Is ‘Australia Day In Sydney’ On The Verge Of Becoming A ‘Flagship’ ‘Sydney Spectacular’?

That’s right – we are back!

We did not think we will be back so soon to writing full posts.

But alas, this will be temporary as this particular event we are going to discuss in this post only gets attention between December & January…mainly January.

That’s right – it’s the event that will be held tomorrow – Australia Day In Sydney.

As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, particularly in our previous post, the ‘Sydney Spectaculars’ (as we like to call them) are in decline. There have been only 2 annual ‘flagship’ Sydney Spectaculars ever:

  • Sydney New Year’s Eve (1976 to 1986 & 1989 to the present) and
  • Vivid Sydney (2009 to the present)

The latter is in decline due to attendance beginning to lower due to well the event looking the same and very large crowds (though the latter will likely reduce as the attendance reduces) whilst the former is in decline due to a sudden increase in commercialisation which will, in the future, threat the financing of the event. The commercialisation of Sydney New Year’s Eve will possibly increase even more in this year’s edition.

Coincidentally, Australia Day In Sydney has been the opposite. It has been growing. Here’s the history of, not the date, but the ‘Sydney Spectacular’ side of the day…

On New Year’s Eve (NYE) 1986, a mass murder occurred in The Rocks. This resulted in the cancellation of Sydney NYE as the violence had been growing over the previous 7 years but until then, no murders had occurred.

The cancellation caught Sydneysiders off guard. Seats on NYE cruises were still being sold despite the cancellation being already announced. Suddenly, Sydney had no massive fireworks display & the City pretty much couldn’t cope (figure of speech).

The cancellation was expected to last a few years. Luckily, the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the 1st Fleet was just over a year away so Stephen Hall, the 1986 Sydney NYE director thought ‘Instead of waiting 2 years, why not have 1 giant display on the 26th January 1988 to celebrate the anniversary?’. And that’s what happened:

This was Sydney’s & Australia’s largest fireworks display at the time. It saw the 1st use of the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s upper arch & whilst, in retrospect, you can the technical standards of the Bridge sequence wasn’t as precise and perfect as today, for the time, it was state of the art & left a memorable imprint of the display in the minds of Sydneysiders to this day. Such a imprint that many Sydneysiders consider that display to be bigger than any current Sydney NYE display (I know, right?).

Australia Day In Sydney wasn’t as big after then. Sydney NYE returned the next year & the Bridge returned in 1990 but as part of the NYE display only. I don’t need to tell you all how the history of Sydney NYE evolved from then onwards.

Australia Day In Sydney‘s fireworks displays spread out across Sydney in 1989 to 3 locations: Parramatta, The Domain & Darling Harbour. The latter one grew into the Australia Day Spectacular which lasted until 2017 & became a ‘Sydney Spectacular’ after The Games Of The XXVIIth Olympiad: Sydney 2000. The former two either became a separate event to Australia Day In Sydney or eventually didn’t exist.

In 2014, Australia Day In Sydney re-introduced fireworks on Sydney Harbour for the 1st time since 1988 as part of the P&O cruise ships appearance. This continued until 2016.

Also in 2016, a new nationally-televised concert titled Australia Day – Live At Sydney Opera House was introduced which featured a fireworks display in Circular Quay at it’s conclusion. This was the 1st nationally-televised Australia Day In Sydney fireworks display since 1988 & the most fireworks displays held as part of Australia Day In Sydney (3 – Darling Harbour, Athol Bay (P&O Cruise Ships) & Circular Quay) since 1989.

2017 saw 2 fireworks displays (Darling Harbour & Circular Quay) & the un-eventuated rumour of green & gold projections on the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons & the Sydney Opera House.

2018 saw just Circular Quay fireworks held across 2 simultaneous events, the Australia Day – Live At The Sydney Opera House concert & the new Live At The Quay!. The latter has been combined with the former for tomorrow’s edition (though this was the case pretty much in 2018) with it now called simply Australia Day Live.

