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“Let them watch fireworks:” Gladys Antoinette, Sydney 2019

The sickening irony of letting off millions of exploding flames into a city sky already thickened with the smoke of bushfires that have surrounded Sydney for weeks, and then calling it “welcoming in the New Year,” seems entirely lost on Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

According to both women, the fireworks will demonstrate that NSW is a “resilient” state that looks towards the future with hope. “Coming together as a community in times of great trouble” is another justification for persisting with a fiery celebration many other centres, including Canberra, have chosen to abandon. Some because it’s too dangerous, others, like here in northern NSW, because we suffer an unpleasant visceral and emotional reaction to the idea of fireworks at this time. It just does not seem right to celebrate the New Year in this way when people are dying, communities are being left bereft, millions of hectares of country across the state are burning, and untold numbers of animals are frying to death or living in agony.

The symbolism is terrifying. The lack of leaders’ ability to comprehend this symbolism is unnerving.

In fact, cancelling the fireworks would send the powerful message that climate change is irrevocably rearranging our lives and our expectations, and action must be taken by governments right now to address this reality. Indeed, this is a rare and brilliant opportunity to sheet home to negligent authorities the urgency of our situation, something LNP governments both federal and state seem to be slow to grasp.

“Listen, chaps. If you don’t act on climate change and with urgency, fire prevention and management, you won’t be able to have fireworks on New Year’s,” seems an accessible example of cause and effect, even for those practised in denial.

Apparently, cancelling the New Year’s Eve fireworks on Sydney Harbour would cause a loss of some $130 million to Sydney businesses. Perhaps this overnight loss might stimulate those city businesses to demand that politicians face up to the financial impact of climate change and its manifestations, on our economy. I would also love to hear exactly why Sydney businesses must be protected from loss, when across the state, indeed, across the country, individuals, businesses and entire communities are being financially destroyed, even as we watch the fireworks. Increasingly, we read of under-resourced fire brigades, exhausted volunteer firies, and inadequately resourced aerial fighting facilities, yet Sydney businesses are a protected species, indeed, the only protected species in this entire catastrophic state-wide conflagration.

Of course, cancelling the Sydney fireworks would be an acknowledgement of the gravity of our situation, an acknowledgement the Berejiklian and Morrison governments do not want to make. Even the Sydney City Council, usually considerably more aware of the peril we are facing than either government, cannot see the smoke for the fireworks in this instance, and insists on giving priority to marketing and tourism. This is a short-sighted perspective. The impact on tourism of past weeks of air quality readings, at one point the worst in the world, has apparently been omitted from the council’s evaluations. It will be interesting to see how the fireworks are reported internationally.

“Let them watch fireworks!” appears to be the slogan of leaders who think a little bit of bread and circuses will momentarily distract from the catastrophes currently engulfing much of the state. Tomorrow, however, we’ll still be burning with no end in sight, the fireworks forgotten, the fear, anger and sorrow still in our hearts, the failure of our politicians seared on our memories.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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24 comments

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  1. Grumpy Geezer

    Clover Moore is as progressive as they come but she’s a politician and beholden to her constituency. If the burghers of Sydney city voted her out because she cancelled the fireworks what we we get? Lucy Turnbull? Or god forbid, Louise Clegg, Angus Taylor’s missus?

  2. John Hermann

    Unfortunately the population as a whole persists with electing do-nothing federal governments. The reason they do nothing (apart from some ineffectual window dressing) is that they being are held hostage by a large climate-change denial faction. The population do not seem to understand this reality. As Chomsky has observed, the general population do not know what is happening, and don’t even know that they don’t know. The corporate-controlled mass media are largely responsible for this state of mass ignorance.

  3. New England Cocky

    “I would also love to hear exactly why Sydney businesses must be protected from loss, when across the state, indeed, across the country, individuals, businesses and entire communities are being financially destroyed, even as we watch the fireworks.”

    Protect Fortress Sydney and let all the agricultural enterprises south of the NW NSW MDB go to hell without water thanks to Gladly-back-flip-I-can NSW government refusing to enforce pumping regulations on the 4/168 MDB water licence holders controlling over 75% of water allocations growing crops unsuited to a naturally semi-arid environment, that may be donors to the National$.

    Just another example of the flat Earth thinking of Macquarie Street politicians who believe that crossing the Hawkesbury Bridge, the Nepean Bridge or Tom Ugly’s Bridge causes you to fall off the edge of the world and be eaten by dragons lurking in the Royal National Park.

    Maybe it is time for the Seventh State from the Hunter to the Queensland border and west to South Australia so that we can direct the few remaining government revenue streams into local jobs for our kids so that out grandkids can grow up in the clean air, open spaces and uncrowded environment of regional Australia.

