Bonfire Night in Australia… Remember, Remember…

Remember…… when was it again?

Yesterday, I had occasion to check the date on my calendar so that I could fill it in on a form. First I checked what month it was……… November, then I checked the year….. 2009 (I thought so!) and finally the day….. it was the fifth.

Hmmmmm. That rings a bell. Have I forgotten somebody’s birthday? Oh no! It’s not my wedding anniversary is it?

Of course!

Wasn’t there a gunpowder plot? Blow up the Houses of Parliament and all that? And all of a sudden I could remember. November 5th is Guy Fawkes Night. How come I haven’t heard anything about it? Why haven’t I been invited to a bonfire?

Answer: Because Australia doesn’t celebrate Bonfire Night.

Australia does have fireworks, it probably holds one of the biggest firework display in the world each year, over at Sydney, every New Year’s Eve. They’ve made it a bit of a thing, probably because Sydney is the first major city in the world to see in the New Year.

Brisbane also has a major firework display on New Year’s Eve and I saw my first one from the rooftop of a city building on the 31st of December 2007, just six weeks after moving to Australia.

From a Brisbane roof.

From a Brisbane roof.

It was just like home from home, it poured with rain and there were thick clouds making it almost impossible to see the fireworks. But like I said in an earlier post, we brought the rain with us when we first arrived in Australia.

But that night on the Brisbane roof reminded me very much of Lake Meadows in Billericay, that’s where I used to go on bonfire night when I lived back in England. You could almost guarantee rain there on November 5.

But of course I knew I wasn’t in Lake Meadows, it was far too hot on that Brisbane evening.

Brisbane also hosts another firework display each year called Riverfire which I went to both last year and this. You can read all about that in a previous post and if you haven’t yet seen it, you can watch a video of the F-111’s dump and burn.

Riverfire 2008

Riverfire 2008 - from Southbank Parklands

Riverfire 09 - from Mt Coot-tha

Riverfire 09 - from Mt Coot-tha

But it hasn’t always been this way in Australia. Back in the olden days, well the 1970s, Australia did celebrate bonfire night. But towards the end of that decade the public sale of fireworks was banned throughout most of Australia to prevent misuse, personal injury and bushfires. Makes perfect sense.

My wife says she kind of misses the traditional Guy Fawkes Night celebration, me not so much. But I’ll tell you what neither of us has missed; that’s the sound of fireworks exploding into the air from, pretty much, the beginning of October right the way through to the very end of November.

Why teenagers find it so amusing to let these bangers off from around seven o’clock in the evening until past midnight in the UK, I will never know. Perhaps it is an inner need to be irritating. Maybe the teenagers here are exactly the same?

Except, of course, they can’t buy the bangers!

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot…

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{ 27 comments… add one }
  • Jason August 24, 2015, 4:50 am | Link

    Well its May 25th but only if that day is a saturday. You can also buy crackers for NYE in tasmania as well as for May Cracker night.

  • Anna August 23, 2015, 5:21 pm | Link

    Can anyone tell me what year u stopped buying crackers

    • BobinOz August 23, 2015, 7:59 pm | Link

      In Australia? I’ve never bought one, but then I’ve only lived here eight years. Anybody else?

    • David Kingshot March 10, 2017, 4:11 pm | Link

      In Victoria Anna, it was in 1981 that Chinese fire crackers (bangers) were last on sale in Victoria from you’re local corner milk bar store, who could ever forget the large colour “cracker night” banners that hung in the shop windows!. The Labor party introduced the ban promising only to limit just the sale of the cracker bangers and the rest of the fireworks would remain on sale, but at the end of the fireworks season in 1982 Labor sneaked through a total ban on all fireworks in Vctoria!. We really need to restore peopled rights in respect to this tradition (where are you Mathew a Guy!), that is enjoyed all around the world, I really would like to see a political party reintroduce a safe fireworks products range, it’s a matter of personal freedom, have a look at Victoria now with Labor in charge again, a vital power station about to close leaving us god knows where in the future, taxi drivers having to accept a pittance for their licence fees they paid good money for, that’s there superannuation Dan!, sounds like people rights being taken away all over again like cracker night back in 1982!. I know who I will be voting for next and that’s neither of the major party’s!.

      • BobinOz March 10, 2017, 9:16 pm | Link

        You are lucky you don’t live in New South Wales, at least you don’t have lockout laws in Victoria yet 🙂 Actually, I don’t think you will ever get them, thankfully your pollies do realise how stupid those laws are.

