Many of us in New England have been privileged to witness a Holysmoke fireworks display. Father Anthony Koppman is the man behind the magic, bringing smiles to the faces of both young and old.
Hi Fr. Anthony. What’s your background in the area?
I am originally from Coffs Harbour, with my parents and brothers still living on the Coffs Coast. In early 2000 I accepted an offer from the Armidale Bishop at the time, Bishop Luc Matthys, to serve in the Armidale Diocese. My Ordination to the Catholic Priesthood was in 2001 at Saint Mary and Joseph’s Cathedral in Armidale. I served as Assistant Priest in Armidale, Moree, and was appointed Parish Priest for the communities of Guyra, Walgett and Lightning Ridge. In February 2019, I was appointed the Parish Priest of Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church at West Tamworth.
I still have a special connection with the Armidale and Guyra communities, after receiving the Australia Day Award as Citizen of the Year in 2013 for community work.
Tell us a little about your parish work.
My parish work is varied – serving and supporting the Catholic Community at West Tamworth, regular visits to Saint Joseph’s Primary School, and pastoral care to the wider community of West Tamworth.
I never take for granted my vocation as a Priest, although we are living in challenging times, with workplace and professional standards a vital part of life. With church attendances declining, and the lack of vocations to the Priesthood, this does not mean that the ministry is declining. I am often humbled by the way, so many in the community have the highest respect for the dedicated and hardworking clergy today.
One thing that has not changed is the vital need for a caring and supportive church that is made up of a variety of people, all working together, with the ability to connect in our own unique and personal ways – that includes my own unique and unusual way through the use of pyrotechnics!
How did your interest in pyrotechnics begin?
Since my earliest memories of the old cracker night, I recall the array of colours, crackling noises and the smell of burnt gunpowder mixed with the smoke from the bonfires that lit up the sky at sunset on those cold nights on the Queen’s Birthday June long weekend.
I remember saving up my pocket money and waiting for the sale of crackers in the corner stores and toy shops, purchasing a variety of items and then making my own special plans for the best fireworks night of the year. After cracker night, the fascination continued after collecting the burnt-out multicoloured cylinders and dismantling them to see how they worked.
Two vocations were developing, one of bringing care and support through ministry to the community, and the other being the love for creating a unique “gunpowder artwork” and how I could share this love of fireworks.
Less noise, smoke and more colours and unique effects that literally make the saying “the sky’s the limit”… This is what challenges me every time I am invited to showcase my Holysmoke Fireworks to a community group.
I gained my Pyrotechnic licence in 1999. Back then, it was twelve months of training with a licensed operator, who was also a Catholic Priest, although now retired. Father Tom provided a small number of community displays for his parish and other local events.
After I was ordained a priest, I continued to work with fireworks, having the nickname Father Crackers. Holysmoke Fireworks was established in 2002.
What do you most enjoy about a fireworks display?
There is a lot of planning involved with each display. I am always conscious of any inconvenience to pet owners and environmental impacts; having a policy of recycling where possible and planting native trees after each display is just one small part of taking an active responsibility for the future. The greatest joy is the noise of the crowd; when their applause is louder than all the mortars firing and the salutes exploding in the sky, then I know my team, and I have provided a well-earned pat on the back for another successful community event.
There are several very large and successful displays: Tamworth Country Music Festival, Community Christmas Carols, and the highly publicised Armidale New Year’s Eve Fireworks.
The Armidale New Year’s Eve Fireworks originated about twelve years ago after I witnessed many families looking for a free and safe environment to gather once a year to celebrate New Year’s Eve. It was hard work over two years sourcing the funds needed to get this not for profit display off the ground. It was the support of locals that made the display on the main Rologas Sports Field possible for everyone.
It has now become such a huge event that last year, Council took over the management of the New Year’s Eve Fireworks.
My next challenge is to establish this same NYE display with another community and bring that same joy and support to others that I was so privileged to share with Armidale for many wonderful years.
Your sidekick is the gorgeous Cracker! What’s special about your partnership?
“Cracker” came to me through a Christian brother on the Gold Coast. His original name was “Taka”; I changed his name to reflect this wonderful partnership of Holysmoke and Cracker. He is a great reminder when planning a display that animals don’t always appreciate noise from fireworks, and how I can limit that noise as much as possible.
Occasionally on a Sunday, he likes to make his appearance after Mass and of course receive all the attention! Cracker is often by my side through the ministry work; each time he brings comfort, support and in his own way, a special healing. Cracker is often seen at the local nursing homes, schools, and other venues while I do my pastoral visits. This is where I soon find out who has the “dog treats”, as he is always eager to make himself known to them.
It is a real privilege to be welcomed into people’s lives, whether it be a joyful or a difficult time. Serving the church as a Priest has many rewarding moments and being able to share my love of “lighting up the sky” on special occasions, makes life so worthwhile. God has given everyone a special gift to share, and when we find these little treasures and share them, they become huge gifts to so many. We should never take for granted the little blessing we receive each day.
Thanks, Fr. Anthony. Interview: Jo Robinson.