I’ve lived in the midwest for thirty plus years. At first, I went back to Australia every couple of years; and then that grew to three, and then four years. I just returned from the fatal shore; it had been six-plus years since I had been where beer does flow and men chunder. The last time I saw Christmas in Australia was twenty plus years ago. And Christmas is still different in Australia and my new memories will do little to change how I remember my childhood Christmas’s; posted in this blog over a year ago.
The Hobart Central Business District could be described as a suburb surrounded by metropolitan Hobart. It’s the oldest part of Hobart and is made up of the original English settlement, as well as most of the city’s important institutions and landmarks; Parliament House, Supreme Court, Salamanca Place, Macquarie Wharf, Battery Point, and the State Library. The pace is slow and the shopping is somewhat limited compared to Melbourne, Brisbane, or Sydney; but that’s the charm and pleasure. It is small and compact and you easily wander the arcades, laneways, nooks and crannies, narrow main streets, and smaller side streets to discover the hidden speciality stores, boutiques, eateries, and national brand stores. I was wandering Murray Street toward the State Library of Tasmania; it was early November, somewhat late for winter but too early for a Tasmania summer. There was a small warmth in the air and when I looked up there was a brilliant blue sky between the heritage buildings and other architectures. And there was the Murray Street Christmas decoration; this kaleidoscope of colours dancing before my eyes radiated the emotional regime of Christmas. And as I continued to stroll toward the library I caught myself humming and silently carolling Joy to the World.
A few days after leaving Tasmania we were enjoying the drive along Geelong’s Corio Bay foreshore. Geelong is about an hours drive from Melbourne and offers a range of lifestyle choices; inner-city cosmopolitan, suburban, coastal, and rural. Some say Geelong is a gateway city; a jumping-off point for the surrounding wineries, Great Ocean Road, Ballarat, Torquay, and the Port Campbell National Park. Others say Geelong is industrial and boring. The foreshore is a five-minute walk from the city centre and contains the Eastern Beach, parks, a carousel and Ferris wheel, beautifully landscaped gardens and fantastic public art. Geelong has always reminded me of a simpler time; a place to go with mum and dad for a swim; a place to play on the playground swings and slides, and a place to lick the melting ice cream from an ice cream cone. And it was a place that was home to the Ford assembling factory. I remember dad driving mum, my brother, and me down the two-lane Princess Highway for the Ford Christmas Party; dad didn’t work for Ford and we never knew how he got us invited to the party. After the first year, we started squirming and fidgeting as soon as we left Newport; the forty-plus miles to the factory were an agonising, never-ending wait for the tractor-trailer ride. We rode on facing out bench seats that were put onto large flat factory delivery trailers; what I now know as a hayrack ride but without the hay and the paddock.
A Ford tractor pulled us through the factory; past myriads of assembly lines and mountains of miscellaneous, unassembled steel car parts. The conveyors, belts, and transporters that made up the lines where workers manoeuvred and assembled the assorted steels were silent and motionless. The tractor-trailer ride was a reminder of the true meaning of the holiday season and the Christmas story; told as the creation of a car.
That afternoon, driving along Geelong’s Corio Bay foreshore I caught sight of the Floating Christmas Tree. The eight-plus feet tall structure is Australia’s largest floating Christmas tree; it contains 11,000 reflective discs and can be synchronised to music through a downloadable app. It is estimated that the steel tree will cost the city about $1 million over the next five years. Maybe you have to see the Floating Christmas Tree at night. But we all know that Christmas is not about the money; it is about memories. And as I gazed at the unattended mechanical lifeless marvel, I thought I saw in the tree a small boy sitting on a trailer being towed by a tractor. As I drove off I found myself gently singing Do You Hear What I Hear.
