When I originally wrote this article for Australia and New Zealand magazine, it was highly topical. No prizes for guessing it appeared in their November issue then.
Today it seems about three months out of date, but I like to think of it as being nine months ahead of its time.
When I was a young boy aged seven, living in the sometimes sunny English seaside town of Southend, I was in a pram. Not all the time, you understand, just on this specific occasion when my older brother had one of his great ideas. He dressed me up in rags, put a big hat on my head and made me gloves out of old newspapers. He then paraded me around the streets shouting “penny for the guy!”
Today I am no longer in a pram for several reasons. I don’t live with my brother anymore, I wouldn’t fit and Australia doesn’t have Guy Fawkes Night.
It used to be celebrated here, until about 1982 I believe, but no more. Opinion is divided as to why it stopped, but the risk of bushfires would have been high on the list. November is summer here, not the time to be setting fire to flying objects.
The number of firework related injuries also played a part. Either way, the result is that the sale of fireworks to the general public in Australia is banned, with a couple of minor exceptions.
This doesn’t make me sad at all, for two reasons.
First, I remember all too well the not so relaxing sound of machine gun fire late into the night (and sometimes into the early hours) that would fill the air from about September onwards. I don’t miss that.
And secondly, Australia does still love a good, no, great firework display, but they are all done professionally.
Many Australian events have massive firework displays; I would like to mention just a couple of them. I live in Brisbane, and our big yearly firework display is called Riverfire. It marks the opening of the Brisbane Festival, three weeks in which international artists perform around the city.
But of course, the really big firework display here each year takes place in Sydney, around the harbour, on New Years Eve. I’ve been to one; I was at the 2005/06 event. I was on holiday here at the time, enjoying a bit of a road trip; Brisbane to Sydney to the Hunter Valley and back up to Teewah Beach in Queensland.
It was during this holiday that I fell in love with Australia and decided to move.
Back to those fireworks. Technically speaking, I’ve only been to half of a Sydney NYE display, because each year they have two. First, the 9pm Family Fireworks, and later, the Midnight Fireworks. We only stayed for the early show, being in a group with young children, including my then 21-month-old daughter.
The trick with this Sydney show is to arrive early, we got there around midday, to secure your patch of land with a view. Unpack the picnic, open the Esky, (cool box) and pour out drinks. Then soak up the atmosphere until dark.
And what an atmosphere!
We had a fantastic day out. Sydney is one of the first cities to see in the New Year. So they take this firework display seriously and other countries enjoy it too. It’s estimated that over 1 billion people watch this display worldwide.
So no, Australia doesn’t celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, but if you think you won’t get fireworks here, you’d be crackers.