Vivid’s crowd control

The crowding last night at Circular Quay for the Vivid Festival for the 9pm drone show has attracted some attention (9 News,, someone on Reddit with the same Cahill Expressway vantage point as someone at The Age). Some people mention the Seoul Halloween crush, also at night, also on a festive occasion, in comment threads.

I was there, not for the drone show but trying to get out after a Vivid harbour cruise that finished at 8, which meant walking upstream to Wynyard against the flow of people trying to get to Circular Quay for the show, in a group of seven adults and six children all under 10. It’s the second time in my life I’ve worried about being hurt in a crowd crush.

The first time was also at Circular Quay, it was the closing night of the 2000 Olympics and fireworks were scheduled. We knew to get there early for 10pm fireworks and so sat grumpily on the footpath in the sun with others, including families, from the afternoon onwards. And it filled, and it filled, and after a while there was no sitting room, and after a while children were crying and crying, and after a while the crowd swayed back and forth in waves while people shouted “stop pushing, stop pushing”, and after a while people having panic attacks were being crowd-surfed backwards to paramedics who couldn’t get into the crowd.

There’s good coverage of crowd crushes in this 2015 article, Hajj crush: how crowd disasters happen, and how they can be avoided:

It was sunny and there wasn’t really a plan, other than to wander the streets and enjoy ourselves. Towards the end of the day, we came to a crossroads flooded with thousands of people[…] A few police were stationed behind crash barriers at the side shouting helpful things like, “Keep moving, please!” At one point I remember asking one of them how much longer this would last, only to be yelled at angrily[…] The idea that I was in danger seemed silly, and indeed some people were laughing. We were outside. There was no urgency. How could anybody die from lack of space beneath this empty sky?

Crowd crushes are often created a long way away from the disaster, by people who can still move relatively freely and are trying to get somewhere, or even being yelled at to keep moving keep moving. They aren’t aware that somewhere ahead where they can’t see, they’re pressing people into each other, or into a dead end, and if they become aware they can’t stop because of the crowd behind them.

If there had been a crowd crush last night, it might have been created by our group, trying to walk south on George St against the crowds moving north and trying to stay together despite the best efforts of children who are small enough to dart clusters of adults, or it might have been created by the sheer volume of people flowing flowing flowing out of Wynyard and heading north even when Circular Quay was already swaying body-to-body. Past a point, crowd control at events like Vivid is specialized and can be counter-intuitive (for example, you can place strategic barriers to achieve certain effects on the crowd’s movement). But there were several basics that really would have helped:

  • Information for the crowds beyond “check social media” as the organisers are telling the public to do today ahead of the second drone show. Social media isn’t an emergency communications channel; both Twitter and Facebook are actively hostile to logged out site visitors. No one is going to create a Twitter account to find out how whether Wynyard is open. There needs to be easy to find up-to-date safety updates on Vivid’s own website, on the Transport NSW website, on the City of Sydney’s website, at the train stations, and on crowd control signs in the actual area.
  • Some (sign-posted! discoverable!) side streets or paths held aside for people trying to go upstream. There were many people who were trying to leave either because they saw the lights earlier or because the crowd was too much for them. In particular, there were loads of prams with infants last night, that’s not going to go well for anyone if the density reaches the swaying phase. Give people a safe way to get out while there’s still the possibility.

First dawn

October 2021

The 11th was the date when NSW stopped having a 5km travel limit, so I left home before sunrise and drove to The Gap to watch the first far-from-home dawn.

Of course, it was damp and cloudy and dark, no dawn to be seen. There’s more variety in the transforms on the photos than I usually do, because the light was so average.

It was great.

Gap bluff Pool at the foot of Gap Bluff Watsons Bay on a rainy dawn day, first day out of lockdown Stairs up to Gap lookout Gap Bluff and North Head

First Sydney lockdown

March & April 2020

I was looking through my phone photo detritus from the time of the original closures (which were not as strict as the July to October 2021 ones, during which I mostly stuck to photographing sunsets rather than sign-of-the-times images).

Early on, this kind of sign was unusual enough that I photographed it especially:

Adore Pharmacy Rozelle entry warning, March 2020

I never figured out if the placement of a hand hygiene sign next to a cheap will preparation sign was deliberate, and if so, intended to be funny, shocking, or just attention-getting:

Hand sanitising warning, April 2020

Speaking of bleak, we played one game of Pandemic but it got awfully real with outbreaks in East Asia and Russia:

Playing Pandemic in lockdown Playing Pandemic in lockdown

Our local Flight Centre was lookng forward to welcoming us back for several months. It closed permanently nearly a year ago now:

Flight Centre Rozelle during lockdown: it never re-opened

I’ve never been to a ANZAC Day dawn ceremony in my life, but I did happen to be awake at dawn, so went and stood in my yard as was the style at the time.

Private dawn ceremony, Anzac Day Anzac Day 2020: no gatherings, just signs

Someone somewhere was audibly playing The Last Post.

"Smile" chalk drawing, lockdown chalk art

All photos.

Milk Beach, last days

July/August 2021

Starting 5pm Friday July 9, we could only travel within 10km of your home for exercise/recreation in Sydney. I’m not generally a fan of bright-siding these restrictions (“my workaholic husband has ditched the corporate rat race, any chance we could stick with widespread house arrest, it’s been just great for his blood pressure?”) but it does inspire a certain amount of scouring one’s vicinity for places to be. The ocean beaches are all slightly more than 10km as the crow flies from me, but some of the harbour beaches such as Milk Beach remained accessible.

I walked with a friend there during daytime and after that decided that a family excursion at sunset was called for:

Sydney city, late afternoon, from Milk Beach Last light off Sydney City, from Milk Beach Sydney City silhouette after sunset, from Milk Beach

The other reason to frantically find family excursions, as I told my family gloomily, was in case the rules got stricter, which indeed they did, a 5km radius from August 16. So the evening of August 15 we traipsed out once more to farewell Milk Beach for the time being, not, seemingly, the only ones:

Watching the sunset at Milk Beach Last light, Milk Beach

All photos.