Fireworks in Australia: An Australia & New Zealand Magazine Article

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Today it seems about three months out of date, but I like to think of it as being nine months ahead of its time.

Remember, remember…

anz magWhen 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.

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{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Eleanor Haven October 31, 2017, 3:57 pm | Link

    I suggest you do some research on Guy Fawkes….. He made an attempt to overthrow the Government on November 5th ( which is Spring not summer in Australia) He was burnt at the stake and people celebrated hence the bonfire, do not know where fireworks came from. I arrived in Australia in 1981 and they hadnt had Guy Fawkes for many years…. so where the hell did Guyfox come from … or has this name come about because people are too lazy to find out origins of celebration…. and dont get me started on Christmas……….

    • Sherryl October 31, 2017, 5:30 pm | Link

      Eleanor we’ve had the discussions about the date of Cracker Night or Bonfire, “celebrated” on different dates in different states of Australia. In Western Australia it was ALWAYS 5th November in line with the English Guy Fawkes Night which of course was late Autumn. This tradition fell out of favour after years of injuries caused as a result of unsupervised or careless use of them and bonfires along with them. Fireworks have long been permitted only for use by Licenced Pyrotechnicians in WA .

    • BobinOz October 31, 2017, 8:13 pm | Link

      You sound like a bundle of fun Eleanor. Anyway, as Sherryl has mentioned, the history of fireworks night in Australia has been discussed by many, both in this post and in another one here…

      https://www.bobinoz.com/blog/3121/bonfire-night-in-australia-remember-remember/

      …and, I’m sure, many places elsewhere.

      We have no need to research further. I remember being taught all about Guy Fawkes at school, it was one of the history lessons I actually did enjoy. Well spotted though, November is spring in Australia, not summer. My bad. I’m in Brisbane though, November certainly feels like summer to me. Maybe I can claim mitigating circumstances?

      As for Guyfox, I have no idea who that is either. Never heard the expression.

      Now then, that’s talk about Christmas…

      🙂

      • Mark October 31, 2017, 10:42 pm | Link

        Some say Guy (Guido) Fawkes was the last person to enter The Palace of Westminster with honest intentions. . .

  • Cheryl November 6, 2016, 11:31 am | Link

    Obviously I am older than you other commentators. In NSW Empire Day and then Commonwealth Day was indeed cracker night but it was always celebrated on May 24th. No danger whatsoever of bush fires and I can’t remember a single year when it was warm enough not to have to wear beanies even though it was pretty hot around the bonfires. It was May 24th because this was Queen Victoria’s birthday. It was banned because there was so much bad press concerning animals being deliberately burnt and people doing stupid things with bungers in letterboxes etc. In the 1980s it was still possible to obtain a permit to buy fireworks so you could have a school function and raise money on cracker night. The children sat around from a “safe” distance a few fortunate fathers got to set off the fireworks, mainly sky rockets, CaterineWheels and other the pretty fireworks. There were no bungers at these functions of course. The communal bonfires and even backyard incinerators also became prohibited because of air pollution concerns. Those were the good old days!

    • BobinOz November 7, 2016, 6:30 pm | Link

      Well, having a cracker night in May in Australia is a much more sensible option than November, for obvious reasons. Like yourself, I have very fond memories bonfire nights when I had them in the UK as a kid, but unfortunately people did do stupid things with the bangers and stuff.

      So that’s why I reluctantly feel that the restrictions we have these days are the right thing to do, but it is a shame because as you say, those were the good old days.

  • Ian martinez November 5, 2015, 8:59 am | Link

    I am sad that there is no Guy Fawkes night in Australia, generally I would say that it is no business of government about what you do in your home, if you want fireworks why not? Australia is number 1 nanny state of the world, they want to micromanage, control everyone.

    • BobinOz November 5, 2015, 9:14 pm | Link

      You have to remember that this is a very hot country and November here is the last month of spring, in other words, it’s almost summer. Some states, certainly Queensland and Northern Territory can get very hot at this time.

      In the UK, it’s winter, normally very cold and wet.

      I think the government have every right to ban fireworks if they think there is a risk of starting massive bushfires that have the potential to destroy homes and claim lives.

      That said, I wouldn’t disagree with you that Australia is a bit of a nanny state, I’m not sure if it’s the world’s number one though.

      • Ian martinez November 6, 2015, 1:43 am | Link

        Typical nanny state reply. Nearly all Australians live in coastal cities, no bush for miles.
        Government must get off our backs, leave us alone, stop the thousands of silly trivial rules, stop the mini fines and the signs. You are supposed to serve us not make government bigger and bigger.

        • nige November 6, 2015, 3:57 pm | Link

          Unfortunately, Australia is a nanny state because there is a large proportion of people here that require nannying for the benefit of us all. Add a pendency for bush fires, even in and near coastal cities, and I find laws such as welcome.

          Allowing people free reign to fireworks at the start of summer would be catastrophic.

          • BobinOz November 6, 2015, 7:17 pm | Link

            Precisely nige, you don’t have to live in the bush to start a big fire, not in this heat. I’m sure most people regard this ban as sensible. Besides, fireworks have moved on since bangers and caterpillars, it’s all pyrotechnics now.

            It’s not like this country is short of massive firework displays, they are happening all the time around the country.

            • Sherryl November 6, 2015, 7:27 pm | Link

              I live in the Perth Hills, considered the metro area. Bush fire is a very real threat here. Two summers ago 57 properties were destroyed and many others badly damaged. And yes I know that I haven’t even touched on the other serious fires in recent years that have wreaked similar havoc, that are NOT in the bush. Oh, and by the way many catastrophic fires are started by carelessness or stupidity.

