Musicians, dancers and military performers from across Australasia have wowed audiences in the biggest ever staging of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, held in Sydney from Thursday-Saturday, 17-19 October 2019.
Set before a full-sized replica of Scotland’s Edinburgh Castle, the Australian show boasted a record cast of over 1500 in a three-hour spectacle of military pageantry, music, dance and fireworks.
This production, titled At All Points of the Compass, was built upon the traditional Tattoo mainstays of massed military bands, bagpipes and drums, highland dancers and fiddlers. Added to that, though, was an unmistakable Australian flavour that shared the spotlight with the country’s regional neighbours, touching North, South, East and West.
Producer and Chief Executive Officer, Brigadier (Retired) David Allfrey, MBE, said the Tattoo demonstrated the close connection shared by participating nations.
“This show is particularly special in that it celebrates Australia and its relationships with neighbours in all directions,” Brigadier Allfrey said. “That includes friendships well established in the past, growing in the present and to be developed in the future.”
All-up 13 nations took part, including contingents from Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. From the Kingdom of Tonga came 50 performers and support staff of His Majesty’s Armed Forces Royal Corps of Music.
Sergeant Saula Ngaumo was one of the Tongan band members. Speaking ahead of the first performance he said the Tattoo was shaping up to be a great experience.
“We are grateful to be representing our country and His Majesty’s Armed Forces here in Sydney,” Sergeant Ngaumo said.
“Tonga has been in the Edinburgh Military Tattoo previously, and we are looking forward to doing our job here.
“It’s fantastic. The people are friendly, and from the first time we arrived here the Australians have treated us warmly and taken care of us,” he said.
Lance Corporal Iketan Sione was very struck by scale of the production.
“They’ve really impressed me. I feel very proud to represent our kingdom,” Lance Corporal Sione said.
“Our kingdom may be tiny, but in our hearts we have something special to show the audience,” he said.
The seven South-West Pacific contingents were supported by a significant Australian Defence Force (ADF) logistics effort, codenamed Operation Tartan Oceania 19. Five Royal Australian Air Force transport planes flew across the region to collect 286 performers and support staff along with their instruments, cultural items and costumes. The ADF also assisted bands and artists with ground transport while they were in Australia, before flying them back home to afterwards.
Australian Army Brigadier Phil Winter was Director-General of the ADF’s Tattoo involvement. Brigadier Winter was on hand to welcome all the South-West Pacific participants to Australia when they landed at RAAF Base Richmond on 12 October. His thoughts turned to the impact the Tattoo experience would have on their lives.
“It’s been particularly poignant for us to see our Pacific friends so happily embrace the Tattoo,” Brigadier Winter said.
“For example, the Solomon Islands group – most of whom rarely leave their village in the northern region of Malaita Province – were transported to the airfield on the back of a flat-bed truck, then seated in a military aircraft and flown five and half hours away to Australia.
“Four days later, after just a few rehearsals, they performed their cultural dances and music live before tens of thousands of people, and were filmed for a worldwide television audience estimated to be 100 million,” he said.
The 2019 Sydney Tattoo drew an audience of over 180,000 people across four performances at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium (home of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games). In 2020 the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo will celebrate its platinum jubilee, marking 70 years of spectacle and entertainment.