No doubt the trend showed fireworks in Sydney Harbour on Australia Day were going to become a more regular and more major occurrence and now we are here, 2019, and is it about to become the 3rd ‘flagship’ ‘Sydney Spectacular’?

As you all know, there have been 2 major changes already announced. Firstly, a change in television broadcaster. The past 3 years have been Network 10, now it is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. And, secondly, the ‘WugulOra Morning Ceremony’ will be broadcast for the 1st time ever. But here are the newest changes this year that could see it make the ‘flagship’ criteria in the next few years:

Radio Broadcasts Return

That’s right. If you are down by the Harbour, 89.3 FM will broadcast the audio soundtracks of both Australia Day Live (from 6:30pm, concert begins at 7:32pm) and Salute To Australia (from 11:30am). However, there is a chance this will include an audio description and thus, is designed for people with impaired vision. The Australia Day In Sydney website does not make this clear. However, it could signal that the event may be about to get large in the future as radio is accessible from many locations. The event is currently restricted to Circular Quay, which isn’t a large enough space deserving of a radio broadcast (except for people with impaired vision). The audio description service may be there to test the waters for future & more larger non-audio description radio broadcasts. You can listen to the soundtracks & audio description online by clicking here.

Lights Seen On The Sydney Harbour Bridge

Vivid-like lights on the Sydney Harbour Bridge appeared 2 nights ago. They were not there the previous nights nor last night & they are not the Sydney NYE lights. They stayed the same purple colour all night. Why? We can only guess. Australia Day Live will feature a light show but we didn’t expect one on the Sydney Harbour Bridge!

We can confirm clearly there will be no fireworks on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Hercules Flare Dispense

The Royal Australian Air Force has confirmed a flare dispense from a Hercules aircraft will occur above the Sydney Harbour Bridge at 8pm tomorrow night.

Could this be an unofficial ‘reenactment’ of sorts of the iconic F-111 flyover that occurred during The Games Of The XXVIIth Olympiad: Sydney 2000 – Closing Night Harbour Spectacular? The only difference being no fireworks – just a light show?

The last time a flare dispense occurred on Sydney Harbour was in 2013 for the International Fleet Review Spectacular and that was just from Squirrel helicopters!

Don’t know what a Hercules aircraft looks like nor what a flare dispense is?

Well here it is (Flare dispenses are usually done to ensure no heat-seeking weaponry is active and/or will strike the aircraft):

Let’s hope it is just as spectacular!

The Future…

Without a doubt if a light show on the Sydney Harbour Bridge appears tomorrow, Australia Day In Sydney could become a new ‘flagship’ ‘Sydney Spectacular’ in the next few years. The Australia Day Live part of the event will definitely be a ‘flagship’ ‘Sydney Spectacular’ tomorrow if the Sydney Harbour Bridge light show occurs.

TIP: The best vantage point most likely would be the south-western corner of the Sydney Opera House. Thus, allowing you a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay big screen, performances and fireworks & the Concert (located directly behind at the Sydney Opera House’s Southern Forecourt).

The televisual broadcast of the event will need to be improved as the current version of the event does not rate well due to many factors – most notably the fact that Australians are already at their own local Australia Day event. The concert’s line-up is very repetitive due to the fact that most are former singing contest-reality television winners – they have been seen on television too much. They used the same formula during the XXIst Commonwealth Games: Gold Coast 2018 – Closing Ceremony & look how that turned out. It is no wonder that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s NYE concerts have been successful –  it features artists you rarely see on television. The crowds around Circular Quay during the Australia Day Live concert though are large enough for that portion of the event to be rated as a ‘flagship’ ‘Sydney Spectacular’ if the Sydney Harbour Bridge light show occurs during it but not the overall Australia Day In Sydney event …yet.

