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Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November!

Most baby boomers will definitely remember the 5th of November as Guy Fawkes or cracker night.

More recently in Australia Halloween has become the popular celebration at around this time of year, but in the 50s, 60s and into the 70s it was Guy Fawkes Night that was observed.

The story of Guy Fawkes is pretty well known. He and his Catholic co-conspirators tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament on 5th November 1605. News of the plot got out, and a search revealed 36 barrels of gunpowder waiting to be lit.  Following the failure of the plot, a special Act of Parliament was passed creating a day of thanksgiving every year.

The celebration of the day was brought to Australia by our English and Irish ancestors and regardless of the fact that in Britain it is relatively safe to have a bonfire at this time of year, in Australia it’s exactly the opposite. Late October and early November does not mark the beginning of winter.  It is the beginning of summer here.  The days are getting longer so, especially with daylight saving, you can’t let off fireworks until after the kids’ bedtime, and it’s too hot to enjoy a bonfire.  Besides, most of the country is dry and inflammable.

It was a pretty big event when we were kids growing up though. Any available pocket money would be spent on penny bangers, jumping jacks, throw downs and the more expensive Catherine wheels and sky rockets. Sym Choons in Rundle Street always had the biggest and best range of fireworks, imported directly from China.

Photo from Google Images. Sixpence or a shillings worth of mixed crackers got you a fairly sizable brown paper bagful.

Photo from Google Images. Sixpence or a shillings worth of mixed crackers got you a fairly sizable brown paper bagful.

The corner deli had an assortment available as did the local newsagent. Sixpence or a shillings worth of mixed crackers got you a fairly sizable brown paper bagful.

On the actual day, the whole street would be involved. People would collect anything that was ready to be burned and throw it on the neighbourhood bonfire. Somebody would make a guy, dress him in old clothes and he would sit on top of the pile.

Once the sun went down, the bonfire would be lit and kids would be running around letting off crackers, lighting sky rockets and having a lot of fun.

Thinking back now, I can’t believe how dangerous it must have all been and there were injuries, some very serious, although I don’t recall anybody ever seriously burned or injured in our neighbourhood.

In the end, Guy Fawkes Night was banned for safety reasons.  For a brief time there was a suggestion that it could be held in May. I have recollections of attending fundraising Cracker Nights at my children’s school, but the idea sort of fizzled out after a few years and the plan was dropped completely. Fireworks were eventually completely banned because they caused too many injuries to children.

Halloween is probably a lot safer in some respects and anyway what’s not to like about a celebration that gives kids a legitimate reason to be out at night, get to  dress up in a silly costume and eat lots of sugar?

16 Responses to Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November!

  1. Peter Horne November 4, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

    A truly wonderful and memorable post!! Thank you…the lead-up to Guy Fawkes Night and the night itself were some of the most enjoyable and happy times of my life, too. Ah the appearance and feel of the red cracker wrappings, the smell of the gunpowder and torch sticks (incense)…Fantastic!
    Kids in today’s increasingly horrible world really are missing out on so much… :0(

  2. Stephen Nitschke November 4, 2014 at 8:03 pm #

    Hi Bob – I grew up at Kapunda in Country SA. I remember ‘cracker night’ being a Saturday night in May (School Holidays) and buying my first fireworks at the age of ten in 1970. I cannot remember it being in November so that was before my time. Kids were also letting off crackers all around town even before cracker night. The odd sympathetic shop-keeper would let us buy crackers in advance, he would store them in brown paper bags under his front counter until he was legally allowed to let us have them. That way we always got in advance when there was a full selection to choose from and never missed out on our favourite bangers and skyrockets.

    I remember the last time here in SA was May 1974, cracker night was dropped after that, although I remember quite a few people held back some crackers in storage and still let off the odd penny banger at parties, quite some years later.

    Kind Regards Steve

  3. Maud Crossing November 4, 2014 at 10:03 pm #

    Threepenny bombs used to blow people’s letter boxes apart.

  4. Gavin Thomas November 5, 2014 at 8:33 pm #

    remember those days well, with tom thumbs, jumping jacks, sky rockets the works. The little tom thumbs we used to separate them from the strings and hold them in our fingers and let ’em go. My nephews and I and their neighbourhood friends used to go down to the creek bed opposite their place and we would set up a fort at either end and have mock wars. I remember my nephews dropped a threepenny bomb down the down pipe, one of the other kids ‘unbeknown’ to us had placed a tennis ball in the bottom of the down pipe, I will leave the rest to your imagination.

    one time mum was in hospital and dad brought home a heap of fireworks including jumping jacks, well, we didn’t place the bag far enough away and you guessed it one of the jumping jacks found its way into the bag, we had rockets bangers etc all going off at once including a few roman candles. I ended up with one rocket going through my slipper and wedging itself under my foot consequently I gave my rendition of the ‘hot shoe shuffle’. Was the shortest guy fawks night on record ( for me any way ).

