After much media attention, I gave my Cracker Night speech to the House today. Please read on!
When I was a boy growing up in Western Sydney, autumn’s chill would mean something very special was coming. Suddenly, the milk bars and supermarkets would come alive with big bags of fire crackers, little boxes of throwdowns and colourful packets of crazy-jacks.
Like my birthday, Christmas Day, Grand Final Day and Easter, Cracker Night was one of the best days of the year. As an adult, my birthday is still good, Christmas Day is better when you’re a dad, Grand Final day would be exciting, if only Parramatta could get there. And Cracker Night! How I long for the return of Cracker Night.
The second Monday in June, our celebration of the Monarch’s Birthday, was Cracker Night. A night of double bungers, skyrockets, Tom Thumbs, Roman Candles, Catherine Wheels and blazing parachutes. A night when we were allowed to venture into the realm of giants. It was a night filled with a sense of awe and wonderment that not even New Year’s Eve comes close to. We were actually allowed to set off the fireworks.
My office has been inundated with messages of support for Cracker Night. A constituent of mine, Colin Keegan, of Baulkham Hills, wrote to me. His late father was an Army Officer and would always organise an Empire Day bonfire, crackers and sausage sizzle for the Army kids, wherever he was posted. To pay tribute to his father, on what would have been his father’s 100th Birthday, he planned to hold a small backyard firework tribute. Of course, the rigmarole imposed by this State made such a tribute impossible. He was certainly right to describe it as “bureaucracy gone stark raving mad”.
I find it hard to believe that we are in a State that has a publicly funded heroin injecting room, but denies our kids the natural high of Cracker Night. Maybe, if we can find ways to engage our youth, we might not need that state sponsored heroin injecting room. Society needs to return to the simple niceties that young Australians used to enjoy – comic books, milk bars and Cracker Night!
As the New Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier with the responsibility for Youth Policy, I ask what has happened to the innocent pleasures of youth? Why don’t we do things like calling our parents peers “mister” and “missus”? Or, if they were close friends, “aunt” and “uncle”? Why don’t we stand up for teachers when they enter the room? Why don’t we salute the flag? Most of all, I want young people to look you in the eye when they give you a firm handshake. Mr Speaker, I fear some young people need to learn that a grunt is not a form of communication.
Scorching that new woollen jumper on Cracker Night was a rite of passage for young Australians. It was a small price to pay to ensure that families and communities would come together. In the eyes of a seven year old boy growing up in Western Sydney, it was magic. It was a night spent with mum and dad, doing something special. They are the nights that are etched into my memory. Given that the amount of quality time fathers spend with their children averages out at a paltry six minutes per week, surely we need to encourage every opportunity to bring families together.
However, Cracker Night was not just about fireworks. We sat around a bonfire and simply talked. Sadly it is one of those community events that no longer occurs. Strong communities provided me with a broad support network and friendships and helped keep my young friends and me out of mischief. Cracker Night embodies that wonderful proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’
At the risk of raising the ire of the politically correct wowsers, I understand that there are safety risks with fireworks. However, surely heroin is a bigger risk. Besides, only the grown-ups used the most dangerous fireworks, and I know as a responsible adult, I’d be the one firing them up, because they are also the most impressive. I note that Tasmania, Northern Territory, Canada, Britain and America all have forms of Cracker Night with great degrees of success.
The spirit of Cracker Night was encapsulated in the John Williamson song, Cracker Night
Cracker Night was a real big deal,
When I was a little kid,
It seems like only yesterday
Tucked away in bed
Dreams of schemes and double bunger
Daring things we did.
Daring things we did.
Fireworks have been a part of New South Wales since at least 1803 so the colony was just fifteen years old when they celebrated the King’s Birthday with fireworks. It is a tragedy that a day, which is the oldest public holiday on the Australian calendar, has been allowed to pass into insignificance.
Like the re-introduction of knighthoods earlier this year, Cracker Night acknowledges our traditional connections with the United Kingdom and our shared Sovereign and our Commonwealth partnerships.
The re-introduction of Cracker Night to the calendar requires serious consideration, I hope that on the second Monday in June, I will one day be able to again take my two sons, ‘Search’ and ‘Destroy’ out and show them how to use throw downs and crazy jacks.
In an increasingly complex world, I urge our youth not to lose touch with life’s simple pleasures, because it is the memories of an Australian childhood that will provide the next generation with the four points of their moral compass.