Sydney New Year's Eve

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Sydney New Year's Eve
Opening sequence of the 2006/07 Midnight Fireworks.
Genre New Year's Eve event
Date(s) 31 December
Begins 8:30 pm
Ends 12:30 am
Frequency Annually
Location(s) Port Jackson
Inaugurated 1996
Founder Syd Howard
Most recent 2014/15
Attendance 1.6 million[1][2]
Budget $7.2 million (as of 2014–15)

Sydney New Year's Eve is an annual multi-tiered event held every New Year's Eve over Sydney Harbour, centring on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia. Its main features are two pyrotechnic displays, the "9 pm Family Fireworks" and the "Midnight Fireworks", both of which are televised nationally with the latter televised around the world.

Synchronised to a soundtrack, the fireworks explode off the arches, catwalk and roadway of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and also the city buildings. The barge in front of the bridge features occasionally during the show to synchronise with the bridge's fireworks. The closing sequence of the show features the bridge before all firing points explode in an "all-white" finale.

The event was first televised on NYE 1996–97. The 9 pm Family Fireworks was originally the main show and went for about twenty minutes. The Midnight Fireworks lasted about three minutes and only featured Sydney Tower. From NYE 1999, the tradition began of having the main show at Midnight. The NYE 1998 Midnight Fireworks had a length of ten minutes. In 1999, they were increased to twenty-five minutes. In 2001, the fireworks went for fifteen minutes. From NYE 2005 and to date, the Midnight Fireworks went for twelve minutes.[3]

The City of Sydney Council is the official presenter of Sydney New Year's Eve. Each year the event takes on a new theme and is regularly viewed by more than one million people at the harbour and one billion worldwide for the televised Midnight Fireworks. For the 2010/11 event, an audience of 1.5 million watched the display at the river bank and 1.1 billion are reported to have watched it globally.[4]



Inspiration to use the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a launchpad for fireworks came from the use of fireworks on the Brooklyn Bridge as part of its 100th anniversary celebrations in 1983.[5]

Syd Howard, pyrotechnician, used his inspiration and the chances given to him to put fireworks displays on Sydney Harbour to use the bridge as a launchpad for fireworks. His first opportunity was in 1986 for the 75th Anniversary Review of the Royal Australian Navy. Here he introduced the "waterfall" effect as well as a pyrotechnic message on the bridge. The message read "NSW salutes Royal Australian navy" and employed thousands of cigarette-style fireworks to create the lettering. It hung over the side of the pedestrian walkway.

From NYE 1996 to NYE 1999, management of the event was contracted out to Ric Birch's Spectak Productions. Birch, known for his work on numerous Olympic Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies brought with him former Jimmy and the Boys front man Ignatius Jones as Creative Director and Catriona Brown as Senior Producer.


The original Sydney New Year's Eve fireworks display (NYE 1996) was designed by Syd Howard Fireworks. The event used the pylons, arch and catwalk of the bridge, city buildings and one barge located in front of the Sydney Opera House. There was a ten-second pyrotechnic countdown. Each second, one shooting comet shot off a different building starting from North Sydney and finishing at AMP Tower to form an Olympic Torch to welcome in 1997.

For NYE 1997, the Midnight Fireworks included the Star City Casino. The AMP Tower turned into a ticking clock with shooting comets slowly rotating around the top of the tower. The soundtrack for the countdown was a ticking clock before a bell toll rang in 1999. This bell toll also turned AMP Tower into an Olympic Torch. Also, from NYE 1997, the Midnight Fireworks were extended to include the Harbour Bridge, the 9 pm Family Fireworks were extended to included two barges (one on each side of the bridge) and the displays were co-designed by Foti International Fireworks and Syd Howard Fireworks.


On NYE 1999 the Apollo 11 countdown, as well as air raid sirens provided the soundtrack for the countdown. A smiley face was visible on the bridge during the show, until the finale revealed the word "Eternity" in Copperplate writing, in honour of Arthur Stace. Fireworks were also launched from the Centrepoint Tower. A rather unusual feature of the 1999 display was a selection of tugboats that made their way through the harbour, each one carrying a colourful, brightly lit model of a particular sea creature. The Fireworks Soundtrack included a 5-minute "History Of Pop" featuring hits from the 1890s to the 1990s.

Since NYE 2000, the displays have been fully designed and created by Foti International Fireworks.[6] During NYE 2000, a larger than life birthday cake was unveiled well before midnight to celebrate 100 years of Australia as a nation. It was placed in front of the northern forecourt of the Opera House on a pontoon. A Federation Star representing 100 years since the federation of Australia appeared on the bridge. At midnight, the cake lit up with a chasing lighting effect running from the bottom of the cake to the top.

