A New ‘Flagship Sydney Spectacular’ Is Born…

This photograph from Instagram user ‘GLANZPUNKT’ says it all.

A new ‘flagship Sydney Spectacular’ is born…

In a time when the other 2 ‘flagship Sydney Spectaculars’, Sydney New Year’s Eve and Vivid Sydney, are in decline, ‘Australia Day Live’ has grown since 2015 to reach this new level of ‘Sydney Spectacular’.

So we now have each year, in terms of ‘flagship Sydney Spectaculars’:

  • Vivid Sydney (Late May to mid-June)
  • Sydney New Year’s Eve (The 31st of December to the 1st of January)
  • Australia Day Live (The 26th of January)

That photograph above does sum up the event’s new scale but it is missing 1 new event element in the photograph – the Hercules aircraft flare dispense – which started the 1st fireworks display of the night:

Other major new event elements included:

  • Boats on Sydney Harbour, most likely from the Sydney New Year’s Eve 2018 – The Pulse Of Sydney: Harbour Of Light Parade, had a synchronised light show.
  • Overseas Passenger Terminal was used for fireworks
  • Sydney Harbour Bridge had an synchronised light show
  • Sydney Opera House was used for fireworks

If you missed ‘Australia Day Live’, the full 2 hour event can be seen below:

‘Australia Day Live’ is the concluding event of  ‘Australia Day In Sydney’, which is also getting larger. But notably, the overall event will have to for ‘Australia Day Live’ to get any larger.

‘Australia Day Live’ is completely focused on Circular Quay except briefly for the Hercules aircraft flare dispense. For it to break the boundaries of Circular Quay, significant crowds would need to appear at Mrs Macquaries Point, Bradfield Park & Mary Booth Lookout. Just as importantly, more boats would need to be anchored in Farm Cove, near Fort Denision & in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

To allow for larger crowds, crowds need a reason to go there. All these locations are very far from Circular Quay – Mrs Macquaries Point is separated from Circular Quay by the Royal Botanic Gardens, which is closed at night & the other 2 foreshore vantage points are on the other side of the Harbour. People do watch ‘Australia Day Live’ from these locations already but they are not in significant numbers yet. All 3 are, after all, very far away to see anything but fireworks, which mostly happen for 15 minutes at 9:15pm (All times in this article are in Australian Eastern Daylight Time).

Unlike Sydney New Year’s Eve, despite the Sydney Opera House now featuring fireworks for ‘Australia Day Live’, there is no need yet to get there early to get a good spot. Last year’s ‘Australia Day Live’ did reach capacity in Circular Quay but that happened half-way through the concert. As far as we are aware, capacity was not reached this year.

This should signal a drop in attendance. And it is easy to see why. If there is 1 flaw with ‘Australia Day Live’, is that it is a ‘made-for-television’ event. The only good place to see ‘Australia Day Live’ is on television or at the Concert itself (so that means you need a ticket & not just be in the vicinity).

If you are around Circular Quay, most of the 2 hours is spent watching a big screen. You might as well watch it on television. The Circular Quay entertainment is split up into 6 distinct shows:

  1. Welcome/Good Times (7:30pm to 7:39pm)
  2. Tug & Yacht Ballet (7:55pm to 8pm)
  3. Sunset Ceremony (8:20pm to 8:30pm)
  4. Tribute To Opera (8:47pm to 8:50pm)
  5. Circular Quay Party (9:08pm to (9:11pm)
  6. Spectacular (9:15pm to 9:30pm)

That’s about 45 minutes of a 2 hour event spent with actual entertainment in front of you and that is not on a big screen.

You might say ‘What about Sydney New Year’s Eve? There is hours between entertainment for that event’.

The difference is that New Year’s Eve is focused around Midnight. Midnight is the whole point of New Year’s Eve. And since Sydney’s Midnight Fireworks are iconic and world famous, people are willing to wait for not just hours but days to see the 12 minute record-breaking fireworks display.

Australia Day is focused around a day – a whole 24 hours. Since ‘Australia Day Live’, as a Circular Quay event rather than the Concert, is promoted as ‘1 event’ rather than ‘5 separate events followed by 1 major fireworks display at 9:15pm)’, you can’t blame the crowd if they leave because they think it’s either over, repetitive or lengthy & thus, boring. The approximately 20 minute breaks between the entertainment is rather disruptive and given most of the earlier entertainment features fireworks, you can’t blame the crowd if they thought they saw the main fireworks display, thought ‘That’s it???’ and left. The lower attendance might also be because the crowd did the same thing last year but waited until the end of the event that time and thought it wasn’t worth the wait this time (Well, they didn’t know how spectacular it would be).

