Out with a bang

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I loved Novem­ber when I was a child be­cause it was the month with two great events. One lit up the day and the other lit up the night. One’s still go­ing and the other’s his­tory. The Christ­mas pageant be­gan in Novem­ber 1933, and it drew a crowd of 200,000. To­day more than 400,000 peo­ple line the streets of Ade­laide and it’s the biggest event of its kind in the world.

But Guy Fawkes night, or cracker night, which was even big­ger in its own way, is just a me­mory. It has its ori­gins in Novem­ber 1605 when Guy Fawkes al­most blew up the Bri­tish House of Lords. And it was cel­e­brated here un­til I was a teenager. I can’t re­mem­ber ex­actly the day the gun­pow­der died but ev­ery Novem­ber I can still smell it and see it in my mind’s eye.

Cracker night was won­der­fully crazy and chaotic. Ev­ery street and back­yard had its own py­rotech­nic dis­play. It was sex­ist too. The boys never wanted any­thing that didn’t go bang or rocket off into the night. The pretty fire­works were for girls: things like the Ro­man can­dles you placed on the ground and watched, or the Cather­ine wheel that was nailed to the fence and twirled around like a su­per­charged sparkler. Oc­ca­sion­ally one would fly off and roar along do­ing cart­wheels of fire across the back yard. If it was a dry Novem­ber you had to have the hose handy. The jump­ing jacks started many a back­yard blaze.

The squibs were good for scar­ing grand­par­ents and tod­dlers. Then there was the stan­dard cracker, the penny bunger and the thru’penny bunger. This was big enough to al­most bust an eardrum. But big was never big enough. We soon learnt you could tape bungers to­gether, twirl the wicks into one and get even more bang for your buck.

Ev­ery year was a mini arms race as we tried to outdo each other. We de­vel­oped pipe bombs. Shove a cracker into a piece of pipe with a drill hole in it for the wick, block off one end, drop a mar­ble in the other end, aim it and fire it at the laun­dry and see if it would go through the iron. If it didn’t, try a ball bear­ing. If you thought that photo of David Hicks was scary, just pic­ture hun­dreds of kids all over town with home-made bazookas on their shoul­ders.

Then we dis­cov­ered how to make gun­pow­der. It was just sul­phur, salt­pe­tre and char­coal. So we made bis­cuit bar­rels of the stuff and we laid it around the back­yard lead­ing up to a ma­jor weapons pile. We lit the car­toon-like lines of gun­pow­der and watched all hell break loose. I once made a Milo tin al­most go into or­bit. I can now see why we banned cracker night.

Any­way, if you want to get some idea of the mad­ness of yes­ter­year be in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory on the night of July 1 for the Ter­ri­tory Day cel­e­bra­tions. The place that brought you the no-speed limit roads and the Dar­win stubby is the last bas­tion of let­ting off steam and to hell with the con­se­quences.

In re­cent years there have been more than 100 grass­fires in the Top End on the big night. There are al­ways a few bad in­juries re­quir­ing hos­pi­tal treat­ment and the RSPCA says about a dozen dogs go missing.

So go quickly be­cause the calls to ban it are get­ting stronger. And wear some safety gog­gles be­cause you know when you are be­ing that silly some­one’s bound to lose an eye.

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