‘Salute To Australia’ & ‘Navy Helicopter Flag Display’ Added As Flagship Sydney Spectaculars

Australia Day In Sydney has had more events added as ‘flagship’ Sydney Spectaculars with the Salute To Australia & Navy Helicopter Flag Display joining the 26th of January’s existing flagship Sydney Spectaculars, Dawn Reflection & Australia Day Live.

This all but brings a full day program of events of flagship Sydney Spectaculars at Australia Day In Sydney for the 1st time:

  • 5:20am to 5:50am: Dawn Reflection
  • 11:30am to 12:05pm: Salute To Australia
  • 12pm to 1:30pm: Navy Helicopter Flag Display
  • 7:30pm to 9:30pm: Australia Day Live

Salute To Australia is, primarily, a military salute. It began in 2010 as just an Australian Army 21-gun salute fired from just north of the Fleet Steps on the western side of Mrs Macquaries’ Point in The Domain into Farm Cove at 12pm to commemorate the Federation of Australia, which was its 99th anniversary at the time (Reminder: The actual Federation anniversary is on 1 January). An 180 metre exclusion zone is in place around the salute when the weapons are armed.

A 21-gun salute stems from the 1700’s when a foreign warship was about to enter a foreign port (let’s use Port Jackson as the example). Outside of the Heads, out of cannon range, which is about 5 kilometres from the coast, the foreign warship would fire each of its cannons, one at a time. As loading cannons is a time-consuming task, the ship was neutralised more after each succeeding shot and could be considered friendly. To check this, Port Jackson would fire 3 cannons for each cannon heard from the foreign warship. 3 bursts of fire were chosen due to superstitions that even-numbered cannon bursts would signal death. Given British ships at the time had 7 cannons, this made the total bursts of cannon fire, 21. Over the past 300 years, it evolved from a security measure, which became redundant in the 1950’s, to a symbol of peace between nations to a military salute (as well as a gesture of friendship between the military and who the salute is being performed for).

In 2011, the 21-gun salute was performed by the Australian Army’s 7th & 23rd Field Regiment Royal Australian Artillery, the latter who also performed it in 2012.

In 2014, the salute was expanded to include a Royal Australian Air Force flypast/handling display finale around Sydney Harbour and a Royal Australian Navy salute from a warship stopped in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which is called a Procedure Alpha. Originating from the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, a Procedure Alpha involves nearly all sailors on the warship to be stationed at an external part of the ship of their choosing, evenly spaced apart & in full dress uniform. The inaugural saluting ship was Her Majesty’s Australian Ship (HMAS) Choules, a dock landing ship, where the Governor Of New South Wales (NSW) reviewed the salute. The 21-gun salute was also relocated in this edition to Milsons Point inside Bradfield Park underneath the north-eastern pylon of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and it was the 1st edition to feature the words Salute To Australia in it’s name.

In 2015, a performance of the national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, by choirs placed around Sydney Harbour was added to the event. A once-off hat tip by the Royal Australian Navy & Australian Army personnel attending the event also occurred. In 2015 & 2016, 2 landing helicopter dock ships were the saluting ships: HMAS Canberra (which hosted numerous dignitaries) and HMAS Adelaide, which is larger (In fact, it is the Navy’s largest ever flagship).

In 2017, it’s timeslot was moved forward by 15 minutes to 11:45am to permanently include an address by the NSW Governor, who spoke from the saluting ship, which was HMAS Canberra that year & in 2018. A Welcome To Country and a speech from Indigenous Elder, Uncle Allen Madden, as well as a video about Australia’s newest citizens was included in 2017. The choirs, which included Tribal Warrior Choir & school choirs, were also now located solely at vantage points around Circular Quay (Hickson Road Reserve, Overseas Passenger Terminal, Sydney Opera House, Bradfield Park ), who performed Waratah, I Am Australian & Advance Australia Fair, the latter with iconic Australian singer, Tina Arena, which concluded with the aerial salute done that year by a Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

In 2018, it’s timeslot was moved up by another 15 minutes to the current 11:30am slot and a performance of Bapa was added just for that edition. That year, over 500 school children participated in the choirs including 1 choir on the ship, Young Endeavour & 3 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets did the aerial salute, beginning the flypast in formation.

In 2019, a once-off radio broadcast & audio description (89.3FM) was added. Musical performances by The Royal Australian Navy Band and a smoking ceremony first appeared. HMAS Choules (where the NSW Governor was) & Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets were the saluting ship and aircraft (the latter, beginning in formation) in 2019 respectively while HMAS Canberra returned for the role in the 2020 edition.

Then COVID-19 arrived. The 2021 edition was unique in that it had its only television broadcast so far, was held at the later timeslot of 2pm with a shortened duration of 30 minutes and was held at the NSW Government House. Frontline workers were also invited to the 2021 edition, which also saw 2 permanent changes: specially-chosen new citizens were invited to the event & the national anthem was sung with a version in Eora language.

