We wake at dawn and drag our pillow slips full of Christmas presents into Mum and Dad’s bedroom. Excitement builds as we tear away the bright wrapping paper to reveal the coveted toys. A Meccano set for my brothers and a nurse’s uniform with a red cross on the apron for me.
By 10 am the temperature gauge on the veranda sits at 93 degrees. Dad stokes the Rayburn firebox until the kitchen resembles the inside of a furnace. Mum dresses the turkey, peels potatoes and pumpkin, her dress soaked in perspiration as she brushes away her hair with the back of her hand. She strings the beans which will be cooked to a grey green mush, while the pan juices from the cooked turkey will make a rich brown gravy.
We prepare to host our neighbourhood Christmas party. Mum dices cheese while I thread a square on a toothpick, matched with either a red or green pickled onion, and pushed into a half orange. Arranged on the best china, the gourmet offering looks like a colourful echidna. The mail order glass jars of Planter cashews, peanuts, and almonds arrived last week on the postal truck. Decanted into small bowls they are placed around the lounge room. The glace fruit packed with sugary crystallised pineapple, cherries, figs, and apricots is opened. Mum slices one of her Christmas cakes but we keep the one with threepences and sixpences for ourselves.
Friends from surrounding farms arrive mid-morning. The men in one corner drinking beer, talking wool and cattle prices. The women in the other corner sipping Pimms No.1, discussing recipes and the latest gossip. Even in the heat the women wear their best summer frocks, perspiration stains visible at their arm pits. Some farmers, including Dad wear fawn shorts with long socks, giving their knobbly white knees an annual outing. Kids race around showing off new presents, begging for lemonade, and stealing the adults only cashews. The outside temperature is 105 degrees and with heat radiating from the kitchen, the crowded lounge room is stifling. Friendly chatter rises to meet the cigarette smoke, hanging lifeless in the still fusty air.
The last lingering guests step into the harsh blinding light of the midday sun. They climb into vehicles that have become hot metal boxes and raise clouds of dust as they wave their farewells and disappear down the rutted road.
Cleaning up the mess, we set the table with bonbons and a small windup Christmas tree that plays a tinny version of Dreaming of a White Christmas. We sit down to plates of turkey and baked vegetables, sweltering in a house that feels like the inside of a hot smoky oven. A longneck bottle of chilled DA Dinner ale sits on the table for Mum and Dad and the last of the lemonade for us kids. We pull the crackers and wear coloured paper hats that stick to our sweaty heads; the leached-out dye makes us look like victims of a rare disease. Afterwards we gorge on plum pudding, custard, brandy sauce, and what’s left of the glace fruit.
Sated by our gluttony we slumber in the heat until the shadows lengthen. Mum prepares a picnic of cold turkey, salad, and bread. We pile into the old truck and bump our way over the track to the river. The cool flowing water washes away the heat and excesses of the day. A perfect ending to a sweltering bush Christmas.
I live in Sydney, on the Northern Beaches and enjoy longs walks on the beach and a dip in the ocean in warm weather. I’m active volunteer in my local community library and I get great pleasure from reading and discussing the latest choice with my book club members over lunch or a glass of wine. My writing groups give me inspiration and motivation to keep persevering with my writing even when the inner devil voice is throwing negative thoughts at me. I’m currently working on a historical novel set in Sydney and Canada during WWII based around the life of my Uncle. I’ve been fortunate to have inherited his diary from 1941-1943 which details his service in the RAAF at this time. It’s like opening a time capsule. I also like writing short stories especially flash fiction and I’ve had several stories published in Positive Words Magazine and been shortlisted in various short story competitions as well as winning the Fellowship of Australia, Forestville branch short story competition.