Despite a growing growl of public outrage, Sydney is set to fiddle on with a vulgar fireworks celebration while our state burns.
Unfettered by the declaration of a state of emergency in New South Wales this week – the second since mid-November – and unbowing to numerous petitions pleading for common sense (and, frankly, common decency), Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks will erupt on schedule.
Both Premier Gladys Bererjiklian and Lord Mayor Clover Moore reckon it’s too late to cancel and seem to have decided that tourists trump exhausted firefighters. After all, happy holidaymakers are arriving in our city to find smoke that’s keeping the air quality wayyyyyy beyond hazardous levels – we can’t possibly add to their disappointment by refusing to ignite truckloads of explosives as previously advertised.
“Our fireworks are planned 15 months in advance and most of the budget – which is largely allocated to crowd safety and cleaning measures – has already been spent,” Councillor Moore wrote in a response to a petition on Change.org that garnered almost 200,000 signatures. The reported budget for 2018 was $6.5 million.
“Many have already booked hotels and restaurants and planned their trip to watch the fireworks. This event generates $130 million for the state economy, which helps many people.”
Some 2.7 million hectares of NSW have been razed – equal in area to the whole country of Wales – and we will celebrate the dawn of a new decade by igniting millions of dollars of fireworks.
It’s like handing out free proof points for haters who believe the Emerald City is populated by narcissistic, vacuous wannabes, even if our beautiful-people vision of ourselves is being challenged by the urgent imperative to master gas-mask chic. (Note to self: check in with friends in Shanghai and New Delhi for tips.)
Since August (which in the olden days we knew as winter), bushfires have taken eight lives. They have destroyed more than 1500 buildings and burnt out an estimated 3.7 million hectares across Australia.
On Thursday night, two young volunteer firefighters were killed after a tree fell in front of their truck, forcing it to flip.
The tales of wildlife and stock carnage are harrowing. I have several friends who’ve bravely stayed to defend their homes – so far successfully. But the fires rage on, ever closer.
Soon New Year’s Eve will be here and millions will push through heaving, sweaty, largely drunken and now literally choking crowds to foreshore vantage points for a noisy conflagration. Call me a curmudgeon, but the whole thing went from pretty party to logistical nightmare at least a decade ago.
Maybe others are growing weary of it, too. The Sydney Opera House ‘Party of the Decade’ with a ‘private viewing zone’ still has tickets available – at $795 a person.
“Pass the canapés, Damien, and be a dear and fetch another bottle of Veuve – I do wish Gladys and Clover would do something about all this smoke!”
The City of Sydney continues to try to mollify the anti-fireworks brigade: “We’ve donated $620,000 to support communities and wildlife impacted by bushfire and drought, and offered our trucks and staff to help emergency services with clean-up and recovery efforts.”
Nice sentiment, but nevertheless insulting in light of the loss and devastation, let alone that firefighters are risking their lives every day.
How about a compromise?
Go ahead and explode a third or half of the planned fireworks this year, and store the rest in a nice deep armaments cave and let them off over the next two or three years. After that, cancel it for good and start a fireworks-free replacement event that’s fit for our times: NYE Earth Hour.
Reduce power consumption, spare the planet and make Sydney as dark as safely possible. Imagine throwing down a picnic blanket to enjoy the stars, reflecting on the year that’s been while scanning the blessedly smoke-free horizon of the future.
It would get me out on New Year’s Eve again.