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Sun Festival

The Sun Festival began its life in October 1982 as a simple proposal to Wellington City Council (WCC), Parks and Recreation Dept, for a fireworks display on the harbour to celebrate the beginning of summer.

As a 20 something, 10 years earlier, a group of flatmates and I had organised large multi-media parties for our friends. Having experienced a few spectacular festivals overseas, I had now become interested in how we in New Zealand might celebrate on a large scale.

Fireworks and lasers had always been of interest and on my travels I had visited some of the top fireworks and laser companies in Sydney, Paris and New York. A fireworks show, it had to be.

The City Council received the idea enthusiastically and adopted it as the opening for the 1983/84 Summer City programme. The Queen Elizabeth Arts Council provided a grant of $2000 towards the project.

A small pre-production team set about planning the event which rapidly evolved from a simple fireworks display into a large scale theatrical spectacle celebrating the sun, requiring the participation of many sections of the community.

We chose the Sun, and more specifically its light, as something we all could celebrate together as we wanted the event to include and involve all members of our community.

In order to give a narrative structure to the event we wrote a legend about the origins of our Sun and Moon. With a "script" and initial planning complete, we were ready to go into production.

We set up our production base, storage base and workshop in Wellington Harbour Board's Murray Roberts Woolstore on Waterloo Quay. (It has since been demolished). With 6 months to go, a crew of about 18 full and part timers, employed by the WCC under the PEP scheme, were gathered to bring the event to life. They included writers, teachers, musicians, artists, inventors, actors and designers and more.

Music for various aspects of the spectacle, including 8 "hymns", was composed by Jenny McLeod.

Fireworks were still a significant part and were interwoven into the "script" and the music score.

Primary, intermediate and secondary schools were invited to be involved in various ways. The primary schools designed and made school banners to decorate Oriental Bay. Secondary schools designed and painted the footpath around Oriental Bay while intermediate school children learnt the songs written for the event and took part in the procession on the night.

7 large banners were made to mark out gathering places around Oriental Bay.

Specialised equipment and instruments were created to enhance the telling of the story on a grand scale.

Large floating towers made of bamboo, to represent the 7 Stars in the legend, were designed and built. Fireworks were integrated into these structures.

Numerous community organisations, ethnic groups and individuals became involved in various ways. For instance an ethnic food market along Oriental Parade provided meals to the audience as they arrived to the event. We promoted the festival with 7 "Sun Gods" who visited schools and randomly appeared at various events and venues around Wellington.

The scheduled date for the festival was 10th December, but due to a storm we postponed to the following Saturday, 17th December. Blessed with a beautiful day we were now ready to celebrate our Sun by re-enacting "...the great meeting of the 7 stars... "

General note:
I would like to set up a website dedicated to the Sun Festival in order to make the 2000 images of the Festival accessible to all those who were involved. This site will give the opportunity for a detailed description of the event, acknowledging and allowing for the input of all who were involved. It has been over 25 years since the Festival. I have forgotten much and many of my recollections are inaccurate. Together we could make a more accurate record of the festival. If interested in helping with the website, please contact me.