Family-friendly pyrotechnics ... Fortunato Foti, far right, overlooks the waterfall fireworks being installed on the lower gantry of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo: Wolter Peeters
NEW YEAR'S EVE in Sydney is old news by the time midnight rolls around. While more than 1 million people still brave the sweaty harbour crowds steeped in alcohol to glimpse the 12 o'clock pyrotechnics, many will already be in bed, teeth brushed, when the clock ticks over into 2013.
The countdown to 9pm is increasingly the one that counts, particularly in Sydney's suburbs.
From Manly to the Blue Mountains, in Coogee, Dee Why, Liverpool, Rockdale and Parramatta, the new year is celebrated three hours early - and midnight fireworks have been dispensed with.
At the Wentworth Falls Country Club, host to a free community fireworks display for the past five years, about 6000 people spread their picnic rugs on the fairway on New Year's Eve. By midnight, there are barely 100 revellers left, the club's general manager, Matt Lark, said.
''The majority of our club membership are over-55s,'' he said. ''[The fireworks are] aimed at the family market. It's a bit of a trip to go down to the city.''
Veteran pyrotechnician Andrew Howard, who remembers working with his father Sid before over-the-counter sales of fireworks were banned in NSW in 1987, said there had been a shift to family-friendly shows Australia wide.
''Most people, come 20 past midnight, have had enough,'' the director of Howard and Sons Pyrotechnics said. ''We're becoming a bit more of a granny society in relation to crowd management and traffic management. It's a commonsense approach.''
Mr Howard said about 60 per cent of the company's end-of-year fireworks displays would occur well before midnight. ''I think it's just about … trying not to put something on which is going to attract drunken hoodlums,'' he said.
At Pittwater on Sydney's northern beaches, the 9pm fireworks over the water at Bayview is in its second year. ''Due to popular demand we looked at introducing a 9pm service,'' said a spokeswoman for a sponsor, the Royal Motor Yacht Club.
In greater Sydney, few regions will host midnight fireworks, leaving the young and the restless to brave the harbourside throngs or, like the rest of the world, watch it on the telly.