  4. Aortic

    But Angus Taylor, speaking in Spanish I think, assures us we ” are doing our share,” whatever the hell that means. Appreciate they are beholden to the fossil fuel industry, but have they really examined the benefits both humane and economic of investment in renewable energy sources? As someone once wisely said in this forum, perhaps we need their God to return and rapture all the believers and leave the planet to us sceptics to clean up the mess.

  5. Uta Hannemann

    “As Chomsky has observed, the general population do not know what is happening, and don’t even know that they don’t know. The corporate-controlled mass media are largely responsible for this state of mass ignorance.”

    John Hermann, I think what Chomsky has observed, is exactly right!!

    So, this is why we do get the governments we ‘deserve’. We do deserve these governments, don’t we?

  6. Ivo

    Sorry to be an apparent cynical armchair critic, but I have some issues with the approach to bushfire control in Australia generally and specifically about its reporting: –
    1. What is this with all the interviews with fire chiefs showing some person gesticulating madly to apparently let the deaf people watching know what he is saying? Hello! – how many deaf people watch television where hearing is needed for viewing? How many viewers, deaf or not, could understand what the hand movements are all about? (Hey! ABC or The Conversation – how about do a fact check to learn what is the use of the very distracting hand movements? I.e. how many deaf people are watching and how many of them know what the hand gesticulations signify?) Why not just use closed captions so that normal people watching, for example, in a pub could read the essence of the important massage being conveyed?
    2. How come all the fire service websites throughout Australia just list the fires present in various localities as a darkened area with no information about where the fire front or active areas are (e.g. with red coloring) How come they all also do not indicate current wind speed and direction at the fire front site or serious information about containment measures being adopted and their success to date?
    3. How come no Defense Forces involvement in fire control? Bloody hell! – surely fires are much more of a threat than terrorism in terms of people killed in Australia and in terms of property damage than terrorism or even wars? I am surely not letting out any secrets by saying that it would be dead easy for anyone to position heaps of mobile phone activated incendiary devices throughout the bush to be activated by a simple phone call in a critical catastrophic danger day ( are you listening ISIS?) Better than bombing a few innocent civilians surely? Then again, pretty easy for anyone with a grudge against the government to heap a load of fire lighting devices from a drone or simply throw them from a plane on fire danger days? At present some terrorist group could easily start a bushfire inferno for a very modest cost. I guess the great news for terrorists is that they could light fires anywhere in Australia (or anywhere!) to their hearts content knowing that the defense forces are prohibited from responding to bushfire type terrorism?
    4. What is it with us spending in the order of at least $50billion (more likely $100 billion by the time they are delivered!) on 12 new submarines and a similar amount on 75 or so dubious technically able fighter aircraft? Really, WTF are 12 submarines going to achieve to protect us that 2000 Erickson Skycrane firefighting (like Elvis!) helicopters (for the same price!), cant? I know we need to boost our defense spending up to 2% of GDP because Donald Trump told us to, but how about if we declare firefighting as a defense item so that firefighting in Australia can get some serious clout? Thanks. Mr. Morrison for $11 million announced recently for firefighting equipment upgrades, but that is just about a third of the cost of a single serious aerial firefighting aircraft. Also, apparently Russia have some pretty amazing heavy lift helicopters, so maybe we should start some negotiations with them? After all the once great USA is not so great these days, l have been told? .

  7. Regional Elder

    Folk singer from regional Victoria, Jane Thompson, captured the sentiments of many of us at this time, in her album ‘ Here’ (2017), with the song ‘ Lights on the Bridge ‘

    Here, the words to the first verse

    We’re adorning the bridge with a million lights
    Stringing up tinsel to brighten our nights,
    And we’re raising its image to grand new heights.
    Does this seem enough of a reason ?

    http://www.makingmusic.com.au/html/Jane.html

  8. New England Cocky

    Uhm Ivo …… remember Benito Duddo has his black shirts watching this website for any sign of thinking beyond his modest abilities.

    Now you cannot have the military include RFS training among their many skills because that would mean that the officers would be required to work also. But you are correct; it is a no brainer because the military already have the skills necessary to organise, implement and successfully execute fire control under the overarching command of the RFS. Just think of the facility of rotating a platoon (30 persons) or company (90+ persons) through a fire fighting roster. In 2019 the RFS volunteers would have been greatly assisted and less exhausted.

    All good LIarbrals recognise the need to provide subsistence to the NE Military industrial complex of the USA (United States of Apartheid) so that US bankers may control and manipulate Australian currency values in world markets for the benefit of the US armaments industry that provides over 90% of war materiel to the world.

