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Sydney New Year's Eve facts for kids

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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/1 January
Begins 8:30 pm (AEDT)
Ends 12:30 am (AEDT)
Frequency Annual
Location(s) Sydney
Years active 1976-present
Inaugurated 1976; 45 years ago (1976)
Founder Syd Howard
Most recent 2020/21
Previous event 2019/20
Next event 2021/22
Attendance 1.6 million
Budget $6.5 million (as of 2019–20)

Sydney New Year's Eve is an annual multi-tiered event held every New Year's Eve in Sydney, Australia. Centring on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and surrounding Port Jackson, its main events are two pyrotechnic displays: the 9 pm Family Fireworks and the Midnight Fireworks, both of which are televised nationally with the more popular Midnight Fireworks televised globally.

Synchronised to a soundtrack of popular music from past and present, the fireworks explode off the arches, catwalk and roadway of the Harbour Bridge, including the Opera House, nearby city buildings and up to seven barges evenly divided on both sides of the bridge. Each year a new theme is chosen and is regularly viewed by more than one million people surrounding the harbour and one billion worldwide for the Midnight Fireworks. For the 2010/11 event, an audience of 1.5 million watched the display from the local harbour and a reported 1.1 billion globally, though independent support for that claim is lacking.

The event was first televised on 31 December 1995. The 9 pm Family Fireworks were originally the main show lasting around twenty minutes, with the Midnight Fireworks only lasting around three and featuring only the Sydney Tower. From 1999 onwards the Midnight Fireworks became the main event of the two. The 1998 Midnight Fireworks had a length of ten minutes and were increased to twenty-five minutes the following year. In NYE 2000 the fireworks went for fifteen minutes. From NYE 2005 to at least 2012 the Midnight Fireworks have run for twelve minutes in reference to the twelve months of the year.

The City of Sydney Council is the official presenter of the event.



In 1976, the Sydney Committee decided to reconstitute a failing Waratah Festival as the Festival of Sydney. At the first meeting of its Programme Committee, they agreed that New Year's Eve should launch the new festival, a 'big bang affair'. Focusing on the harbour and adjacent areas, it would include a sail-past of decorated craft, music, and a 'spectacular fireworks display at midnight'. With this, the Festival of Sydney made New Year's Eve official for the first time. Stephen Hall was its Executive Director from 1977 to 1994. The 1979/80 brochure for the Festival featured an image of the fireworks over the Sydney Opera House and the slogan "Get into the '80s with a bang".

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.

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 include 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 five-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. 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. At midnight, the cake lit up with a chasing lighting effect running from the bottom of the cake to the top. A Federation Star representing 100 years since the federation of Australia appeared on the bridge during the finale.

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). Those fireworks were then rescheduled to Australia Day, but were cancelled again, this time due to a total fire ban. 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.


Sydney Fireworks 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.

New Year's Eve in Sydney 2007-8
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 four barges feature for the 9 pm Family Fireworks while six barges feature with the city buildings return in the Midnight Fireworks and in addition, it had a ten-second countdown projected on the pylons starting with the logo for Network Ten. 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.


Sydney new years 2008-9
Sydney New Year's Eve 2008–09

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 Wayne Harrison in 2008.

During NYE 2009, the countdown started with messages projected on the pylons. The pyrotechnic countdown was started by launching 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.


In NYE 2010, the creative direction was still Rhoda Roberts. The theme 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. For the very first time the bridge effect was multi-layered, which included more than ten signs and symbols.

In NYE 2011, the creative director was Imagination Australia, which promoted Marc Newson as creative spokesperson. The theme was "Time to Dream". The display, for the very first time, was choreographed to an all-Australian soundtrack created by music production house s:amplify which included original composition. This marks the first year, a ninety-second countdown was featured on the bridge effect.

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. Kylie worked alongside s:amplify to create the soundtrack including an exclusive remix created for the finale.

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 in previous years and used new LED technology. Reg Mombassa was creative ambassador for 2013/14.

The theme for the 2014/15 edition was "Inspire"; the budget was reported to have increased from $6.8 million to $7.2 million, and Australian actor Jack Thompson was named the "creative ambassador" for the show. As part of the theme, viewers were encouraged to post messages on Twitter using the hashtag "#SydNYE" for a chance to have them projected on the bridge pylons, while there was also a third, short fireworks show between the family and midnight shows known as the "inspire moment". The bridge effect was a stylised lightbulb, in honour of the United Nations' declaration of 2015 as the International Year of Light. In the aftermath of the Lindt Cafe siege, the message "Sydney remembers" was also occasionally projected on the pylons.


