How much do you know of Guy Fawkes and his failed attempt to blow up Westminster Palace back in 1605? He had been in charge of the explosives to blow up King James I, and wanted to restore a Catholic monarch to the throne, and his plans went very wrong. He was to hang for all his trouble about two months later, but jumped off the platform before the hanging could be completed. Guy Fawkes night (November 5) became a celebration to recognise the King’s escape from assassination by lighting bonfires. November 5, “Guy Fawkes night”, lived on for years in Britain and Australia.
In Queensland, many of us remember the fireworks we could openly buy at the local newsagent when we were kids. We were at state school in the 1960s and would save up our pennies for Guy Fawkes night and go down to the local newsagent or grocery shop and spend them on fireworks. In those days you could get a big bunger (a firework full of gun power with a wick) for three pence. One penny would buy you some smaller bungers. There were throwdowns (round with a flat top and bottom, about half an inch in size), which would explode when they hit concrete, and were great for throwing at the feet of your friends.
Penny bungers were small and thin, big bungers were about three inches long and thicker; sky rockets came on a stick; flower pots looked like a base with a thinner top and cart wheels were nailed to the fence. Strings of small bungers or tom thumbs were lots of bungers tied together in two rows and were great for making people jump. It was up to family members to make sure there were no injuries on the night. Most of the families would get together to let off their fireworks with their children. You would stick the rockets in a milk bottle and the parents would light them. As we grew up we would keep one stash to let off with the parents and lots of bungers for later in the night when the fun began.
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In our home, my father would have me help him build a large timber stack for a bonfire for fireworks night. The stack of branches and tree rubbish would reach about 15 foot high before he would consider it ready. He would build it at the bottom of the hill on our property (not far from the forest) and invite all the neighbours over to come and sit on the hill and bring their fireworks to let off after dark. It would be a nice fireworks display supervised by adults and quite a social occasion for the adults. I can remember mum had knitted me a bulky knit jumper in hot pink when I was about 10 and it actually caught fire when a bunger exploded near it.
When we were a bit older, we had some boys who lived a couple of houses down the road and after the family fire, we would go through the back yards (which were acreage) and have bunger fights. More like a hide and seek. If you were found, you would be surprised by a bunger being thrown at you, and you were out of the game. Every year father would have his letter box blown up by kids that lived further down the road, and he got to a stage that he put a metal plate inside the box so that he could move it up and lock out everything on fireworks night.
Fireworks were the third-largest cause of eye injury in the state of Queensland back in those days and that is why the decision to ban them in June 1972. The ban was on unlicensed people buying, selling, using or possessing fireworks in Queensland and the police had the job of chasing round anyone that broke that law. It was considered quite unfair when the ban came in, as they continued to sell fireworks across the border in NSW, and many people would go south to buy a stash, and risk bringing them home.
In 2013 at a liberal national party, members voted during a party convention weekend to bring back cracker night to boost tourism to Queensland. However, the bungers and crackers now have got a lot bigger and are much more dangerous, so the Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Andrew Cripps would not ask his department to review the regulations. So folks Guy Fawkes night is now finished in all states of Australia and you have to go to the Northern Territory if you want to experience a Guy Fawkes night.
What do you remember about Guy Fawkes? Tell us how you fared back in those days.