Sufficiently rude to make a man blush

‘Sufficiently rude to make even a man blush’, screamed the Adelaide Truth in a 1936 exposé on the sale of ‘indecent’ Chinese fireworks. In the ensuing panic, police raided the city’s department stores and the offending crackers were removed from sale.

Among the cracker labels that caused so much offence was one bearing an image of the Happy Buddha, whose belly when rubbed is believed to bring good luck. Traditionally, the figure is depicted surrounded by children. A shocked newspaperman told a Customs Department investigator that one of the children ‘appeared to have his finger on the figure’s navel’.

In March 1937, Customs officers in Sydney seized a consignment of Kwong Man Lung’s Happy Buddha fireworks. The decision was reversed when the importer, CH Field, pointed out that officers in Sydney had allowed fireworks bearing the same label into Australia for 25 years.

Field was forced to restate his case in a letter to the Controller-General of Customs when another consignment was held up in Launceston a month later. Fortunately for the importer and his clients, the Controller-General saw fit to release the fireworks in time for the May 1937 Coronation celebrations.

  • read caption below
    Happy Buddha cracker label
  • read caption below
    The truth is revealed
  • read caption below
    An appeal for calm

A selection of records relating to fireworks

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
PhotoJubilee fireworks1951NAA: A1200, L13614A
PhotoFireworks over Sydney Harbour1987NAA: A6135, K24/4/87/4
PhotoFireworks over Parliament House1991NAA: A6135, K17/4/91/211
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017