Forster Fireworks

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Photo courtesy Manning River Times.

Everyone loves a good fireworks display to kick start the New Year. We catch up with John Gollan, the man behind the Harrington Festival display.

Summer is here and that time of the year when the weather sees most heading to the beach, waterways, touring and generally having a good time.

There are so many activities to choose from, but one annual event that attracts thousands is set in a perfect location for all the family to enjoy at Harrington. On the first day of January each year, it has become a tradition for Manning Valley and Great Lakes residents to head to the beautiful and picturesque seaside town of Harrington.

The Harrington Festival on New Year’s Day, highlighted by the John Gollan Fireworks display began in 1998 and has grown to be one of the community’s showcase activities.

The past few years has seen crowds of approximately 15,000 people flock to the beachside location. They join the celebrations of another New Year, and every vantage point along the vast foreshore is taken as spectators view the fireworks.

The celebrations this year will have a similar format to the past few years, kicking off with many weary eyed shoppers visiting the huge markets run by the Crowdy – Harrington Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol. The markets have an incredible range of products for everyone, with many hand-made goodies, and from past experience there are many great bargains to find.

The afternoon will see the always well attended carnival spring into action in the main park, with live entertainment commencing at 4pm until the first fireworks shoot skywards at 9pm.

The organising committee have added January 2nd to the Festival, with a series of sporting events, and in a novel approach to lawn bowling, at 9am the Harrington Bowling Club will host a ‘barefoot bowls’ competition – open to all ages, with indoor bowls for youngsters. Also for the more energetic sporty types, an Ambrose Golf Tournament will commence at 10am at the Harrington Waters Golf Club.

Fireworks have always been popular. Decades ago we could have our own ‘bonfires’ and have our own fireworks display in the backyard. It was a lot of fun, from the humble sparkler, the numerous arrays of ‘pretty’ fireworks with the highlight always being the lighting of the sky rockets as the grand finale. Laws have changed, banning our backyard extravaganza to an orchestrated disciplined display which has become an incredible drawcard across the globe.

The John Gollan Fireworks has become an iconic display on the Mid North Coast, with New Year’s Eve in Harrington presenting one of the biggest sky illuminations north and south of Sydney. The setting is perfect, utilising the long breakwater as its stage and giving patrons a bird’s eye view for kilometres.

Fireworks are part of our life, with an estimated 95% of our population watching the colourful displays.

For the trivia buffs, here are a few interesting facts. The largest single firework was organised by the Japanese at a festival in 1988, with a single shell that weighed more than half a ton, and that burst in an area that spread over a kilometre.

And a string of firecrackers went for 22 hours, marking the New Year’s Day celebrations in Hong Kong in 1996.

Here in Australia, putting on a fireworks display is carefully orchestrated, dangerous and exhilarating for the people behind the scenes.

All across Australia the crowd are asked to shout and yell a traditional chant: “Are you ready Mr Fireworks?” with a countdown to cue in the fireworks team to begin.

Local identity Geoff Howes has been called Mr Fireworks for 40 years and has travelled across Australia, overseeing the Opera House, all Royal Shows and a long and impressive list of huge displays. Over the past few years he has called the shots at Harrington and other Mid-North Coast locations.

World famous Australian company Howard Brothers is where Geoff began, and it was under their direction that he learned his craft. After spending ten years with the best, Geoff decided to head out on his own for 30 years, plying his craft.

Recently he joined Ka-boom Fireworks, owned by Milton and Debbie Skinner, who service the Mid Coast, parts of Australia and China, where they won an award representing Australia for their Great Wall display. The Great Wall of China fireworks display is one Geoff has worked on: “It is one of the biggest in the world.”

“The Manning Valley is now my home, so I attempt to have the best display available for the region. This year we are doing the Harrington Festival, and on New Year’s Eve we are doing Harrigan’s Irish Tavern and Taree on the Water.

“Ka-boom pride themselves on delivering the best displays, and this year will be no exception.

“Harrington is one of the unique locations where we can use the long breakwater. This display is one of the biggest outside Sydney, and it is great to see the crowd reaction.”

One of Geoff’s great pleasures is that fireworks appeal to all ages.

“From babies to the elderly, they all enjoy a good display.”

Today a fireworks exhibition is in the modern era with computers – a far cry from when all the fireworks were lit by hand (port fires). Geoff says that fireworks are based on the same principle he used when he began his career.

So when the year ticks by, chances are you will be somewhere where there’s a fireworks display lighting up the sky. There will be no better place to be on New Year’s Eve than to join in the activities at Harrington.

Bring the family and sit back and relax. It is a fabulous way to start the New Year.

Story by Peter Lyne.

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