The NT is celebrating Territory Day on July 1 with residents set to let off hundreds of tonnes of explosives. (Supplied: Brad)
Every year in the last weeks of June, warehouses appear, popping up overnight along main roads in towns and cities to hawk wares that would make an outsider think the Northern Territory was under attack: the grave-shaker. The rock-breaker. The smoke bomb. The war head. The shock wave.
But these explosives are fireworks, because it’s Territory Day again, which means that on Saturday night the sky will be lit up by hundreds of tonnes of fireworks set off by proud Territorians.
Every July 1, the NT celebrates self-government, which it attained in 1978, by blowing things up in an ear-splitting display that is unique in the country.
Between them, Territory Day Fireworks and Fusion Fireworks sell more than 120 tonnes, and they’re just two of the sales outlets.
“It’s a very busy day,” said Mark Killip from Territory Day Fireworks.
“It’s several months of set up, it’s a year of planning, I’ve got 15 staff running around madly for weeks beforehand, and then you’ve got one day and it’s just bedlam.”
Chris, Jarod and Luke from Bunbury WA with their fireworks haul (ABC News: Shahni Wellington)
Jarod, Chris and Luke drove up to Darwin from Bunbury, Western Australia, and walked out of the store with a box loaded with fireworks.
“We thought we’d make it count and go all out,” Chris said, estimating they had spent about $2,000.
“We spent more on fireworks than the fuel getting up here.”
Marissa from Palmerston said she would be celebrating with a big family dinner followed by fireworks.
“I’m a big kid at heart,” she said.
“The Aussie salute is our family’s favourite, it’s the last one to be let off at night time.”
‘Bomb squad’ a big seller
Every year, buyers rush to get their hands on fireworks on the one day it’s legal to do so. (Supplied: Jack Kerr)
Mr Killip said there had been a recent trend towards Territorians buying professional-range assortments of fireworks, which sell for $200 to $400 per box.
“The bomb squad will have a mixture of multi-shots: you’ll light one fuse and you’ve got multiple tubes, they can weigh up to 100 grams of powder and you’ll get really nice aerial affects; there might be whistles, there might be coloured tails, brocades, big fan-shaped, coloured effects,” he said.
This year he would be stocking a lot of Catherine Wheels, which have been absent over the last few years.
“They’re just a cool, fun item. Put them on a tree or a post and light them up and they just spin, a nice big whirl of sparks,” he said.
Improvements in firework quality
There’s been a trend towards Territorians buying professional-grade fireworks, Mr Killip said. (ABC News: Steven Schubert)
All of the fireworks sold in Darwin come from China, and Mr Killip said selecting the right factory was very important to ensure customers got the best bang for their buck.
“You’ve got to find the right factory that has actually got the technicians skilled enough to make it, then you’ve got to make sure the chemistry is really good, the quality of the chemicals – not too much smoke, but you’ve got really nice bright vibrant colours,” he said.
“You’ve also got the size of the breaks, how well they make them, make sure they go the right height, make sure that when they break there’s a really nice colourful spread, and then you’re also looking at the variety of effects and things you can pack into it, which comes down to the quality of the people making it and what you can and can’t pack into that size tube.”
‘I was being an idiot, I deserved that’
On Friday, NT Police released a video on social media of home fireworks going wrong, featuring dogs running around with fireworks in their mouths, shrieking children being burnt by sparks, wailing car alarms set off by the explosions in suburban streets, and men attempting to extinguish fires with their thongs.
Sergeant Dean Elliott warned Territorians to only set off fireworks during the legal timeframe of 6:00pm to 11:00pm. After that, Territorians setting them off face a $1,272 fine.
“There’s no point going out and buying a big cache of fireworks and [not using them all], and then after 11 they’re not only useless but illegal,” he said.
He also warned people to use only legitimate – not home-made or improvised – fireworks, and only as directed.
“We don’t want people to use them as some sort of improvised missile,” he said.
Fireworks are hazardous substances that have the potential to cause severe burns, lacerations, bruises, visual impairment, hearing loss and broken bones, all of which have been sustained during Territory Day celebrations, said emergency department doctor John Roe.
In the 10 years from 2007 to 2016, 197 people have presented to an emergency department or other healthcare facility in the NT due to a firework-related injury, a quarter of whom were children aged under 16.
Mr Killip said generally Territorians had a strong sense of personal responsibility when it came to setting off explosives.
“If someone does something dumb and they get hurt they’re not going to run around blaming other people, they go, ‘I was being an idiot, I deserved that’,” he said.
“People are a lot more relaxed but also a lot more sensible about it, and you can see that in the industry statistics, considering the raw quantity of fireworks going off in the Territory on Territory Day night, the number of incidents is just staggeringly low.”
Last year, two men in Darwin were admitted to hospital with finger wounds that needed surgery, with six others seeking help at hospitals across the NT, and firefighters were called out 280 times.
Increasing the fines for possessing and setting off fireworks outside of the set times has gone a long way to stamping out troublemakers who use fireworks dangerously, said Luke Caridi from Fusion Fireworks.
“Territorians here are lucky to have what they have,” he said.
“It’s a privilege that they have up here and it shouldn’t be abused.”
Territorians are warned to buy only legitimate fireworks and to use them as directed. (105.7 ABC Darwin: Emilia Terzon)