On NYE 2001, A dove of peace slowly came into view to speak peace to the world after the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York. On NYE 2002, the city buildings were removed from the fireworks displays. The 9 pm family fireworks had to be cancelled due to high winds of 90 km/h (56 mph). An animated dove appeared on the bridge during the finale.

After six years as creative director, Ignatius Jones stepped down in 2002 to be replaced by former Melbourne and Sydney Festival artistic director Leo Schofield. Ken Wilby moved on the following year with the event's production manager Ed Wilkinson elevated to the producer role from 2003 to 2005.


The Sydney Harbour celebrations on NYE 2004.

On NYE 2003, a fifteen-second countdown was accompanied with the striking of a gong at midnight. For the first time, fireworks were launched off the vertical hangers of the bridge in a one-off display. From NYE 2004, the first 3D bridge effect was used. Also in that year, the fireworks display was viewed as a disco with pop music and a disco ball suspended from the bridge.

An all-white finale to the Midnight Fireworks on NYE 2007.

On NYE 2005, a beating heart was the icon on the bridge that appeared after the 9 pm fireworks display. The fireworks themselves during the show exploded in Heart shapes. Former Sydney Theatre Company head Wayne Harrison joined Katrina Marton in taking over leadership of the event as Creative Director and Producer respectively for the events from 2005 to 2007.

NYE 2006 saw the six barges feature with the city buildings return in the Midnight Fireworks. A question mark was shown in the nights leading up to the celebrations, which also doubled up as the curved end of the coat hanger.

NYE 2006–08 had a ten-second countdown projected on the pylons starting with the logo of Network Ten then it continued as usual.


In NYE 2007, the bridge acted as a seventh barge for the first time shooting fireworks throughout the show instead of just during the beginning and finale.

In NYE 2008, the bridge, seven city buildings and six barges staged in the biggest fireworks display yet, increasing from $4 million worth of fireworks to $5 million. Brenton Kewley, who had worked on the event since 1996 in various roles, including Art Director and Associate Producer took over as Producer for the 2008 and 2009 events while Journalist and broadcaster Rhoda Roberts, took over from Harrison in 2008.

During NYE 2009, the countdown started with messages projected on the pylons. The pyrotechnic countdown was started by launched an exploding mine on a barge in front of the bridge. For the first time, microchip fireworks were used in the show which lasted longer in the sky and were more accurate when synchronised with music. The show consisted of $5 million worth of fireworks running for twelve minutes. A Yin Yang symbol appeared on the bridge during the finale. Once again, more fireworks exploded on the bridge throughout the entire show when compared with previous NYE displays.

2010 and beyond[edit]

In NYE 2010, the creative direction was still Rhoda Roberts. The theme for the Sydney 2010/11 fireworks extravaganza was "Make Your Mark", reflecting on the decade gone and the lasting impressions left by our actions; as well as reflecting on ways in which all people can make their mark by contributing to a better future.

In NYE 2011, the creative director was handed over to Marc Newson and Imagination Australia, taking over from Rhoda Roberts. A 90-second countdown was used on the bridge effect for the very first time. For the very first time the bridge effect was multi-layered, which included more than ten signs and symbols.

On NYE 2012, the logo featured a swirl of coloured sails in magenta, yellow, purple and red, and marked with Kylie Minogue's signature "K". The show included new effects such as bees, koalas and octopus shells. A ten-second countdown accompanied by comets launched from jet skis before midnight. The show's budget has increased from $6.3 million to $6.6 million. Kylie Minogue was appointed as creative ambassador for the 2012 celebrations.

On NYE 2013, fireworks launched from the Opera House celebrating its 40th anniversary in the midnight fireworks and once again, city buildings were removed from the 9 pm and midnight fireworks. The bridge effect was also twice as big than previous years and used new LED technology. Reg Mombassa was creative ambassador for 2013/14.

The budget for Sydney New Year's Eve 2014 was reported to have increased from $6.8 million to $7.2 million.[7] Throughout the night, "inspiring" messages from Twitter users via the hashtag "#SydNYE" were projected onto the pylons of the bridge.[8] More extended sequences were featured on the Harbour Bridge and a pontoon barge in front. The Sydney Opera House was again used as a launching platform for the third time since the millennium. Australian actor Jack Thompson was the creative ambassador for 2014/15.[9]

As of September 24, 2015, the theme for the Sydney New Year's Eve 2015-2016 celebrations was unveiled as 'City Of Colour'. Once again, The Sydney Opera House will used again as a launching platform fourth time since millennium. ABC1 once again broadcast the NYE for the third time.

Bridge effect[edit]

Central to the firework displays each year since 1999 is the lighting display on the Harbour Bridge known as the "bridge effect". Made of rope light attached to a panel and truss system, the display showcases a variety of symbols and other images related to the current year's theme.

