Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fireworks: Sydney-style

Going crazy on Sydney Harbour

It's all about the Bridge
The New Years Eve fireworks in Sydney have their own Creative Team - a Producer, a Creative Director, even a ‘Creative Headliner’, whatever that might involve. Ric Birch, Leo Scholfield, Rhoda Roberts, Marc Newson...these are those to whom the kudos should go. But wait - it is one thing to decide on what the theme will be (yes, folks, these fireworks have a new theme each year), but quite another to actually set and explode the fireworks. Who is responsible for that?

Originally - that is, from the 1980s - it was a chap named Syd Howard and his company. He was the first to think of using the Sydney Harbour Bridge as the centrepiece for the display. Since the 2000 NYE fireworks, the pyrotechnics have been masterminded by Foti International Fireworks. The Foti Family have been letting off fireworks since 1793, so presumably they know what they are doing. The Fotis are Sicilian in origin and the current technicians are the 6th and 7th generation of pyrotechnicians in the family.

Sunset on the Sydney Opera House: waiting to board our trusty vessel
On 31st December crowds of well over a million people head to the foreshores of Sydney Harbour to see what the Creative Masterminds and the Foti Boys have for us this year. In Sydney we get two batches of fireworks - the main spectacular at midnight, of course, and also a 9 pm show which is commonly called “the family fireworks” because it is the one the little kids can stay up to see. But the 9 pm show is also the culmination of the Indigenous Smoking Ceremony which begins around 8 pm, giving the traditional Australian Aboriginal “Welcome to Country”, which involves white smoke from several barges. Then follows a Parade of Lights, where many of the boats on the harbour - and there will be hundreds of them of all shapes and sizes - light up their rigging and parade around a 15 kilometre course along the foreshores.

Wind drift to the south: but the Foti brothers coped magnificently.

And for the Big Show: fireworks erupt from several sites along the foreshore - reaching out towards the Heads and inland towards the Parramatta River - so everyone gets a chance to see them; and from half a dozens high rise rooftops in the City; and - the centrepiece - from the Bridge itself, which is closed to traffic for a few hours. The signature piece is the “waterfall” from the Bridge: a continual stream of fireworks dripping from the base of the Bridge to actually touch the water. It is made up of about 1100 candle fireworks, and each year some new twist is added. Will it be the traditional silver? Will it be golden? Will Roman candles spurt out of it? And will this year see the return of the popular “Birthday Cake” effect where fireworks shoot out of the top of the Bridge’s arch? Ahh, the anticipation.

Tall ship, the 'James Craig', leads the parade of lights

Our trusty vessel, the MV 'Mulgi', 86 years old, joined the parade.

The parade of lights: pretty in pink.

But the really big moment is the “Bridge Effect”, where a ‘secret’ symbol lights the finale on the Eastern face of the Bridge. It started in 1997-98 with a simple Smiley face, but has taken on a life of its own. The symbol is now usually tied into the theme...all a bit much for a fireworks display, you think? Well, the Creative Team, the Foti Brothers and a couple of million Sydney-siders and summer visitors take all this very seriously.

The 'waterfall' effect, 2011

Here’s some examples of recent themes and their loosely-associated ‘Bridge effects’:

1999-2000 "Millennium” “Eternity” in copperplate writing (very Sydney - another                                  blog post needed to explain that)

2000-2001 "Centenary of Federation" Rainbow Serpent & a Federation Star

2001-2002 "Year of the Outback" Uluru, the Southern Cross & a dove of                                          peace

2002-2003 "Celebration in Unity" Dove of peace and the word PEACE

2003-2004 "City of Light"         Light Show

2004-2005 "Reflections" Disco Ball

2005-2006 "Heart of the Harbour" Three concentric hearts

2006-2007 "A Diamond Night in Emerald City" Coathanger & a diamond

2007-208 "The Time of Our Lives"         Hourglass and a Mandala

2008-2009 "Creation"                            The Sun

2009-2010 "Awaken the Spirit" Taijitu symbol, Blue Moon & a ring of fire

2010-2011 "Make Your Mark" X Mark, Smiley face, Ticking Clock, Target and                                  
                                                                    a handprint
And TONIGHT? -----

2011-2012 "Time to Dream" Endless Rainbow, Multicoloured Clouds,

In the months leading up to 31 December (usually from late October), the scaffolding and framework for the Bridge effect are clearly visible on the Bridge’s eastern face, as is the outline for the design. Sydneysiders speculate as to how the effect is to be realised, although recently we have been given a sneak preview, with some light effects flickering on and off on December evenings. Here’s the hot news for this year:

The theme for Sydney New Year's Eve 2011 was revealed on the 4th of November as "Time To Dream". Fireworks Director Fortunato Foti, has stated this years show will feature new pyrotechnic effects such as, "criss-cross" shells that create a lattice effect, "Quadrant" shells that will burst into four different colours of the NYE "endless rainbow" logo. Creative Headliner Marc Newson, has revealed "The rainbow includes violet to represent community, peace, social stability and connectedness; blue to symbolise the harbour, sky and future aspirations; green for the environment, nurturing and growing; and yellow, which epitomises optimism, happiness and a sunny attitude." The shows budget will increase from $5 million to $6.3 million, once again utilising 7000 kilograms of explosives. (from Sydney Media quoted by Wikipedia)
The Bridge explodes: 9 pm fireworks, 2011

OK, if you’re not impressed, you’re unimpressable. And bear in mind that in The Lucky Country, unlike some less fortunate places in the world, the news is not constantly about economic doom and gloom: let’s hear it for “community, peace, social stability and connectedness” and “optimism, happiness and a sunny attitude”-- good wishes for 2012.

It is early evening in Sydney on 31st December 2011 and I'm off to join the happy throng harbourside. My plan is to bring back some pictures of the famous Sydney NYE fireworks to illustrate this blog post. If I'm not back by 2012, send a rescue party - with champagne.
Update 1.1.12: don't worry, back safely with a few blurry pictures to show you.

Happy New Year! 

2011: Happy New Year

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