OPINION: COVID-19 Now Defines 2020 – What Could This Mean For Sydney NYE2020?

Sydney NYE2001 – ‘Of Beauty Rich & Rare: ‘The Australian Spirit’

Black Christmas bushfires

(24 December 2001 to 7 January 2002)

0 deaths

Event result: Slight theme change from ‘Of Beauty Rich & Rare: Australia – The Land’ to ‘Of Beauty Rich & Rare: The Australian Spirit’

Sydney NYE2014 – Inspire

The Lindt Cafe Siege

(15 to 16 December 2014)

2 deaths

Event result: Flower pylon projections apparently

Sydney NYE2019

2019–20 Australian Bushfire Season

(from June 2019 to March 2020)

34 deaths

Event result: Global donation appeal including charity concert & donation appeal (raising $13.3 million).


September 11 attacks

(11 September 2001)

2,996 deaths

Event result: Bridge Effect changed from a cockatoo to a dove of peace

Sydney NYE2004 – Reflections On Australiana

Indian Ocean Earthquake & Tsunami

(26 December 2004)

227,898 deaths

Event Result: Domestic donation appeal (raised $1.5 million) & a minute’s silence at 9pm.

Sydney NYE2020

COVID-19 Pandemic

(1 December 2019 to present)

787,701 deaths as of 19th of August

Event Result: ?

We know for sure a minute’s silence at 9pm (and probably Midnight as well as the pandemic is highly likely to enter into 2021) & a donation appeal is deserving as it goes with the 2004 precedent.

A donation appeal could be with the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund (regrets to the Refugee Council Of Australia – the event’s official charity partner – for having less attention for a 2nd year in a row). As of writing, the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund has raised $233,859,565.


However, with the Federal Tourism Minister saying international borders remain closed until next year, Sydney NYE 2020’s attendance, if it is held, will be halved as international tourists make up half of the event’s attendance nowadays.

In recent years, the event has had an attendance of 1 million people (down from a peak of 2 million in 2015) so half of that – 500,000 – is about the attendance levels of the early 2000’s so unless a larger than recent domestic audience shows up, finding a great vantage point is double as easy to find this time. Ticketed events may also suffer as well as Sydney businesses who may rely on the international tourism Sydney NYE generates.

However, COVID-19 restrictions regarding capacity & spacing may result in an attendance way lower than 500,000.


But will the event even be held?

The event has only been cancelled once, for 2 consecutive years in 1987 after a mass murder in The Rocks culminated the building violence since the event’s 1976 inauguration. Those 2 NYE’s were replaced by a larger fireworks display for the Bicentennial Of European Settlement in 1988. Fireworks were resumed in 1989 but at an earlier time of 9pm before the return of the Midnight display in 1996. The successful 2000 Olympic bid, awarded in 1993, provided the stimulus to make what was then a small community event into an international icon, which was at the Millennium edition when the Midnight Fireworks returned as the main show after 13 years in the background (including 2 ‘offstage’).

The biggest problem is people leaving the event as that is when most people are moving. 500,000 all at once most likely to crowded public transport (or with a bit of a delay if on a cruise) could be produce a spike in cases. The event itself, which is actually held between 7pm & Midnight could also contribute to a spike in cases as crowds would be sedentary for 5 hours (or longer if they arrive in the morning or queue days prior).

Global Image

Sydney is in the southern hemisphere meaning NYE is in the summer down here. Most cities celebrate NYE in the winter as they are in the Northern Hemisphere, meaning COVID-19 could rise in most of major cities around the world on NYE. Rio de Janeiro is the next iconic NYE event in the Southern Hemisphere. However, Brazil has had a terrible run of COVID-19 cases since May.

If Sydney went ahead, due to it’s world famous prestige, it may look insensitive to these other countries suffering as we enter 2021.

Recent Developments

In the past week, Sydney NYE has made the news particularly after Sydney NYE2020’s cancellation is “a real possibility” according to City Of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore.

The City Of Sydney is the official organiser of the event working with the New South Wales Government via a regularly updated 5-year Memorandum Of Understanding.

Even if they did a small fireworks display, this will not stop the crowds. Just look at Sydney NYE’s history.