  • Jason April 9, 2015, 11:33 am | Link

    Cracker night is coming up may 30th this year in Tasmania. It is getting bigger each year since 2010 when new regulations came in. Many people come over from the mainland to celebrate this tradition which is all but lost now on the mainland!

    • BobinOz April 9, 2015, 6:42 pm | Link

      I never knew, I’ve just Googled it to check it out. I can see it’s quite heavily regulated, everybody needs a permit to buy fireworks which is a great idea. Sounds like it has really taken off, excellent.

      Why May 30th though?

  • David Kingshot. November 30, 2014, 6:12 pm | Link

    I am a firm believer that cracker night should be returned to all Australians, i would applaud any Australian state that was to be the first to reintroduce them and here are my reasons why. I must stress this is only my personal opinion, when I was younger back in the 1970s cracker night was a huge amount of fun and it was a real chance to get together with you’re friends family and other people in the community. I lived in Victoria and they were for sale 7 days before Queens Birthday (previously Empire Day) and Guy Fawkes Day to people over the age of eighteen. I remember all the arguments for and against them, the bushfire risk was silly because there use corresponded to the winter months so that was a ridiculous argument, some say the noise was a factor but again in my thoughts we get thunder and lightning storms in all states and people always say they enjoy the free show!, so again not really a factor for the ban the next my mind. As I remember it the available range of bangers and other pyrotechnics towards the end of the 1970s were quite small so you would have to be pretty stupid to hurt yourself, no doubt it did happen but for the majority and I stress the majority of citizens who did the right thing safety never a problem. I really do believe the ban instigated by the Labor party in virtually all states was political, certain elements at the time had issues with people celebrating there English traditions (Queens Birthday, Empire day etc) and still do. All Australians should lament the loss of there traditions and heritage and this is a prime example, Labor in New Zealand banned cracker night but the Conservative Liberals returned it, and I would encourage any government in any Australian state to do the same, in Victoria I remember Labor Rob Hulls lobbying governments in Canberra and Tasmania to tighten its laws before they lost office to the Liberals. The conservatives in Canberra lobbied to return them if elected in there local pole but did not win unfortunately, we can have a safe and regulated range of consumer fireworks and return the fun and tradition at the same time it just takes a courageous sensible government to do it.

    • BobinOz December 1, 2014, 5:45 pm | Link

      Well I was still living in the UK when I was a youngster, but I too have very fond memories of bonfire night and I know we just loved it as kids. Like any argument, there are pros and cons, and I can understand your passion about wanting to get it back.

      Personally I think things are better left as they are, too many kids got hurt and these days fireworks so much more complicated and expensive, so I think organised shows are the way to go now. Like you though, this is just my opinion.

      I also don’t think any government in any state will be fighting to bring it back to how it was, I think health and safety these days is a lot stricter than it ever was in the 70s. Again there are pros and cons of that, sometimes I think the nanny state rules are ridiculous, but I do think this one is here to stay.

      Cheers, Bob

  • Rose November 5, 2014, 9:08 pm | Link

    We still celebrate Guy Fawkes in New Zealand! We also don’t have issues with bushfires (or water shortages, fortunately!. IIn fact as I write here in Auckland tonight (being Nov 5) there is the sound of fireworks going off all around me. This year fireworks are only allowed to be let off in private (ie at home) places and not at parks, beaches and other public spaces by individuals as in previous years. However, there continues to be the numerous venues that have organised public displays around the country. Fireworks go on sale from Nov 2 to 5 and can’t be let off after 11pm but can be let off any day of the year. I have fond memories, as a child of the1970s, of our big bonfire on our spare section, with the life size guy we had made and lots of dazzling fireworks including sky rockets and double happies (both banned now)..with neighbours joining in.

    • BobinOz November 6, 2014, 8:58 pm | Link

      When I was a kid, I WAS life-size guy, with my big brother constantly telling me to sit still in the pushchair as he went around asking people for pennies. Those are my fond memories 🙂

      Sounds like you’ve had a cracking night over in New Zealand, I can fully understand why they still allow it over there, your climate is much closer to that of the UK’s, and as you say, bushfires are not a problem.

      Good to hear you have some kind of restrictions on them as well, although I’m sure people were not allowed to let them off after 11 PM in the UK, but they always did.

