Woman’s Day (Australia)
Biker Phyllis has led Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade for decades
The roar of the motorbike engines revving up the adoring crowds at Sydney’s Hyde Park has signalled the start of the city’s Mardi Gras parade for decades.
It’s one of Phyllis Holland’s favourite sounds.
“They’re cheering for me,” she jokes.
Phyllis, 67, has been attending Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi
Gras parade ever since she was in her early 20s.
Besides the recent COVID-19 lockdowns, she’s never missed the event. “The pride
I now feel when I ride down the streets is more about catching up with the friends I have decades of history with,” she tells Woman’s Day.
The former engineer leads the annual celebrations as part of the lesbian motorcycle club Dykes on Bikes, which has opened the parade since 1991.
Now its role is a nod to its hard-fought history and time spent as a street patrol, protecting the Sydney gay community from hate crimes.
After growing up with a passion for motorcycles, the club seemed like a natural fit for Phyllis. She is now leader of the group’s sub-club the Vixens.
‘We were seen as that naughty, outlandish group’
“It was amazing – people would see us in our leathers, and we had this image that we were scary,” she says. “[Back then] as we got into the city, we’d just block off roads, no permission... we were seen as that naughty, outlandish group.” Sadly, Phyllis’ late partner of 27 years, Rhonda, isn’t here to see Dykes on Bikes celebrate its 35th anniversary of leading the Mardi Gras this year.
But Phyllis says that funnily enough, despite spending a long life of “love and laughter” together, Rhonda hated motorbikes. However, she was always at the parade to watch Phyllis race past.
Having sadly died a few years before the marriage equality law was passed in 2017, Phyllis says her only regret is not making an honest woman of her partner.
“If I had the opportunity to marry her when she was alive, I would have,” she says.
Watch Dykes on Bikes lead this year’s Mardi Gras parade on Saturday, 7.30pm, ABC.