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Christmas Orphans

[Please Note 1: This story serves to remind us all, that in times of bushfires, drought and changing expectations; life in the bush goes on, and on – just because there is no other way to do it.]

[ Please Note 2: It is not a good idea, nor is it recommended by the Author, for anyone to try and produce the Christmas Pudding Sauce recipe contained in this tale. The recipe sort of works, but has the curious effect of rendering the pudding irrelevant!! ]

This is a story about how some things are in the Australian Bush at Christmas time.

The place is irrelevant. The time is apparent, and the location could be anywhere in that beautiful, vast, heartbreaking place, The Outback.

And, as in many cases, the story has its genesis in the events surrounding the people who live in remote places and know the meaning of loneliness and how to deal with it !! This particular tale kicked off in the late 1950s and carried on until 2002…and maybe, somewhere it is still happening?

Apart from the cattle and sheep stations, which surround local, regional communities, the populations of such communities begin to drain away in the weeks before Christmas, as most of the workers in the towns head ‘ home’ for Christmas. It has always been like this, although with the arrival of social media and the internet some of this human drainage has slowed, but not stopped.

Remaining in the towns, were those persons who were considered necessary for the continuing function of the vital community services needed to keep the town up and running, if you know what I mean?

They were known as the “ Christmas Orphans “.

These people were the nurses, maybe one doctor, a couple of bank johnnies, a copper or two and usually one of the two town diesel mechanics – to make sure the diesel generators kept the lights on and the fridges cold. But it was always lonely for this mob because they were on their own. Their families were days away by road; the local Pub, good as they were, were still pubs. Nurses quarters and coppers barracks were empty spaces when only one or two people lived in them, and the bank johnnies, well – they had local bank houses which were OK during the typical year but became pretty ordinary when the Christmas drainage began.

One of the Governesses, at one of the closest cattle stations to town, about 50 km., away to the West of the town, had a flash of brilliance one morning while making up some extra beds for ringers who had nowhere to go over Christmas – “ Why not invite the Christmas Orphans to come out for Christmas ? “.

The owners were all for it, there was plenty of space on the big, wide verandahs, characteristic of all station homesteads in that country – there was plenty of tucker, and 50 km was nothing in that country as far as distance was concerned.

Of such things, traditions are created.

So, a couple of weeks before the Christmas Drain began, the word was spread around the town, the pubs, the banks, the local cricket club, the police station, the railway station etc. ; Christmas Orphans, could come to the station after lunch on Christmas Eve and stay until Boxing Day.

Just bring yourself, or a small something if you wished, everything else was already there, beds, showers, tucker and good company. Not much else was needed anyway !!

Not in that country.

There weren’t many Christmas Orphans anyway, two young coppers, three nurses, three and a half bank johnnies, one was on probation, one black hander [ the diesel mechanic ] and four spare ringers – it was too far and too hot for their old Toyota to make it safely back to Longreach in Queensland and then back to the station.

The town mob, the coppers, nurses and bank johnnies rocked up in two Land Rovers, one of which had “ Bush Nurse “ painted on the side. Marilyn was allowed to bring it out to the station because she was the Bush Nurse anyway, it was her vehicle, and she had all her ‘ stuff ‘ in it, besides she could take it anywhere if there was an emergency.

And the other one was the spare Police wagon, with a radio, in case it was needed back in town or at a crash !!

Willy, who was ‘ half ‘ the bank johnny, the one on probation, brought his mouth organ – Nancy, the governess whose idea it was in the first place, had a violin, which she could play the hell out of – and one of the coppers had a hidden talent; he could make a guitar sing.

Wilson, the black hander, brought his own Ford 250 with the best sounding V8 for hundreds of kilometres around…he also had enough tools and welders on it to build a truck, if he had to?

The Hardchambers, the mob who owned the station, had been convinced by Nancy, their governess, that no one should be lonely or without a place to go at Christmas. And that was the reason why the ‘ Orphans ‘ were camping on their verandah and working out with Gretel Hardchamber how they were going to cook the turkeys, set up the tables, bag the puddings and generally help around the place for Christmas.

The Christmas turkeys had spent the last two months eating corn behind the house chook yard, and all the vegetables would come from the station homestead garden, well those that were left in the garden after the galahs and the corellas had finished with the leafy greens !!

Gretel’s Mother, Hannah, had made the puddings, as she said “ I have been making the bloody things for forty years, a few more won’t hurt. “ They were her mixture of suet, fruit, rum, flour and some other stuff, as heavy as your average chair, but they were bloody good to eat !!

Annabel, one of the nurses, had her own recipe for the sauce for the Christmas puddings, and she had a practice run in the kitchen on Christmas Eve…condensed milk, warm water, Milo, a solid splosh of rum and a pinch of flour seemed to do the job. Gretel, Hannah and Annabel had a serious tasting session, which resulted in all of them laughing their faces off at absolutely nothing. Tricky !!

The youngest of the two coppers, the one who could not play the guitar, had the job of lopping the heads off the three turkeys, dressing them and heaving the insides over behind the engine shed for the dingoes…who would appreciate this gesture, because they had been looking at the turkeys for quite some time – wondering how they could get them.

Christmas Eve on the verandah of the station was as you would expect.

Ringers in clean, shirts and jeans with wet hair plastered down; coppers and nurses relaxed lying back on the camp beds, although Annabel caught a couple of glances from the youngest coppers, and, gave them back !!

The proper bank johnnies tried the ‘ Singing Minstrel ‘ episode, accompanied by Nancy, who had her violin begging for more and the ‘ half ‘ bank johnny had his mouth organ sounding like Larry Adler!

All of these people were a part of a much more significant and stronger story: the story of the Australian Outback and what you do and how you live when you are in its arms.

Because it does hold you, it places a small fire in your heart and no matter what you do, you cannot put that fire out…the spark leaves you when your spirit leaves you…only to join all the other sparkling souls floating about in the Outback, looking out for each other and the people who live there.

You can hear these sparkling spirits in the cry of the black cockatoo, the howl of the dingoes and soft, susurrations of the desert winds in the she-oaks on the lonely ridges of hard stone – a sound once heard never forgotten.

Marriages came from these first Christmas Orphan verandahs and children came from those marriages, and they, in their turn, in the cycle of life had their children. I know of a verandah that has stories and memories…I am in those stories !!

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