Christmas in Australia

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.

john-window

image source:johnmcadam

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.

hobart-xmas

image source:johnmcadam

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.

assembly-line

image source:flickr

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.

geelong-xmas-tree

image source:johnmcadam

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.

myer-window-2-2016

image source:johnmcadam

myer-window1-2016

image source:johnmcadam

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.

fish-market

image source:johnmcadam

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?
A barberqueue

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.

 

The 2016 Myer Christmas Windows

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It seems that Christmas arrives earlier and earlier each year in Omaha. The interior of most department stores and shops, and even some houses, were festooned with Christmas decorations in the middle of November. Some stores were even decorating promptly after Halloween; maybe it’s just a Midwest custom. I am not really familiar with the traditional dates and origins of Christmas decorations and tree decorating but I thought convention suggests putting up the tree and decorating 12 days before Christmas day. I think my uncertainty over decorating dates is because as a youngster and teenager the days leading up to Christmas were always focused exclusively on what to do with the six weeks of school holidays. As a young adult, when I spent several years working in the Victorian Education System, I again focused on what to do with the six weeks of school holidays. Australian schools, colleges, and universities started their summer holidays usually the week before Christmas and recommenced at the end of January or early February; my teenager school holiday years were spent at the beach and not thinking about Christmas and Christmas decorations. It’s not that I was a disciple of Oliver Cromwell and wanted the good times of people just eating and drinking too much made illegal and traditional Christmas decorations like holly banned but Christmas was just not a hefty celebration.

santa surfing

image:theinspirationroom

Maybe it’s the early summer heat that causes a unique Australian Christmas and sways what northern Christmas traditions are celebrated. Many Australians spend Christmas out doors, going to the beach for the day, or heading to camping grounds for their Christmas holidays. A lot of places hold a Carols by Candlelight; the words about snow and the cold winters are sometimes changed to special Australian words and there are also some original Australian Carols. When Santa gets to Australia he gives his reindeers a rest and uses six white boomers to pull the sleigh; and he changes into less hot clothes. On Boxing Day it’s fire up the barbie at the beach with the mates, catch the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, or spend the opening day of the Boxing Day Test between the Australian Cricket Team and an international touring side at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Santa visited us on Christmas Eve and we would always leave something special and scrumptious for him on the kitchen table; sandwiches or biscuits that mum had made and sometimes a bottle of beer for the boomers. I remember the morning that my brother and I each found two wheel bikes at the end of our beds. It wasn’t the Malvern Star that we had hoped for but a refurbished bike; I know now that mum and dad couldn’t afford two Malvern Stars. I was excited to ride the bike and implored dad to take me and the bike outside to the nature strip and to hold the bike while I tried to ride it; dad let go of the seat early into my strange balancing performances. I and the bike fell down onto the grassy nature strip a few times and then I was riding; but turning successfully would take a little more practice. I soon mastered the length of Peel Street to Effingham Road. The more I road the bike the more the belief in myself surged and my doubts and insecurities about ever being a champion cyclist were silenced.

bike

image:pixabay

In the mid eighteen hundreds prison hulks were moored off Williamstown; the convicts quarried bluestone from Point Gellibrand during the day. Much of the bluestone was used as ballast for cargo ships returning to London from Melbourne but some was used for buildings and other constructions in Williamstown and Melbourne. It is romantic to think that the bluestones connecting Effingham Road and Eliza Street could have been quarried by the infamous Australian bushranger Ned Kelly.

I had to ride, and conquer the bluestone lane. The lane was a short cut between Effingham Road and nanna’s place. Mum always warned us about riding the lane and the dangers of the uneven bluestones; the most humdrum injury according to mum was falling off the bike and smashing your head open on the bluestone. Her warnings of the hideous trauma and wounds awaiting on the bluestones stopped us bike riding the lane for a short time. Unbeknownst to mum we started to ride the bluestones. The bluestones were lopsided and disproportionate and they formed an incredible cragged riding surface.

 

bluestones

image:pixabay

One day the bluestones claimed me, and mum’s forewarnings materialised; I went crashing onto the bluestones and my wrist collapsed onto the raised edge of a stone; my left wrist was broken and the u shape of the stone edge was molded into my limb. After the first setting Dr Long had to rebreak the wrist because it wasn’t knitting correctly. The second breaking was done without chloroform. I kept riding the lane; sometimes to nanna’s for Christmas dinner.

The family always gathered at nanna and granddad’s for Christmas dinner; we would all get to her place about an hour before dinner. Mum, her sisters Peg and Bet would head for the kitchen and my brother and I with our cousins Andrew and Peter, Bruce was to young, would play in the front yard by the fig tree or in the back yard in the overgrown grass around the sleep out. I never did know what Dad and our uncles, Ian and Ken, did. Some years the dining room table held crackers or bon-bons. A small string of garland dressed the fireplace mantel on which a small eight inch, artificial, conical pine tree was positioned. The table had a similar tree as a centerpiece. Even though the temperature was always in the nineties nanna would have the kitchen gas stove and the wood burning stove going flat out. We always had roast pork, her crackling was always perfect, roast vegetables, roast lamb, and plum pudding. She would start her plum pudding at least four weeks before Christmas Day; she mixed fruit, suet, treacle, cloves, ginger, sixpences, threepences, and other ingredients, and then wrapped the mixture. After boiling the pudding in the pudding cloth was hung in the kitchen bathroom doorway until Christmas Day.

plum pudding

image:the cook and the curator

After our Christmas dinner the pudding was reheated by steaming and served with cream. We ate our pudding double quick looking for the sixpences and threepences. In later years we had to give nanna our sixpences and threepences, and in there place she would give us brand new sixpences and threepences; the Australian government had changed the silver content of coins and it was dangerous to put the new sixpences and threepences into puddings and into your mouth. As soon as we had recovered the sixpences and threepences from the pudding we were back outside playing in the hot summer afternoon.

coins

image:pixabay

As the years went by Christmas dinner moved to our place; it was just mum, my brother and I, nanna and granddad, and Mavis. Mavis joined us after her husband died. Mum maintained the traditional roast pork and lamb but added roast chicken. And there may have been a strand of silver garland around the dining room window and one of nanna’s Christmas trees on the table. Nanna’s plum pudding was replaced with a trifle or something similar. After the feast granddad and I exhausted would head for the lounge room under the pretext of watching television but to sleep off the Christmas dinner. In later years I would go down to the beach.

backyard cricket

image:dennisdoescricket

Maybe I will ask Santa for a cricket bat, a few tennis balls and a couple of rubbish bins, for the stumps, this year so I can start the tradition of staging a twelve days before Christmas backyard cricket game; friends would then know when to start their Christmas decorating.

 

 

Carols in the City 2009:Colin Buchanan and Santa

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