  5. Richard Lea April 17, 2015 at 3:02 am #

    My father was captain of the Burnside EFS (now CFS) – I remember him going off to fight fires started by fireworks, I remember letterboxes being blown up, I remember dogs having penny bungers tied to them, crackers being thrown at birds. I remember children losing fingers and eyes being injured. No wonder Guy Fawkes night was banned.

  6. chilichoon April 23, 2015 at 10:20 pm #

    Thanks for the shout-out to the family – a friend directed to me to this page! I can clearly remember flattening half the neighbourhood with bangers of all descriptions back in the day, not to mention all the masks, costumes and other Eastern goodness courtesy of the grandparents in that famous building on Rundle Street. Good times and thanks for the memories!

  7. william cotter July 15, 2017 at 12:07 am #

    Loved cracker night , it rivalled Christmas for the excitement generated .We had organised bon fires with a GUY dressed in old clothing and stuffed with straw but we liked the ” wars ” against the neighbourhood kids even better. Sky rockets were aimed at rivals houses and a barrage of bombs hurled as well . I know ,I know , not very smart or high on the safety scale but what the heck we had a great time . Another thing to look forward to was the next morning checking the back yard for any fireworks that hadn`t detonated , usually caused by the wicks not fully burning down , leaving a very short wick . Re lighting these crackers was fraught with danger as they exploded almost instantaneously so they presented a real challenge , one not for the faint hearted . I loved the smell of gunpowder in the morning !

  8. June murry September 17, 2017 at 3:03 pm #

    Does anyone know which year was the last celebrated Guy Fawkes night in Queensland , was it 1962 or 1963

    • Bernie Hudson March 12, 2018 at 2:48 pm #

      Here is the answer to your question you wanted to know when Queensland ceased Guy Fawkes Night.

      “There were always incidents that occurred on ‘Cracker night’ or ‘Guy Fawkes night’, which sometimes left people with permanent serious injuries and disabilities.” Queensland banned unlicensed people buying, selling, using or having fireworks in 1972. The Australian Capital Territory banned fireworks in August 2009.Jul 22, 2013.

      To this day Tasmania and the Northern Territory are the only two States and Territory’s that still celebrate Guy Fawkes Night to this day!
      Guy Fawkes Night was/is celebrated every 5th November every year.

      Hope this helped with what information that you required June?

  9. Bernie Hudson March 12, 2018 at 2:29 pm #

    In South Australia Guy Fawkes night finished in the late 70’s early 80’s.
    Guy Fawkes was held around Australia as does Great Britain on the 5th November every year.

  10. Tracy April 13, 2018 at 6:45 pm #

    I did not leave the UK until I was 27 and to this day I still miss bonfire night. We too used to stuff old clothes to make a GUY and buy a cardboard mask from the firecracker shop into which we would shove a penny banger into each eye, one into each nostril and couple in his mouth, so when the fire reached his head it would blow up. We used to store our firecrackers in an old biscuit tin to keep them safe as the others were being set off and me and my brother would run through the smoke they left afterwards. I remember one year my Grandad lit a rocket too close to the bottom of the wick and it nearly shot up his trousers!! Even when I had grown and moved out, me and my partner would still have celebrate Guy Fawkes night on our own. I would say the main danger here would be fires as may kids in England had accidents if they were mucking about but I still miss the atmosphere, the noise, the smell and the food that always accompanied the night.

  11. Ray July 17, 2018 at 11:59 pm #

    Hi to all, yes the memories
    There was tom thumbs,penny bangers and the red ones in between does any one know what they were called ?

    • Dave November 5, 2018 at 11:13 am #

      Yankee Boys were strung together & Shi-shings were individuals

  12. Barry Turner ☕️ September 30, 2019 at 4:46 pm #

    As a teenager in Clovelly I well remember GF night. A bonfire in Burnie park and cracker fights.

    No one ever hurt but powder burns on fingers were a common sight

  13. ROGER MORRISON October 7, 2021 at 5:30 pm #

    5th November, Guy Fawkes day, was not celebrated in New South Wales. Our ‘Cracker Night’ was celebrated on 23rd May (Empire Day). It was stopped in Sydney in the 1970s because of the haze it caused over Sydney airport.

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