The End Of An Era Or The Welcoming Of A New Addition?


Could we have seen the last of Sydney New Year’s Eve’s iconic Bridge Effect?

Well Sydney Spectaculars has reason to believe that, for at least this year’s Sydney New Year’s Eve event, a Bridge Effect will not feature.


The Sydney Harbour Bridge Effect was first introduced in 1997 by designer Peter England after event producer Ric Birch asked him to come up with something that will visually compete with the fireworks. The first Bridge Effect was an inanimate smiley face & it struck a chord with the crowd immediately.

  • 1997 – Smiley Face

In fact, the Bridge Effect was first thought of back in 1924 when John Bradfield was designing the Bridge. He realised the potential an arch bridge could have on Sydney Harbour celebrations & proposed the use of ‘illuminations’. His artist impression of a Bridge Effect was of the Third Rising Sun Badge. His idea has never been realised.

The Bridge Effect did not feature in 1998 as they trialled new elements for the Millennium (1999) event. Due to it’s successful test in 1997, it returned in 1999 with the iconic animated smiley face (now with eyelashes & pupils) & the word ‘Eternity’ – pyrotechnics were added to the Bridge Effect for the 1st time that year.

  • 1999 –  Smiley Face & ‘Eternity’

The ‘mystery’ of what the Bridge Effect would be each year was born & saw the beginning of a media tradition to try and get exclusive shots of the Bridge Effect being tested prior to the event (sometimes rather awkwardly timed & interpreted completely wrong). Another tradition born was the long TV camera shot of the Bridge Effect unveiling at the conclusion of the Midnight Fireworks – it made the conclusion of the fireworks more emotional as well as confirmed whether our guesses were right.

  • 2000 – Olympic Rings
  • 2000 – Rainbow Serpent & Federation Star
  • 2001 – Uluru, Southern Cross & Dove
  • 2002 – Dove & ‘PEACE’

In 2003, they tried to make the Bridge Effect ‘3D’. The idea was to have a 3D artwork known as ‘Fanfare’ hang from the Bridge. The media dubbed it ‘the disco ball’. But before it was announced it was postponed to 2004 due to budget & weather concerns. With the Rugby Ball Bridge Effect still on the Bridge in late November 2003  from the Rugby World Cup, there was little time to prepare another ‘2D’ Bridge Effect even though the contracted company ensured extra labour would compensate for that. The media found out there would be no Bridge Effect in early November 2003 & the disappointment was evident:

Hey, who switched out the light? This year’s spectacular New Year’s Eve illuminated bridge motif will be . . . well, nothing.

And convivial Sydneysiders could be waiting an eternity for another one, given a perception among the event’s organisers that the use of an emblem on the eastern expanse of the Bridge is ‘tired’.

Sydney Morning Herald (05/11/2003)

To replace the Bridge Effect, they borrowed the theme of a Sydney Festival 2004 element known as ‘City Of Light’ & linked the 2 events through the elements’ month-long city building light shows. The replacement Bridge Effect was to be an additional light show but on the Sydney Harbour Bridge – and was it spectacular!

  • 2003 – Rugby Ball
  • 2003 – Light Show

‘Fanfare’ appeared in 2004 but did not work as planned on the night. It did work though the whole week after. Traditional ‘2D’ Bridge Effects returned in 2005 but began to be unveiled before Midnight & they became incredibly complex in programming with the introduction of ‘combinations’ – the traditional stationary image but smaller individual parts lit up gradually to reveal extra images or patterns/sequences. These ‘extra hidden’ images usually are not counted as official Bridge Effects.

In 2006, new TV broadcaster, Network 10, stopped the traditional long shot of the final Bridge Effect unveiling at the end of the Midnight Fireworks (probably because portions of it can now be seen earlier in the night). No broadcaster has since revived it & they usually now immediately go to the credits once the fireworks conclude. This combined with the ‘combinations’ & earlier ‘reveals’ led to a lower profile for the Bridge Effect overall as the audience became confused with what the final image was & lost interest in guessing it.

  • 2004 – ‘Fanfare’
  • 2005 – Hearts
  • 2006 – Diamond & Coathanger
  • 2007 – APEC Sydney 2007 Logo
  • 2007 – Mandala

2008 saw the next big event Sydney was to hold since APEC & the Rugby World Cup – World Youth Day. Expectations were of a religious symbol to be the Bridge Effect on this occasion but instead, this event saw one of the first events to incorporate Sydney Harbour Bridge pylon projections – which have increasingly became popular since then especially with the introduction of Vivid Sydney & Sydney Opera House projections in 2009 – a year which saw the Bridge Effect become ‘multi-layered’ – that is, 2 layers of final Bridge Effect images, one on top of the other.

  • 2008 – Sun
  • 2009 – Yin-Yang, Ring Of Fire & Blue Moon
  • 2010 – Handprint, Spot & ‘X’
  • 2011 – Endless Rainbow & Thought Bubble
  • 2012 – Butterflies & Kylie Minogue’s Lips

2013 saw the Bridge Effect begin the transition from incandescent ropelight to LED ropelight, which saw amazing moving colour-changing patterns & sequences take place on the outline of 2013’s ‘eye’. LED ropelight was included in the 2014 Bridge Effect but was barely noticeable. This year should have seen the completion of the transition to LED ropelight.

  • 2013 – Eye
  • 2014 – Light Bulb & Sydney Seahorses


It is now late 2015. NYE preparations are truly underway & people around the world are preparing to travel to Sydney to tick off their bucket list the Midnight Fireworks & the Bridge Effect. Given the Bridge Effect is such a tradition & increasingly getting more technologically advanced, why do we think this year might not feature it?

