This past year has been an unusual one, to say the least, and the annual Mardi Gras parade looked a lot different than normal, being held at the Sydney Cricket Ground instead of the usual Oxford Street, in line with COVID safety regulations.

Despite there being a pandemic and all, spirits did not appear to be dampened at one of the few world pride events that was actually allowed to go ahead in 2021. A capacity crowd of 36,000 attended, down from the 200,000 who typically rock up.

Mardi Gras chief executive Albert Kruger said that the parade almost did not go ahead thanks to the pandemic, and that the SCG event turned out to be “actually better than any expectations we ever had.”

An estimated 5000 people marched in the parade, representing more than 100 LGBTQI community groups.

British pop singer Rita Ora closed the Mardi Gras parade with a performance of songs including Let Me Love You and recent single Bang Bang.

“I’m a little bit emotional,” she said. “This is my first show in a very, very long time so thank you.”

There had been calls from some to ban police from the parade, but a group of them marched anyway, interrupted by protesters dressed as cricket umpires and holding banners.

Earlier in the day, activist group Pride in Protest marched down Oxford Street after being granted a public health exemption for their protest to go ahead.

Pride in Protest contends that Mardi Gras has become a corporate event that is now far removed from the protest roots of the original 1978 march.

The group were protesting against the the so-called religious freedom bill, mandatory detention and the over-policing of indigenous communities, and in favour of legalised drugs and decriminalised sex work.

Image: Getty Images / Brendon Thorne / Don Arnold / Lisa Maree Williams