Last year’s edition was streamed on YouTube and is now held at Hickson Road Reserve, underneath the south-east pylon of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (though the 21-gun salute is still held underneath the north-east pylon in Bradfield Park on Milsons’ Point) where the NSW Governor now makes their address. They are welcomed to the event with a Guard made up of Australian Army personnel, which they formally inspect before proceedings begin. A Welcome To Country now follows along with a speech, which in 2022, was about Patyegarang, Lieutenant William Dawes and the significance of the land & spoken by Clarence Slockee. A video about Australia’s newest citizens was also played after that speech before I Am Australian was sung by the now-sole choir, Monty Saint Angelo Mercy College Choir (which is now just located at Hickson Road Reserve) featuring Matthew Doyle playing the didgeridoo, which he also does during Advance Australia Fair, which was also accompanied by jet skiers, each holding, in turn, either the Australian National or Australian Aboriginal Flag. HMAS Paramatta, a frigate ship, was the saluting ship & the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II now does the aerial salute formation flypast and handling display finale, now complete with commentary (which was done in 2022 by Australian Air Commander Air Vice-Marshal V.J. Iervasi, though the event actually now concludes with a private, unaired citizenship ceremony.

As you can see, it is now a Spectacular event! As far as we can tell, the 2023 edition will be similar to 2022 though there will be only 2 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft performing the aerial salute. A YouTube broadcast has not been confirmed yet.

‘Navy Helicopter Flag Display’
Photograph: Australia Day In Sydney

The Navy Helicopter Flag Display was introduced last year as a 2-hour display from 11:30am, the start of Salute To Australia. The helicopter with flag in tow lifts off from HMAS Penguin navy base near Middle Head before exiting Sydney Harbour to travel to Palm Beach (For international readers, this is the backdrop for television soap opera, Home & Away) and back before travelling up & down Sydney Harbour and then south down the coast to the Shoalhaven River which it travels up to Nowra before landing at the nearby HMAS Albatross naval air station at 1:30pm. As far as we can tell, the 2023 edition will be similar, but it will run for 90 minutes from 12pm. This very likely will not be broadcast though it may make a cameo appearance during the potential Salute To Australia broadcast.

The 2023 edition of the Navy Helicopter Flag Display will also occur during the following other Australia Day In Sydney events:

However, these 3 events are not considered flagship Sydney Spectaculars.

It also means aviation-based Australia Day events in the following local governments will be focused on more by our site:

  • Northern Beaches Council
  • Municipality Of Woollahra
  • Waverly Council
  • City Of Randwick
  • Sutherland Shire
  • City Of Wollongong
  • City Of Shellharbour
  • Municipality Of Kiama
  • City Of Shoalhaven

The Municipality Of Kiama will be holding a helicopter flag display with the Australian National & Aboriginal Flags along their coastline at 10am & 3pm that day and the City Of Wollongong will be holding a flypast along it’s coastline at 5:45pm that day by the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society but those aerial displays will not be considered as flagship Sydney Spectaculars as they are still COVID-19 pandemic responses.

Sydney Spectaculars will be providing coverage of the 2023 edition of Australia Day In Sydney and from that event on, we will also be considering military salutes on Sydney Harbour.

The Rationale

Why these events you ask?

With the addition of Wings Over Illawarra in October last year, major annual aerial displays are now considered and on Sydney Harbour, these usually occur only on the 26th of January. The 2023 edition only has 2 aerial displays that have been held before with a consistent history – the Navy Helicopter Flag Display and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II formation flypast salute and handling display segment of the Salute To Australia. The Salute To Australia, has, as detailed above, grown significantly over the years, particularly since 2014 and gathers the 2nd largest crowd during the day (The biggest crowd being for Australia Day Live). Also, we believe in the near future, aviation-based events such as drone shows will play a central role in Sydney Harbour events, as shown by the recent Elevate Sydney, Sydney Harbour’s first annual drone show and the southern hemisphere’s largest.

To acknowledge their history, growth, our site’s new ‘policy’ of considering aviation-based events & the future growth in such events, we have decided to designate Salute To Australia & the Navy Helicopter Flag Display as flagship Sydney Spectaculars.

Had the COVID-19 pandemic not occurred, this would have been announced a year ago for Salute To Australia.

What if I cannot attend the event?

The Salute To Australia last year was live streamed on YouTube. However, it has not been confirmed for 2023 yet so do not expect a live stream to appear on the ‘Watch LIVE’ page just yet. However, if prior to the event, they announce, confirm or on the event weekend, publish a live stream, we will promote it.

The Navy Helicopter Flag Display will very likely not be broadcast though it may make a cameo appearance during the potential Salute To Australia broadcast.

Australia prepare to be saluted SPECTACULARLY!

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