On the 1st of July in a small northern town that masquerades as a capital city, something odd is happening. Monday night, typically one of the week’s most uneventful is alive with noise and colour. Explosions ricochet off tin roofs, booms like canon fire echo out across the harbour. Ochre-tinted bluffs that once bordered a serene and silent sea act like sounding boards, throwing thunder back from the cliff top and away from the spectators. Reverberations lion roar over the smoke-loaded landscape.
This is Territory Day in Darwin, the only time (and now the only place in Australia) where the wild and perhaps oft forgotten northern population can freely purchase hundreds upon hundreds of dollars worth of firecrackers, bringing brimstone back to bare. It starts well before the sun sets, but that ‘war-zone’ effect doesn’t come into play until solar fire meets horizon and sinks out of sight. The first few blasts cause jolts among novice Territorians, bounding off eardrums with all the energy of a kangaroo on a pogo stick. Veterans remain solid and stoic. They have heard too much to bother muscles with the art of fearful jumping.
Dogs start to bark, and then bark some more. When the sun goes down their throats will ache with the effort of defending their grounded territory against the threat of this colourful god. They curl in the corners and wait for the dawn.
Cats hiss and yowl and then do what cats will always do and disappear into the shadowlands until next they require human affection.
Adults take to the streets with their gunpowder plunder and a good stock of lighters, and some matches (just in case). They find a spot to hole up and cause chaos, bursting eardrums and starting bush fires. For a night they fancy themselves artists of light, with that smog-filled sky as their canvas. They light wicks, look up and smile at the masterpieces they’ve had a hand in creating.
And the children?
Their light fingers borrow what fireworks can be snuck into pockets and out of sight from the watchful eyes of parents and strangers too friendly with their liquor. They group their loot together, dirty like pirates and just as reckless, before tearing off into the night. Bonfires will be built, firecrackers will be blown, hearing will be muffled, but I can guarantee there’s nothing else like it in the world.
In the park a few hundred metres from my house, a war is waging. Passer-bys, myself included, duck and cover as fireworks come whizzing overhead, whistling a symphony of charred flesh and damage. Crazy people, their eyes wild with flame and blind from sparks and flash bangs burned on the backs of their corneas, set fire to the sky. Daylight is nothing but a dull lightbulb compared to this. Fleeting but wonderful in its insanity. A sparkling ball races across the grass from a cracker improperly balanced. We jump out of its way, remembering in each microsecond the painful stroke of its fingers on our delicate skin. In its wake it leaves a trail of crackling red, almost the start of something bigger. Instead it is stamped out by shoes and feet, accustomed by this time to the sharp tang of singe. In one hand I hold my camera, in the other my sense of safety as I weave among the pandemonium of the night. Snapping photos and dodging flame balls I fall into a familiar pattern, honed over a lifetime of being a Territorian, of wandering among the anarchy of an evening so looked forward to only to be forgotten in a haze of colours splashed across the sky.
Stumbling home, feet stinging and black with soot and Territory soil I take a deep breathe of the night. My hair is a catchment for the smell of gunpowder, underneath my nails slivers of sparks caught on the breeze lay dormant. I lean against the wall and close my eyes, listening to the thundering booms waiting just outside the window.
Ironic really, that we celebrate our self governance with such chaos.
This post originally appeared on BarefootBeachBlonde.com, the pre-evolved version of Maps And Mandalas. I’ve republished it here with its original date because I love it that much.