Cracker night memories

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David J Delaney

Cracker night memories

Post by David J Delaney » Tue Apr 19, 2011 7:43 am

Cracker night memories

There they were, finally! Brilliant fire engine reds, greens and blues. Large, small, single, on sticks or wheels, some joined or woven together. There were chequered ones, plain ones, some with long tails and most had foreign writing over them.

Mr. Munroe always took great pride in his displays; his small local shop was very popular. People often stopped in the shade of the huge overhanging awning to peer through one or both of the two large glass windows before entering via the small row of steps separating the displays. But me, my brother Rodney and my mate Larry, had been waiting for this day to arrive. There had been any number of hints: the quiet stillness of the night broken by the echo of a sudden bang!

Cracker night was approaching fast, only two weeks away. We pooled our monies from weekends of selling papers, washing trucks at the truckstop, riding around the industrial sites towing behind a home-made billy-cart which we would fill with empty soft drink bottles to cash in at Mr. Munroe’s shop. The speedway on Sunday afternoons was also a good collection point for refundable bottles. We had collected what we thought was quite a sizable sum, which I hid in a small leather pouch kept on top of a pole in the corner of our old Queenslander house. So as not to create too much suspicion we would randomly take turns buying some fireworks from Mr. Munroe’s seemingly endless stock.

Leading up to cracker night must have been hell for teachers as well, with testerone charged young boys with pockets of crackers, a box of ‘Redhead’ matches and devious schemes, usually singling out a group of girls, dropping a mini thunder amongst them resulting in screams and shrieking that could be heard atop of Mt. Kosciusko. There were a number of boys, including myself, who at some stage were dragged to the headmaster’s office to receive the mandatory cuts across the tips of ones fingers from his cane. Because of these increasing incidents, quite often during morning parade the headmaster would lecture all students that the true meaning of 24th May was to celebrate Empire Day, to uphold the traditions of British rule and to be demure, not for a night of frivolous and dangerous fireworks…sure!

Not all that far from where Rodney and I lived was an old church standing about one metre off the ground, which was only occasionally used for CWA meetings or fetes. It was a short walk past old Queenslander homes perched high on their stilts, some with immaculate gardens and white picket or chain mesh wire and timber fences, some with nothing at all, just a great expanse of grass with a lonely letterbox in the middle of the front boundary line. It was here at the church, after each time Larry, Rodney or I bought some fireworks, we would stash our collection in a mango scented sugar bag then once again hide it under the rear area of the old church.

The crisp cool late autumn air had a distinct aroma of sulphur, the night echoed of booming crackers from around the suburb; brilliant stars sparkled in the deep space of darkness broken only by a sky rocket exploding then cascading flickering colours into the atmosphere. My thoughts were interrupted by the screaming of my mother as she ran from my uncle, who had a live mini thunder in his fingers. All my family including two uncles had congregated in our back yard; near the side fence towards the back and not far from the old toilet, or thunderbox as it was called, my Father and uncles built a small bonfire, only about one metre in diameter and had several thick half metre logs burning. My much younger brothers and sisters were in their pyjamas waving and making designs with sparklers and having a great time.

Rodney and I by this time were itching to meet Larry by the old church as we had planned days before, but we had to wait until the right time to ask Mum. We knew if we asked Dad the answer would be a resounding NO! Our chance came when Mum walked under the house. I walked in behind her and asked if Rodney and I could go and let some crackers off with Larry, making the point we would not be long and we would be at Larry’s place. Now, being the softie Mum is, she said ‘Of course, just make sure you are not very long and behave yourselves.’

Naturally we agreed and headed up the road to rendezvous with Larry.

Arriving at the church we could see the silhouetted figure of Larry sitting on the steps in the moonlight’s glow. He had already retrieved the sugarbag which now was about half full of our fireworks. I added a small torch to the collection of double thunders, thunders, mini thunders, spinning wheels and a couple of sky rockets. During the days leading up to this event we also purchased some packs of Tom Thumbs which we unravelled to obtain the main length of wick; a number these were tied together with cotton then again tied to the wicks of three lots of four thunders that were taped together with masking tape, this extra long wick gave us some “escape” time.

