The Sad Case of the Vanished Cracker Night.

Australia is a constitutional monarchy. The Queen of Australia – Queen Elizabeth the 1st (She is Elizabeth the 2nd in the UK but only the first Elizabeth we have had) has very little sway these days in terms of our laws, the parliament and that sort of thing but we still get a public holiday to celebrate her birthday. Even though her actual birthday is in April we celebrate it on the second Monday of June. It’s a welcome holiday. By the time June has come around, winter has usually hit and the Indian summer of May has ended with a bang. It’s probably raining and it will be cold(ish) It’s a perfect weekend for inland retreats at wineries or being indoors with a book and a fire and catching up with friends.

When I was a kid, Saturday of the Queen’s Birthday weekend was Cracker Night. There would be bonfires, pretty fireworks and explosive crackers in nearly every backyard. My favourite was the Catherine Wheel which would be nailed to the fence. It would spin around as jets of coloured sparks shot out the sides. The neighbourhood would be shrouded in smoke and the poor dogs would be going crazy.

You could buy crackers at any corner store, regardless of your age. My dad used to blow up our home made letter box every year. He’d fill it with bungers and attach a long wick and then run. The wooden box would get shattered into thousands of sharp, splintery missiles and we would squeal with glee from our hiding spots.

My family must have been a bit more careful than other families. I don’t remember any one getting hurt although my hair did catch on fire once when an ember jumped out of the bonfire. Despite our own personal luck, because in retrospect, I think it was good luck rather than good management, every year you would hear of a another 10 year old boy who had blown his hand off or blinded himself or suffered some other horrific injury because they had taped a few large bungers together or had tried to build a bigger, better explosive.

It became (sensibly) more difficult to buy crackers. You had to be 18. Then it become illegal to sell them in NSW. You could still buy them in the Australian Capital Territory, so people would take the drive down there to stock up for an illicit cracker night party. The firework shops were cheek-by-jowl with the porn shops (Canberra, incidentally also being the only place you could buy X rated movies!).

Many community groups had public firework displays which varied in quality. Over the years, these have petered out too. I guess the expense got too much. Perhaps, the audience got too used to the HUGE New Year’s Eve Fireworks that light up Sydney Harbour. What community groups could afford were fizzlers in comparison.

Last Saturday night would have been cracker night but I didn’t hear one. Not a single one. It’s a shame. Another fun, old tradition that has gone by the wayside.

It made me think, what will today’s kids remember? Oh wow I sat indoors all day playing Total Domination against some random in the US? It was like… So totally awesome!!

…somehow I don’t think so. Will their memories be totally devoid of the types of rich stories that made up my childhood and adolescence?

This year, my Queen’s Birthday Weekend was filled with reminiscences of other kinds. A weekend full of “remember whens” at a 40th high school reunion. Unfortunately, it was only a small gathering. We danced to old 70s and 80s tunes. We argued who was the bigger loss to the world – Lennon or Bowie? We talked about old teachers chasing the girls who were smoking in the playground (not me!!) We talked about those who had not come to join in the party.

Only 10 of us made the journey

Those who had left before the HSC (the NSW matriculation qualification) and had gone into more manual labouring jobs complained that their bodies were beginning to give out. We all complained about our failing eyesight. We compared photos of our adult kids and for some of us, our grandkids. We settled into an easy rekindling of old friendships and lamented that so few had made the journey to Old Bar, NSW.

This one from Primary School

As we tried to put names to all the faces in the old school photos, there was one girl, at the end of a row of the 1C photo that no-one could remember. I’d hate to be that girl. Why did no one know her? We had no special story for her. That made me sad and I wondered if there were other people looking at other class photos who wondered who I was? If there were some people I had never made an impression on? In my own Robyn-centric world I find that hard to believe but I guess I was not the centre of everyone’s universe!

I don’t know if we will have 50th reunion. By then I will be 67. I hope I will continue to enjoy the same good health I have now. I hope I will tick off some more of those bucket list items. But most of all, I hope I can contribute some good memories to the students I teach.

In 2038, I hope some kid says at their reunion, “Do you remember that old chook Ms Lang? She was a bit crazy!” and smile.

Tall tales and true! (Mark and Craig both school buddies since kinder!)

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