Celebrating with a Bang

barossa history

Celebrating with a Bang

words by
luke rothe
>> Unused packs of ‘Po Ha’ and ‘Flashing Crackers’ 1960s.

Many children growing up in Australia in the 1950s, 60s and 70s may remember one special evening held annually on November 5 – Guy Fawkes Night or ‘Cracker Night’.

Fireworks have long been featured in public celebrations, including the opening of the Angaston Bridge, reported in the SA Chronicle May 5, 1860 – ‘Mr. Richards exhibited a display of fireworks in honour of the occasion’.

Meanwhile, private sales of fireworks took off in the 1900s. In Australia, Empire Day from 1905 (later Commonwealth Day) was often celebrated with fireworks in May. However, November 5 became ‘cracker night’ in most communities. The Nuriootpa RSL held a ‘Monster Fireworks Display’ fundraiser at Kalimna, including a ‘Monster Bonfire’ which was lit at 7.30pm on Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, 1953.

Excitement would build early, as children would save pocket money to buy their favourite fireworks.

The Angaston newsagency, operated by Mr W. Truss, advertised on September 21, 1939, six weeks before the big night –

‘FIREWORKS – Our complete stocks now in. Make your selection early…’

A catchy name and vibrant graphics helped to sell fireworks, with alluring names just as intriguing as the actual display.

A ‘Double Voice’ firework was fired standing upright. It would leap into the air with a loud bang and then explode a second time overhead. The Kwong Man Lung factory in Hong Kong made these using particularly colourful graphics featuring a pink cherub.

When a ‘Rising Moon’ firecracker was placed on a smooth surface it would spin furiously and then rise high into the air. Similarly, a ‘Flying Disc’ would spin and rise, due to its four thin aluminum blades.

A ‘Fountain’ would emit a volcano of hissing sparks, while a ‘Flower Pot’ would give a short display of sparks followed with a series of bangs.

Roman Candle, Catherine Wheel, Golden Rain, Fire Fly, Clustering Bees Rocket…the names were seemingly endless. With the added interest of space travel in the 1950s and 60s names such as Atomic, Cosmic and Sonic Saturn were added to the list.

>> Colourful packaging from the Kwong Man Lung factory c.1960s.
>> ‘Flower Pots’ in original box priced at 18 cents each

Of course, the plain firecracker, looking like a small stick of dynamite, was always a favourite.

Cracker sizes ranged from tiny ‘Tom Thumbs’ just 3mm diameter, to ‘Large Bungers’ which were four inches long (10cm) and one inch (2.5cm) in diameter. The smaller crackers were often wrapped in red paper packets, with fuses braided together to produce a sequence of bangs. However, it was common practice to separate the crackers and fire them individually – often thrown towards bystanders!

Nuriootpa resident, Peter Lange, remembers selling fireworks as a teenager at Steggall’s newsagency in the early 1970s, with purchases going into paper bags. Peter also reminisced about using lengths of pipe to build launching apparatus and then using his ‘Large Bunger’ crackers to fire tennis balls and pineapple tins sky high.

Children today might hold a ‘sparkler’ at home, but they won’t experience the ‘hisses and bangs’, the smell of gunpowder and the sight of colourful falling sparks. The thrills (and spills) of backyard cracker nights are a distant memory.

Home fireworks were banned in South Australia 50 years ago in 1974.

>> Selection of 1960s fireworks including the Australian Vulcan brand.
>> ‘Bunger’ selection
>> Early crackers label c.1930s

Luke Rothe

Local Barossa historian and enthusiast
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