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Sydney New Year’s Eve 2015: Welcome to Country ceremony to be seen around the world

An artist’s impression of how the New Year’s Eve display on the Harbour Bridge will look. Photo: Supplied Crowds gather at the Opera House on Thursday for a ringside view. Photo: Steven Siewert

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For the first time, Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks will be ushered in with a vast and proud Aboriginal Welcome to Country ceremony, putting local Gadigal, Wangal and Gamaragal traditions front and centre in global new year celebrations.

Hours before the start of the city’s $7 million party to ring in 2016, lord mayor Clover Moore revealed closely guarded plans to turn the Sydney Harbour Bridge into a giant canvas, using new technologies to present the world’s oldest dance form in honour of Australia’s First Nations culture, land and peoples.

Fireworks and special effects, including a red “waterfall” from the bridge base, will turn the structure built in 1932 into a giant Aboriginal flag shortly after the sun sets for the last time in 2015.

“It’s about how we’re all so affected by the harbour and its surrounds, how special it is to all of us and how it moves us,” said the Welcome to Country’s creative director, Rhoda Roberts.

From 8:40pm, the bridge will be turned into a canvas showing the Welcome to Country ceremony. Fireworks and special effects will also turn the bridge into a giant Aboriginal flag before the 9pm fireworks display.

Nothing on this scale has been done to honour Sydney’s Aboriginal history on New Year’s Eve before, with Thursday night’s event set to eclipse last year’s smaller, more intimate ceremony many times over.

More than a million spectators – some of whom have been camping since Tuesday to save a waterfront spot – will watch the display.

“I think now is the right time. If we had introduced it earlier, people might not have got what it was,” Ms Roberts said of the traditional dance’s inclusion in the event, which is expected to be viewed by a billion people around the world.

She praised the City of Sydney’s progressive approach to Aboriginal inclusion and has built regional and national Aboriginal elements into the show.

Fortunato Foti, whose family-run business, Foti Fireworks, has been preparing for the evening for eight months, said the extra 2400 fireworks needed for the Welcome to Country had presented new challenges for his team, which has been installing pyrotechnics on the bridge for two weeks.

Robert Bentley-Johnston, lead pyrotechnician at Foti’s Sydney Opera House site, was on Thursday afternoon making last-minute checks in his unusual workplace.

“It’s exciting. It’s rare to be able to hear and feel a million people cheering and celebrating together, especially in an arena as spectacular as the Sydney Harbour.”

Security continues to be a major concern for organisers, with heightened police presence planned in the wake of international terror attacks.

“We are a multicultural community, we live in harmony and this is something we need to celebrate,” the lord mayor assured Sydneysiders.

“Every measure has been taken to make sure it is a safe occasion.”

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