Mondays Column – The Incinerator 4.1.10

‘Twas the week after Christmas, and our bin was all crammed,

With prawn shells a’ ponging, and left over ham, 

The recycling bin was full of tamped down cardboard,

So on the night before bin day, I snuck our rubbish next door.’

with sincerest apologies to Clement Clark Moore.   

As I struggled up our steep driveway with the wheelie bins, I pondered how a modern family of five can create so much rubbish in the space of a week.  Depositing the bins on the footpath, I checked myself for possible rupture, then had a bit of a paw through our rubbish.  Much of it consisted of many tonnes of packaging, plastic, paper and a light sprinkling of beer cans.  A quick check of my neighbours’ bins revealed much the same.  The contents of our combined bins contained enough material to supply the building needs of a small shanty town.

As a kid, there were five of us living in a tiny three bedroom house and we used to get by quite easily with two small, galvanised bins.  But then, not everything went into the bins.  Meat scraps went to the dog, cat or budgie.  Fruit and veg scraps went to the chooks, and a fair bit of rubbish went into the incinerator.  Nearly every household had a rusty 44 gallon drum sitting in the far corner of the backyard, which also doubled as a crab cooker, and the burning of our household rubbish was one of my happiest childhood chores.  Just before sunset every afternoon, the skies over Gladstone resembled a scene reminiscent of London during the Industrial Revolution, with plumes of black smoke floating heavenward as my brother and I eagerly did our bit to widen the hole in the ozone layer. 

Being the eldest, I got to hold the matches and light the fire, while my brother piled on the rubbish.  Sometimes we’d experiment with different flammable materials to see what would happen.  Mostly what happened was routine singeing of our arm hair and eyebrows.  Dad kept a wary eye on us through the kitchen window, and sternly warned us on many occasions that we were never to place petrol, oil, tins of fly spray, anything living, or any of our sister’s dolls, onto the fire. 

And being good lads we followed his word to the letter, and I want the record to show that it wasn’t three tins of fly spray I tossed onto the fire one fateful afternoon, it was ironing spray.  Not much happened for ages, then the first can popped showering my brother and me with sparks.  We dived behind the lemon tree as the second can blew, flinging the rim of the drum over the back fence.  When the third can exploded, the drum literally evaporated.  Several stunned neighbours helped put out the resulting fires, then hung around to see me get demoted from the rank of Fire Lighter (1st class), to Bin Boy (2nd class).  It was a fairly quick ceremony; Dad snatched the matches from my hand, then drummed me off the fire lighting squad with several boots to the backside.          

The devastated incinerator was quickly replaced, but law changes soon made it redundant.  Nowadays the afternoon sky is much clearer, and laundry hanging on suburban lines no longer reeks of smoke, or gets covered in long strands of sooty ash.  And as an added bonus, parents no longer have to worry about their idiot boys  conducting experiments with flammable materials.  I assume our Firies are also resting much easier as well.            

The price we’re paying though, is a lot more rubbish in our bins and the associated risk of hernia as we drag them to the footpath each week, but it’s a lot safer, and much more environmentally friendly than using an incinerator to lighten the load; I’ll give you the drum.


Filed under Columns, Writing

5 responses to “Mondays Column – The Incinerator 4.1.10

  1. Ah, now, this brought back memories. Mum yelling at Dad not to light the incinerator as there’s washing on the line, Dad not listening (was he deaf back then too?), Mum yelling for the kids to get back from the fire, me not listening (umm, well), the soot and seared newspaper edges floating up into the sky … the spray cans blowing up into the sky.


    We also used to have Guy Fawkes night too …

  2. Steve Hausheer

    GB you pyromaniac….I find it hard to believe the line “a light sprinkling of beer cans” fitted in so nicely as beer also comes in glass bottles!

    A tip from one who does not like the smell of rotting matter wafting from the rubbish bins….double bag the matter, deposit it to the freezer until bin day and – ta dah no smell!

    May have to invest in a crab cooker for the block….
    Cheers, SJH

  3. gladbloke

    Stevo, got to have a crab cooker mate!

    Rivoli – what do you mean ‘used’ to have a Guy Fawkes night??!!

  4. Errr … You have Guy Fawkes night in Gladstone? I haven’t known it celebrated in Australia since … well … a long time. I remember everyone in the backyard, a fire burning, all holding our favourite firecrackers. Sheesh! Showing my age now!

    I don’t think I knew then the reason for the ‘celebration’. It wasn’t til I went to England and their huge bonfires, firework displays, fairy floss (it’s called something else – candy floss?) and carnival atmosphere. I thought I was in Blackpool. Except it was raining. Maybe that’s why I thought I was in Blackpool.

  5. gladbloke

    Hey Riv, well, not so much in Gladstone, it’s more of a localised affair… my back yard. I generally follow tradition and light a few sparklers. This is followed by the traditional burning of my fingers, followed by the traditional running about yelling for a while. Then the traditional application of ointment. Magical.

    Lucky you going to England. Must have been a blast. My wifes’ people are from the Lakes District, and often tell us stories about Guy Fawkes night. The story behind it is an eye opener.



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