Celestino Foti was one of the few people in the world who could genuinely be classed a Master Pyrotechnician. Having spent all his life making and displaying fireworks, it was his love of fireworks that defined him the most.
Being a pyrotechnician was not just what he did for work, it was who he was, and what he was.
Celestino was born in Sinopoli, Reggio Calabria, Italy on April 4th, 1913. He was born into a family for whom the art of fireworks had been a tradition since 1793. Along with his brothers, this was a tradition he was to continue.
With the advent of World War 2, Celestino was conscripted into the Italian army where he was sent to North Africa. It was at this time that he was captured and sent to a prison camp in the small Australian rural town of Cowra where Italian and Japanese soldiers were imprisoned. He spent much of World War 2 in Australia, returning to Italy after the War.
Like many post-World War 2 southern Europeans, Celestino looked for an opportunity to provide his family with a strong future, and saw this opportunity in the country where he spent the War, Australia.
In 1951, Celestino set out on a voyage of the unknown to establish himself in a new country. Upon arrival in Australia, he initially found some labouring work to help make ends meet. However, he soon gained employment at a fireworks factory in Menangle Park, south-west of Sydney where it immediately became apparent that he had pyrotechnic knowledge and expertise that was unparalleled in Australia..
Whilst working for Vulcan Fireworks in Menangle Park during the ’50’s and 60’s, he made the shopgood fireworks enjoyed by generations of Australians at Queens Birthday and Guy Fawkes celebrations. At this time, Celestino also continued his family’s tradition of display fireworks. The displays he performed were mostly for the local Sydney Italian communities religious celebrations, as well as for local Agricultural Show Societies.
In 1969, Celestino, with his son Sam, bought Vulcan Fireworks, and thus International Fireworks was born (the name Foti was added later). From there the company has grown to where it is today.
Celestino’s proudest pyrotechnic moments included winning the Stockholm Water Festival International Fireworks Competition in 1993 (the first competition the company had ever entered in), his family’s contribution to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, and displaying on Sydney Harbour Bridge. Although Celestino was proud of the international acclaim the company achieved, his proudest moments also included the small displays the company did for various Italian community events. Celestino was a proud Australian who was equally as proud of his Italian heritage.
Celestino’s legacy to fireworks in Australia is that he was instrumental in setting the benchmark for the quality of fireworks seen in Australia today. He brought to Australian audiences fireworks only ever seen before in Europe. As a result the standard of fireworks displays expected by Australian audiences is amongst the highest in the world. Apart from his unique shells, the set piece fireworks he made and developed were, in the words of various experts, amongst the best in the world.
Three weeks before his death Celestino broke his hip. He died due to complications from the subsequent surgery. Until that time, he arrived at work everyday to do what he loved- making fireworks, which he still did with both pride and passion. As a pyrotechnician friend wrote upon hearing of his death, “…Celestino was probably the oldest active, living firework man in the world”. He was buried on 22nd June, 2001. He was 88 year’s old.