      Happy bonfire night, Bob

  • Petra Campbell March 1, 2014, 6:41 pm | Link

    EXTRACT FROM DIARY OF AN AUSTRALIAN TEENAGER: Its Cracker night, I Hope Your Letterbox Blows Up” http://anaustralianwoman.blogspot.com/2014/02/its-cracker-night-i-hope-your-letterbox.html

    Friday June 12: ” I hope your letter box blows up”

    I was going to catch my bus when Joe saw me and said Craig C wanted to go with me, and she was dead set. But I said No. Mark was behind me and he said “have a nice cracker night” and I said “thanks and are you having a bonfire?” And he said “no. I hope your letter box blows up”. I said “oh thanks, we just got a new one”, and he said “well I’ll come around and blow it up”. Oh I hope so I really do,
    Saturday June 13 – “tonight was cracker night we built a fantastic bonfire and had over 150- crackers! ”

    Saturday June 13: Well tonight was cracker night we built a fantastic bonfire and had over 150- crackers!

    Well tonight was cracker night we built a fantastic bonfire and had over 150- crackers!. The bonfire itself was beautiful and every time I looked in the flame I thought of Markkkkk. The crackers were so colourful and happy. I kept thinking about how I could be so very happy when everyone else is so happy. Mum was on my back all today do this, do that, and we are getting fined 50 cents if we don’t keep the cupboards in order. CHRIST! Dad was too. I hate them. We just don’t get on. It’s as if I’m some sort of hated criminal who they have to live with. I try to see things from their point of view but it just doesn’t work because they don’t try to see things from my point of view. We stayed up all night barbecuing things in the fire. And we lit all the crackers too. It was great – EXCEPT THE PARENTS!

    I got a phone call from that HARRIS dick, and he wanted me to come to his place. I said I couldn’t and he said he’ll come to my place then cause he thought there was no-one home, and when I told him about the bonfire he said he’d come but I said ALL the neighbours are coming and he said, “We wouldn’t want that would WE!” God! I wonder what he’s got in mind? I hate to think.

  • John Drayton November 3, 2013, 8:22 am | Link

    I was born in Adelaide in 1944 and grew up celebrating “Guy Fawkes Day.” On the days approaching November 5, we kids put a straw-stuffed effigy of Fawkes in a wheelbarrow and pushed it from door to door in the neighborhood singing, “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the gunpowder treason and plot,” and then added, “A penny for the guy.” The neighbors gave us a few pennies, and when we had done with the fundraising, we visited a corner store. (Most sold fireworks.) On the night of November 5, we gathered with our family in the back yard of our home, where we burned the effigy and set off the fireworks. Pinwheels were my favorite.

    • BobinOz November 3, 2013, 11:10 pm | Link

      Sounds like my childhood almost exactly except we were doing what you are doing in a town called Southend in England. Firework night used to be so much fun for us kids, didn’t it?

      Cheers John!

      Bob

  • Michele July 21, 2013, 12:17 pm | Link

    Hi Bob … Empire Day was celebrated throughout the British Empire on 24 May – Queen Victoria’s birthday. This was also Cracker Night in Australia. This morning (21 July 2013) there is a report that Queensland LNP members are giving their support to the reintroduction of Cracker Night here. If it does get the go ahead, I won’t be complaining – 24 May is also my birthday and, because I was born in 1974, I’ve never actually been to an Australian Cracker Night. I went to a Guy Fawkes Bonfire Night in Cambridge UK, when I lived there for 18 months – but Cracker Night had been banned in Queensland before I was born.

    • BobinOz July 22, 2013, 5:58 pm | Link

      I Googled it, found the article, it’s interesting.

      As much as I would like you to have your wish come true Michelle, and maybe enjoy your big FOUR – O (there, I’ve mentioned it, sorry :-)) sitting in amongst an arsenal of explosions, not everybody is up for reintroducing Cracker Night here in Queensland.

      “However a speaker against the motion said people should be aware of the outcome of the last cracker night in Darwin.

      The delegate, a police officer who works as a community safety consultant said five people suffered serious burns and were admitted to Royal Darwin Hospital.

      “Of those three were children under the age of 12,” she said.

      Read more: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/cracker-night-explodes-on-to-lnp-agenda-20130721-2qc20.html#ixzz2Zl6q4fNp

      Call me a grumpy old man, but I’d also put kids safety first, so I’m kind of hoping this does not go through.

      Sorry, but I do hope you have a fabulous 40th.

      Bob

  • BobinOz January 4, 2011, 11:59 pm | Link

    It makes you wonder how many fingers, eyes, letterboxes, phone booths, cats, dogs, even lives and who knows what else have been saved by the abolishing of fireworks. I think we can all look back and remember how much fun it was as kids, but as adults and parents I don’t think any of us cares two hoots that fireworks are no longer readily available to the general public and, more importantly, to kids.

