Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

He put a firecracker where, you say?

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BRISBANE -- A young man in Australia's far north recently placed a firecracker in his bum and had a close friend light the fuse, igniting a gust of merriment sweeping the nation.

Alex Bowden, 23, resident of the far northern city of Darwin, has reminded a nation in danger of taking itself too seriously that a sense of humour remains the vital ingredient in its life blood.

Alex's act, designed to impress friends visiting from the neighbouring Queensland state, was so magnificently stupid it almost transcended the bounds of idiocy, reaching the realms of a comic satire of silliness.

Alex is no street theatre artiste, but it was his disarming frankness about his own foolishness on a night in late July that helped propel his story onto the national stage.

"I had a few lads up from Queensland and I had to put on a good show," he told the Northern Territory News from his hospital bed.

"I just had a few beers with the boys and let off a few firecrackers.

"And I put one in my arse."

His mate, Todd Lovell, lit the fuse and was, presumably, among those who helped Alex to the ambulance for swift passage to the Darwin Hospital where he was treated for burns.

Like every good farce, this one involved a police officer, Northern Watch Commander Gary Smith, who provided the media with the straight man from central casting.

In word-perfect police-speak Smith told reporters how officers were conducting routine patrols when they were flagged down by individuals requesting assistance from an ambulance.

"It appears that a party was in full progress when a young male decided to place a firework between the cheeks of his bottom and light it," Smith said. "What must have seemed to be a great idea at the time has obviously backfired and resulted in the male receiving quite severe and painful burns to his cheeks, back and private bits."

Australia has recently won a seat on the United Nations Security Council after a four-year campaign. In recent days it has overturned a ban on uranium sales to India, prompting a historic re-alignment of a crucial international relationship and reaffirmed a commitment to return the federal budget to surplus just six years out from the global financial crisis.

Yet it is this somehow comforting knowledge that a young tradesman can place a "flying bee" firework between his bottom cheeks and ignite it in an endearing attempt to spark an atmosphere of fraternal jocosity that gives us most confidence in this still young nation's future.

That excessive use of alcohol was involved in this incident, and indeed throughout the entire evening, is what lawyers might discreetly label a "rebuttal presumption.''

While Alex received a few thin-lipped, censorious stares from what Australians call "wowsers" (stern, humourless, non-drinking people possibly with strong religious youthful affiliations) there was also an almost audible roar of laughter from coast to coast in the days following the incident.

Here may reside simple adolescent Jackass-style humour but it's the sort of coarse jailhouse recreation befitting a nation founded by convicts.

Here, too, are echoes of the lunacy that inspired perhaps Australia's greatest short story, The Loaded Dog, authored by the great poet Henry Lawson, and featuring as its central character a spluttering stick of dynamite.

Even Australia's most prestigious journalism awards, The Walkleys, have got into the act by nominating the Northern Territories News headline Why I stuck a cracker up my clacker for a best headline award to be announced next month.

The police, too, have demonstrated the generous spirit with which the nation is embracing a man who may not emerge as a key figure in the discipline of neuro-surgery, but who nonetheless has suffered for his art.

A charge of possession of illicit fireworks, which usually carries a $282 fine, was withdrawn.

Police Sgt. Crispin Gargan confirmed Alex would be let off with a caution.

"We believe he has suffered enough in relation to firecrackers.''

Michael Madigan is the Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2012 A11

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