Coronavirus has decimated the fireworks industry with millions of dollars worth of unused explosives left sitting in storage facilities around the country as mass gatherings remain banned.
- Most capital cities are hopeful NYE fireworks shows will go ahead
- Fireworks manufacturer Furtuno Foti says 95 per cent of business has “evaporated”
- Max Brunner has a huge stockpile of fireworks in secret locations
But Australia’s biggest fireworks providers have been working on ways to make New Year’s Eve displays COVID-safe to ensure Australians can see out 2020 with a bang.
Fortuno “Forch” Foti is a seventh-generation fireworks specialist.
“Fireworks can be enjoyed by all the senses — you can see them, hear them, smell them,” he said.
“People of any age or background can watch a display and for the 10 or 15 minutes the fireworks are on, all your problems go away and people need that right now.
“That’s what we do, we like entertaining people and bringing a bit of joy.”
The Foti family operation, based in western Sydney, is Australia’s biggest fireworks manufacturer.
The Fotis have been putting on dazzling displays since 1793 in Italy, before migrating to Australia in the 1950s.
In 227 years of operation, the business has survived two world wars and the Great Depression, but Mr Foti said COVID-10 had proved their biggest challenge.
“In the fireworks industry probably 95 or even 100 per cent of business in some cases has evaporated,” he said.
“We usually don’t do any events with less than 500 people.
“There have been some weddings and small events, but not enough to keep us going.”
The economic blow driven by coronavirus follows a horror fire season last summer, during which fireworks displays were cancelled due to fire risk.
Mr Foti said some of his workers have been protected by Job Keeper, but this would not be enough to keep them afloat indefinitely.
“We have things in place to keep going for another six to eight months, but you’re dwindling away any cashflow you have been able to save over the years for a rainy day,” he said.
Max Brunner from Skylighter Fireworks in Queensland said another issue facing providers was storing the stockpiles of unused fireworks in remote sites.
“We have over $1 million of fireworks in stock, we have magazines … full of fireworks collecting dust,” he said.
Mr Brunner said fireworks could last for years and regular safety checks were carried out, but they were worth nothing while sitting in storage.
“We want to use them and get back to creating our displays for people to enjoy,” he said.
Many in the industry remain hopeful there will still be dazzling New Year’s Eve displays.
Mr Brunner said fireworks companies across Australia were working with authorities to create COVID-safe displays in capital cities in time for New Years Eve, now only 13 weeks away.
“There are opportunities around shooting high-altitude fireworks from remote sites, so whether it’s on barges out to sea or whether it’s on city rooftops, mountain tops, lookouts,” he said.
He said entertainers were also looking at having multiple smaller, spread out fireworks shows to avoid mass gatherings in cities.
Televising more displays was another option being considered.
What’s happening in your state?
Earlier this week, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the internationally renowned New Year’s Eve display would also go ahead in Sydney “in one form or another”, despite the pandemic.
Darwin, Adelaide, and Perth have also been planning COVID-safe fireworks displays to see out the year.
Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra and Hobart have said they will mark the end of the year in some way, but were still working with health authorities to discuss whether fireworks were the best option.
“While we love the big annual celebrations, the safety of residents is our top priority,” Brisbane mayor Adrian Schrinner said.
A City of Melbourne spokesperson said the next few weeks would be “critical” in formulating their plans.
“What we do know is we will definitely be marking the end of 2020, as it’s been a big and very challenging year for so many people,” the spokesperson said.
“We wouldn’t do anything that puts our health or emergency services at risk.