In recent times, the bridge has included a ropelight display on a framework in the centre of the eastern arch, which is used to complement the fireworks. As the scaffolding and framework are clearly visible for some weeks before the event, revealing the outline of the design, there is much speculation as to how the effect is to be realised. The bridge effect has been designed by Brian Thomson since 2006, with the lighting designed by Mark Hammer since 2008.

Timeline of effects by year
Year Theme Effect
1996–97 "Masquerade Sydney AMP Tower was the focal point for the midnight fireworks
1997–98 Smiley face
1998–99 Smiley face
1999–2000 "Sydney Millennium" "Eternity" in copperplate writing and a smiley face
2000–01 "Centenary of Federation" Rainbow Serpent and a Federation Star
2001–02 "Year of the Outback" Uluru, and the Southern Cross (supporting effect: Dove of Peace)
2002–03 "Celebration in Unity" Dove of Peace and the word "PEACE"
2003–04 "City of Light" Light show
2004–05 "Reflections on Australiana" Fanfare
2005–06 "Heart of the Harbour" Three concentric hearts
2006–07 "A Diamond Night in Emerald City" Coathanger and a diamond (supporting effect: question mark)
2007–08 "The Time of Our Lives" Mandala and an hourglass[10]
2008–09 "Creation" Sun (supporting effect: eight-pointed star)
2009–10 "Awaken the Spirit" Yin and yang symbol, blue moon and a ring of fire
2010–11 "Make Your Mark" X mark, Target and hand print (supporting effects: smiling face, an asterisk, exclamation mark, the peace symbol, analogue clock, a pointer and an archer)
2011–12 "Time to Dream" thought bubble and Endless rainbow (supporting effect: Sun)
2012–13 "Embrace" Butterfly and lip
2013–14 "Shine" Eye (supporting effect: a UFO and a blue star)
2014–15 "Inspire"[8] Light bulb (with love heart inside it) (supporting effect: seahorses)
2015–16 "City of Colour" TBA

"Waterfall" effect[edit]

The waterfall effect seen on NYE 2008.

A continual stream of fireworks falling from the base of the bridge down to actually touch the water. The waterfall comprises approximately 1100 candle fireworks. Each year, it has been a traditional golden waterfall.

Some years the waterfall effect has been changed such as on NYE 2000 when the waterfall changed colours from gold to silver. NYE 2000 was also unique in that fireworks were also fired for the first time from the gantry of the bridge.

NYE 2002 had a "strobing angelic" waterfall effect where 144 roman candles released mines and stars that "twinkled". This effect was repeated on NYE 2005 where it changed colour from red to white and also on NYE 2006 where it was coloured only green.

NYE 2004 had the traditional golden waterfall effect except that it slowed crossed the bridge from south to north. This was a difficult set up due to the arch's access but a first of its kind on the bridge with a spectacular "torrent style" waterfall effect.

NYE 2009 saw a "lollipop" waterfall effect shoot off the catwalk of the bridge during the 9 pm Family Fireworks. This was followed on NYE 2010 where a red and white checkerboard waterfall effect shot off the catwalk of the bridge during the 9 pm Family Fireworks.

The years where the traditional golden waterfall effect have not been featured completely are; NYE 2000 (golden to silver), NYE 2002 (green & white strobing angelic), NYE 2005 (red to white strobing angelic) and NYE 2006 (green strobing angelic).

"Birthday cake" effect[edit]

Originally fired for the Australia Day Bicenntenial Celebrations in 1988, the effect has been used to close the fireworks display with its loudness and brightness. The effect comprises 200 long burning comets shooting out balls of fire 250 feet into the sky, with a silver star effect at the end fired off the top of the bridge, simulating a big birthday cake with 200 lit candles. This effect has closed every Sydney New Year's Eve between NYE 1996 and NYE 1998. It was the used in the finale of the NYE 1999 celebrations. The effect has not been used in Sydney New Year's Eve since NYE 1999.


From 1996–2006, the rights to the television broadcast were held by the Nine Network with Richard Wilkins as a host for almost every year. From 2006–09, Network Ten was broadcaster after winning a three-year deal from Nine. In 2009, Nine regained the rights back from Ten until 2013. ABC had the rights until 2015.

