If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s being caught up and pushed around by crowds of people feeling like you don’t even have the space to breathe. And yet there I was leaving my hotel room at 5.30 in the morning to see the Sydney New Years Eve 2013 fireworks. There were literally hundreds of vantage points throughout the city where you could watch the fireworks, and the most consistent advice I’d received from the Aussies was to choose somewhere further away, and less popular. Of course, being an overexcited tourist in Sydney for the first time, I went against all advice and chose Mrs Marcquaries point as my base. With views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, this was possibly one of the most popular free vantage points in the city, and had a maximum capacity of 17,000 people.
I’d been warned that the space would fill up quickly and so it was advised to turn up at 8am latest to get a good spot in the queue. The gates would then open at 10am and the crowds would be allowed to rush in and claim their spot for that night. Chris and I arrived at 8 on the dot and couldn’t believe what we saw. There were easily already 10,000 people ahead of us in the queue. From the tents and sleeping bags dotted around the place it was clear that people had camped out for the night to get ahead of the game. So we took our place in the queue and had nothing to do but wait.
10am arrived and the queue started to move slowly but surely and I was happily surprised by how orderly everyone was. Not many people seemed to be sneaking into the line and there was no pushing and shoving. ‘Maybe tonight’s going to be alright…’ I thought. It took 2 1/2 hours of shuffling but eventually we made it through the gates to Mrs Marcquaries Point. From this point it was a bit of a dash to try and find a good spot. Although there were some great views of the bridge and opera house, most parts of the park had trees and rocks to obstruct that view. It seemed the tens of thousands before us had snapped up all of the really good spots, leaving us walking around a little confused and disheartened about where to go. Eventually we decided on a tiny little spot under a tree, just big enough for 2 people. We found that when seated, we had a nice view of the bridge.
Squashed up against the tree and feeling claustrophobic, I started to think about what I was doing. It was 12.30pm, the first of the fireworks weren’t going to be going off until 9pm. Was I actually going to sit here for 8 1/2 hours just waiting for some fireworks! I looked around me taking in thousands of excited people; drinking, reading, curled up in balls trying to sleep. Hundreds of asian tourists sat under their tripods, set up and ready.
The Build Up
As the sun started to go down the atmosphere around the place began to rise. One by one boats in the harbour turned their coloured lights on, and the bridge itself started to light up. A firework was let off as a tease to get the crowds going. I knew that a ‘Families Firework Display’ was due to go off at 9pm, and could sense the people around me trying to close in for a better position. A daredevil even tried climbing the tree Chris and I were leant against, scaring the shit out of people sitting beneath him. But it wasn’t long until security were on to him. 9 o’clock came and the fireworks started. Instantly everyone was on their feet and pushing in. The security tried to keep the walkways clear but that was never going to happen. People behind were now walking over us, stomping on our picnic blanket and bags. Chris and I stood up and tried to enjoy the fireworks. Straight away we realised that although we had a good spot while seated, once on our feet low hanging tree branches obstructed a good part of our view.
The ‘Families Display’ stopped and everyone sat down again, but the opening display had got people excited, and all around us more people were forcing their way in. I could see a family with two young kids getting pushed around in front of me, until eventually they gave up, packed up their stuff and left. An old couple sat huddled together on the ground looking unsure. Behind me I could hear strong Northern English accents shouting. A large group of drunks came from behind walking on top of us slurring ‘sorry, sorry, sorry’. They plunked themselves right in front of us, stinking of booze. One of the guys lay his head back on Chris’s bag and closed his eyes, rolling his head around. I was worried he’d throw up all over it. At this point it seemed like a good idea to pack up our stuff and maybe get ready to move.
It was around 10pm and people were starting to get excited again. More and more got to their feet, readying themselves for the display. A tall guy from the group who’d pushed in front of us stood up. He wore little short shorts and, although he appeared to have a girlfriend, had an extremely camp scouse accent. “Will everyone just sit down, if you all fucking sit down then everyone can see!” He shouted. This egged on the girls in the group to join in the shouting, acting like they were so hard done by. A few more people came pushing in behind and accidentally stood on the paralytic guy asleep on Chris’s bag. “Stop the bus! Stop the bus!” He shouted. As more people came, “No more, no more!” he screamed. At least these guys were giving us some entertainment during the wait! At this point we realised that if we wanted to get a good spot for the final display, we’d need to make a move now and push our way in. We got to our feet and walked over the English drunks in front of us. The paralytic one started giving me abuse, I turned and started to tell him to piss off but the camp scouser stepped in and apologised, putting his friend in his place.
What we’ve all been waiting for!
We managed to move about 2 metres ahead but were still obstructed by the low hanging tree branches. People were trying to break the branches off, but thankfully for the tree not getting anywhere. I realised that to get a good view we’d have to push our way in like a couple of dick heads, and I didn’t want to be one of those people. Again I thought, ‘do I even give a shit anyway? These are just fireworks after all! Ones that I’d waited 16 hours for, but still just fire works.’ For the next hour we stood waiting, the lights in the harbour and bridge blinking, the atmosphere among the crowd growing again. Finally it hit twelve and the the bridge lit up in numbers as the countdown started. There was an explosion and the fireworks started, everyone cheering. As the display continued there were ‘ooooo’s and ‘ahhhhhh’s. The sound of the fireworks to our right was deafening and went straight through my body giving me chills. I ducked my head left and right, up and down, trying to see the display in front of me through the branches and peoples heads. It was impressive to say the least, but after what felt like about 15 minutes, it was all over. As the last firework lit up the sky the camp scouser from the group behind me shouted, “Happy New Year everybody!” and to my disbelief everyone shouted back, “Happy New Year!” what an awesome moment it must have been for him.
Time to go home
As everyone filtered out Chris and I took a few steps forward and couldn’t believe how close we’d been to that perfect unobstructed view. It was so frustrating, I didn’t care, but at the same time I kind of did. We took a few photos and then suddenly felt exhausted. It was time to go back to our hotel. Slowly we followed the crowd through the park, retracing our footsteps from earlier that morning. It was slow moving but I thought we just had to get out of the park and then things would speed up. How wrong I was. The whole city was just packed with thousands of people from each of the vantage points, along with people drunkenly falling out of the clubs. We pushed through the crowds looking for the nearest train station only to find it was full. An announcement was being made on speakers projecting onto the street, telling people to keep walking to the next train station. And so we walked for what felt like an eternity. It wasn’t until 5am we made it back to our hotel, basically 24 hours later from that morning.
Would I do the Syndey Fireworks again for New Years Eve? No, absolutely not. In fact, I think the whole experience will make me more cautious as to what famous events I do chose to attend in the future. For instance, if I’m ever in New York for New Years, you will not find me anywhere near Times Square! However, there’s not really any experiences I’ve had, including this one, that I regret doing. Just seeing how mental this event made everyone, pushing and shoving, struggling to get any kind of photo just to say, “I was there!”, was an experience in itself, and pretty interesting to see. If there’s one thing I learned from this is that people are crazy, absolutely crazy.