Black Petticoats

Black Petticoats

As youngsters, my brothers and I loved to watch the cane fires when it was cane crushing season in Mackay [central Queensland]. The fires fascinated us children the most. The burnt animals were not a pretty sight though. I recall catching fleeing bandicoots with our mother who gave the dead marsupials to a family who lived down by the creek. They roasted and ate them.

Us kids tried our hardest to catch the burning trash, weeds and cane leaves, which were called ‘black snow’ locally, as they came whirling through the air. To me, they looked like the swirling black petticoats of flamingo dancers that I’d only seen in not-too-often-purchased magazines. Around and around they came spinning through the thick, hot air. At nighttime, the scene was even more dramatic. With the roaring of the bright red flames of the burning grass and high billowing grey clouds of smoke, chasing the little black petticoats made us kids quite giddy.

We often fell into a heap of legs and arms as we giggled and hopelessly lost our balance.

The farmer and his hands [workers] who lit and put out the fires, were our heroes. Just like the Phantom or Batman and Superman, they were great men to us, though we considered the men of the cane fields were even bigger than the heroes we read about. After all, we could actually see these men facing danger for real, making and putting out fires.

The next day, the same little black petticoats were nothing but ashes lying all over the paddocks and our yard. I found it hard to relate these remains to the happy, vigorous entertainers of yesterday’s fire. Our mother chastised us kids for coming into the house with such black feet after we’d been playing outside.

As I washed the ashes from my feet, I could almost hear those dancers with their little black petticoats whirling and flouncing around the room, laughing with me, inviting me to the next fiery dance in the next paddock – maybe next week.

– Cissy Griffin

Mackay, Queensland, Australia.

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