The City of Sydney put its 2015–16 Sydney New Year's Eve fireworks coverage to tender, following the conclusion of ABC's two year contract.[11] However the ABC will once again broadcast the 2015 Sydney New Year's Eve coverage.[12]

Broadcast networks and presenters by year
Year Broadcaster Host(s)
1996/97 Nine Network Richard Wilkins
Catriona Rowntree
Richard Wilkins
Hugh Jackman
1999/2000 Eddie McGuire
2000/01 Richard Wilkins
2001/02 Richard Wilkins
Vince Sorrenti
Richard Wilkins
2006/07 Network Ten Gretel Killeen
Daniel MacPherson
Kim Watkins
Andrew Günsberg
2009/10 Nine Network Leila McKinnon
Cameron Williams
2010/11 Alicia Gorey
Michael Usher
2011/12 Jesinta Campbell
Cameron Williams
Jaynie Seal
2012/13 Catriona Rowntree
Jason Dundas
2013/14 ABC Lawrence Mooney
Stephanie Brantz
2014/15 Julia Zemiro
Toby Truslove
2015/16 Eddie Perfect


NYE 2004 soundtrack[edit]

The dance remix of Advance Australia Fair/Waltzing Matilda (by Hylton Mowday) was composed especially for the event. It caused backlash among the public, most notably, the Prime Minister of Australia of the time, John Howard. He said, "the public will not be able to sing along. The anthem should only be played and sung to allow maximum audience participation. It is after all our national anthem and I don't think it should be played around with. It's become widely accepted and I think people should be encouraged to sing it with great gusto, but it's got to be played in a way that enables them to do so. Most of us are pretty inadequate singers at the best of times and trying to keep pace with that, I don't know about you but gee I couldn't".[13]

The NSW Opposition Leader of the time, John Brogden was quoted to say "it is simply a bad piece of music. I think it actually strangles the national anthem, which is what I think is upsetting people the most. It's not like it's a slight change on the version that people are willing to entertain for a party. What it is on this occasion is a very bad piece of music and that's why I think the public anger has been so strong. I think people actually regard the treatment of the national anthem as disrespectful, cause it just doesn't work."[14]

Network Ten coverage[edit]

On NYE 2006–07, Network Ten received many complaints regarding its first ever coverage of the event. The main issue was with a special episode of The Big Night In with John Foreman, shown between the two firework displays where Matthew Newton simulated oral sex with Foreman and pretended to play a piano with his penis.[15][16]

ABC coverage[edit]

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation received a barrage of complaints from viewers regarding its 2013–14 New Year's Eve coverage, which was the first for the network, with many branding the coverage as a "train wreck" and that many of the presenters may have been affected by alcohol. Additionally, many sexual references were made in the lead-up to the midnight fireworks, with co-presenter Stephanie Brantz warning Lawrence Mooney that the show was "moving into inappropriate land", whilst also trying to restore focus onto the coverage.[17]

The following year's 2014–15 coverage was also panned, with descriptions including "embarrassing" and "amateurish". Female co-host Julia Zemiro was overheard to say "Oh, thank God" while her microphone was still on as the closing credits began. There were also some technical glitches during the midnight fireworks. The ratings however were slightly up on last year's coverage.[18][19]


  1. ^ "New Year's Eve: Early campers nab prime spots on Sydney Harbour to watch fireworks". ABC News, Mazoe Ford. 31 December 2014. Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  2. ^ "Sydney skies to light up thrice in spectacular NYE fireworks display". SBS with Agencies. 31 December 2014. Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  3. ^ "Sydney New Years Eve | NYE | The Official Event Website". Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  4. ^ KIrvin (1 January 2011). "Sydney Makes its Mark and welcomes the new decade:: Sydney Media:: City of Sydney". Sydney Media. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  5. ^ "Fireworks virtuoso sparks a spectacle". The Sydney Morning Herald. 28 January 1998. Retrieved 16 October 2011. 
  6. ^ Foti International Fireworks archive
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b "Tweet your messages to the Bridge on NYE". The Daily Telegraph. 3 December 2014. Retrieved 5 December 2014. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Sydney New Years Eve Photos | NYE | The Official Event Website". Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  11. ^ NYE Broadcast to go to tender, TV Tonight, 4 January 2015
  12. ^ Knox, David (13 November 2015). "ABC to broadcast New Year’s Eve fireworks again". TV Tonight. Retrieved 13 November 2015. 
  13. ^ "PM unhappy with techno national anthem". 16 December 2004. Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  14. ^ "It's terrible, says PM". The Sydney Morning Herald. 15 December 2004. Retrieved 11 January 2015. 
  15. ^ Gosnell, Peter (2 January 2007). "Ten's smutty party an insult". Retrieved 8 January 2008. 
  16. ^ Gosnell, Peter (3 January 2007). "Zero out of Ten". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 March 2008. 
  17. ^ Angry viewers have vented their outrage at coverage of New Year's Eve on ABC1, Herald Sun, 2 January 2014
  18. ^ ABC New Year's Eve coverage needs a cracker up its clacker* declares Claire Harvey , Daily Telegraph, 1 January 2015
  19. ^ Julia Zemiro thanked God when the ABC's 2014 New Year's Eve telecast was over, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 January 2015

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