Sydney’s Lord Mayor has been labelled “crackers” for defending the city going ahead with its world famous fireworks despite the state suffering through one of its worst ever days of bushfire destruction.
Two people have died, thousands evacuated, scores of homes destroyed and buildings on the historic main street of Cobargo razed to the ground.
Yet, tonight, Sydney’s skies were ablaze with explosives.
The 9pm (AEDT) fireworks were briefly delayed due to strong winds.
The City of Sydney has come under heavy criticism for persevering with its fireworks display while shows elsewhere have been cancelled. The Rural Fire Service gave the display the green light yesterday. It’s location means the fireworks occur over water rather than parched land.
Today, Lord Mayor Clover Moore defended going ahead with the massive pageant and said climate change was the real issue.
Ms Moore said the cash for the event has already been allocated and it would generate $130 million for the NSW economy. The council has donated $620,000 to bushfire and drought-affected communities and revellers will be encouraged to donate more tonight.
“The compelling issue here is climate change,” she told reporters on Tuesday.
“People have lost homes, people have died, firefighters have been killed defending communities. As the driest continent on earth we’re at the forefront of accelerating global warming.
“What is happening is a wake up call for our governments to start making effective contributions to reducing global emissions.”
However, Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese said it was “problematic” the foreshore firework display was proceeding.
“I understand how important the fireworks are for our economy, but I just think at a time like this, I think that it’s really problematic that it’s going ahead,” Mr Albanese told reporters in Brisbane.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has admitted to “mixed feelings” about the fireworks display in Sydney amid elevated bushfire risk and the death of a volunteer firefighter near the NSW-Victoria border. However, she has given the event her backing.
The Mayor has been criticised online. Channel 10 weather presenter Tim Baily said “Clover Moore is absolutely crackers. We will never forget this moment of insanity. Never forgive it.”
Channel 7 host Samantha Armytage weighed after she was evacuated to Narooma on the NSW far South Coast.
The Sunrise host said the show was “inappropriate” she’d “go after” the council if they went ahead with their fireworks display.
Prominent former MP Tony Windsor said the display would make Sydney look like “fools”.
“The Mayor of Sydney and Scott Morrison think the fireworks will be good international publicity,” he said in a tweet.
“The reverse will be the case with a celebration of fire whist our nation burns and climate policy ignored. it will present us as fools.”
The up to a million people who are likely to flock to Sydney Harbour to watch the display have been warned of strong and damaging winds as a cold front rolls up the NSW coast.
Earlier, revellers heading to the Sydney fireworks tonight had been given a bizarre warning to delay their journeys into the CBD tonight as bushfire smoke creates hazardous conditions.
The City of Sydney has issued a warning to those attending the fireworks that bushfire smoke has caused the air quality to plummet to poor in Sydney, and anyone with a breathing condition should try and “delay coming into the city early”.
The bizarre warning came after 1pm today, two hours after the Opera House forecourt and Bennelong Point was predicted to reach full capacity.
Countless New Year’s Eve fireworks displays have been axed, including some less than an hour away from tonight’s world-renowned spectacle on Sydney Harbour.
Despite that, more than one million people are expected to flock to get a view of the technicolor CBD show after the NSW Rural Fire Service yesterday granted the City of Sydney Council a fire ban exemption.
But other displays – including in Parramatta, 25 kilometres to the city’s west – didn’t get the green light.
Yesterday afternoon, Parramatta Council declared its popular family show had been scrapped.
“Council was not granted an exemption to proceed with its fireworks display due to the total fire ban in place and a range of associated risks including: extreme temperatures; smoke, dust and poor air quality; extremely dry conditions at Parramatta Park; and limited resources to manage potential fires locally due to fires across the state,” Lord Mayor Bob Dwyer said.
“In addition, the Bureau of Meteorology has forecast high winds with a southerly change on New Year’s Eve, which pose too big a risk to the health and safety of our community.”
He said the decision was not made lightly but in consultation with the RFS, the BOM and other state government agencies. The council will instead donate $10,000 to the RFS.
Wollongong, south of Sydney, axed its display just 24 hours before it was due to kick off.
“The total fire ban has been upgraded to include fireworks, and the southerly which is due to hit at around 8pm has also been upgraded,” acting Lord Mayor Tania Brown said.
She acknowledged people “rely on this night” as an “economic generator” for the region.
The fireworks in nearby Kiama will go ahead.
Tonight’s fireworks in Campbelltown, in southwest Sydney, were also on the chopping block.
“In light of the current extreme bushfire conditions and the fires that continue to sadly burn across our region, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the fireworks at our New Year’s Eve event in Koshigaya Park,” the council said on its website.
The 227,000-hectare Green Wattle Creek bushfire is still burning on Campbelltown’s outskirts.
Closer to the city, Liverpool council also cancelled its fireworks shows at 9pm and midnight.
“Weather conditions are not favourable and this is the most appropriate course of action,” Mayor Wendy Waller said in a statement, noting that they will be collecting RFS donations.
