Christmas? Bah, humbug!
As the twentieth century draws to a close,
unfortunately do the tales of Spinifex.
Boof was fussing around, laying out pullem-crackers and tootle-whistles
and little gifts, muttering to himself about yuletide spirit and singing
a song about decking the halls with mistletoe or boston charlie or something
somewhere and generally running around very excited, like a just-chopped-chook
with its head cut off, gushing red and flustered and as silly as ever.
"Should we put the jolly caps on now, should we put them on straight
away or should we wait until we eat and then wear them when we pull
our christmas crackers and read what prophecies are there for us next
year?" He gushed a bit more and almost trembled as the christmas
spirit swept over him. The morning of December 25 was on us, the last
year of the millennium (depending on which system you counted by) and
we were girding our loins for a goldfields pioneer's christmas dinner.
We were doing it by the books. Having a christmas dinner just like they
did way back in 1934. And he was ruining it.
I'd already plucked the plains turkey (courtesy of a black mate of mine
who'd picked up the poor silly wandering bugger of a thing out near
Orlando) and stuffed it with brandied bread crumbs and crammed it into
the big bidourie over the coals that'd been on the go for a couple of
"I have gathered a range of suitable bottles, lined up for us to
sample and indulge ourselves in, according to the historical record
of the time." The Professor swept an expansive arm across a string
of full and half-full containers; schnapps, whisky, brandy, champagnes,
wines, liqueurs - they were all there. "I have explored and brought
together the entire panoply of alcoholic opportunities available to
the pioneering mining gougers during the early years." He drew
himself up, fluffing his cavalier blouse and smiling expansively at
Miss Kitty. "Your every historical and verisimitudinal wish has
been my command!" He flung an arm out and bowed, nodding towards
the fishneck stockinged beauty lounging insouciantly along my leather
lounge. He was ruining it too.
I knew the foppish devil would have explored the old dumps and looked
at broken bottles, checked the few written histories and come up with
the real thing. He'd gathered Frigate Rum, McCallum's Whisky, Tanunda
Brandy, Orlando's Sparkling Porphyry Pearl and more. All from the pioneer's
chosen list of intoxicants, one of the most easily found remnants on
the minefield's litters and dumps.
The plum pudding was on the go nicely, bubbling away in the camp oven
over slow coals with the lid just on. And full of real threeepences
and sixpences too.
Miss Kitty yawned, stretched and started to speak. Before her gorgeously
lipsticked lips could open, Boof broke in.
"Well, Mr Smartie, where's the hop-beer? They all had hop-beer,
brewed in Beenleigh rum kegs and.."
"With an added bottle of gin or whisky or rum to give it a little
git-em-up?" queried Miss Kitty, elegantly stretching her arms,
her lithesome legs and then somehow kicking Boof squarely in the behind
as he scuttled past.
"Don't interrupt again, you slavering, quavering melon-carrying
nincompoop!" He'd just dashed in with a large, green watermelon
and despite the kick somehow landed face-down on the table without breaking
the gorgeous fruit into pieces.
"Did you know", she sneered "that Charlie Priest grew
those things, and radishes, and tomatoes, and spinach back when there
were no vegetables to be had, not at any time, let alone at Christmas?"
Her acerbic tongue curled around his sensibilities.
While she badgered him I finished the spuds and onions and threw them
into the other camp oven with some goat fat and got the dried peas ready,
they'd take a while to soak and grabbed the tiny bit of mint I had and
chopped it up.
"Well, yeah, yeah, I did know that," he shot back and Miss
Kitty arched an expectant and intoxicating eyebrow. This, I thought,
had better be good. She knew more about the old-timers than any of us.
At the best of times, she was formidable, speaking out for those old
people staunchly, particularly the pioneer women who often enough didn't
get the recognition they deserved. But today, on this day of goodwill
and good cheer, she was in a worse mood than ever before and we all
cowered in fear from the lash of her tongue. Of course, we all coveted
her and lusted after her as well and she knew it and it didn't make
anything easy for us.
"He had a place, a market garden just this side of Seven Mile,
on the western side in about 1937 and he and his partner Joe Zumaglini
grew a lot of vegies and then had to give it up because there wasn't
enough water for the town and the garden both!" He was hurt and
upset, on this special day when he could have fun and she wouldn't let
him and he reckoned he had all the answers.
"And the name of the mine he had?" she demanded.
The Professor leant forward and smiled oilily. "He worked the Hidden
Mystery and the Never in Doubt" he opined, "the latter with
Joe Zumaglini, his partner in gardening, which later had its name changed
to the Mauretania, and overall had an average return of 210 ounces of
fine gold." He was just warming up and he strutted around the room,
around the old stools and banged-together table we'd found out near
Wauchope at the Wolfram mines one hot afternoon. "The Hidden Mystery
gave a pathetic dribble of thirteen ounces. In those days you either
hit or missed!
"What's so different from these days?" I heard her mutter
and thought it time for the gravy. Some port wine into gravox with some
chicken stock held over from the rooster we'd pinched, with a little
smidgeon of dried herbs we'd been hanging onto for a special moment.
No time like the moment, no stinting on Christmas Day.
The Professor leant over Miss Kitty and handed her an Advokaat and Cherry
Brandy - "For you, my little precious christmas angel" he
oozed - how sick - and then nearly flung a large shandy to Boof, still
nursing his hurt in a corner near the presents. He still wanted to open
the big box with his name on it. There might be a toy truck or something
in it. I didn't get anything so I had a go at the custard, just from
the good old-fashioned box but you used to be able to get it from George
Williams' store way back then. Mmmm. Tasting good.
It was time to eat and the plains turkey, I suppose he got five or so
slow hours in the big bidourie, and the spuds and onions and peas, they
were all heaven and they all melted in our mouths and we drank some
sparkling Rhinegold and then some brandies and then the plum pudding
and custard went down a treat except that Boof got a threepence stuck
down his throat and rather than lose it we dug in deep and fetched it
back and while he sobbed a bit we had a couple of refreshing Pick Axes
(you still see the bottles scattered across the field today) and then
I thought I'd better do the dishes while I still could because no-one
else seemed interested and then the Professor got fresh with Miss Kitty
and got slapped, quite hard in fact, not twice or three times but quite
a lot really and Boof had a couple of shandies because his throat hurt
so much and the Professor sulked in a corner and then Miss Kitty smiled
ever so sweetly, sultry and cool and whispered " You haven't had
your christmas present yet, have you?"
So I bent to the task and then from somewhere, from a dimly remembered
source, an age-old tickling at the back of the memory synapses, an old
carol, an ancient song of christmas cheer and good will welled up in
me. I sang it softly to myself and found it welling up much too strongly
to restrain and keep from bursting its banks. The Professor muttered
grimly over the string of rapidly emptying bottles, you could hear him,
a voice out of Charles Dickens, something about "Christmas? Bah
Humbug!" and Boof brooded and shook his head, sipping on his mild
shandy and Miss Kitty, well Miss Kitty smiled and smirked and we sang
"Deck the halls with Boston Charlie
Wallawallawash and a kalamazoo!
Norah's freezing on the trolley
Smolly Dolly cauliflower and alligaroo!"
Merry Christmas Tennant Creek and everyone have a great new millennium!
Christmas in 1934.
L toR: Darkie Rowe, Prospector; Cock Martin, Linesman; G. Ashton, Postmaster;
H. Pickering, prospector tucking into dinner of wild turkey, plum pudding
washed down with appopriate amounts of home brew.