30 Sep 2020
The last Olympic Games of the 20th century ended with the world’s biggest farewell party. Around 10,000 athletes, 110,000 spectators and television viewers all over the world were invited to the Australian-style Closing Ceremony of the Games, after which the party went on through the night in the streets of Sydney.
It was one giant party. In the Olympic Stadium and 14km away, in the heart of Sydney, the whole city got together to celebrate the end of the Games. After the usual formal start, the Closing Ceremony quickly turned into a joyous melee of singing, dancing, rock and roll and drag queens!
Earlier on, Organising Committee President Michael Knight referred in his speech to the fact that “with each day of the Games, a magical mood in this city has simply grown stronger”. Words that reflected the huge popular success of the Games of the XXVII Olympiad. So a fitting end was needed.
Patrick was one of the 500 volunteers specially trained for the Closing Ceremony, with the role of “Audience Leader”. In his attractive uniform, his job was to help the spectators use every part of the kit (flashlamp, fly swatter, balloon and paper glasses) that each of them had on their seat. “Tomorrow is a holiday. The day after I’ll start working again. It’ll be tough with one hell of a hangover,” he said. “My mates and I went into town to watch the competitions on the big screens. We had a great time!”
After the Olympic flag had been passed to the Mayor of Athens, host city of the Games in 2004, 13-year-old Nikki Webster sang “We’ll Be One” from the top of the stands on a platform close to where the flame was still burning in the cauldron. An F-111 fighter flew low over the Stadium and the flame was extinguished.
David was working as a policeman in the New South Wales capital. He spent the Games fortnight in charge of security for the Olympic Park at Homebush Bay. “I’d never seen so many people in one place. It was amazing; and there wasn’t the slightest problem. Everyone seemed happy. It was great. I met loads of nice people. People talked about transport problems, but the opposite was true. Nobody used their cars, and I’ve never seen the traffic moving so freely in Sydney!”
Once the flame was out, “Let's Party!” flashed up on the giant screens in the Stadium. Everyone sang along to Midnight Oil’s 1988 hit “Beds are Burning”. Singer Peter Garrett and the other band members wore black outfits emblazoned with the word “Sorry”, to express their view that an official apology should be made for the “stolen generations” of Aboriginal Australians. Garrett went on to become a minister in Kevin Rudd’s government, which issued an official apology in 2008.
The Closing Ceremony of the Sydney Games was in full swing. Behind one of the entrances things were buzzing. Weird and wonderful characters and crazy floats followed each other onto what until just a few hours earlier had still been the athletics track.
It was stage manager Pene Quarry directing this strange ballet, sporting three walkie-talkies and a mobile phone. She was gesticulating, giving orders, and gradually losing her voice. “We spent four months preparing for the Opening Ceremony and just two weeks for the Closing. We didn’t have time to get everyone together for a dress rehearsal!”
The group INXS sang their famous “What You Need”, but the best was still to come. As Kylie Minogue sang Abba’s “Dancing Queen”, a mythical song for Australia, some of the continent’s icons appeared. Golfing star Greg “The Shark” Norman came in – riding a great white shark. Actor Paul Hogan rode a giant Crocodile Dundee hat. And supermodel Elle McPherson was perched on a giant camera. The last to appear was Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, on her silver bus!
Quarry lost first her voice, then her phone. She looked everywhere for it. “I can’t live without it,” she complained. The parade continued with people in silver armour, Bondi Beach surfers and giant blue figures pushing inflatable monsters. And other drag queens.
Gavin was in charge of security for the Olympic Park. His observation post was in the baseball venue, ready to deal with any eventuality. “I had absolutely nothing to do! Everything went perfectly! I could enjoy these fantastic Games to the full!”
The athletes leaving the Stadium walked past where the Ceremony performers were entering and going out. They stopped beside the funniest ones to get their photos taken with them.
Kevin was one of the 47,000 volunteers performing checks at different parts of the Olympic Stadium. He found himself at the place where the athletes got changed after their competitions and bumped into Cathy Freeman. His eyes still light up at the memory. “It was great!”
Quarry never did find her phone. In the arena, the party was in full swing. The drag queens, parading with the Shoe Bike as a tribute to the cult film “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”, were a huge hit. Everyone wanted to be photographed with them. The Ceremony performers really let their hair down. “What an atmosphere! I didn’t think we’d have so much time to dance,” recalls James, one of the giant blue figures.
Leona, a grandmother in her volunteer’s uniform, did her part for the Games. “Fantastic. The Opening Ceremony was a lot more formal! You’ve all been marvellous! Come back and see us again!”
The Games in Sydney were a great success, and ended in this blaze of euphoria. One last song, probably the most famous in Australian culture, “Waltzing Matilda”, was played on the acoustic guitar by Slim Dusty and sung by the whole Stadium, and then a giant fireworks display ended the festivities.
The display travelled 14km from Homebush Bay to Sydney Harbour Bridge for the grand finale. The Olympic rings on the bridge lit up, and then went out. What seemed like millions of people headed into the city centre to continue the party late into the night. “Bye bye Sydney 2000, Welcome to Athens 2004”. Meanwhile, Pene Quarry was still looking for her phone.