I’m not currently based in the Northern Territory as many of my readers already know. While I am, and will always be, a Territory girl at heart, Dean and I recently decided to move down to Melbourne. We are very much enjoying living here, the cool change has been long awaited. That being said, I do miss some parts of my life in the N.T., particularly Territory Day. Celebrated on the 1st of July, the day marks the anniversary of Northern Territory self governance. Territorians celebrate with a night of total chaos, and (for now at least) we are the only place in Australia where for one day of the year the people can purchase firecrackers and make their streets a celebratory war zone.
This is not the first time I’ve written about Territory Day, but I was going through some of my old writings (back before I worked freelance and had endless time and energy to write for pleasure) and I came across this story. I wrote it years ago, back when I was still trying to figure out where these words would take me. It’s a memory more than anything, but I thought I’d share it nonetheless.
We drag its structure from all corners. We collect it days in advance from mosquito infested mangroves and childhood parks. We crane our necks to trees, just wishing they would drop something suitable. Please, we beg silently, we will make it something beautiful.
The firewood we pile into our chariot, already laden with family and food. We begin our trek to the beach. Our beach, small and hidden, protected from the world. At least it was then. When you are small, it is easy to claim things as your own.
It is on this beach we would build our bonfire. Massive, like a ten-story building seems to an ant. Other families would take their offerings and lay them down before it like an altar. Nothing is rejected. No one turned away. Above us it rises. A giant teepee in the sand, but its insides are packed, sardine tight, with wood grain. Children crowd around, watch its creation as we wait for night to fall.
As the sun drops below the horizon, we hold our breaths. We wait for fire to come. Our parents pretend not to notice our incessant whining. They talk like they have all the time in the world. We think they do. When you are small it is easy to think your parents are immortal.
A match strike, touched to newspaper bringing world stories. But as fire makes it curl, the rest of this life may as well not exist. All eyes follow this movement, this thing that we have made. Destroying and creating in one breath. It is our child. Our younger sibling whose life we are charged to protect. We feed it, watch it grow. We dance around it like we have never seen a revolution. We are not children of this century. We are our ancestors, ancestors. Holding outstretched hands to skies calling to ancient gods. We make whirlwinds with the sand at our feet. Sparks fly in encouragement. The fire dances with us. The splitting of wood echoes like our laughter on the wind.
Like an answer to our calls the sky explodes. We whoop and cry, but our yells have no place here. They are drowned out by this magic. Fireworks paint the clouds, abstracts of reality. Exhausted, we throw ourselves on the sand, breathing in the cool sea air and not caring that our hair is full of grit. We watch the stars fade to fire. Red splashes on blue sparks. Green explosions on purple. Our ears ring with the sound. Our hearts leap at the sight. The bonfire burns on through the night until sleep steals us away and our chariot bears us home again.