    This is one instance where “health and safety” has got it right. Good riddance to bonfire night. Riverfire, Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve and all the other major displays are a much better and safer option.

  • kanakaken January 4, 2011, 5:20 pm | Link

    There were any number of reasons for the demise of Crackernight. The chance of a bushfire in the middle of wet and cold May was remote but in some areas it was a threat. I am inclined to think it had more to do with the ratbag element than anything else. Notably those who tied fireworks to the tails of cats and dogs, or blew up letter boxes and then moved on to phone booths. Or perhaps the idiots that built fires on roads setting fire to the bitumen. There were undoubtedly grass fires set off by the bonfire, but usually these were put out by the people attending the fire or the grass was burnt off in a fire break beforehand. Then of course there were those at the lower end of the gene pool who thought they could hold onto the explosive until the end, their valor proved with missing fingers, plus others who had serious burns or lost eye sight.
    So in retrospect, it was a natural progression that we lost cracker night along with the fingers and eyes, but the most effective loss, was the collective loss of innocence, that went with it.
    I miss it but for my grandkid’s sake, I’m glad it’s gone.

  • BobinOz November 10, 2010, 8:34 pm | Link

    Well I remember bonfire night when I was a kid too, it was great fun. We use to love it, building a guy for the bonfire, collecting money, did you used to do penny for the guy?

    So yes, it was enormous fun. But in the last few years living in England, it seems to have gotten out of hand. Crackers going off every evening, late too, sometimes midnight or 1 AM from almost the beginning of October. So when I got here and fireworks night no longer happened, I have to say I was pleased.

    But perhaps that’s part of turning into a grumpy old man? So maybe it won’t be long for me now.

  • Ocko123 November 10, 2010, 1:03 pm | Link

    I was born in the early ’80’s and distinctly remember bonfire nights at times during my childhood. I just as distinctly remember they all of a sudden stopped. We lived in a rural village on the outskirts of Sydney’s South West and the event was great fun for us as kids. A huge bonfire would be built at the local sporting oval and would be lit up at around 8pm. We’d run around with sparklers and there was a small fireworks display. I guess changes in local Gov law put an end to this? Sad really.

  • BobinOz October 31, 2010, 9:41 pm | Link

    Geoff, it seems I have some research to do, I have no idea what Empire Day is. Well I do now, I have done some quick (Google) research. It seems this is a bit of a forgotten celebration here in Australia, is that right? Now replaced by Australia Day on January 26?

  • Geoff October 29, 2010, 6:21 pm | Link

    We never celebrated Bonfire Night on Novembet 5th, we celebrated Empire Day with Cracker Night May 24th.

  • BobinOz January 3, 2010, 7:34 pm | Link

    Hi Peter

    I didn’t know the banning was anything to do with one eyed and eight fingered kids, I thought it was more likely due to the serious fire risks here, obviously bonfires are definitely out.

    As for when Bonfire Night was last celebrated in Australia, all sources I have checked say it was the “mid-to-late 1970s”, so I wonder if it may have been different in each state. Just guessing on that one.

    I haven’t heard a single rogue firework since I moved here, but I have heard quite a few 10 minute blasts which may or may not have been legal, who knows? But I’m surprised you can buy fireworks online here, surely that is illegal?

    Cheers

    Bob

  • Peter Townsend January 1, 2010, 10:43 am | Link

    G-day, Would you please be able to tell me when the last official bonfire or cracker night was in Australia. I know that it was canned and fireworks made illegal because of the number of one eyed and eight fingered kids. I thought that it may have been in the mid 70’s, the end of the Whitlam era. It is disturbing that fireworks are readily available over the internet. New Years Eve and the preceding week is open slather for crackers with zero policing.

    • Rebecca July 10, 2015, 11:16 am | Link

      I was born in 1980 and remember celebrating bonfire night for a few years before it stopped, I even remember being at a big bonfire night at my local primary school, but I could have been attending as a younger sibling than a student. It was so much fun on my grandparents farm with the ones that dropped little parachute guys. Australia is such a party pooper!

      • BobinOz July 10, 2015, 5:19 pm | Link

        Hi Rebecca

        Well, I can understand the primary school event, that would be a controlled firework display and we still have those today. But if you were lighting your own private fireworks up in your back garden in the 80s, then that’s a bit later than I thought, but I also think each state was different. Maybe where you were they were still legal at that time.

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