    @FIre fighting: Did you know that the NSW Gladly-back-flip-I-can Liarbral Nat$ misgovernment cut about 75% of the RFS operational budget in the 2019 NSW Budget?? The source article has been removed from the web after Hamish MacDonald questioned Gladys about the wisdom of such slashing in a huge fire year.

  9. Anarchy rules

    Tonight’s pyrotechnics will only contribute 1.3% more smoke over Sydney so let the festivities begin . Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow oops forget about the rest of the quote . Will they be supplying p2 masks at tonight’s gala?

  10. corvus boreus

    Anarchy rules,
    There are admitted downsides to the notion of a state government spending large sums of consolidated revenue to rig up complex arrays of gunpowder-based pyrotechnic displays off essential infrastructure during a time where not only has the terrorism fear-o-meter been officially heightened, and funding for emergency services like fire-response being pruned to temporarily balance the budget books, but there are existent fire warnings and total burn-bans across much of the state.
    On the positive side, fireworks (as with most forms of explosion) can be very pretty when you turn off certain parts of your brain.

    Ps, I’ve heard that P3s are a more effective particulate-filtration mask, but apparently they cost about as much as a light-to-medium charge ‘greecian candle’.

  11. paul walter

    Just confirms my impression of LNP types as utter maniacs.

  12. Michael Taylor

    Down in the valley someone is letting off firecrackers. I cannot comprehend their stupidity.

  13. johnyperth

    Around 3 years ago a flight plane went into the Swan river killing two people during the Australian Day celebration.
    The WA government had stopped the WA Australian Day fireworks with respect for those that had died for this!!
    I wonder if the NSW government would give the same thoughts for the fire fighters that had lot they lives for fighting the bush fires, or, is seen as the NWS community coming together to help each other?
    By he way, I’m a member of the WA ALP>

  14. Bruce Winchester

    IVO, you have much to learn about the deaf community that lives around you and their issues negotiating a hearing world that tends to forget their existence and disregard their needs. Deafness is an invisible handicap, no white stick, helpful companion dog or wheelchair.
    Firstly one basic thing you should understand: DEAF PEOPLE WATCH TV.

    My deaf mute parents were the first in our working class street to get a televison in the fifties. They actually WATCHED TV. The visual stimulation was enough to entertain them. They could lipread old James Dibble because Jim spoke English clearly and succinctly and did not mumble in Austalian. Slapstick humour was not wasted on them. My father particularly enjoyed wildlife programs. The human brain is attuned to visual stimulation. As my mum used to sign, “It beats trying to listen to the radio.”

    The mad gesticulation that bothers you is called Auslan, an Australian sign language that is a very precise and effective method of communication and is at times more effective than spoken word. It is a part of the deaf child’s education in Australia. I am willing to bet my annual wage that the majority of the Australian deaf community, completely and fully understood what information the good people were broadcasting.
    And just so you understand this very salient point, the translators are not deaf themselves, because they were translating what the firefighting officials were saying, got that? Pardon my cynicism. I am profoundly deaf myself. I would further suggest they are either trained educators for the deaf or volunteers with deaf family members.

    You are probably thinking about subtitles which are all well and good when watching movies and the script is copied beforehand into some text program to show along with the action. My parents would have loved that.
    But in emergency situations, like say, bushfires perhaps, where life and death situations demand information be served to the public immediately, deaf or otherwise, there is no opportunity to translate the written word or off the cuff warnings and suggestions.

    Live translations are currently available for most news broadcasts and for speeches during election campaigns but I can assure you huge mistakes are made and annoying pauses occur as the person attempting to match the delivery of the spoken word and worse question and answer exchanges stumbles on the vagaries of the English language which can further obscure meaning, sometimes entire blocks of information are left out or the text appears when other speakers respond. If the commercial break comes before the translation is compete, tough luck.

    As effective as Auslan is for communicating among the deaf, it is not exactly the same as reading writing and speaking the English language. Deaf people are as intelligent as any other member of the Australian community, but on my experience with my parents and their deaf friends, reading skills are a different issue. I contend that a lot, not all, but a lot, of deaf people, even if they are conversant in Auslan would not have strong reading skills.

    The point is that for immediate communication Auslan is the best solution for the needs of the deaf. And I know the ABC is well aware of deaf needs, I believe the madly gesticulating translator was an innovation they adopted back when the ABC was everybody’s Auntie.

    You may now resume cynical armchair viewing.

    Happy New Year.

  15. DrakeN

    Well written, Bruce Winchester.

