi Gras grows as Baylis Street prepares to turn rainbow

| Jarryd Rowley
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three women standing outside on rainbow-coloured stairs

Wagga Mardi Gras committee members Margot Schoonmaker (left), Alex Osgood (right) and CSU lecturer and Ally Network member Dr Emma Rush can’t contain their eagerness for the 2024 celebrations. Photo: Jarryd Rowley.

It’s the time of year that only means one thing: Wagga’s Mardi Gras is set to come alive in a celebration of acceptance, inclusivity and equality.

The people of Wagga are preparing their best colourful outfits, community groups are constructing their most eccentric floats and the LGBTQIA+ community is spreading the message of inclusiveness as the Wagga Wagga Mardi Gras looks to paint the main streets rainbow.

With promises of a great celebration, parades, drag shows and electric performances from the likes of Sydney-based musicians SaxBeatz, Wagga Mardi Gras secretary Alex Osgood believes the local community has plenty to be excited about this weekend.

“Wagga can expect our city to absolutely pop as a bit of a sequinned rainbow sanctuary,” they said.

“We have over 52 registered floats and marching groups registered for our parade, which will kick off down Baylis Street from 5 pm this Saturday.”

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Ms Osgood said there would be plenty to see and do this weekend, beginning with Drag Bingo at Tilly’s on Thursday, continuing at the parade and after-party on Saturday, and wrapping up with the River and Wren markets on Sunday.

They said they were expecting people from across the state to descend on Wagga for the event, which they described as welcoming, inclusive and safe.

“This event really shows how we’re able to come together as a community,” they said.

“It shows that we are inclusive, we are welcoming and that Wagga is a place for everyone. It’s important that for people living here, young people looking to stay here or people thinking about moving here, we [the community] let them know we are a welcoming city.”

Wagga Mardi Gras, now in its fourth year, continues to grow in popularity, with the 2024 celebration recording the most expressions of interest ever. Ms Osgood said they were humbled by the growing support and wished such an event existed when they were in high school.

“To see the street flooded with rainbow is pretty overwhelming,” they said.

“As a part of the queer community growing up in the Riverina as a young person, it makes me very much overcome with emotions.

“A big thing for me is making sure that our young queer people know that they have value, they belong here and that they can find their people here as well.”

One of the event’s biggest supporters is Charles Sturt University (CSU), which has been a platinum sponsor since the Mardi Gras began in 2019.

Dr Emma Rush, lecturer in philosophy and ethics at CSU, said the celebration was a big occasion marked in the university’s calendar each year.

“Inclusivity is one of the four core values at CSU,” Dr Rush said.

“We have a very extensive ally network with many members and we are very delighted to be able to participate and sponsor the Mardi Gras.”

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Dr Rush explained that CSU was an organisation with a responsibility for making sure all its students and staff felt safe and included, and that being a Mardi Gras sponsor was a way of supporting everyone regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

“When I first participated in Mardi Gras, I heard the conversations being had by young people aged 14 – 15 and also into their early 20s, how meaningful it was for them to feel welcomed and celebrated,” she said.

“I thought to myself, this really matters. I’m really happy that the university continues to support its students in this fashion.”

Dr Rush said it was important to have inclusive events in regions such as Wagga to allow people to know that they were welcome everywhere, not just in the big cities.

“It’s important that people know that they are supported in their home communities,” she said.

“It’s not about this is OK elsewhere and not here, it’s about showcasing it is OK and celebrating, welcoming and accepting each member of our community.”

The Wagga Mardi Gras parade begins at 5 pm on Saturday, 9 March, on Baylis Street, with after-party celebrations beginning at 6 pm at the Victory Memorial Gardens. To learn more about the program, visit the Wagga Mardi Gras website.

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