1 Nov 2020

Is Guy Fawkes night fizzling out in New Zealand?

7:49 am on 1 November 2020

Palmerston North is the only city having a free public fireworks display on Guy Fawkes night, 5 November, this year, with many other locations dropping them all together, or holding paid events on other days during November.

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Photo: 123rf.com

Christchurch is the latest major centre to decide it will no longer hold a fireworks display to commemorate Guy Fawkes Day. For the last 23 years Christchurch City Council has put on a public display either on Guy Fawkes Day, or in recent years on the weekend day closest to 5 November.

Auckland Council does not put on a Guy Fawkes fireworks display, and in 2017 Wellington dropped its Guy Fawkes fireworks display in favour of Matariki.

Fireworks displays from the Sky Tower.

Aucklanders' best hope of seeing a big fireworks display is on New Year's Eve. Photo: 123rf / Rafael Ben-Ari/Chameleons Eye

The Christchurch City Council's manager of events and arts, Tanya Cokojic, says the council was planning this year's November fireworks display when the Covid-19 lockdown was underway, and, after consulting with the public, a decision was made to instead hold the fireworks event in July as a celebration of Matariki.

Cokojic said she feels Guy Fawkes is becoming increasingly irrelevant in New Zealand.

"New Zealand is now more primed to celebrate our own culture and have something that is unique to us. A lot of those large scale fireworks events are moving away from 5 November and they are moving away from being referred to as Guy Fawkes and I think that identifies that we want something that belongs to us, and is unique to us and our culture."

She said private use of fireworks on and around Guy Fawkes is a concern, but she is calling on people to follow Fire and Emergency's safety advice.

Fireworks light up the Capital.

Wellington's fireworks display is now saved until Matariki. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Fire and Emergency New Zealand's national advisor fire risk management Todd O'Donoghue says his organisation would prefer people attend public events rather than put on their own fireworks display.

"Basically they are a safer way to see fireworks and you get better value for money for what you see. Sadly there has never been enough public displays to go around across the country, they have always tended to been patchy in some places and we are seeing a move from some councils to move their community funded public displays to other times of the year."

He said with free major council public displays decreasing people may need to look further afield.

He said for instance Christchurch people could head out to Motukarara on 7 November.

Palmerston North is one spot where there will be a free fireworks display on Guy Fawkes day.

Ian Roberts has been the co-ordinator of the Kairanga Lions Club's fireworks displays for the last 30 years, and for the last five years they have put on a fireworks display for the Palmerston North for the city council.

He said based on previous turnouts there is certainly still interest in public firework displays.

"We've got no way of counting the numbers, but the streets are blocked for about two hours after and we need traffic management plan to manage the congestion indicates a lot of people are coming to see it."

This year the council has reduced the funding for the event from $20,000 to $15,000, and the Kairanga Lions Club is attempting to meet the shortfall with a Givealittle page.

Roberts said safety is their number one priority, and it was obvious that public events are safer than holding multiple private events in people's backyards.

He describes himself as a fireworks fanatic but said he's not committed to keeping November as New Zealand's fireworks time of year, and would be quite happy with organising a fireworks display for Matariki instead.

"There's no logic really in having a celebration to commemorate a guy who tried to blow up the British parliament in the umpteenth century."

O'Donoghue has some advice for those determined to put on their own fireworks display.

His advice is to read the instructions with a torch before lighting the fireworks, keep unlit fireworks in the original packaging until ready to light them, and that adults light them in a clear open area away from anything that can catch fire.

He also recommends wetting the area down with a hose beforehand, and keeping a hose or a bucket of water handy.

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