If you got a ticket and were at the actual Concert, it was fine because you get to watch about 8 live performances over the 2 hours taking place on a stage – not a big screen.

The television/Internet broadcast is the same but also had frequent interviews with Australians & feature pieces on Australians and Australia Day.

Essentially, ‘Australia Day Live’ is made up of 4 parts:

  1. Live musical performances
  2. Interviews
  3. Feature pieces
  4. Circular Quay entertainment

The 1st problem needing to be fixed is the inconsistent Circular Quay entertainment. Either by properly advertising it as 6 events at different times over 2 hours instead of 1 2-hour long event or by shifting all the Circular Quay entertainment into 1 bundle, where possible, near 8:45pm or by adding more Circular Quay entertainment so spectators don’t spend 60% of their time staring at a big screen.

The 2nd problem is only if they want to grow the event. To do this, like we said earlier, they need crowds at vantage points further away from Circular Quay. ‘Australia Day Live’ does not have enough prestige yet to have people wait hours at these locations when a better vantage point still has room right up until the event starts. The only way to get a crowd in these locations to expand the overall ‘Australia Day In Sydney’ event.

‘Australia Day In Sydney’ has several events which have a long & significant history but the day can be broken up into 3 distinct event phases:

  1. WulgulOra Morning Ceremony (7:45am to 8:30am)
  2. Salute To Australia (10:45am to 12:15pm) – This includes the Ferrython, Salute To Australia & Tug & Yacht Ballet
  3. Australia Day Live (6:30pm to 9:30pm)

There is a clear 6 hour gap in notable entertainment. There is entertainment but nothing worth the crowd waiting around for. First is In The Sky, a near 2-hour air show but actually features just 3 flyovers: A half-hour helicopter flag display at around 12:20pm; a Qantas A380 flyover at 1:15pm and the Red Berets parachute display at 2pm.

At 12:45pm, the near-hour long Australia Day Harbour Parade begins.  Similar to Sydney New Year’s Eve’s Harbour Of Light Parade, the only difference is that it doesn’t feature lights – just decorations. A big problem is the lack of exclusion zone (for obvious reasons) which cause the Parade to blend in with other Harbour traffic. Also, as it is a Parade, despite lasting nearly an hour, a spectator only sees it for a few minutes.

At 1pm, there is the Tall Ships Race.This is probably something worthy of waiting around for but unlike the Ferrython, it doesn’t start & finish in the same place so unless you are on a boat, you would see either the start or finish but not both. With the finish being the better option to see and the race concluding at around 1:30pm, the near 75 minute wait after the Salute To Australia phase isn’t seen worth it by spectators particularly if they can see the race from another vantage point. They can be on the go.

Essentially, everything between 12:15pm and 2pm, is just watching boats and (very few) aerial displays.

Between 1:30pm and 2pm, the races of the Australia Day Regatta begin near Shark Island. This is a 3 hour event and takes up most of the time before Australia Day Live, finishing no later than 5pm at Shark Island. The fact the race course heads east of Shark Island means it is very far away from the rest of the ‘Australia Day In Sydney’ events and crowds aren’t willing to travel kilometres from Circular Quay to an event that can’t watch (and back) because the Regatta takes up tens of square kilometres stretching from Shark Island to Manly meaning there is no other land vantage point worthy of watching the event from than Shark Island, the start & finish line of the Regatta (so there is limited capacity). The fact the event has several races and intersecting courses means watching from the land can be confusing unless you are at Shark Island too.

So naturally, this means between 2pm and 6:30pm can be rather empty on Sydney Harbour on Australia Day.

But the International Fleet Review Spectactular had just ‘boats and planes’ in the afternoon and lots of people watched that? Yes but it had an ‘anchor’ event – the Spectacular at 7:40pm, which was the biggest multi-medium event on Sydney Harbour at the time. People were waiting all day for that. It provided momentum to the fireworks. Australia Day Live, as we detailed before, isn’t that prestigious yet that people will wait hours for it particularly if the entertainment in the meantime is far away or ‘just passing’.

In the morning between the WulgulOra Morning Ceremony & the Salute To Australia phases, the 10 Kilometre Wheelchair Race in The Rocks, held at 9am, provides suitable entertainment between those 2 phases as it gives a worthy reason for crowds to travel from Barangaroo Reserve, where the Ceremony is held, to Circular Quay, where the Salute To Australia phase is roughly based, so whilst they wait for that next phase to begin, there is at least some ‘half-time’ entertainment that they can watch for a while as it is held on a circuit.

