When a city has been promised the most spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks display to date and you’re among those responsible for delivering on that promise, a touch of anxiety is both understandable and permissible.
Yet there’s not even the faintest trace of it in Rusty Johnson’s voice as he talks about this Saturday's plans.
Rusty is after all the Master Pyrotechnician at Howard & Sons Pyrotechnics, which has been thrilling Melburnians with New Year’s Eve fireworks displays for over a decade. This year, the display is touted to be “thicker, higher and wider than ever before."
“The idea is to have a city with a crown of fireworks right across the top,” Rusty says. “Ideally what we want is to have a display that is visible not only to the people in the City of Melbourne but also to everyone in the surrounding suburbs.”
At the stroke of midnight on 31 December, Rusty’s eyes will join thousands of other pairs within the city and beyond as they follow the perfectly synchronised "comets" arcing across the sky and bursting in glorious vivid showers of colour.
The next day, after taking in the news coverage of their work, Rusty and his team will salute each other for another job well done and begin sketching out plans for New Year’s Eve 2017.
Not really but as a kid I loved to play with fireworks and go to bonfire nights. So that’s probably where it all started.
Yea, very much so! It was down on the Mornington Peninsula at a school fair about 20 years ago. Back in the days when I first started it was all hand lit. Totally different from what we do now which is fully computerised and planned out well ahead.
Before, we didn’t see what our displays looked like because we were hand lighting them and running around underneath. Now that it’s fully computerized, once we start the display we actually have a chance to step back and monitor it. That makes it better from a design point of view and also a lot safer because if something goes wrong, we see it and we can shut it down.
I never ever get tired of watching it. I love seeing how it all comes out. But the majority of what we do is not watching the display. It’s logistics, paperwork, risk assessment and all that sort of stuff.
We started planning in April or May and that’s the sort of timeline we have to work towards to get the quantity of products we need designed, produced, tested and imported. And because we shoot from buildings across the top of the city, it’s also a fairly lengthy process to negotiate with the building owners for approvals and permits.
Not this one because it’s logistically such a large show. Stuart Bensley is the choreographer. I’m the displays manager and I assign everyone roles, make sure the roles are working properly and that we’re keeping to schedule. We’ve had 60 people out loading rooftops since 26 December. To do that and choreography would be just too big.
It really comes down to personal interest. I have a Fine Arts background so if you come from that side then the big interest is in the programming and the designing of the show. Whereas if you’re a technical person then you’d be interested in the technical elements like how every shot is colour coordinated and how the right number fits into the right tube and fires at the right time.
It always has to be the finale. The last 30 or 40 seconds when we just go crazy and put up as much as we possibly can that will turn the sky white.
Working with an eclectic group of people. Pyrotechnicans come from all walks of life. We’ve got pyrotechnicians from Japan and a couple from New Zealand working with us. We have bricklayers, builders…you name it. What we basically have are people with a passion for fireworks.
Align yourself with a reputable company that will guide you through the processes. It’s not a job for everybody. It’s a physical job with a lot of manual lifting and carrying. And it’s an obviously dirty job too!
For full details of the night's activities, visit the City of Melbourne's NYE website.