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March 8, 2023

Sparks fly over New Year’s Eve fireworks returning to Elder Park

Last night all Adelaide City Council members present except one supported taking the first step to bring back free fireworks as an unfenced, un-ticketed, New Year's Eve party on the riverbank.

  • Words: Angela Skujins
  • Main image: Ringing in the New Year at Karrawirra Parri River Torrens

The Adelaide City Council overwhelmingly supported a bid to bring the New Year’s Eve party back to Elder Park this year and to allocate $400,000 from the 2023-24 Business Plan and Budget for its delivery.

The locational throwback, spearheaded by Deputy Lord Mayor Phillip Martin, will require the administration to present plans to revive the former celebrations, which for decades catered for approximately 80,000 people on the banks of Karrawirra Parri River Torrens.

COVID-19 scuppered the public event in 2020, with city celebrations modified — some being ticketed — from 2021.

Last year, under the new framework, fireworks attracted 14,000 people at East End’s Rymill Park. The city also hosted street activations and garnered 92 per cent overall satisfaction with the event, according to data provided in a council report.

The recommendation, supported by almost all of the Adelaide city councillors, will be brought back into the chamber next week for formal approval.

If supported, the administration will present its findings at the next City Community Services and Culture Committee in April.

All but one councillor present — north ward elected member Mary Couros — supported the first step, with area councillor Arman Abrahimzadeh absent from the meeting.

Councillor Mary Couros. This picture: Tony Lewis


Couros’ criticisms, echoed this morning on radio, surrounded the lack of economic uplift in the city if the event returns to the riverbank.

“Having it at Elder Park — yes, it did attract a very large group of people, but they came and they left,” the North Adelaide business owner said last night.

“And if you went through the businesses during that time, there was no one in the restaurants. There was no one there; there was no one in [the] bars.

“If you take it to Elder Park, yes you do a free concert where you can have more people, but it doesn’t bring anything economically to the city.”

Couros said that while the City of Adelaide must “serve the community” the organisation must also not forget that “75 per cent of our rates come from the commercial sector”.

The councillor told CityMag she was looking to introduce an amendment next week, asking for the administration to investigate delivering a free New Year’s Eve community event — irrespective of location — and “Midnight Moment” street party activations, which would cater for both businesses and residential needs.

Last year these “pocket parties”, as she refers to them, occurred in the East End, Peel Street, Jerningham Street, Eleven restaurant off Waymouth, and Sparkke at the Whitmore.

“I actually would like to create a balance,” she said.

Martin tweaked his motion to accommodate growing discourse in the chamber surrounding the economic impact of the party returning to the riverbank format.

It was held not to stimulate drinking in pubs or dining in restaurants but a gift of the City of Adelaide to the people of Adelaide in South Australia
—Phillip Martin

Deputy Lord Mayor Phillip Martin. This picture: Tony Lewis


The motion also asks the administration to “invite AEDA (Adelaide Economic Development Agency) to investigate alternative events to stimulate business activity in the East End, North Adelaide, the South East and South West precincts”.

This was supported by everyone except Couros. She later told CityMag this was because it was not “very clear”.

Martin said the free New Year’s Eve event was a “gift” to the city and should return to its decades-old format.

“In 2018, [the] council last hosted a Lord Mayor’s New Year’s Eve party — or maybe it was 2019 — on the banks of Torrens and there were 80,000 people in attendance, and easily a considerable number of maybe 10,000 others and other vantage points around the city, who are watching the event,” he said.

“It was held not to stimulate drinking in pubs or dining in restaurants but a gift of the City of Adelaide to the people of Adelaide in South Australia, to welcome in the New Year.

“There were no tickets, no fences, we had minimum security, but security nonetheless, to ensure that there was nothing antisocial happening, we had cooperation from the police.”

CEO Clare Mockler said the most recent New Year’s Eve party cost the council $370,000.

Replicating another New Year’s Eve party based on the most recent structure — which includes the Murlawirrapurka Rymill Park fireworks, Midnight Moments street activations and a $200,00 drone show — is budgeted to cost $531,000, the administration states in its report.

Councillor Henry Davis. This picture: Tony Lewis


South ward councillor Henry Davis was in support of returning the event to the riverbank, saying he celebrated the New Year at Rymill Park but had his view of the fireworks obstructed by a “giant gumtree”.

“I couldn’t see any of it,” he said.


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South ward councillor Keiran Snape also wanted to bring the “more equitable” and free event back to Elder Park as it is more “accessible” and “centralised”.

Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith said she was in support of both Couros and Martin’s intentions, and wanted to provide an economic benefit to the city’s businesses and a positive community event.

“It’s AEDA’s job to surely support business activities,” she said.

“And it’s surely our (the council’s) responsibility to have fireworks… and picnics.”

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