In Canberra, balloons rising with hope

Photo taken on March 7, 2021 shows hot air balloons in the sky during the Balloon Spectacular in Canberra, Australia. The annual Balloon Spectacular, as one of the signature events in Canberra, is held between last Saturday and the coming Sunday. (Photo: Xinhua)
  • Xinhua
  • March 12, 2021 6:38 AM

CANBERRA-- It was still dark in the morning when people gathered by the National Library of Australia (NLA) in Canberra, waiting in the sound of gas burners for the hot-air balloons to take off.

One after another, colorful balloons rose up to the sky. People clapped and took photos, while the sun came out. A new day began.

The annual Balloon Spectacular, as one of the signature events in Canberra, is held between last Saturday and the coming Sunday. "It's exciting to be able to be one of the first major events taking place in Canberra during this period of time," said

Vickii Cotter, executive producer of the Enlighten Festival, of which the Balloon Spectacular is a part.

Due to concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some changes for the event this year.

The take-off site of balloons was moved from in front of the Old Parliament House to the lawn beside the NLA, and was fenced-off. The number of audiences to the site was limited to 2,000 a day. They must register beforehand, and check in through an app.

"And there are many vantage points around Canberra where people can still see the balloons taking off," said Cotter.

She told Xinhua that there were about 22 balloons this year.

"But they don't all fly," she said. "We have around 12 to 15 balloons flying each day, so that we have a smaller size with restricted capacity."

John Wallington, flight director of Canberra Balloon Spectacular, said that limited space this year is a test for pilots. "It means a bit more pilot skill, and care is required in getting the balloons off the ground," he said.

He noted that it increased a spectacle for the public. "Because the color is much more contained and concentrated," he added.

Due to border restrictions, international pilots were not able to come this year.

"But we do have a special shape balloon Allycorn, a wonderful bright pink unicorn-stylized balloon that's been sent in from America. And we're using a local pilot to fly it," said Wallington.

The pilot, Craig Farrell from Take Off Pty Ltd., believed that the balloon was quite international.

The basket of the balloon was from a Chinese pilot Chen Changling who had been to the Balloon Spectacular several times, and was unable to make it this year. "So the Chinese basket and burners will be flying the unicorn from New York in Australia. And the unicorn was made in Brazil," said Farrell with a beam.

He was a veteran pilot for 36 years. Two years ago he told Xinhua that he was going to fly a unicorn, and now his wish came true.

"It is taller than most buildings in Canberra," he said. "This is approximately seven to eight stories tall," he said.

Hot air balloons are normally in the shape of water drop. The unicorn is hard to fly. "It's asymmetric, which means the airflow is different over one side to the other, so it will rotate and deform, especially when it's going up or coming down quickly."

 In spite of the changes and difficulties this year, Farrell said it was fantastic to have the Balloon Spectacular anyway. "It's excellent that we've been able to have a festival, because only a couple of months ago, and maybe a couple of weeks ago, it was likely we weren't going to have a festival at all," he said.

Farrell was glad to see the good feedback from audience. "Everybody is happy to see the balloons go up," he said. "When Allycorn stands up, the crowd are very excited. There are many photos on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook."

Vickii Cotter said this year the theme was "hope." "What's more hopeful than seeing a giant pink unicorn taking to the sky and floating everywhere?" she said.

An old lady who only gave her first name as Kathy said she had been to the festival three or four times. "It's nice to see the balloons go off on such a beautiful day," she said. "It has been a very difficult time."

Meagan Clear, together with her husband and three children were setting up for a picnic on the lawn after watching the balloons take off.

"This year there were not as many crowds, so we can see them (the balloons) really close in person. They are right next to us," she said.

Her children also liked the experience of the festival. "I woke them up when it was still dark. But they were ridiculously excited," Clear smiled. "I hope that the balloons bring hope to people's hearts, and make them excited about life again after this awful COVID pandemic." Enditem

Related Articles