When I was a kid, the coolest garden activity imaginable involved setting fire to stuff.
Every weekend, my dad would gather the week’s newspapers (admittedly not a massive fuel source, with all respect to The Daily Mercury) and other bits of cardboard and paper, and then go to the bottom of the yard and burn them in the incinerator.
Just in case you’re getting the wrong idea and thinking we were some weirdo pyro family, no, everyone burned stuff. How else did you get rid of paper that you couldn’t use?
Of course the biggest and best incinerator in Australia was the one in Sydney’s Pyrmont.
An incredible, Aztec-y, pattern-y, chimney-y structure, the incinerator was one of many designed around the country by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney Griffin.
The Ipswich Incinerator, on Burley Griffin Drive, is now a theatre.
Back in Sydney, the Willoughby Incinerator has recently been given new life as a café.
The Pyrmont Incinerator started burning municipal refuse in 1937, the last year of Walter’s life.
Having been put out with the rubbish by Australia - fired from the team building Canberra, the city he’d conceived - he worked on Sydney’s Castlecrag and the Incinerators before moving to India with Marion.
Walter was in demand in India, with his clients and patrons, but unfortunately, also with his maker, who called time out after a brief but trailblazing 59 years.
When I was at uni, the Pyrmont Incinerator met its maker too, but when it was decommissioned I was still a kid in Mackay, where, from my point of view, an even better fire happened once a year.
Sugar cane grew behind our house, extending behind the half-dozen neighbours on one side, and the Sugar Research Institute on the other. Each year the burning of the cane was the fiery prologue to the cane crushing season.
You knew the process was starting when a bunch of blokes turned up and started walking up and down along the rows of cane, pointing, umm-ing and ahh-ing, and generally looking around for meteorological reassurance that it would be a still afternoon.
Having aligned the weather gods the blokes would go back door-to-back door advising all the families that the burn was going to happen, so now would be a good time to take any washing off the line.
Then, when the timing was right, they would walk along the edge of the cane field with a lit torch, and dab a little bit of fire on to each row.
Va-whoomp-crack! Up it went, sending snakes and rats and bandicoots scarpering, and plumes of soot spiralling into the air.
Oh, happy days.
These days, your best option for socially sanctioned backyard fireplay takes the form of a pizza oven...so hot right now.
I have one friend (the bee-keeping one from last week), who made his own pizza oven from clay that he dug out of the ground with his own bare hands, like a backyard MacGuyver.
I also recently designed a little courtyard to hold a pizza oven newly acquired by Brisbane’s Best Baker. We visited recently for a smashing late-summer, Campari-fuelled dinner of margherita pizzas strewn with basil plucked from the courtyard garden. We also planted rosemary, thyme and other staples amongst the grasses.
You can buy all sorts of pizza oven kits, and small backyard assemblies. According to the experts, a worthwhile oven will be heavy, using its mass to retain heat. It will need to sit on a stable, level base, located so the flue doesn’t draw smoke directly into your upstairs rooms. You’ll need somewhere dry to store the wood, and a little workspace where you can prep the pizzas before sliding them in.
Then all you’ll need is a stronger lock on your gate to keep your salivating neighbours at bay, and you’re away.
Burn, baby, burn.