Empire Day, 1948. A back street in Bondi is transformed as the fireworks of Cracker Night cast a magical glow over its humble cottages. But Australia as a whole is being transformed in this postwar era and the people of Wattle Street know that life will never be the same again. The 'reffos' have moved in, and their strange ways are threatening the comfortable world of salt-of-the-earth locals like Pop Wilson, deserted mum Kath and sharp-tongued Maude McNulty.
With suspicious and disapproving eyes, the Australians observe their new neighbours - mysterious Mr Emil, fragile young Lilija and all the other Europeans starting their lives afresh. Mistrust and misunderstandings abound on both sides. To Hania, an angry teenager struggling to cope with her hysterical mother, and to Sala, an unhappily married woman trying to blot out her traumatic wartime past, the Australians appear enviably carefree.
But behind closed doors, Old as well as New Australlians suffer secret heartaches. As the smoke of fires past and present gradually disperses and the lives of the two groups entwine, unexpected relationships form that bring passion and tragedy for some, and forgiveness and resolution for others.