Even though it was mid-November summer was struggling to arrive in Melbourne. It was typical Melbourne weather with contrasts in the temperature from day to day; warm to hot and sunny days, and then cold and showery days. It was mid-week and mid-morning and I stood in the Bourke Street Mall after walking through the arcades and shopping emporiums from Latrobe to Bourke Street; you can walk the Hoddle Grid of Melbourne without stepping onto a street. Trams, buskers and Christmas shoppers populated the Mall. I faced away from the Myers Christmas windows and slowly closed my eyes and thought of those early evenings many years ago when mum delivered us, in our pyjamas, to the Myers Windows. And we left out smudgy fingerprints, and nose prints on all six of the windows after ogling the make-believe worlds of costumed puppets and life-like animations that existed in the magical landscapes and enchanting wonderlands. I walked nervously with my head down and joined the queue that had formed at a stanchion; I was at the start of the windows. It was at the last window that I learned that the windows are based on the Australian children’s book One Christmas Eve by author Corinne Fenton and illustrator Marjorie Crosby-Fairall.
The book tells the story of Bella on Christmas Eve in 1968 when she visits her Grandparents in St Kilda for a typical Australian BBQ. Bella and her grandfather head to Luna Park and she is given the choice of one ride so she chooses the magical carousel. She jumps on the horse and lets her imagination take hold as she daydreams about the ‘Majestic Horse’ taking her high above the clouds over Melbourne and being greeted by Santa’s sleigh and his reindeer’s. Once the ride ends, Bella’s dream fades back to reality and she heads home with her grandfather. When Bella wakes on Christmas Day, she is delighted to unwrap a rocking horse that her Grandfather hand-carved for her to resemble the ‘Majestic Horse’ she rode on the carousel.
excerpt from The Myer Blog
But the windows were not as I remembered; maybe I should have worn my pyjamas. I searched for dad; wanting to be driven back to Newport. I would soon be asleep in the back seat of the Austin, or Vanguard, dreaming of my own castles in the air. But all I saw were trams and the advertisement for the Melbourne production of Kinky Boots. I walked towards the Royal Arcade warbling It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.
We had a My Brother and My Melbourne Cousins and Partners soiree at Russell’s. Russell is the youngest of the Oliver cousins and is back living in the house at Chadstone he grew up in. Before long all the boys had formed a tight circle in the kitchen and it soon became; And remember when. And remember when we went to nanna and granddads for Christmas dinner. And remember nanna’s Christmas pudding; we would eat it double quick looking for the sixpences and threepence’s that she put in it when she first made it. And remember when we had to give our sixpences and threepence’s back to her because the Australian government had changed the silver content of coins and it was dangerous to put the new sixpences and threepence’s into puddings. And then Russell said And remember when nanna always used to cut the pudding in the kitchen and then push sixpences that she had kept out of the pudding into Peter’s slice of pudding. We all fell silent; each of the cousins taking a doubting, fleeting look at each other. And Russell said yeah, nanna used to push sixpences into Peter’s plum pudding. And the magic that was nanna’s on Christmas Day unravelled before all of us cousins; that perfect star would no longer shine upon our tree. It will be a long time before I write to Father Christmas or sit on his knee asking for a bunch of presents. In the car with my brother Peter whilst he was driving us back to our hotel from Russell’s I fell silent, but I was singing in hushed tones Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
And it was satisfying to see that Christmas Day Dinner is still a family activity. You can still find some of nanna’s favourites on the table, but because it’s summer it’s not all about plum pudding; some of the help yourself seafood table staples are prawns, fish, crab, crayfish and oysters; and you could throw a few steaks on the barbie, or do either a roast chook, or turkey, or bake a ham. And dessert is pavlova, Christmas cake with treacle, or ice cream cakes. You’re not going to find a lot of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, parsnips, carrots, cranberry sauce, and gravy, or pumpkin and apple pie. But you will find people pulling open their Christmas crackers, donning the inside colourful paper crowns, and then sharing the hidden jokes to whoever is listening.
What do they sing at a snowman’s birthday party?
Freeze a jolly good fellow
What does a frog do if his car breaks down?
He gets it toad away
What do you call a line of men waiting for a haircut?
Maybe for next Christmas, I’ll download the 1983 remake, starring Nicole Kidman, of the Australian movie Bush Christmas; it’s about an Australian outback family struggling to keep their farm from foreclosure. Unfortunately, the family is deeply in debt and their only hope is that their horse, Prince, will win money in the annual New Year’s Cup race. As Christmas comes around, a pair of thieves steal Prince and the children embark on a dangerous and exciting adventure to get him back.
I could roast some chestnuts on an open fire and we could sing God Rest You Merry Gentlemen.