My family settled in Yarralumla in 1953. Back in those days, it was a working class suburb with dirt roads and a dairy at the eastern end on the old Molonglo River.
People used to exercise their greyhounds around the shops and on the school oval. My ‘gang’ at that time included my brother Col and a bunch of kids whose names I couldn’t pronounce. We had little tin and tar canoes tied up under the willows on the edge of the old Molonglo River, about 100m to the west of where the Yacht Club is now. We also had a cubby house on the ridge above Fitzgerald street that looked down over the shantytown that was known as Westlake.
Living amongst the elements where suburbia intersected with traditional farming and natural bushland was a great place to grow up.
One of the highlights of the year used to be the Queen’s birthday weekend in June. Fireworks would go on sale about a fortnight before, to make sure that everyone could celebrate with plenty of crackers. No amount of explosive homage to her Majesty was ever enough. We celebrated with fireworks that kids today could only dream of. The king of crackers being the ‘threepenny bunger’ which was like a small stick of dynamite and could bring down a concrete letterbox.
But of course the fireworks were merely an adjunct to the real deal – the suburban bonfire. Parents and friends would work out the most common location and start planning months in advance. They would raid their sheds for old tyres, logs, packing crates and whatever else would burn and from a central pole usually dug into the ground, would construct huge edifices to the fiery element. When these giant pyres were lit on ‘cracker night’, kids from all up and down the street would come swaddled in pyjamas and dressing-gowns to witness the power of a 20ft wall of flame. With cinders whirling around in the air and the crack and fizz of matter being consumed at very high temperatures, this was a night to remember. As a result, I have a healthy respect for fire that was born of being up close and personal with it from an early age.
But how many kids get to see something like this anymore? How many get to prod a fire and feel it burn their eyebrows when they get too close? Since the ACT government, the Opposition and the Greens all got together to push their politically correct agenda of banning cracker night and the obligatory bonfire that went with it, how do kids get to feel the remarkable and elemental aspects of fire now?
Could the new wave of young arsonists who set fire to forests and farms, actually be fuelled by the ban on bonfires?
Yes, I understand that dogs bark and some go stir crazy over cracker night. My old collie dog was one of them. We all loved her but we’d just lock her up in the house on cracker night and tell her to grin and bear it because this was a night for humans.
And if you wanted to ban an activity that really sets off dogs it would be hot air ballooning. Dogs go ballistic over the dawn drifters but nobody ever suggests banning the balloons. As much as we love our dogs, how much of our behaviour do we have to modify to please them?
The Sex Party wants to bring back bonfire night. We believe that the decision to ban it was driven by short-sighted political correctness and a mistaken belief that kids who are shielded from natural elements have safer lives. We think nothing could be further from the truth and that the thousands of caring parents who insist on driving their kids to school because they might get wet or sunburnt or whatever, may not be acting in their children’s best interests.
Raise a tax on fireworks for the RSPCA in recognition of the fact that a lot of dogs get scared when fireworks go off. But don’t ban fireworks because dogs don’t like them.
By all means allow the government to set the parameters of where public bonfires can be set. By all means limit the sale of fireworks to adults in the same way as alcohol and gambling. But kids need to develop strong relationships with earth, wind, water and fire by getting up close and personal with these natural elements. Failure to do that will see kids get more and more involved in the unreal world of computer screens and increasing mental illness in society.
Robbie Swan is a co-founder of the Australian Sex Party and a candidate for the Woden/Weston seat of Murrumbidgee in next month’s ACT election.
Pictured is a boy looking at a bonfire in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: iStock