Somewhere recently I read that we spend our youth trying to change the world and our old age trying to get it back! Keep that in mind…
Yes, of course I remember many a Cracker Night, that celebration once called Empire Day which fell in May on Queen Victoria’s birthday – even in the 1950s – and enable us to indulge in a little pyromania and mayhem. Blowing up letter boxes was such fun. We no longer have Cracker Night, having vast expensive pyrotechnic displays instead at New Year and just about any other time there seems a good enough excuse. We do love fireworks. Dogs don’t.
I see Canberra kept the old tradition going right up to last year, presumably on the present Queen’s official birthday in June.
Childhood memories: me in 1955
My last entry in the second reference there is Revolutionary new experiences in The Shire 1967 to 1968, and it is odd to think that by then I was a teacher, but the author of Goodbye Crackernight (2009), Justin Sheedy, was just entering the world. In fact, if I have done my sums right, he must have been in the Class of 86 – not at SBHS, but at Riverview –which Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce also attended.
Goodbye Crackernight is a great read and great fun, though not without its moving moments and wry social comment. The author has been generous with extracts on his site, linked in the previous paragraph.
For any young child growing up in the suburbs of 1970s Australia, there were three days of any year that you held as holy. One was your birthday, one was Christmas, one – and by far the most primordially sensual, wondrous and potentially lethal to your young life – was Crackernight.
Crackernight was a night of skyrockets, bungers, po-hahs, thunders, Tom Thumbs, ball-shooters, throwdowns, Roman candles, blazing parachutes, Catherine wheels and more. If my birthday celebrated my birth, Christmas the birth of Christ, then Crackernight was my childhood’s annual pagan festival. One night a year, the infinite normality of the suburbs was shot with utter magic.
It was a childhood full of fireworks, and not without attendant injuries. A time of manic innocence, of euphoric adventure and discovery in adult hindsight the equal of any designer drug experience and of which, surely, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn would have been envious.
Let me take you back there. Join me on a ten-speed Malvern Star bike ride back to where we came from. To a lost era, and a vastly different Australia. If you’re really lucky, I’ll let you ride my dragster complete with sissy bar, chunky gearstick and speedo, but only if you give me a Peach Moove. Hell, a half-sucked Sunnyboy’d do. In any case, I’ll have you home in toime for tea.
I never had a Malvern Star. I never had a dragster. I had a second-hand, single-gear Oxford with a frayed couch cushion tied on for a seat.
It was bloody wonderful.
That bike guided me through the streets of the childhood we shared.
Home was Howard Place, North Epping NSW. Yes, it certainly does exist.
In Howard Place
A succession of cracker nights down to the banning of the event (which gives the book its title) frame the narrative.
I marvel at Justin Sheedy’s power of recall! It strikes me too that there was more in common between my 1940s/50s childhood and adolescence and Justin’s in the 70s than there may be between either of us and people growing up in the late 90s and 21st century. Just a thought.
I’ll leave you with another snippet…
Milk came to Howard Place in glass bottles with cream at the top of each. Mothers were where they should be – at home – hence the daily bread came around in a panel van. It had to. In the suburbs, the nearest shop could be a mile away and mothers had no car. There was only one per family and father drove it to work.
Dad had an olive green 1967 Valiant Regal. In fact, we all had Valiants, Juliette’s and Steve’s families included. The interesting point about my father’s, however, was what he did to it. These were the days before fathers traded up the car every few years. They just kept the car they had for a long time instead. So, when its paint faded, my father hand-painted the Valiant lime green. I honestly don’t know how he chose that precise shade. It was hideous. A really bright lime green, almost fluorescent. Now, let me think…
He couldn’t have been radically colourblind. As a young man he’d passed the medical for the navy, so I can only assume he went into the paint shop, thought: Now, what colour was the car again? Ah, yes. Green. I’d like some cans of green paint, please. What shade of green? Oh, what’s cheapest? That stuff you’re trying to get rid of because nobody would want it in a pink fit even though this is the mid seventies, a decade infamous for its disgusting colour schemes? Yes. Yes, that’ll do nicely.
Then he went and hand-painted it. With a house brush. With house paint…