Having just staged our 40th anniversary Festival this year, we thought it was about time to get a little nostalgic by delving into the archives and sharing some of the memories of times gone by with our brand new “A Moment in Time” blog series.

Let’s begin with the first few years – the late 1970s – back when we were known as The Festival of Sydney.

The first Festival took place in 1977 with a lineup that spanned over 180 events across art, craft, film, sport, music, theatre, dance, opera and circus. It kicked with a New Year’s Eve party at the Sydney Opera House and peaked around the Australia Day weekend when 40 events were packed into the CBD area.

The Festival brought new experiences to Sydneysiders and visitors, including Sydney’s first International Children’s Film Festival, the Qantastic Sydney Jazz Festival and the Festival of Folklife.


Taking some time out at Festival of Sydney, 1977


Watermelon-eating at Haymarket, 1977


Street performances in the CBD, 1977

Art workshops, 1977

Art workshops, 1977

The Sydney Opera House forecourt on New Year's Eve

The Sydney Opera House forecourt on New Year’s Eve, 1976/77

After the success of the inaugural year, the Festival of Sydney returned in 1978, kicking off on New Year’s Eve once again, with almost 200,000 people attending the Sydney Opera House celebrations.
Not only were horse racing, yacht racing, cricket and cars brought into the Festival of Sydney fold, but the cornerstones of the modern-day Sydney Festival also featured heavily – theatre, music and free outdoor entertainment.

New Year's Eve, 1977/78

New Year’s Eve, 1977/78

In 1979, the Festival continued going from strength to strength with another New Year’s Eve celebration featuring memorable performances from Sherbert, John Paul Young and Johnny Farnham. The program also celebrated poetry with an array of events at Pitt Street Uniting Church and music in all forms played Festival-wide, including the AGL Festival of Folk and Caltex Jazz Festival. Not to mention Russian opera came to Australia with the stars of the Bolshoi Opera, and international puppetry with Fukien Puppet Group from China and Puk Puppet Theatre from Japan.


New Year’s Eve crowds, 1979


Performances at Festival of Sydney, 1979


Harbourside action, 1979

Stay tuned for the next edition of our “A moment in time” series, as we give a nod to the vast and varied history of Sydney Festival, a few years at a time.

In the meantime, we’d love you to share your favourite memories of past Sydney Festivals in the comments section. If you’re keen to learn more about the Sydney Festivals of the past 40 years, check out all the programs, additional photos, videos and summaries in our official Sydney Festival archive.