Sugarbag now slung over Larry’s shoulder and our tracksuit pant pockets bulging with crackers, like three adventurers we headed into the unknown. No one seemed concerned about three young blokes walking the street, letting off the odd cracker or flinging a spinning wheel along the road until it disappeared from sight. Families were having their own fun congregated around their backyard bonfire. A number of homes appeared to be empty suggesting the occupants were maybe somewhere else celebrating.

Growing bored with dropping thunders down drains and throwing mini thunders at each other we started discussing other ways to continue the excitement of the night, when I spotted Mr. Jackson’s letterbox on the opposite side of the road. Now Mr. Jackson was quite a meticulous man, was always well dressed even when tending his award winning garden. Dad called him a “facts and figures man” and he worked as an accountant in an office in the city. Mr. Jackson was always polite, quiet, and a gentleman to all he met, but unbeknown to us we were about to experience a side of Mr. Jackson I’m sure not many knew.
Sitting in the gutter, huddled like football players working out a strategy, I suggested a plan of attack. Now, Mr Jackson’s letterbox was a beautiful replica of his modest low set house, one of the few such letterboxes in our suburb; it was obvious to see the painstaking work and detail that went into building this eye catching letterbox. One side of the pitched roof was fixed with a slotted space where the letters went, the other side of the roof opened to allow the placement of small parcels or rolled magazines etc. I suggested that I would place one of the taped bundles of double thunders in the parcel side of the letterbox, thus giving us the thrill of watching the section of roof bounce open then close as we watched smoke pour from the letterbox — or so I thought!

Assuming no one else was about as this section of street appeared very quiet apart from the echoing of distant fireworks, we walked across the road, Larry handed me one of the taped double thunders then Rodney and Larry stood about two metres away. I placed the explosive device into the letterbox, lit the wick and retreated to where Rodney and Larry were standing. With wide eyes I watched as if in slow motion the spitting fiery fuse travelled closer to the thunders, then …



I could just hear Larry yell over the ringing in my ears; we’d obviously underestimated the explosive power of the packaged double thunders. To a degree the explosion did have what I expected … smoke, lots of smoke. When the smoke dispersed and we wiped our eyes of stinging sulphur fumes, came the heart thumping realisation there was no longer a letterbox, just the post it once had pride of place atop of.

Pieces of Mr. Jackson’s letterbox were now strewn over the footpath including some pieces that had lopped the top from some of his prized roses. The three of us were trying to gain some kind of composure and trying to understand how all this destruction happened in a number of seconds when Mr. Jackson’s house lights and porch light illuminated what surely looked like a war zone.

The front door flew open and Mr. Jackson, in a tartan style dressing gown, matching slippers and adjusting his gold rimmed glasses came running towards us yelling ‘You little bastards, I’ll flog you all if I get a hold of you!’ He also used some other words as well, words I only heard Dad use when he was really upset.

We had started running as soon as we saw and heard Mr. Jackson; I hadn’t run like that since the end of sports day late the year before, but run I did, with Rodney and Larry beside me. We kept running even after we knew Mr. Jackson had stopped; I think it was pure adrenalin from the fright that kept us going for what seemed like ages.

We finally reached the train shunting yards, where on the outer edge of the complex we had a cubby house underneath disused railway lines which were stacked criss-crossed on top of tapered one metre high by three metre long cement blocks spaced about two metres apart, almost covered by vines and weeds. We had lined our place with pieces of huge cardboard borrowed from the markets; the entrance was almost concealed by long grass and no one knew about our secret place.

Retrieving the torch from the sugar bag, I crawled inside our cubby followed by Rodney then Larry who closed the cardboard door. We were all still panting from running so hard and a bit shocked at what just happened. After settling a little and an in-depth discussion, we came to the agreement we should stick to letterboxes that looked like they were on their last legs so to speak and that as soon as we had ten dollars to spare we would, one night, , leave the money in an envelope at Mr Jackson’s front door with a note apologising for destroying his letterbox.

I was sorting through our stock of fireworks when my brother excitedly says, ‘Oh! Oh! Oh! I … I know where there is a clapped out letterbox. C’mon I’ll show youse!’

