After a 5 year global war where fireworks were banned in New South Wales for the duration (though Australian Army commandos trained using the leftover heavier fireworks to get used to explosive noises), on Monday June 10 1946 between 7pm & 8:45pm, Victory Celebration fireworks was fired off Fort Denison and warships in Sydney Harbour.
Searchlights, organised by the Australian Defence Force, also featured with them outlining a procession of watercraft & landing barges. It concluded with a “huge umbrella of searchlights forming a dome over Fort Denison” (The National Advocate, 6 June 1946, p.3). It was considered, at the time, to be the biggest display on Sydney Harbour since the Sesquicentennial Celebrations of January 1938.
First announced by the New South Wales (NSW) Government on Friday 29 March 1946 immediately after the 1st meeting of their Victory Day Celebration Committee, the program was re-confirmed twice, on Saturday the 18th of May 1946 & on the morning of Wednesday June 5 1946 and included 3 services and a march of 20,000 (ex-)servicemen and women through the streets of Sydney. The event was organised in co-ordination with the Australian Defence Force, Public Service Board, National Emergency Service & the Citizens Of Sydney Organising Committee. The latter was responsible for “decorations & illuminations” though the illuminations were deliberately not held due to the “coal situation” (Smith’s Weekly, 15 June 1946, p.5).
The event formally ran between Saturday June the 8th and Monday the 11th of June 1946. The final day was the main event day and an extra-ordinary public holiday while the preceding weekend was focused on decorations and the non-existent illuminations with specially-arranged church services on the Sunday. The fireworks, searchlights & water procession were preceded at 6pm by the National Military Band & community singers with audience participation in the Royal Botanic Gardens (originally to start at the conclusion of the march). A “broadcast description” of the Harbour events was also given.
A tender was originally issued by the NSW Government for four 15 minute periods of fireworks totalling 1 hour at a cost of £810 (AUD$62,112 in 2022). A contract was signed but by May, the NSW Government decided to instead just buy the fireworks from as many private suppliers as possible.
By mid-May, the NSW Government had purchased so many fireworks that Sydney’s supply for private customers was nil (though the Queensland Government’s Victory Dasy plans also contributed to the lack of supply). The NSW Government had purchased from Phoenix Co. of Victoria (then Australia’s biggest fireworks manufacturer) and other fireworks retailers. Mr S. Howard, NSW’s only fireworks manufacturer, sold all his stock to the Queensland Government for Victory Day. This led to a supply shortage right before the peak demand of Empire Day (24 May 1946)
I cannot get the necessary chemical salts from Germany to reach decent production figures. That is all the trouble. I have no manpower problems.Mr S. Howard
Currency regulations prevented the importation of Chinese fireworks. In the end, the event was expected to cost £4500 (AUD$350,000 in 2022).
A similar situation befell flags, bunting & decorations. The entire city’s supply was sold out 1 day before the event.
At Fort Denison sparks ignited 2 pyrotechnic boxes causing an explosion, causing a blinding flash, with the equivalent of 30 minutes of pyrotechnics going up in a matter of seconds. A soldier had his clothes burnt while Walter Richard Zahnera & Harry Portrait, both aged 49, were burned and taken to Sydney Hospital. This incident caused the display to all but end, though the crowd was unaware, even though the display had only just started.
“Service” pyrotechnics & the searchlight display still continued the display. The event was later described as a “flop” with it’s organisation “failed sadly” and the water procession “straggling to blatant canned music” (Smith’s Weekly, 15 June 1946, p.5).
Smith’s Weekly criticised the NSW Government’s organisation, writing an article arguing it should be left to the Citizens Of Sydney Organising Committee, who had successfully organised previous ‘Sydney Spectaculars’ since the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 including the sesquicentennial celebrations mentioned earlier. They noted this Committee had a paid staff including a £500-per year secretary (AUD$40,000 a year in 2022).
The Service & The March
A service at The Cenotaph in Martin Place at 9am started Monday’s events where wreaths were placed.
At 9:30am, a citizens thanksgiving tribute service, presided by the Sydney Lord Mayor was held at The Domain, where the march commenced at it’s conclusion at 10am. Originally, the citizens thanksgiving tribute service was to conclude the march, which was originally going to start at the end of the 9am Cenotaph service.
We are thankful for divine guidance, for the devotion of duty of the men and women in the services and for the work and efforts generally of our people at home. Those who lost their lives died for an ideal. They made the supreme sacrifice so that we might possess liberty, freedom & justice.Alderman Bartley, Lord Mayor Of Sydney – Victory Celebration Speech
A prayer was conducted by Reverend F.D. Hulme-Moir, where the crowd of 20,000 all bowed their heads. The NSW Premier, Sir William McKell, made the official address saying, according to The Scone Advocate, ‘beautifully-worded treaties and charters on fine parchment were of no avail unless they were supported by the people’s will and that Victory Day was not for the purpose of exulting over enemies of merely for glorifying the Allied cause. It was an opportunity for humble thanksgiving to God for victory over the forces, the darkness and the restoration of peace.’ According to The Scone Advocate, he was making an appeal to not misuse victory’s opportunity to build a better world.
Police estimated 400,000 people attended the march of 20,000 (ex-)servicemen and women. Countries represented included Australia, the United Kingdom, Greece, the United States Of America (“colour” party), New Zealand (Navy detachment), Canada (Navy detachment), France (from New Caledonia) & The Netherlands (150 including 2 sections of Piet Hein destroyer sailors, 3 sections of Royal Netherlands Naval Air Force men, 1 section of the Royal Netherlands Indies Army). Many spectators waved flags and bunting was display prominently.
The Australian Red Cross Society was invited to participate in the march but refused due to being a non-combative & neutral organisation. Veterans of the 1st World War did not march, allowing the march to be longer than the annual ANZAC Day march though according to media of the time, the Victory Celebration march was not one of the longest marches in Sydney’s history but was one of the most colourful.
A sunset service was held at The Cenotaph at 4:30pm.
The Daily Advertiser, 30 March 1946, p.1
The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 May 1946, p.1
The Daily Telegraph, 22 May 1946, p.11
The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 June 1946, p.1
The Daily Telegraph, 11 June 1946, p.3
The Argus, 11 June 1946, p.3
The Dubbo Liberal & Macquarie Advocate, 11 June 1946, p.1
The Scone Advocate, 11 June 1946, p.1
Smith’s Weekly, 15 June 1946, p.5
Townsville Daily Bulletin, 17 June 1976, p.6