The intrepid Peter, who I have known for a very very long time, joins us for the third day of this celebration an tells of a very Australian Christmas.
When I was young, my parents’ generation called Britain “Home”, we children sang ‘There’ll Always Be an England’ on Empire Day (it was May 24, Queen Victoria’s Birthday), and we all waved Union Jacks at touring Royalty.
There were changes coming, and when they played ‘God Save the Queen’ at the end of each movie show, while our adults stood to attention, we youngsters sniggered and ran for it. And our Christmas was different, under the Australian summer sun.
My favourite Australian Christmas carol, which I learned the same year that Queen Elizabeth had her coronation, says it all, I think.
The north wind is tossing the leaves, The red dust is over the town; The sparrows are under the eaves, And the grass in the paddock is brown . . .
I think the Australian Christmas, more than anything else, has helped us to break away and be our own nation.
The beach is a big part of it. When I was young, all the street’s kids would be up before dawn, opening parcels then rushing outside to show each other what we had scored. Our weary parents would head down the street for “Christmas drinks”, and then their hosts, a childless couple, would ferry us all down to a harbour beach for a swim while our parents headed back home for a quick snooze.
According to my best recollections, there was always a king tide on Christmas Day. The tide tables tell me this is false, but I checked months ago, and this year, I look forward to taking my grandchildren to either the same beach or one of its neighbours for king tides. You can’t do that in the land my adult’s generation called “Home”, pronouncing it so you could hear the capital H.
A winter Christmas would be totally alien to me. When I learned that carol about our red dust and brown grass at school, it seemed right, and it seems perfect now. My parents never knew the song as children: its time hadn’t come. Their carols were about winter snow and cold, but my favourite Yule-tide song described the warm summery Christmas times and events that I still love today.
They played that carol on the radio, just as I sat down to the keyboard to write this out. Now I’ve heard my Christmas song, I know that Christmas is here.
With luck, the sparrows won’t get in under my eaves too much, THIS Christmas Day, because they go there to eat the spiders. I counted fifteen species of spider there, the other day, and what with the wasps eating some, and the sparrows plundering more, the spiders are having a hard time. I resent these feral foreign birds, which displace our native birds, and munch on my spiders.
A hot, and even dusty, Christmas is just right, in my view. Who needs snow, or reindeer, or jingling bells, when you can watch the sun come up while paddling in the sea, or drift along a mist-covered river at piccaninny daylight, hoping against hope for a brief sighting of a shy platypus?
Peter Macinnis is a scientist by training (hello Fort Street High), but he cares about the untold stories of Australia’s past, and also about the rubbishy myths that are peddled under the label “Australian history”. He enjoys writing for younger readers, and for relaxation, he writes for grown-ups, who are easier to please. and here is his website: Old Writer on the Block, http://oldblockwriter.blogspot.com.au/ filled to overflowing with information.
Peter’s latest books are Australian Backyard Naturalist; The Big Book of Australian History; and Not Your Usual Bushrangers.
More on the Carolinas later but Pam Vaughan (official photographer for the New England conference last weekend) has just sent me oodles and poodles of photos … so if you don’t want to see piccies of me in action – then look away now! There are photos of me with friends, of me panelling, photos […]