The hardest TV hosting gig of 2019 fell to Charlie Pickering, with the waterside fireworks festival happening at a time when the nation was on fire with thousands of people huddling by the water. It was a bastard of a job, but he managed it with aplomb.
A video celebrating Indigenous history said this: “We gather together on the harbour to feast, to celebrate abundance, to laugh, think, and play. This is our New Year’s Eve.”
Pickering was obliged to offer the modern counter: “Before we start the celebrations we want to acknowledge for too many Australians 2019 has been a year of disasters. Today has been particularly tough. So we’re here tonight not just to celebrate the new year but to celebrate the resilience of the Australian people, in the way our community comes together in times like these.”
To that end, the ABC’s broadcast became a partnership with the Red Cross – an all-night telethon for fire and other disaster victims.
The entertainment was not a lot different to recent years – after some shaky experiments, the ABC show has become a mostly foolproof jukebox. There was something for everyone, and the something for everyone was almost entirely good. Russell Morris brought The Real Thing. Casey Donovan brought her showstopping vocal chops to Cher and Adele – and if you can’t have the originals, there is much to said for having Casey.
The Bull sisters, Vika and Linda, sang the national anthem – Fernando– to popular hands-in-the-air acclaim.
In between the music, hosts Pickering and Zan Rowe deftly navigated the tone of the night. There were no screaming folk in the backdrop, or drunks – hosts or guests – toddling overboard into the harbour.
Production and performance was in keeping with the occasion, and the occasion was unavoidably difficult.
Pickering put it well early on.
“The ABC has a number of jobs and sometimes they have to do them all at once,” he said, and he was right.
He was clear about telling viewers who needed the rest of the ABC’s services – for news and bushfire information – how to find them.
An impolite host might have told the government how to fund them.
But the night was kept mostly politics free – apart from Tex Perkins, who came armed with a song, and a finger.
“This one’s for the Prime Minister – it’s called The Honeymoon Is Over.”
Perkins launched into the song with a finger aimed directly across the harbour at Kirribilli, whose occupant by chance was not on holidays. The good news for all: the combined fireworks broadcast and telethon raised the best part of a $1 million. That surely made the big bang worth the while.