Sydney New Years Eve fireworks 2015
Sydney New Year's Eve fireworks 2015. Taken during the 9 pm display from Mosman (north of Sydney Harbour).

The 2015-16 theme was "City of Colour". For the first time, a welcome to country ceremony was held at sundown prior to the 9 pm show, to acknowledge the harbour as territory of the Cadigal, Gamaragal, and Wangal bands of the Eora people. The new segment was designed to be "inclusive and fun" and leverage technology: it included projections of aboriginal imagery on the pylons, as well as lighting and pyrotechnic effects on the bridge that were inspired by the Australian Aboriginal Flag. For the first time since the practice was introduced, organisers eschewed the lit symbols that had been used as bridge effects, in favour of constructing a larger array of lighting effects utilising the entire bridge.

The 2016-17 theme was "Welcome to SydNYE"; co-producer Catherine Flanagan explained that the theme was about "welcoming everybody to this magical place", particularly tourists. A papercraft sculpture of the Sydney skyline by artist Benja Harney (which carried a florid appearance in honour of the 200th anniversary of the Royal Botanic Garden) was used as a visual motif across the entirety of the event. The welcome to country ceremony added a smoking ceremony conducted by the Tribal Warrior and Mari Nawi boats. Tributes to the musicians Prince and David Bowie were featured during the family and midnight shows respectively, inspired by their songs "Purple Rain" and "Space Oddity". The midnight show also featured a segment that paid tribute to actor Gene Wilder, with candy-shaped firecrackers in a reference to his portrayal of Willy Wonka.

The 2017-18 edition featured a total of eight tonnes of pyrotechnics, and a rainbow flag-coloured waterfall effect to pay tribute to the 40th anniversary of Sydney Mardi Gras, and the 9 December 2017 legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia. The welcome to country ceremony included a special message from the Muwekma Ohlone community of northern California, in honour of the 50th anniversary of Sydney's sister city relationship with San Francisco.

Sydney New Years Eve celebrations 2018 (rainbow fireworks)
Sydney New Year's Eve celebrations 2018

The theme for 2018-19 was "The Pulse of Sydney", reflected by new pyrotechnic effects that "[pulsate] in dramatic new shapes", and colour effects that "[move] across the display rather than the traditional explosion from the centre of the firework". The show used 8.5 tonnes of pyrotechnics, and also contained a segment paying tribute to American singer Aretha Franklin (who died in August 2018).


2019-20: bushfire impact

Ahead of the 2019-20 edition, organisers unveiled a new visual identity and branding for the event (in place of an annual theme) designed by Garbett Design.

There were calls to cancel the fireworks due to the extreme bushfires across the country, with a petition proposing for their budget to be reallocated to disaster relief purposes. The fires had prompted cancellations and postponements of fireworks celebrations in other areas. The City of Sydney stated that the fireworks would go on as scheduled, but that "if a total fire ban is declared, we will continue to liaise with NSW Government agencies and the NSW Rural Fire Service to determine the safest way to proceed with the event". Fireworks director Fortunato Foti will also be consulted in the event of high winds. The Rural Fire Service, which granted an exemption to the fire ban for the show, stated that it did not expect "catastrophic" conditions to return on New Year's Eve. Highs of 40 °C (104 °F) were forecast for western Sydney, and special air quality statements were issued in relation to the event.

Sydney officials stated that it would be infeasible to cancel the show, as it would be disruptive to tourists and local business, much of the budget had already been utilised, and that there would be "little practical benefit for affected communities". The event's head of audience Tanya Goldberg echoed these statements, and added that an Australian Red Cross charity appeal would be promoted throughout. Goldberg explained that "the one thing that will help those communities is to go ahead with the event and leverage the power of it to drive people to donate".

2020-21: COVID-19 impact

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, it was suggested that the 2020-21 edition would either be cancelled or held with modifications. Premier of NSW Gladys Berejiklian stated to 2GB on 24 September that she was in discussions with local officials regarding Sydney New Year's Eve, commenting in regards to last year that Australians "felt relieved that we were still able to have a feeling of normalcy during what was otherwise a very difficult time". Berejiklian explained that there would likely be changes and cutbacks to the festivities if they were to go on, such as having a shorter and "toned down" midnight fireworks, suspending the 9 p.m. Family Fireworks, having reduced, ticketed attendance at key vantage points for crowd control and social distancing reasons, and discouraging travel to the event by those not attending in an official capacity. Sydney City Council reached an agreement with the state to grant it "temporary custodianship" of Sydney New Year's Eve.

