The city of broken glass

Posted on May 6, 2012

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The festival of broken glass is held every weekend and on public holidays. A festival with a strong community focus, it encourages the breaking of glass on any firm, and public, surface.

There are many proven locations: train stations and subways, footpaths, schoolyards, roads, laneways, roundabouts, beach esplanades, and sports grounds.

Historically the main festival precincts have always been immediately outside pubs, nightclubs and other late-night entertainment venues.

The festival’s traditional colours are brown and green, though transparent materials are also very popular amongst younger participants. Nearly always celebrated in darkness the festival often concludes warm-up events such as after-work drinks, sporting victories (or defeats), parties and other social occasions.

There are few formalities but it is usually anticipated that bottles are emptied of their contents before being dashed to the ground or the wall. With no rules or regulations to guide them, participants merely have to act upon a primal urge to turn a single, smooth and whole object into many, many smaller and sharper objects.

The urge can be triggered by anger, belligerence, boredom, despair, frustration, lust or jubilation. In turn, these emotions can impact on whether the bottle – previously an object of much desire – is dropped or thrown or even kicked.

The spectacular sound of the breaking glass has subtle variations. The glass may bang or pop or crack or clink.

(It should be acknowledged that occasionally glass is broken accidentally but this is not regarded as being in the spirit of the festival.)

Some participants, still of a relatively clear mind, generously leave their own bottles intact but place them carefully behind the wheel of a parked vehicle. The unsuspecting driver, intent on leaving an entertainment venue after a long evening, simply reverses over the bottle, crushing it easily.

While freshly broken glass shines and glistens under city streetlights it is even more beautiful in the morning sun as the brown and green specks sparkle with their various hues: reds and oranges, limes and yellows. Even the transparent shards will be revealed to have prismatic colours.

The festival’s administrators employ streetsweeping trucks to collect much of the broken glass so that participants have a clean surface the following weekend. The organisers also appreciate the efforts of cyclists who collect festival fragments in their tyres. The cyclists take great pride in their role and can often be seen by the side of a road diligently, almost reverentially, removing a fragment before tending to a punctured tube. It is a civic duty much cherished.

Even more dedicated are those who walk or jog along the concrete esplanades of suburban beaches, collecting festival mementoes in their thongs or sandals or runners. Some of these people have been heard to hum the 1980s song Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes as they walk by the beach.

A step beyond that level of loyalty are the hard-core festival afficionadoes who will even tread barefoot along beach esplanades, believing that is the natural thing to do after going for a swim.

The absence of long weekends and warm weather through the middle of the year would seem to be an opportunity for this long-running festival to take stock, to slow down. However, a particular weekly winter sport in this city, as well as the seeming proliferation of bars and clubs, always ensure the festival of broken glass continues through the colder months.

The Herald Sun, April 2008

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Posted in: City stories