Why Fortunato Foti’s New Year’s Eve truly goes off with a bang.
What are your plans for New Year’s Eve? A party? Maybe a picnic at the beach? Well, I can tell you where I’ll be, but you might not believe me. Come midnight, I’ll be sitting atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge, watching the fireworks sparkle right above me. There’s no denying it: I’ve got the best seat in the house.
You could say it’s an unconventional job, but it’s all I’ve ever known. My family has been in the fireworks game since 1793. Following in their footsteps was never expected of me – it’s entirely by choice. When you have to give up your weekends and public holidays, you have to love it.
It’s not something that you can learn at university or TAFE, so it’s a skill that has to be passed down. I was fortunate enough to have both my father and grandfather teach me the trade. Brothers, cousins, uncles, nieces and nephews all now make up our team, and our teams across the world; I have maybe 20 cousins still working in the industry in Italy. My three kids – who are 24, 21 and 18 – have helped us for the past few years, but we’ll see if they ever want to do it full-time. We won’t push them.
I haven’t had a New Year’s Eve off for 35 years, so for me it’s just another day at work. Sure, afterwards, while other people are celebrating and popping champagne, I’m cleaning up until 6am, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s at least eight months’ preparation for those 12 minutes at midnight – from designing and manufacturing to choreographing the fireworks with music. The actual day is quite calm. Everything is digital now, so it’s a matter of making sure computer systems run smoothly. We’ve done it so many times that it’s a welloiled machine – and a very safe operation. I don’t wear harnesses on top of the bridge though, so I think my wife breathes a sigh of relief when I come home afterwards. All fingers, all toes.
Throughout the year we do other large-scale events – State of Origin, the ARIAS, Michael Bublé concerts – and we used to do Melbourne’s New Year’s Eve fireworks. For the naysayers out there that reckon it’s a waste of money, it’s important to keep in mind that the fireworks display brings roughly $130 million into the economy every year. So you’re getting back the money that was spent tenfold – plus, can you really put a price on happiness? I don’t think people will ever get sick of fireworks. There’s too much nostalgia attached.
I don’t know what I’d do in another life – I wouldn’t change anything. I love the beauty of the fireworks, and the noise. But my favourite part is right at the end, when the last firework has fizzled out, the smoke is clearing and the crowds are cheering – a whole 1.5 million of them. That’s the moment I know I’ve done my job.
“I haven’t had a New Year’s Eve off for 35 years. For me it’s just another day at work”