Earlier, we referred to the only cancellation of Sydney NYE in 1987 & 1988. This was due to a mass murder in The Rocks in 1986. The cancellation announcement we understand was made in March 1987, so you can forgive the cruise operators below if they forget about what was a small community event at the time being cancelled 9 months earlier, but we got news articles like this:

Aubin, T 1987, ‘Why the New Year won’t begin with a bang’, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 December, p. 1.

And this was BEFORE the event was world famous.

If Sydney NYE is held publicly, in it’s now world famous state, in terrible COVID-19 conditions, we believe this will not stop people acting like in 1987.

Like we’ve said many times before on this blog, Sydneysiders hate their events being cancelled. We just can’t cope!

Despite the article saying the cancellation was made in 1986, a February 2 1987 article from the Sydney Morning Herald, shows Stephen Hall, director of the Festival Of Sydney (and thus, New Year’s Eve) from the inaugural 1976 edition to 1994, was considering examining whether to hold NYE1987 as late as early February 1987 and not in 1986 as stated in the December 22 article:

Costa, L 1987, ‘Bard for the people is Festival ‘dream”, Sydney Morning Herald, 2 February, p. 2.

Notably, as you can read in the article, even though the fireworks were located for the 1st time to multiple points on NYE (there were 2 – Mortlake Point (10km from Sydney Harbour Bridge) & Tania Park (7km from Sydney Harbour Bridge)), it did not stop violence in the Sydney Central Business District, particularly in The Rocks, as well as the deaths of 6 people in total, heaps faraway from the official fireworks locations. After a decade of growing violence, a death, let alone 6, was the final straw leading to the event’s cancellation in March 1987.

The 2-year cancellation created the Bicentennial Festival Of Sydney Australia Day Fireworks, which used the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s upper arch for the 1st time and utilised the 2-years worth of fireworks.

Sydney NYE returned in 1989 with only a fireworks display at 9pm called the Skyshow and since 1996, called the 9pm Family Fireworks under the current event title Sydney New Year’s Eve, as it was separated from the Festival Of Sydney the same year. The fireworks were brought 3 hours forward to make it more family-friendly and it worked as it is still part of the event today, a critical part it should be pointed out too.

Therefore, even if no event is held this year, a high police presence would be required to ensure no violence returns as prior to 1989.

The Midnight Fireworks were officially brought make as a small show on NYE1996 before returning as the main show to welcome in the new Millennium in that iconic show ending in Eternity.

The Festival Of Sydney since the mid-1990’s has been called the Sydney Festival and still runs today (well, 2021, we’ll have to wait & see).

So how should we party on NYE2020?

No doubt, it has to reflect the year 2020 – the year of COVID-19, whilst looking forward to what we like our future to be in 2021. Sydney has the ability to do something like this in an iconic way but it might have to involve no crowds or little publicity. But a massive event with little publicity would probably not be held – it would have to be small-scale in some way still with little publicity. Sydney can do it but they need a high police presence even with no ‘official’ crowds to ensure violence does not break out – we’ll have to wait and see what the plans are – but Sydney Spectaculars believes the event (whether held by the Harbour or not) deserves 2 minutes of silence, 1 at 9pm & 1 crossing over at Midnight, as well as a focus on the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

Ever year, Sydney leads the world into the new year. This year, Sydney should represent the world into the new year. Like we’ve always said here at Sydney Spectaculars, since the Millennium, Sydney New Year’s Eve has become ‘The World’s Party’, with great universality. It’s broadcast could be on-sold to countries who can’t celebrate themselves on NYE and ensuring the funds raised to COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund have come from all around the world.

The event industry was the 1st industry to be affected by the pandemic and it will be the last to recover so hopefully at the end of this pandemic, Sydney will put on the biggest New Year’s Eve celebration yet to celebrate the end of one of the biggest global pandemics ever.

Wishing everyone good health for the future.

As of posting, Sydney New Year’s Eve 2020 has not been cancelled but extra-ordinary crowd restrictions have been flagged and more notably, it will not be “traditional” (that is, like an edition since the Millennium) by the New South Wales Tourism Minister, Stuart Ayres. The official organisers’, the City Of Sydney’s, Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, has said as of the 14th of August that cancellation is “a real possibility”.