Fireworks crew basks in glow of the job

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Blast off: Rusty Johnston with his wares at the Hastings warehouse. Picture: Yanni

Blast off: Rusty Johnston with his wares at the Hastings warehouse. Picture: Yanni

A NAME synonymous with spectacular fireworks displays all over the world has its Victorian base at Balnarring.

Howard & Sons Pyrotechnics – one of the country’s best-known fireworks artists and producers – is run locally by master pyro-technician Rusty Johnson.

The designer and programmer uses advanced digital pyrotechnic and musical software to bring his vivid imagination to life.

“Our state-of-the-art computer firing system and design software enables our performances to be choreographed with music and all multimedia. As well, the use of special computer firing hardware allows fireworks to be fired from an unlimited number of locations to produce the ultimate extravaganza,” he said.

Starting with the Sydney-based firm about 20 years ago, Mr Johnson each year oversees about 100 displays in Victoria and Tasmania.

Major events have included the Sydney Olympics and Melbourne Commonwealth Games, as well as a host of New Year’s Eve fireworks displays, Sydney’s Easter Show, Moomba, Mornington’s Australia Day carnival and the Balnarring festival.

“We are able to feature a city’s landmarks – such as waterways, buildings, bridges and architecture – to capture the audience in a pyrotechnic spell, taking them on a magical journey,” he said.

Examples include extravagant displays featuring the Sydney Harbour and Westgate bridges.

The company not only displays but makes most of its own pyrotechnics.

Success at international events includes last month’s win in one of the biggest fireworks competitions in the world – the Da Nang International in Vietnam.

Howard’s 21-minute display out-classed those of competitors from South Africa, United States, Poland and the host country, with fireworks lighting up the skies over the Han River.

Their ‘Colourful Serpent Symphony’ theme is said to have thrilled spectators with its dazzling fireworks display.

“The team’s performance clearly showed off their long experience of designing and manufacturing fireworks, and producing perfectly choreographed shows, along with the applications of an integrated firing system,” the organisers said.

“After gaining third place in 2009 it was very pleasing to come home with the gold this year,” Mr Johnson said.

His staff includes two full time pyro-technicians and up to 17 contractors – mostly local – who work with the event management and production teams to ensure every phase of a project results in the best pyrotechnic performance from concept to realisation.

“We are a close knit team,” he said.

The Balnarring resident is married to Jennii and they have two children Maddix, 11, and Nyssa, 5. He enjoys fishing on his boat Secret Men’s Business in Western Port, sampling local fine food and wine and has a passion for red Italian motorbikes.

The fourth generation firm of Howard & Sons began with Sydney Howard, great-grandfather of the current NSW-based owners, who set up the family business in 1922. Impetus in the early days came from fireworks displays at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, and the bi-centenary celebrations of Captain Cook landing in Australia.

Things did not always go to plan as the sale of fireworks was banned in Australia in the late 1970s and the company, which had depended on retail and wholesale sales of fireworks, began a new focus as a display-only team.

This side of the business, quite literally, has gone off with a very big bang.

First published in the Western Port News – 19 May 2015

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