With that, I stowed the crackers I had been sorting back into the bag. Rodney and Larry had already exited the cubby; as I was last out I poked my finger in the hole of the door and pulled it closed then made sure the long grass was standing upright once again concealing the entrance to our hiding place. I placed the torch back into the bag then we headed off again.

We were standing across the road from the house Rodney had led us to and because the street lights were quite a distance apart many homes were in semi-darkness, like this one. It also appeared that no one was present; there were no lights on and all seemed very still. I wandered over to the letterbox and concluded that Rodney was right in his assessment of this piece of junk. It was rusted, lopsided and just held on to an equally rusty pole by some thin fencing wire. Perfect, I thought.

By the time I walked back across the road the other two had already attached the extra long wick to a bundle of thunders, so returning to the letterbox I placed the package inside, fed the wick through the letters opening, lit the wick, and this time ran to where Rodney and Larry were standing. Now the three of us were well away from the pending destruction and, remembering the incident with Mr. Jackson’s letterbox we stuck our fingers in our ears.

The resulting explosion went as expected; we even felt vibrations through our feet as pieces of letterbox now covered a fairly wide area of the front yard. All that remained was the post on an obvious lean. What we hadn’t expected though was the lights being turned on in the house and, after a couple of quick expletives we were off again like frightened Gazelles running for their lives.

Again at what seemed such a long time we had stopped running and were walking along a footpath when we heard a car screech around the corner now a fair way behind us. We knew this was not a very good sign, so Larry flicked the sugar bag under a bush and we started to empty our pockets of crackers. It was outside the Methodist church that the car, a cream with red stripes FC Holden, slid to a stop. I knew this car; it belonged to Mr. Roberts, a truck driver like my Father, and he would sometimes stop in to say G’day to Dad. He was also known to have a quick temper.

The Methodist church had a six foot tall, white, rendered block wall and Mr. Roberts, bare footed and with only summer PJs on, came flying over to us, grabbed Larry by the front of his shirt, and grabbed me by the front of my shirt then pinned Rodney in between us against the church wall, all the time repeating ‘You little bastards, you little buggers!’ several times. Now I can’t say for sure but pretty well surmised that like me, Rodney and Larry thought all three of us were going to die right there and then. I was so frightened I was starting to feel faint and my legs were feeling so weak when Mr. Roberts caught his breath enough to say ‘I know it was you three who blew up my letterbox, I know it was!’ I still had enough life in me to point out that his letterbox wasn’t very good anyway then, replying still with a very angry voice Mr. Roberts said ‘I don’t give two rats about that bloody letterbox. What concerned me is the seven, forty-four gallon drums of fuel I had no choice but to store beneath my house because I couldn’t make it back to the depot before the weekend closing time. That’s what damn well concerned me, boys.’

With us profusely apologising and repeating we would never do it again, Mr. Roberts released his grip, whereas the three of us used the strength of the wall to support us on our very weak legs then, just before he turned to walk back to his car, he pointed his finger at us and said, ‘Think about it boys, just think what could have bloody well happened if a spark had made it to those drums.’

Watching the car’s taillights disappear into the darkness we slid down the wall and sat on the grass with none of us saying anything for some time, until I said ‘Boy! He sure scared the crap out of me.’ Both Rodney and Larry agreed, and we started laughing at our near-death experience. We also agreed never to blow up a letterbox again and decided to call it a night for it was starting to get a bit late.
As we retraced our steps picking up the crackers we could see in the dark, and with Larry retrieving the sugar bag from under the bush, Rodney and I placed the found crackers into the sugar bag and headed for our old church. On the way, now with our nerves and adrenalin returning to what could be classed as almost normal, we regained some confidence to let some crackers off in the drains or throw the odd small thunder so it exploded high into the air, also still laughing about the night’s events.
Stashing the sugar bag back into its hiding place, Rodney and I bid Larry goodnight, all three of us knowing we still had plenty of time to use the remaining crackers, so, upon returning home Rodney and I noticed that Mum, our Aunties and younger siblings were now upstairs and Dad and my Uncles were sitting around the warm fire enjoying a beer. I showed Rodney the dozen left over Tom Thumbs that were still in my pocket; we both had Cheshire cat grins as we walked toward the fire.

Mmmmm!! Now, should we or not?

David J Delaney. © 2009

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