So ‘Australia Day In Sydney’ between 12:15pm & 2pm is entertainment that can be done whilst ‘roaming’ whilst after 2pm, it is rather easily ignored and after 5pm, well there is definitely no entertainment until 6:30pm.

What ‘Australia Day In Sydney’ needs to do, along with our earlier suggestion, is to reorganise the day’s events to the best of their ability so that it provides momentum to the fireworks. These events, ideally held in the late afternoon (but preferably held consistently &/or where relevant all day. After all, it is Australia DAY) and located near Bradfield Park, Mary Booth Lookout & Mrs Macquaries Point, would give crowds a reason to wait there for the fireworks for hours and if the fireworks are just as spectacular as this year and the Concert is fixed up so that people aren’t staring at screens for an hour, it may become prestigious enough that people will wait there for the fireworks, watching that newly placed entertainment and thus allowing the fireworks display to get bigger since more vantage points are now being utilised.

It will take time. There is nothing wrong with the ideas of the existing events – the overall program just needs reconfiguring to allow future growth and again, this will take time. At least 2 years. But if it is delayed & thus affects ‘Australia Day In Sydney’ 2020, it may temporarily halt the overall growth or worse, reverse the trend of growth in ‘Australia Day In Sydney’. That would be disappointing and just when things were getting Spectacular! At least it gave us hope that the annual ‘Sydney Spectaculars’ aren’t declining like we recently thought.

And do not forget the other 2 major challenges for the event – the domestic target audience & the date. But we detailed that in our last article

Anyway, in other news…

Sydney Lunar Festival

Tonight, the Sydney Lunar Festival starts. Formally called the Sydney Chinese New Year Festival, the Sydney Harbour Bridge will be lit in festive red & pink every night during the Festival from 8:15pm until 1am in celebration of the Lunar New Year & The Year Of The Pig. The Festival’s final night is on February the 10th.

It is expected the Sydney Opera House will be illuminated red again for the Festival as per tradition.

A fireworks display will accompany the illuminations turning on for the 1st time during the 2019 festival. To occur between 8pm & 9pm, mostly likely at 8:15pm, the fireworks display occurs somewhere on Sydney Harbour, most likely in Farm Cove & will feature most likely just a single barge. It will feature aerial shell fireworks up to 150 millimetres in size.


Again, this concludes our posts. We may return in December to post if Australia Day Live 2020 is announced to be similar to this year’s (that is, Sydney Opera House fireworks &/or Sydney Harbour Bridge light show)

In the meantime, we will just be adding future event information as it arrives on our site, which we will be refreshing over time.

Also in the meantime, we will continue to work to turn this site into a ‘museum’ of the ‘Sydney Spectaculars’. A new chapter may have just begun with Australia Day Live

Lastly for your information, here are some known milestones to look forward to this year:

  • Until 10th February – Sydney Lunar Festival (Sydney Harbour Bridge & Opera House red &/or pink illuminations)
  • Mid-March – Vivid Sydney 2019 media launch
  • 8:30pm 30 March – Earth Hour (Lights of landmarks are turned off for 1 hour)
  • 7:30pm, 22 March to 21 April – Handa Opera On Sydney Harbour: West Side Story (A nightly performance on Sydney Harbour complete with fireworks. Tickets on sale now) ***FIRST TIME THEY ARE DOING A MUSICAL***
  • 6 to 12 May – United Nations Global Road Safety Week – Leadership In Road Safety (Yellow Sydney Harbour Bridge illumination)
  • 24 May to 15 June – Vivid Sydney
  • 27 October – Diwali (Yellow-gold Sydney Opera House illumination)
  • 11 November – Remembrance Day (Projections of poppies on the Sydney Opera House)
  • 23 780ikj to 26 December – Sydney Christmas (Christmas-themed projection & light shows with a few fireworks displays)
  • Early December – Sydney New Year’s Eve 2019 Media Launch
  • Mid December – Australia Day In Sydney 2020 Program Announced
  • Late December – Sydney New Year’s Eve 2019 White Bay Media Call
  • 31st December – Sydney New Year’s Eve 2019

The above may change as whilst most are annual events, some have not yet been formally announced as occurring this year.

And remember, nearly every night this year, you can see Badu Gili (a projection show on the Bennelong sail of the Sydney Opera House), a projection show on the Australian National Maritime Museum & a light show on Luna Park Sydney’s Ferris Wheel. There are also occasional simple fireworks displays on Sydney Harbour including the regular Saturday night fireworks in Darling Harbour (Yes, they have returned!).

So until next time, goodbye!