              • Ian martinez November 6, 2015, 7:59 pm | Link

                This is what living in modern Australia does to you, it turns all red blooded men into wusses. Nanny state and feminism have emasculated Australian men, men who built a great nation now behave like women.
                It is because of government, it has got far far too big, feminism could never be a thing without big government.
                I want freedom in Australia. Where i am, it is cold and wet, I want to do what I want in my home without governments sticking their beaks in, trying to control everybody. KEEP Out OF PRIVATE LIVES

                • Sherryl November 6, 2015, 8:47 pm | Link

                  Well I suppose that is the price of progress. Alternatively we could all go back to living in caves, in the dark.

  • Pertinax March 7, 2015, 1:20 pm | Link

    In Sydney, Empire Day used to be celebrated and was a half-day public holiday. After it was made Commonwealth Day and the holiday abolished it was quickly forgotten. The Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend in June (mid winter) became the bonfire and fireworks celebration. It vanished overnight when fireworks were banned for the public in 1986.

    The fireworks were low powered and safe enough if you used them properly. The idiots who didn’t forced the government to ban them. These days you get professional fireworks at local festivals and the big fireworks display on the harbour at NYE.

    • BobinOz March 9, 2015, 3:55 pm | Link

      Yes, we’ve come a long way since the box of matches and a banger; pyrotechnics is the go these days.

  • Paul November 6, 2014, 2:09 pm | Link

    Guy Fawkes night was great fun. However I remember the main reason for ending it were the number of kids being injured every year, losing a finger or two and a few who held onto a lit thrupenny banger a little too long before throwing and lost a hand. In their defence it wasn’t just carelessness. We would light smaller crackers and wait for the fuse to be burnt half way before throwing high in the air – which looked spectacular at night. Now and then a fuse would be dodgy and instead of burning at an even speed it would take no time at all to reach the cracker. I remember this happening to me a few times . I always managed to get rid of it in time but it would go off maybe 6-12 inches from my hand. For kids who hadn’t experienced fuses like this and were using larger crackers …. Anyway, it was so much fun. Perhaps it would have been better to keep it and have a science class at school teaching cracker safety – perhaps with demonstrations using a hand made from sausages showing the results of the use of large crackers gone wrong.

    • BobinOz November 6, 2014, 9:23 pm | Link

      Yes, I think the accidents certainly have been a contributing factor in most countries where fireworks have been restricted. And you are right, some of those fireworks in the 70s and 80s were a bit dodgy, and a lot of kids got quite badly hurt.

      Fireworks aren’t fireworks anymore anyway, they are pyrotechnics, complex and very expensive setups, we no longer live in those good old days. As kids we were always told not to play with fire, and fireworks that come in a box are exactly that.

      There are definitely pros and cons, there’s always two sides to every coin. I don’t like nanny states but I can see the point on this one.

      Guy Fawkes night was great fun though, I used to love it as a kid, can’t argue with that 🙂

  • AJ March 10, 2014, 8:02 pm | Link

    “So no, Australia doesn’t celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, but if you think you won’t get fireworks here, you’d be crackers.”

    Well we used to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. As a child of the 70’s I remember it clearly to this day. Sherryl Potts and BobinOz have it right. It used to be a part of our culture until the nanny state banned fireworks and bonfires.

  • Sherryl Potts June 5, 2013, 8:32 pm | Link

    Bob, so glad YOU are glad to be an Aussie. One thing you need to know is that traditions in Western Australia are often different to in “the Eastern States.” Our public holidays vary, Queen’s Birthday holiday is different for example.I grew up in the 50’s and Guy Fawkes Night, (“please to remember the 5th of November”) was our Bonfire Night. Like on the other side of the country, preparing the bonfire was a community effort and I remember dragging stuff for miles. We always had the Guy too.
    I don’t know why cracker night was Empire Day in NSW etc, so if someone can explain the disparity I’d love it.
    Of course we have the ubiquitous fireworks displays on occasions that the powers that be decide are appropriate, but it’s just not the same as when we had our own sparklers, sky rockets, catherine wheels, tom thumbs and penny bungers!
    S

    • BobinOz June 6, 2013, 1:13 pm | Link

      Hi Sherryl

      I did write another post about bonfire night, imaginatively called Bonfire Night in Australia, and I mentioned in that that we used to celebrate it here back in the 70s but it was all banned, I think, for fear of starting bushfires.

      You are right, you can’t beat having your own firework display, bonfire and sparklers, but they seem to be a thing of the past these days. Can’t help you with Empire Day in NSW though, maybe somebody else can?

      Cheers

      Bob

  • David Sadleir February 5, 2012, 8:14 am | Link

    Hi Bob!

    Congratulations to you and the family in becoming Aussies. I read the article about people leaving OZ in droves and find it just another sesnsational story to grab a headline.
    So many of the complaints are just not correct. I was just in Oz and saw new movies that were only released 3 weeks earlier in the USA and by the way, so what does it matter when a movie comes out.
    Every country has its set of standards and requires tradies or medical people, etc; to be aware of Oz standards. This is also true in the USA. People whinge about prices but do they factor in the exchange rate on the OZ dollar and the usually higher salaries. Each to their own I guess.
    As Isaid, I was recently in OZ and was impressed with the lifestyle and not too concerned about the price of a fridge. Anyway, how often does one buy a fridge.
    Again congrats on the citizenship and I know that you and the family are a great asset to the country.

    • BobinOz February 7, 2012, 12:27 am | Link

      Thanks David, we are very proud to be Australians.

      I think you are spot on with those stories about migrants quitting Australia. These magazines, TV shows and newspapers have to think of something to write about, the phrase ‘scraping the barrel’ springs to mind.

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