Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

No call for turkey heroics Down Under

Christmas in Australia is centred around barbecues, surfing, cricket and yacht races, but memories of my Irish Christmases are never far from my mind, writes Philip Lynch

Wed, Dec 19, 2012, 09:45


Christmas in Australia is centred around barbecues, surfing, cricket and yacht races, but memories of my Irish Christmases are never far from my mind, writes Philip Lynch

Philip Lynch:

By Christmas, our paddocks will be burnt brown and the eucalyptus trees will have taken on a parched look. The bush will be tinder dry and rural dwellers will have been put on notice about possible bushfires. By Christmas, summer will have announced its arrival with a vengeance. And by Christmas the hay will have been saved and the silage baled.

At Christmas, caravan parks, camping grounds and holiday homes right around the coast will be teeming with holiday-makers. Beach cricket, surfing and swimming remain favoured pursuits. And for those unable to afford to escape the heat of the cities, public swimming pools will be crammed with thousands of swimmers of all ages. And in parks, verandas and back yards, everything from sausages and steak to seafood will be sizzling on all those ubiquitous Aussie barbeques.

Welcome to Christmas in Australia.

The annual incongruent appearance of pine trees for sale in the midday sun has never quite jelled with my idea of Christmas. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t quite forgotten those bitingly cold December days and long nights in Ireland. Nor has the sight of Santas sweating in their full attire, as they go about their business in shopping malls and hospital foyers really resonated with my idea of Christmas.

Despite the extreme weather, Christmas in Australia has an undeniable charm, and a welcome languor always sneaks up on you at this time of year. For Christmas signals the end of the school year. Age old traditions prevail. Only modest numbers of people will attend midnight mass, for Australians aren’t particularly religious. Instead many regard sport or at least watching sport as their true metier. Needless to say London 2012’s derisory gold medal haul was greeted with thinly disguised dismay by many Australians.

Every year the Boxing Day Cricket Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground attracts a capacity crowd and this year is unlikely to be no exception. This year sees Sri Lanka take on Australia. In what’s likely to be an unprecedented spectacle, protestors are planning to voice their concerns at what they regard as Australia’s continuing indifference to the Sri Lanka government’s alleged war crimes at the end of that country’s civil war in May 2009.

It’s difficult at this time of year not to feel for all those desperate asylum seekers languishing in tents at Australia’s “offshore processing centres” in impoverished far-flung places like Nauru and Manus Island. With both of our major political parties vying with each other to “get tough” on those who arrive by boat to our shores seeking a better life; our immigration policy aims to deter any would be asylum seekers. It seems there is no room at Australia’s proverbial inn, despite our relative wealth as a nation.

The Sydney to Hobart yacht race also gets underway on Boxing Day; all those sailing craft skilfully navigating their way across the treacherous Tasman Sea makes for easy TV viewing, if I choose to watch, from the comfort of my lounge room. And for countless others, who haven’t had all their material needs met, Boxing Day sales at every major department store across the country beckon.

This year we’ll have lunch at home here in rural Tasmania. The day will begin like most others with Kookaburras and our rooster starting up their raucous dawn racket. For dinner I won’t be undertaking any turkey heroics. It’ll most likely be roast chicken and vegetables, followed by pudding and brandy sauce; which of course is a much more modest meal than what my mother diligently prepared year after year. She would always proudly tell me the size of the turkey she was cooking – a ritual she maintained right up until her death.

But irrespective of how I spend Christmas Day here, memories of my Christmas days in Ireland are never away in my mind. Emails and texting have become my preferred method of sending Christmas greetings to overseas family and friends. Gone now are those days of echoing long distance calls at odd hours of the day and night. And even though something is inevitably lost, I don’t mind. Emails are easier. After all my years in Australia, the tyranny of distance has triumphed.

Philip is a regular contributor to Generation Emigration. Read previous pieces by him about visiting Belfast after a long time away, his relationship with his ageing parents, about his dwindling connection to Ireland, and the complications of leaving and staying away.