Cranky Lizard believes in Christmas.
From the time when events first registered in a young mind, the sight of a colourful, sparkling tree in the front room of an old, bush, family house in Northern South Australia, seemed like a magic carpet ride to another place where almost anything wished for could happen !
As long as you were good !
That was the stick, wielded unmercifully by my Grand Mother. You had to be good, otherwise Father Christmas would not come !! And, Oh the horror !! The very thought of not being a part of that wonderful experience was the catalyst for trying to be ‘ good ‘ for most of December, especially when school holidays began.
And being good was hard, because no matter how hard you tried, the only person who knew what was ‘good ‘ and what was ‘ not good ‘ was my Grand Mother !!
Nevertheless, life in those days revolved around the merciless, constant demands of farming life ; there was no time for frivolous stuff. Chooks had to be fed, eggs had to be gathered, early in the morning and special care had to be taken when cleaning out egg boxes, because brown snakes loved living in them !! Or rather, brown snakes liked the eggs that were in the egg boxes…I used to wear a pair of my Father’s old welding gloves.
The house cows had to be milked, butter had to be made, apricots, nectarines and peaches had to be collected from the fruit trees around the place, and, eating more than one or two of these delicious fruits qualified as being ‘ not good ‘ in the Father Christmas stakes !! I tried the ‘ dog ate the apricots ‘ story and that was a lead balloon !! Even my beautiful dog was cranky with me.
Preserving of these fruits happened in the kitchen and then, once bottled all the jars of fruit would be taken down into the cellar, where delicious and mysterious things existed ; including a special jar of medicine for my Grand Father’s nerves !! His face got a bit red after he drank some of that, but he smiled a lot, even when it didn’t rain…so it must have been good medicine.
Using an indelible pencil, I wrote to Father Christmas, asking him if his reindeers knew where we lived in the bush and if possible, could ‘ I please have a Hornby train set ‘, and, that I had been good because my Grand Mother had said I had…..probably because I milked the house cows and made the butter !! I left my letter at the Church after Sunday School, because Father Christmas had helpers who came to churches to gather the letters from ‘ bush kids ‘.
Soon wonderful, colourful, glittering balls and ropes appeared in the front lounge room, red and white and green ; no one was ever allowed in the front lounge room so I knew that it was getting close to the ‘ special ‘ day when I saw these things, plus, my Father and his friend Max had brought a Christmas Tree from town, although it took a bit longer than we thought, because Max and Dad had to have a few ‘ sociable ‘ beers at the Pub. The tree had fallen off the back of the ute, once, going across the Northern Railway line, but it still looked alright to me, although, Grand Mother had that ‘ look ‘ on her face.
Going to bed each night was a splendid adventure, I could look at the stars out of my window and imagine reindeers and sleighs flying across the star light…my dog and I sat quietly on the end of my bed, we could see the local church, just, and we were watching for the Christmas Fairies to come and pick up our letters. Wodan, my German Shepherd would go to sleep before me and both of us missed the fairies, although I told him about the fairies and what they were doing. It was a special secret about Christmas that we kept…my dog Wodan and me.
There was a calendar on the kitchen wall, given to us by the local grain company, and all the days of Christmas were marked by my Mother, with little notes to herself about what must be done. I watched that calendar…I really did…hoping to make the days go faster.
Neighbours and friends would come to our place in the evenings in December, some brought Christmas cake, others brought wonderful mysterious parcels to go under the Christmas Tree : we all gathered in the front room of the old house and my Mother would play on our pianola…it played itself really, Mum just did the pedals !! Beautiful songs were sung, they were called Christmas Carols and, even today, Silent Night, sung and played softly can make the hair on the back of my neck stand up !!
We lived in an old bush farmhouse and we made our own electricity, so at night, usually at about nine o’clock the generator [ known as the ‘ Perkins ‘ ] was turned off. I loved the way the lamplight and the candle light played on the faces of my Mother, Grand- Mother and on the faces of our neighbours gathered around the pianola ; this light even made the rough faces of our farmers look gentle.
A couple of nights before Christmas Night, we all went in our Humber Snipe into town to look at the Council Christmas lights in the main street, because the Council had town-power all the time, so they could do the lights. The town looked magical bathed in these colours of Christmas, red and white and green, and , of course, there was a need to be ‘ sociable ‘ in the town pub, for a little while. I learnt about ‘ pub raspberry ‘ during these wonderful times just before Christmas Day.
At this time and in this place, people were kind to each other, they cared for each other. It was the lights, the colours, the songs and the gentle care people had for each other in this bush community, living in this harsh, demanding land that fixed Christmas, in my mind, as a wonderful time…magical kind of describes it.
The night before Christmas, I remember was hot, my Mother and Father were worried about ‘ bush fires ‘, Wodan and I stayed awake for a while, looking out of the window, it was moonlight and we could see all the way to the Church down to the right and to Halloran’s Creek on the left, and, of course, the heavens and stars of an Australian Christmas night, in the bush, without the light spill from the cities, were so close you could almost touch them ; I know I could hear the stars tinkling.
To this day, I cannot explain how my Hornsby Train Set arrived under our Christmas Tree, but it did !!
A splendid day followed, food, Christmas Crackers, plum pudding with a sixpence in it ! And I found it !! My family sang, they drank, the pianola rocked…the heat hung menacingly over us all and my Father and his neighbours had trucks out the front with back pack sprays and shovels on the back, waiting for a fire…that never came. But, no matter who you were, everybody was ready to help, everyone had a job to do in case of fire, all of us.
On that wonderful Christmas Day the fire never came.
My Aunt Gladice sang ‘ Away in Manger ‘ with a voice that stunned me in my tracks with its beauty and depth ; there was a silence in our place when she finished her last note. Then our neighbour, Horace [ Horry, usually !] sang ‘ It’s a long way to Tipperary ‘, that wasn’t so flash !!
These are all memories of a Christmas, imprinted on the mind of a young person from the Australian bush.
A time from long ago in an Australia that no longer exists.
But what does exist is the goodwill, the peace and the sheer, wondrous beauty of Christmas, and the promises it makes to us all.
A promise of peace, goodwill and marvellous good fortune to be alive at this time.
Cranky Lizard wishes you all, every single one of you, who-ever you are, and what-ever you do, that same promise.
May your life be peaceful and happy and may you live with goodwill towards your fellow humans.
Cranky Lizard believes in Christmas.