The overall event still has a low & inconsistent attendance with crowds coming and going throughout the day due to a focus on just the Circular Quay part of Sydney Harbour, events held in many parts of the city and an inconsistent event schedule. You need to always travel when celebrating Australia Day in Sydney. There is no ‘sit down & relax until the fireworks’ like with Sydney NYE which is odd as “sitting down by the Harbour” is quintessentially Australian. Isn’t that what you do on Australia Day then?

Assuming tomorrow’s event is as big as we think it could be, future years could be even bigger. And, if the daytime entertainment is organised in a way that provides momentum to the fireworks, celebrating Australia Day In Sydney may become a ‘must-do’ event.

But there is a problem.

Well, two problems.

Domestic Audience

If the event gets large, it will only be of interest to Australians unless international audiences still just want to see a large fireworks display or light/projection show on Sydney Harbour once in their lives. Sydney NYE is very universal, which is why we at ‘Sydney Spectaculars’ call it ‘The World’s Party’ whilst Australia Day In Sydney is not. It is a very nationalistic event and that is understandable. Australians are likely to be the only ones wanting to attend. However, 1 strength of Australia is that we are the most successful multicultural country on Earth. If the event focuses on Australia’s growing multiculturalism, it may become a more universal event & be more encouraging for international audiences to visit. It is probably a universal truth that Australians produce the best parties (excluding the XXIst Commonwealth Games: Gold Coast 2018 – Closing Ceremony) so we are very confident Australia Day In Sydney could be as successful as Sydney NYE if done correctly.

The Date

As the date of 'Australia Day' is a sensitive issue, if there are any inaccuracies in the section below, just kindly contact us and we will consider your message and rectify anything that we believe makes the below section more historically accurate.

Since 2017, there has been a growing debate on when should Australia Day be held. It is the day when we celebrate Australia. However, there are people who feel the date should be redesignated as it is also the anniversary of when the Indigenous people of the land began to lose their sovereignty due to the arrival of permanent European settlement. We at Sydney Spectaculars pride on historical accuracy so here is the history of the date of Australia Day as far as we are aware.

Since 1901, public holidays in Australia have not been under the control of Australia but the individual Australian states & territories so any change in date must come from each individual state and territory. Australia could place control of public holidays under the Australian Parliament if a constitutional referendum was held to alter the constitution to give the Australian Parliament that power though.

Australia was formed on January 1st 1901 but it was not until the early 1930’s that the States & territories of the Commonwealth Of Australia, one by one, decided to celebrate ‘Australia Day’, a day that celebrates Australia, on the Monday during a long weekend near the 26th January. This meant a previous public holiday of only the state of New South Wales (NSW), called ‘First Landing Day’ or ‘Anniversary Day’ and which was held on exactly the 26th January would be cancelled. That former public holiday celebrated the landing of the 1st Fleet at what is now called Sydney so a clear linkage to the anniversary of the 1st Fleet’s Arrival remained in regards to ‘Australia Day’. ‘First Landing Day’ or ‘Anniversary Day’ was first celebrated in 1818 but it became an annual celebration in 1838.

The date was chosen with that previous public holiday in mind even though the new public holiday was meant to celebrate solely Australia, whose anniversary of it’s creation is January 1st, over 4 weeks prior.

On the 26th January in 1788, the United Kingdom (UK) via Captain Arthur Phillip of the 1st Fleet took possession of the land, which was already home to many Indigenous peoples. The colony of NSW, which was part of the United Kingdom (UK), was not created by Captain Arthur Phillip for nearly another 2 weeks. Nevertheless, the landing of the 1st Fleet at Sydney marked the beginning of a dramatic change in the environment the Indigenous peoples lived in. A change that is still occurring to this day though improvements have been made to rectify certain things (For example, now there are native title claims).