WHERE HAVE FIREWORKS BEEN CANCELLED?
• Parramatta Park
• Rowland Reserve, Bayview on Sydney’s Northern Beaches
• Maitland, also cancelled last year due to thunderstorms
• Armidale (postponed)
• Manilla, northwest of Tamworth
The Northern Beaches council on Monday said “at this stage” the 9pm fireworks at Dee Why and Manly would go ahead but they were monitoring conditions and working with authorities.
The Balls Head Reserve vantage point in Waverton on Sydney’s Lower North Shore will be closed due to elevated fire risks, as will North Head at Manly and Bradleys Head at Mosman.
The City of Newcastle said it was taking a “risk-based approach” to its fireworks display and will make the final call at lunchtime on Tuesday.
A number of displays further north have also been called off including Ipswich in Queensland and a show at the Twin Towns resort at Coolangatta and Tweed Heads on the NSW border.
Sydney New Year’s Eve celebration organisers earlier dismissed suggestions that cancelling the pyrotechnic display would be beneficial to people affected by the ongoing bushfires crisis.
“We know that cancelling the fireworks will have zero practical benefit for those fire-ravaged communities,” Tanya Goldberg, the Sydney NYE head of audience told Today on Monday.
“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, to demonstrate their generosity by going to the Australian Red Cross disaster relief and recovery fund.”
“They can go to nye.Sydney/donate and we will be promoting that in the lead up, and that I can do.”
When asked if there would be any kind of tribute to the tireless efforts of volunteer fireys during the show, Ms Goldberg said “no”.
“There will not be an overt tribute to the firefighters – (creative) plans were put in place months and months and months ago, but we are doing everything to throw our support behind them,” she said.
HOW TO WATCH THE SYDNEY FIREWORKS
Those wanting to watch the fireworks displays can take advantage of the numerous vantage points scattered around the Sydney CBD and suburbs on New Year’s Eve.
At the Sydney Opera House and Bennelong Point, the 7000 person capacity was reached at 11am on New Year’s Eve last year, some 13 hours before the final fireworks display.
You should be aware if you’re going to brave the crowds, there are restrictions at Bennelong Point — there’s no glass allowed, no pets, no busking and you’re not allowed to camp there to try and save a position.
You can access Sydney Harbour and Circular Quay via trains, buses, ferries and the newly opened Sydney Metro.
Those using buses should be advised that thousands of extra services will be running throughout the night. Services will be altered as road closures will be in place on the night. Buses to Circular Quay will relocate to Martin Place to 2pm to 6pm. Buses to and from North Sydney will use alternate stops on Miller Street and Pacific Highway due to closures from 3pm to 3am.
All buses in the city will operate to and from temporary bus terminals in Hyde Park, Town Hall and Wynyard.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge will be closed from 11pm to 1.30am for the fireworks.
Signs will be available to guide you to your chosen vantage point to check out the fireworks.
Those using ferries are warned that services will be busy on New Year’s Eve, and to arrive early and “have a plan B”.
Ferries won’t stop at McMahons Point wharf after 10am. Ferries won’t stop at Milsons Point wharf after 3pm. At some wharves, the last ferries to the city leave around 4.15pm. Ferries won’t stop at Circular Quay after 5pm.
A harbour exclusion zone will be in place from 8pm until 12.45am. No ferries will operate during this time.
Limited ferries operate to the lower north shore and northern beaches after the midnight fireworks.
No ferries down the Parramatta River or to the eastern suburbs after the midnight fireworks.
Check last service details for the Sydney Fast Ferry, Manly Fast Ferry and Eco Hopper.
Extra train services will run on New Year’s Eve and into the early hours of the new year.
Some stations will have early closing times and different operating schedules due to crowding.
Trains won’t stop at Circular Quay from 5pm until midnight. Those wanting to access the Harbour Foreshore are advised to use Wynyard or Martin Place or St James stations.
From 6pm until midnight, trains from the city to the north shore won’t stop at Milsons Point due to large crowds. For access to lower north shore vantage points, exit the train at North Sydney and walk.
From 12.30am until 4.30am trains won’t stop at Domestic Airport and International Airport stations as Sydney Airport will be closed.
OTHER PLACES TO WATCH THE FIREWORKS
There are dozens of vantage points where you can view the fireworks around Sydney for a range of different prices. There are 33 vantage points that are available for access at no cost, and the remainder are ticketed at a range of prices, between $5.30 and $2200.
Vantage points are scattered all across Sydney, from Manly Cove to Elkington Park in Balmain in inner west Sydney, and the Rose Bay Foreshore in the eastern suburbs. A full list of official vantage points, including prices and detailed information is available at the Sydney New Year’s Eve site. The site is updated with cancellations and sold out locations.
If you feel like splashing out, tickets to Cockatoo Island are available for between $400 – $2200. There is no BYO at the island, but you’re allowed to drink there.
There are also numerous vantage points where you can stake out a position for free.