    People like EVO would find anything which does not match their perceptions of reality somewhat irritating, since to alter their perceptions to include the experiences of others would impose unacceptable strains on their mental and emotional processes.

    That’s one of the reasons that we have such disfunctional governments.

  16. Ivo

    Thank you sincerely Bruce for that detailed and explicit renunciation of my criticism of fire chief interviews including what I had considered to be pretentious inclusion distractions by unnecessary sign language additions. I would still like to see if you are correct in at least implying that many TV viewers of fire updates benefit from the sign language inclusion, by someone testing the data which is presumably available somewhere? This is specifically the question: – “How many people benefit from the distracting sign language inclusion in important emergency TV broadcasts, whether fire, flood or whatever?”

    You seem confident that deaf people generally have no trouble interpreting the, to me, weird hand signals, so it would hopefully be informative to many of us to know if that is right or not?

    That is super impressive that deaf people can get benefit from simply watching TV, can lip-read , can understand easily the sign language that to most of us is nonsense, and can compensate for their hearing impairment in so many ways!

  17. Bruce Winchester

    Ivo, you need only remove the sign language service to find out how many benefit from its inclusion. The deaf community has become increasingly aware and active in the past few decades and I predict the response would be considerable.
    “How many people benefit from the distracting sign language inclusion in important emergency TV broadcasts…?” If the answer was “one” and that one person then understood the position regarding their safety and was able to determine the best course of action that would save their life, wouldn’t that be enough to outweigh the “distraction”. I can assure you that the service is of immense benefit to those who are cut off from normal channels of information especially those in potential emergency situations. They just cant turn on the radio.

    You asked “how many deaf people are watching and how many of them know what the hand gesticulations signify?”
    Ivo, deaf people communicate all the time with Auslan, like you communicate with spoken English. I grew up in the deaf community, but I had normal hearing, my loss is degenerative and was only prominent in my 20s, when Auslan was introduced. The community used an alphabet-based form of sign language then. I assure you the sign language I grew up with was as perplexing to normal folk as Auslan or even Mandarin would be to you (I assume you don’t speak fluent Mandarin), but rest assured that like any language, there are people that understand it, even if you do not. You don’t need surveys to establish that.

    The sign language is used on television, and all around the world in all languages, because there is a genuine need for it. Its not used to annoy people and as I suggest, if it saves the life of even just one person, it is valuable for that reason. The broadcasting of emergency information can not be arbitrarily determined by viewing numbers. Ensuring safety should not be based on a popularity contest.
    One life saved justifies any inconvenience.

  18. Matters Not

    Just for the historical record re AUSLAN.

    The first time this occurred was during the 2011 Brisbane floods. However, sometimes Deaf people still have to contact government authorities to ask them to include Auslan interpreters during emergency broadcasts;

    Anna Bligh was the Premier at that time. An invaluable service that will continue into the foreseeable future. (And probably longer. Lol.)

  19. Ivo

    Thank you Bruce – I am not arguing with you. Just trying to understand whether your are justified in claiming that deaf people understand what the emergency hand signals are saying?

    Do you have any scientific peer reviewed journal references, or serious evidence of any kind, to back up your claim that deaf people generally can understand the arcane hand signal emergency messages? If so , then in what level of detail is it understood?

  20. Bruce Winchester

    Ivo, Auslan is a language. Those educated in it understand it at a daily level like you understand what is being said during emergency announcements.

    Do we need scientific peer reviewed reviews of how well you understand spoken English?
    Maybe we should truly investigate if blind people really need to take their dogs out on the street where no doubt they annoy others. Sigh.

  21. DrakeN

    He/she cannot see the value in assisting those for whom sonic language is not an option: To coin a phrase: “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

    ‘Nuff sed 😉

  22. corvus boreus

    Every time I visit the library I keep getting distracted by the ‘Braille’ books.
    Is there any incontrovertible scientific proof that blind people can actually ‘read’ those strange arcane bumps?

  23. Zathras

    Morrison and the Premier claim that the world looks to the Sydney New Year “cracker night” display every year and to cancel them would somehow damage our reputation internationally.

    I suggest the way we treat our refugees plus our climate denialist stance has already done that.

    The notion that the PM was sitting on the shores of Kirribilli joyously celebrating with his cohorts while others were literally fighting for their lives and many losing everything they have is an image that will stay with many of us for a very long time.

  24. RosemaryJ36

    I was one of the first to call for the fireworks to be cancelled but we must be fair,
    It IS an annual affair.
    It IS a regular budget item.
    It IS planned and paid for well in advance.
    Sydney is now on notice to follow Hong Kong and use drones next year!
    And when it comes to communication – how do we ever know that another person correctly interprets what we are trying to communicate?

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