The carnage was indescribable.
There were children, faces spattered with blood and gore.
There were adults, faces bruised and ashen. One of them appeared to be missing an arm.
A mother with a blackened eye and matted hair was clutching the hand of a tiny child whose face was grey and split down the middle with a deep gash.
The scene reeked of death and decay, and the air was thick with something sickly and horribly sweet.
So much for Halloween in our street last year.
It’s back again in a fortnight and already I’ve spotted houses in my neighbourhood with skeletons staring from their porches and their windows smothered in cobwebs and dust and large hairy spiders.
And I don’t even live in a lockdown suburb in Melbourne.
How I hate Halloween, but not for the reason you might think.
This is not one of those rants about Australia’s obsession with American culture and why buffed gym freaks and overweight middle-aged men wear baseball caps back to front and how people these days walk on sidewalks instead of footpaths and eat cookies instead of biscuits and visit the mall rather than the shops and call me dude and bro instead of mate and eat candy rather than lollies and sit on the sofa instead of the couch and put ketchup on their fries rather than sauce on their chips and fill up their cars with gas instead of petrol and use the restroom instead of the dunny and think that because of my breathless lack of punctuation I deserve a kick in the ass rather than an old-fashioned boot up the arse.
Quite the opposite, actually.
We live in a global culture these days, a shrinking world where social customs, traditions and even language are growing more entwined and fused by the year.
Nothing really wrong with that, either.
If you prefer being part of an isolated tribe that remains suspicious of outsiders, hostile to new ideas and wants to keep the rest of the world at arm’s length you can always move to Western Australia.
You see, the scary thing about Halloween in Australia is not our bastardised version of an ancient Celtic harvest tradition when villagers lit bonfires and wore frightening costumes to ward off the ghosts they believed had slipped back into the world of the living.
It’s more about our increasingly slave-like obedience to our true masters – the marketers and retail giants boosting their profits by filling our calendars with contrived “celebrations” and “annual events”.
At least Coles, Woolworths, Westfield and others have an excuse.
Despite what they would sometimes like you to believe, they are not charitable enterprises devoted to the community’s general wellbeing. Their job is to turn a profit.
Nothing insidious, over-complicated or underhanded about that.
You can’t blame them for desperately trying to fill their never-ending pitch for our dollars with new or recycled events.
It’s why you’re confronted with racks of sweet-smelling hot cross buns in the days straight after the Christmas frenzy, a not-so-subtle reminder that Easter is only 50 shopping days away.
But Halloween? The concept is meaningless for Australians.
And please, spare us the hollow justifications that Halloween fosters a “spirit of togetherness”, how it “brings neighbours and communities together”, how it is a wonderful opportunity “for the kids” to walk safely from door to door and how it’s “all just a bit of fun.”
If you need a confected, crass and irrelevant event like Halloween to feel all warm and fuzzy about your parenting abilities, it might be time to take a serious look at the priorities you’re hoping to instil in your children.
Halloween has become one of the greatest triumphs in Australia’s ever-growing consumer culture.
It’s a culture that exhorts and encourages us all to spend, to celebrate events with material objects, to buy stuff we don’t really want or need but have convinced ourselves and each other – partly because of the fear of missing out – that we simply have to have it.
In fact, if you believe the almost daily urgings of our political and business leaders, particularly after last week’s Budget, it’s our patriotic duty to keep spending to keep the economy chugging, to keep people in jobs.
I discovered a perfect antidote to Halloween a few years ago. Feel free to try this at home, too.
When you hear a knock on the front door and open it to find blood-soaked kids standing there with plastic axes sticking out of their heads and their hands out asking for something nice, offer them something from a bowl of fresh fruit and vegetables.
It only takes a second for a look of horror – even terror – to cross their face. They will turn and sprint away.
If you listen closely you’ll almost hear their howls and screams.
Now surely that is the true spirit of Halloween.
You get to scare the living hell out of unwanted visitors – without spending much, either.
Garry Linnell was director of News and Current Affairs for the Nine network in the mid-2000s. He has also been editorial director for Fairfax and is a former editor of The Daily Telegraph and The Bulletin magazine