The UK considered the Indigenous population as already ‘British subjects’ (even though the Indigenous population obviously did not know that nor probably did not want to be considered as such anyway at the time) & wanted to establish friendly relations with them but Captain Arthur Phillip did kidnap a few Indigenous people, most notably Bennalong, to ‘establish relations with the overall Indigenous population’ and conflict between the 2 cultures began in the months after the 1st Fleet’s arrival. The arrival of disease dramatically decreased the Indigenous population too though this was accidental. More conflicts & what was later termed, The Stolen Generations, deepened the rift since then though and have prevented the reconciliation between the Indigenous peoples & Australia and the United Kingdom though an apology to The Stolen Generations on behalf of Australia to the Indigenous peoples was issued in 2008.

In 1938, the Indigenous population of Australia called the 26th January a ‘Day Of Mourning’ (because it was the 150th anniversary of the 1st Fleet’s arrival) and from 1988, ‘Invasion Day’. It should be noted that whilst the United Kingdom and later, Australia, always considered the Indigenous population as one of them (that is, British subjects or Australian citizens, despite the Indigenous population not having full citizen/subject rights until the late 1960’s), the Indigenous peoples were & are still ‘separate’ despite living in the same locations or sharing multiple ‘citizenships’ & cultures. Formal recognition of the Indigenous culture & reconciliation between the Indigenous peoples & Australia and the United Kingdom still has to be realised to this day. The United Kingdom formally separated from Australia in 1986. However, they still share the same Monarch, who holds the title of Queen in each country separately.

If there was any doubt about what the date of ‘Australia Day’ symbolised or what the public holiday was celebrating, it was removed in 1988, when all States and territories decided for just that year that ‘Australia Day’ would be celebrated on exactly the 26th January as 1988 was the Bicentenary of the 1st Fleet’s arrival. So this means that evidence shows that as late as 1988 ‘Australia Day’  was celebrated to commemorate the anniversary of the 1st Fleet’s arrival to Sydney rather than Australia.

In 1994, ‘Australia Day’ was moved to exactly the 26th January permanently, most likely for the same reason as the 1988 date change. The only difference being that it wasn’t the 200th anniversary anymore.

In 2016, debate began about what is the right date to celebrate ‘Australia Day’, a day that celebrates Australia. Local governments & Triple J rescheduled their celebrations to days not on the 26th January. The Federal Government threatened local governments that they will remove the right to host citizenship ceremonies as part of their ‘Australia Day’ celebrations if those celebrations are not held exactly on the 26th January. This is a hypocritical view since ‘Australia Day’, for most of it’s history, has not been held on the 26th January exactly. In 2019, this escalated with the Federal Government announcing new rules for citizenship ceremonies which will be implemented in 2020. This probably signals that as late as mid-2016,  most Australians celebrate ‘Australia Day’ for the 1st Fleet arrival anniversary rather than for Australia.

Nevertheless, the trend of the past 2 and a half years shows that a shift in when ‘Australia Day’ should be held is occurring. However, for now, it is only occurring in certain places and particularly in the youth population.

The date is currently the greatest threat to ‘Australia Day In Sydney’ becoming a ‘flagship’ ‘Sydney Spectacular’ as public opinion is shifting rapidly. It’s hard to organise an event without knowing which date it is on & if anyone will attend anyway.

It’s probably fate that 26th January (or any date between the 20th January & 7th February, the date the colony of NSW was formally created) will not be the date ‘Australia Day’ will be celebrated on some time in the future. Some people may feel that 26th January is significant, some don’t. Dates mean different things to different people. To be united as 1 country on 1 day, we need to all come together. If the day we are meant to be united as 1 country is the day we are disunited as 1 country, then something is clearly out of place. Understanding, recognition, reconciliation and unity will help Australia decide an alternative date between the 2nd February & 19th January. We all just have to try.

This, along with the multiculturalism focus we spoke of earlier, will allow ‘Australia Day In Sydney’ to become a ‘flagship’ ‘Sydney Spectacular’ without any issues. It will take time but it is on the verge.

As the date of 'Australia Day' is a sensitive issue, if there are any inaccuracies in the section above, just kindly contact us and we will consider your message and rectify anything that we believe makes the above section more historically accurate.


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