December 4 – An Australian Bush Christmas
Christmas is different in Australia, coming in the middle of summer. Since Christmas Eve and Boxing Day are also holidays, many families pack up and head to the beach. Lavish picnics are the order of the day. Instead of sleds and ice skates, kids get cricket bats and in-line skates under the tree.
On cattle stations like Alexandria in the Northern Territory, Christmas comes in the middle of the hottest time of the year. The Wet Season hasn’t started yet, but the humidity is as high as the temperature. All the seasonal employees have gone to the coast and only the hardy – or unlucky – few are left; the station’s population drops to half or less of what it is in the cattle season.
But we still had Christmas. For one day the entire station, larger than Delaware (state, not county), was a single family. If we were lucky and had an early Wet and the usually-dry Playford River had come down, everyone who was left on the station would go down to the waterhole for a day-long potluck barbecue, including of course the mandatory cricket match which is part of every Australian’s Christmas celebration. The outstations would close for the day and come to the homestead. The Joselands would fly down from neighboring Mittiebah. Friends from other stations would drive for an hour or more over rough dirt roads to be there, opening and closing four gates along the way.
In the bush your family isn’t just the people in your house. You know everyone for hundreds of miles around, and they are all family. And so, like families everywhere, they all come together for Christmas. They feast and squabble and swear that it’s too much work and they’ll never do it again, and the next year everyone is there again. Because even in the bush everyone wants to be with their family on Christmas.