Christmas in Australia

2011-12-14 00:00

IN Howick the Christmas lights are up. A passing motorist has somehow knocked down the wall of the municipal library. There is a notice next to the gap in the wall announcing that the wall is being carefully and lovingly repaired by our caring municipality putting our rates to good use, except that three weeks later no such repairs have begun. Someone stole the telephone cable for Shafton Road so that we will have no telephones until mid-January. Oh well! Peace and goodwill to all.

I’m in Australia for Christmas. I’m looking forward to prawns on the barbie and a can or two of Victoria Bitter by the pool. We visit Australia quite often and in lots of ways it feels a lot like home. The telephones work, which is nice, and the broadband is faster. But the weather is like home — boiling hot one day, cold and rainy the next. The roadworks around Robina slow the traffic to a crawl like the Church Street bypass. A criminal on the run has shot a police officer. On the other hand, some prominent police officials are being investigated for corruption. The news of the economy is mixed — mining going well, but otherwise job losses and worry on every side.

As I read the Sydney Morning Herald, I could be back in Howick reading The Witness. (Well, not quite: the most patriotic South African has to admit that no South African newspaper matches the Australian “qualities” like the SMH and the Australian).

In some ways, Australia is even behind South Africa. It has only just begun to wrestle with the issue of same-sex unions and whether these are the same as marriage.

The ruling Labour Party is keen to legalise these unions, but the Prime Minister (a woman who to my prejudiced eyes has rather fewer social graces than President Jacob Zuma) is opposed, creating some interesting inner-party waves.

But I’m not here for the politics. I’m here for family and Christmas. My wife will only be joining me later, so for the moment I am in the hands of daughters who insist that I eat properly, go to bed early, take spoonfuls of tonic with lots of vitamins and that I always wear a hat. I feel I am in good hands.

I have been to a carol service. We’re on the Gold Coast, not Brisbane, so I wasn’t expecting much, but a choir whose ages more or less match that of the Pams choir gave a creditable performance of bits of The Messiah. What I do like are the Australian versions of hackneyed Christmas songs. Instead of the traditional Partridge in a Pear Tree how about:

“On the fifth day of Christmas

My true love sent to me

Five kangaroos,

Four koalas cuddling,

Three kookaburras laughing,

Two pink galahs,

And an emu up a gum tree.”

Getting rid of the snow and the turtledoves is one thing. Getting rid of religion is another and I get the impression that an Australian Christmas is, in many ways, more about Santa than the birth of Jesus, but that may be unfair. We’ll see on Christmas Day. The grandeur of Brisbane Cathedral is too far from us to be easily attained and our Christmas Day will be in a small church built with prefabricated walls but whose altar and furnishings have been carved from lovely jacaranda wood.

The Nativity scene has already been set with some woolly sheep and a kangaroo. The figures of Mary, Joseph and the baby will be added later.

And, of course, I will have Australian children and grandchildren around me and my wife will have joined me by then. I will miss my South African family, but it is very good to be here.

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