As proposed earlier, the event was downsized to only consist of a shortened, seven-minute fireworks display at midnight, with the Family Fireworks placed on hiatus. A two-stage perimeter was established within Sydney's central business district (CBD), Circular Quay, and North Sydney, with the "yellow zone" being patrolled by police to break up large crowds that violate NSW health orders in regards to gatherings, and the "green zone" (in closer proximity to the harbour) having restricted access by permit only after 5:00 p.m. on New Year's Eve. Permits were only granted to local residents, those who had a confirmed reservation at a hospitality business within a green zone (such as a restaurant or hotel), and employees of businesses within the zone.

To honour their involvement, plans were announced for certain "premium" viewing areas on the foreshore to be reserved exclusively to invited frontline workers. Premier Berejiklian scrapped the plan on 28 December amid new cases of community transmission in Greater Sydney (which had prompted a localised stay at home order for Sydney's Northern Beaches, and a tightening of restrictions on gatherings elsewhere), stating that there was "too much of a health risk having people from the regions and from Sydney and from broader regional areas congregate all in the CBD". She said that the state government would "find another opportunity during the year to recognise what [they] have done". To prevent crowds, major harbourfront viewing locations in the green zone were ultimately closed to the public, with residents being encouraged to watch the display on television at home rather than in-person. As in the past, it was still possible to view the fireworks by boat in Sydney Harbour.

Bridge effect

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 rope light 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. Since 2015, the current lighting designer is Ziggy Ziegler.

Timeline of effects by year
Year Theme Effect
1996/97 "Masquerade" Centrepoint Tower was the focal point for the midnight fireworks
1997/98 "Masquerade" Smiley face
1998/99 "Masquerade" Centrepoint Tower was the focal point for the midnight fireworks
1999–2000 "Sydney's Millennium" "Eternity" in copperplate writing and a smiley face
2000/01 "100 Years as a Nation, Millions of Years as a Land" Rainbow Serpent and a Federation Star
2001/02 "Of Beauty Rich and Rare: Australia – The Land" Uluru, and the Southern Cross (supporting effect: Dove of Peace)
2002/03 "The World’s Celebration in Union" Dove of Peace and the word "PEACE"
2003/04 "City of Light" Light show on the Sydney Harbour Bridge
2004/05 "Reflections on Australiana" Disco ball
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
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" Light bulb (with love heart inside it) (supporting effect: seahorses)
2015/16 "City of Colour" Light show on the Sydney Harbour Bridge
2016/17 "Welcome to SydNYE"
2017/18 "Wonder"
2018/19 "Pulse of Sydney"
2019/20 "Unity"
2020/21 "We Are One"

"Waterfall" effect

Sydney habour bridge & opera house fireworks new year eve 2008
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 1,100 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.

On NYE 2017, a rainbow waterfall cascaded from the harbour bridge during the midnight show, celebrating the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia.

The years where the traditional golden waterfall effect has 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).

The golden waterfall was to be used again on NYE 2018, however, it failed to ignite as programmed. The waterfall was successfully used the following year on NYE 2019 to welcome in 2020.

For the first time since 2006, the traditional golden waterfall was briefly accompanied by a white strobing angelic waterfall for NYE 2020.

"Birthday cake" effect

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 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 to 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 to 2009, Network Ten was broadcaster after winning a three-year deal from Nine. In 2009, Nine regained the rights back from Ten until 2013. ABC, ABC HD and ABC Australia had the rights since 2013.

The City of Sydney put its Sydney New Year's Eve fireworks coverage to tender following the conclusion of ABC's two-year contract, with the broadcaster having continued as broadcaster since. The 2015 fireworks were the first to utilise drone-mounted cameras for additional angles, and since 2016, an official international webcast has been streamed on platforms such as Facebook.

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 10 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
ABC Australia
Lawrence Mooney
Stephanie Brantz
2014/15 Julia Zemiro
Toby Truslove
2015/16 Eddie Perfect
Ella Hooper
2016/17 Jeremy Fernandez
Ella Hooper
Charlie Pickering
Zan Rowe
2020/21 Charlie Pickering
Zan Rowe
Jeremy Fernandez
Linda Marigliano
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