ABC delivers a largely controversy-free New Year’s Eve broadcast

It was, as ABC co-host Charlie Pickering said at the kick-off of the New Year’s Eve broadcast, almost normal.

“After a few rough years, life is now as normal as it can be,” he noted, and that’s how we describe pretty much everything in these sort-of-but-not-quite post-pandemic times. And nowhere was the feeling of almost-normal more welcome than in the annual December 31 knees-up that was delivered from Sydney Harbour by the ABC for the 10th year since it took over the broadcast from Channel Nine.

After the disaster of that first year — a TV train wreck that wound up being sternly discussed in federal parliament – the ABC show has settled into a largely controversy-free telecast that has to tap-dance its way across one of the toughest broadcasts on the TV calendar.

How to be everything to all people, from the kiddies early on, through to their probably inebriated elders later in the night? To that end, the 2022 passage to 2023 ticked all the boxes, and ticked them well. Wisely they got the reflective part of proceedings over early in the form of tributes to those performers we lost last year: Olivia Newton-John (Dami Im, Hopelessly Devoted To You); Judith Durham (Vika and Linda, George Girl); and Archie Roach (Vika and Linda, with Casey Donovan, I’m On Your Side.)

It has become accepted that Donovan will now be a part of every vaguely official national occasion, from Carols By Candlelight to the New Year shindig – and for that we can all be grateful.

“The queen of every stage,” proclaimed co-host Zan Rowe. “It’s the law that she has to be here.”

And a good law it is. Donovan arrives with bells on for every performance, and on Saturday night she managed to out-Lizzo Lizzo, with her cover of the American superstar’s smash About Damn Time. Then she raised the roof with her own new single, Shake It.

The ABC’S New Year house band was, as ever, one of the tightest outfits in the business, and hosting duties were carried off with typical aplomb by Pickering, a human pavlova glistening in white, and Rowe, a vision as a raspberry bonbon with wings.

They were joined by Jeremy Fernandez, resplendent in a blue ensemble so vivid he doubled as a navigation light for drunken skippers on the harbour. Fernandez girded the nation’s loins for Sydney WorldPride coming up in February, aided by a taped cameo from Kylie Minogue. Courtney Act summoned the pride mood with Over The Rainbow and ONJ’s Xanadu, with the bridge lit up appropriately as a backdrop, before romping through the Divinyls’ I Touch Myself and AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long.

Other musical highlights included country star Morgan Evans, who beamed his way through two of his own songs plus a rollicking cover of Don’t Stop, a tribute to the late Christine McVie. Ball Park Music and Electric Fields also owned the stage late in the night with a jubilant run of iconic dance tunes.

Then Donovan and the rest of the night’s performers delivered a roaring rendition of This Is Me, before handing over the countdown to the big bang at midnight to Tones and I. She, as always, smashed it out of the park with a five-song set.

Post fireworks, the wonderful crew from Pub Choir ended proceedings with Auld Lang Syne. Almost normal? It was even better than that, and about time too.

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