  • Theme

The theme, ‘City Of Colour’, can be widely interpreted to be anything as the Bridge Effect especially after you look at it’s logo, which is a unique collage of Sydney icons. The theme is also similar to the 2003 theme ‘City Of Light’, which saw a light show put in place instead of a Bridge Effect (see background above) but the reason why that happened is unlikely to have occurred again.

  • Support Structures

Usually, the support structures that hold up the Bridge Effect start to be put into place in mid-October/early-November but have been known to appear as late as early December. It is mid-December & not 1 piece of structure is yet to be seen.

  • Website & Media Releases

The Bridge Effect is not mentioned once on the recently updated Sydney New Year’s Eve website. It always used to be on the website. So far, not 1 media release has mentioned the Bridge Effect while the fireworks have been mentioned briefly.

  • Tender

The most recent Bridge Effect contract expired early this year after the 2014 event but the City Of Sydney have not seemed to have issued a new tender request. There is a slight possibility of internal negotiations happening anyway.

  • Budget & Projections

Recent events such as the International Fleet Review Spectacular & 100 Years Of ANZAC – The Spirit Lives: 2014-2018 have seen 3D-mapped projections put in place instead of a Bridge Effect due to the cheaper cost as well as the lower weather risks. With the expansion of the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylon projections to include the western pylons this NYE, there is a chance the extra money from excluding a Bridge Effect has partially been allocated to that too. LED ropelight is also more expensive.

  • Tender Company

One of the companies that has supplied the Bridge Effect since 2000 went insolvent in April this year, which would explain the sale of the Olympic Rings Bridge Effect in May this year as it used to sit in that company’s site. We’re unsure but the other company may still be operating.

  • Sydney’s Summer Aquatic Events: A Boating Guide

On December 1st 2015, Roads & Maritime Services released the 2015/2016 edition of their ‘Sydney’s Summer Aquatic Events: A Boating Guide’ publication. The publication is always very detailed providing precise details of the scheduled events for Sydney NYE. This year, one sentence reads “The design of the fireworks and Sydney Harbour Bridge effects are a well-kept secret until the stroke of midnight.” Note that it says ‘effects’ – plural (meaning more than 1) and also that the ‘E’ in ‘effects’ is not capitalised. When writing about the Sydney Harbour Bridge Effect, the ‘E’ is always capitalised.

  • Less Pyrotechnic Displays

Since 2008, Sydney NYE has featured ‘firings’ or ‘mini displays’ between 9:08pm & Midnight. On December 1st 2015, Roads & Maritime Services released the 2015/2016 edition of their ‘Sydney’s Summer Aquatic Events: A Boating Guide’ publication. This publication indicated no pyrotechnics being fired from the barges during the ‘Welcome To Country’ & between 9:08pm and Midnight as has been the case since 2008. In the video of the Sydney NYE2003 – ‘City Of Light’ Midnight Fireworks above, the pyrotechnic finale featured fireworks coming off the ‘hangers’ of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (the bit between the lower arch and the roadway) – during a rare year when no Bridge Effect could block pyrotechnic use from that Bridge section. That was the only time it had featured ever…until now maybe? With no Bridge Effect still in sight, small cranes being used near the hangers in recent nights and less pyrotechnic displays this year, maybe they are bringing that dazzling pyrotechnic effect back? The pyrotechnics would be, in this case, relocated from the barges to the Bridge hangers and the small cranes being used to install the pyrotechnics in the location where the Bridge Effect once stood. But those small cranes could have been installing anything – but in November/December, it usually is to install NYE equipment.


We can confirm that something is happening on the Sydney Harbour Bridge for NYE2015 & it is involving lights but we just do not know what it is – probably the greatest lighting mystery since the Millennium. A lighting director has been appointed & testing has been conducted on the Bridge.

We asked the City Of Sydney if a Bridge Effect is happening this year & the response was rather cryptic as it did not confirm or deny it: “The 2015 Sydney New Year’s Eve will feature an exciting new fireworks display and new bridge lighting effects”.

“New bridge lighting effects” could mean anything – from a new replacement light show to the Bridge Effect but fully LED for the 1st time. “New fireworks display”? Well again, open to interpretation – it could mean the usual new programming of the 9pm Family & Midnight Fireworks or the re-introduction of pyrotechnics from the Sydney Harbour Bridge hangers?

With the ‘City of Colour’ theme, we’re taking a wild guess to predict that a multi-coloured LED light show covering the whole Sydney Harbour Bridge & maybe other Sydney icons such as the Sydney Opera House, Royal Botanic Gardens & Taronga Zoo (the latter 2 because a tribute to their 200th & 100th anniversaries respectively are being included in the 9pm Family Fireworks) will take place. Maybe the projections will play a part too?

In 1986, the Royal Australian Navy revolutionised Sydney pyrotechnic displays by introducing the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the fireworks which became mainstream 2 years later in 1988. In 2013, the Royal Australian Navy put on the International Fleet Review Spectacular – a show featuring pyrotechnics, projections, lights, music, aerial flyovers & live action sequences all in 1 show. It was a display we expected to revolutionise Sydney pyrotechnic displays once again. It’s now 2015 – 2 years later – maybe the revolution will become mainstream now? But is the Bridge Effect a casualty of that? Remember, the International Fleet Review Spectacular featured no Bridge Effect – the first major pyrotechnic display to do so since 1998. In the end, if the revolution is happening, we only expected projections to be added to the pyrotechnic displays, which have always contained music/lights & the rare aerial flyover.

If there is no Bridge Effect this year, we hope it is a one-off. If not, hopefully the new lighting display is something even more iconic, mysterious & spectacular. But in the end, we hope we are wrong about the Bridge Effect possibly seeing it’s end. We’ll find out when the media launch is held in early December…