12 Days of Christmas, Day 3 – Narelle Oliver

It is a thrill when my friends agree to contribute to this season of Christmas Wishes and today, for the 3rd Day of Christmas, is the delightful and hugely talented author and illustrator Narelle Oliver who lives in Brisbane (Queensland). We spent wonderful time chatting and having fun at the Ipswich Festivalin August this year.Narelle has published 12 picture books over the last 25 years, many which are award-winning, published internationally and feature her beautiful linocut illustrations. Narelle has a particular interest in using animal adaptation (especially camouflage) as a theme for her stories. She lives in inner-city Brisbane with her husband and two children, a family of scrub turkeys, azure kingfishers, and many other beautiful birds which visit their overgrown rainforest backyard.

So now, read on and find out about a very fond childhood Christmas that is so very very Australian!

My Childhood Christmas …

Like many families in South-East Queensland (Australia), our family joined the throngs who headed to the Gold Coast every Christmas holidays. I’m talking the 1960’s now – when Surfers’ Paradise was an exotic wonderland of high rises and sportscars beside the beach, long surfboards, leather-brown bikini girls paying good money to be sprayed with mutton bird oil, beach shows which featured hypnotists who made beachgoers acts like chickens, etc….

My grandparents had bought some land there when it was little more than a swamp beside the sea, and built a lovely beach house. So, every Christmas holidays for as long as I can remember,  we stayed in that house – and always over Christmas day. Dad would spend a whole day packing up the Holden family station wagon with all our holiday paraphernalia plus all the wrapped Christmas presents. Packing that car to fit everything was an absolute artform and it was a proud moment when he shut the back door of the car to show how it all fitted.

They say that the sense of smell provides our strongest memories and for me, Christmas is tinged with the smells of mosquito repellent, dusty mosquito nets, and Coppertone sun lotion. Of course, we always assembled the plastic Christmas tree packed in its usual spot in the cupboard and hung some threadbare tinsel on it, my parents weren’t big into decorations. And Mum roasted a chicken and added the usual Australian 1960’s side accompaniments – Golden Circle tinned pineapple rings, iceberg lettuce and perhaps a sliced tomato and tinned beetroot. It was all made a little more festive with Christmas- themed paper serviettes and bonbons which provided paper party hats. But the best bit was when the hot  “traditional” lunch was over and we could eat mangoes which were grown locally and bought by the tray. We would be in our swimmers ready to head for the beach, so it didn’t matter that the juice ran down our arms and covered our faces. Perhaps, I shall add the smell and taste of mango to my Christmas memories.

Narelle’s 2011 Christmas Card

I have to say it always seemed a little odd to me that all the Christmas imagery in the shops and on cards was snow, reindeers and pine trees. It was strange to buy cans of fake Christmas snow to spray on windows, when I had never seen real snow. It gave me the feeling of not being in the right place at the right time. But with endless summer days of beach and waves and sand, I didn’t worry about it for too long. And perhaps it heightened my interest in the nature of Australia … which is so very different from the Northern Hemisphere. But that’s another story.

This is a wonderful Christmas memory with so many Aussie icons. Do visit Narelle’s website and if you would like to see her workspace see her Look at my Desk post for this blog.
And one more age appropriate photo from the family vault

One Response to 12 Days of Christmas, Day 3 – Narelle Oliver

  1. Thanks Christopher for sharing this post about Narelle’s Christmas memories. I was fortunate enough to meet the lovely Narelle Oliver at an editorial consultancy at the QLD Writers’ Centre a few years ago.

    She’s so down to earth and incredibly talented. I made sure I had an armful of her books for her to sign.

    Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for 2012 to you both.

    Renee Taprell December 29, 2011 at 12:01 am Reply

Leave a comment