CLASSIC BUSH VERSE – AUSTRALIAN DREAMING
C J DENNIS
Christmas is traditionally associated with snow, raging fires and sumptuous hot dinners. This didn’t translate well to the Australian bush however our early settlers were determined to celebrate their Anglo heritage in true British style. Thankfully, nowadays, we have evolved to an Australian style of Christmas however, echoing C J Dennis’s last line: ‘and all that washing up still to be done.’
The sun burns hotly thro’ the gums
As down the road old Rogan comes –
The hatter from the lonely hut
Beside the track to Woollybutt.
He likes to spend his Christmas with us here.
He says a man gets sort of strange
Living alone without a change,
Gets sort of settled in his way;
And so he comes each Christmas day
To share a bite of tucker and a beer.
Dad and the boys have nought to do,
Except a stray odd job or two.
Along the fence or in the yard,
“It ain’t a day for workin’ hard.”
Says Dad. “One day a year don’t matter much.”
And then dishevelled, hot and red,
Mum, thro’ the doorway puts her head
And says, “This Christmas cooking, My!
The sun’s near fit for cooking by.”
Upon her word she never did see such.
“Your fault,” says Dad, “you know it is.
Plum puddin’! on a day like this,
And roasted turkeys! Spare me days,
I can’t get over women’s ways.
In climates such as this the thing’s all wrong.
A bit of cold corned beef an’ bread
Would do us very well instead.”
Then Rogan said, “You’re right; it’s hot.
It makes a feller drink a lot.”
And Dad gets up and says, “Well, come along.”
The dinner’s served – full bite and sup.
“Come on,” says Mum, “Now all sit up.”
The meal takes on a festive air;
And even father eats his share
And passes up his plate to have some more.
He laughs and says it’s Christmas time,
“That’s cookin’, Mum. The stuffin’s prime.”
But Rogan pauses once to praise,
Then eats as tho’ he’d starved for days.
And pitches turkey bones outside the door.
The sun burns hotly thro’ the gums,
The chirping of the locusts comes
Across the paddocks, parched and grey.
“Whew!” wheezes Father. “What a day!”
And sheds his vest. For coats no man had need.
Then Rogan shoves his plate aside
And sighs, as sated men have sighed,
At many boards in many climes
On many other Christmas times.
“By gum!” he says, “That was a slap-up feed!”
Then, with his black pipe well alight,
Old Rogan brings the kids delight
By telling o’er again his yarns
Of Christmas tide ‘mid English barns
When he was, long ago, a farmer’s boy.
His old eyes glisten as he sees
Half glimpses of old memories,
Of whitened fields and winter snows,
And yuletide logs and mistletoes,
And all that half-forgotten, hallowed joy.
The children listen, mouths agape,
And see a land with no escape
From biting cold and snow and frost –
A land to all earth’s brightness lost,
A strange and freakish Christmas land to them.
But Rogan, with his dim old eyes
Grown far away and strangely wise
Talks on; and pauses but to ask
“Ain’t there a drop more in that cask?”
And father nods; but Mother says “Ahem!”
The sun slants redly thro’ the gums
As quietly the evening comes,
And Rogan gets his old grey mare,
That matches well his own grey hair,
And rides away into the setting sun.
“Ah, well,” says Dad. “I got to say
I never spent a lazier day.
We ought to get that top fence wired.”
“My!” sighs poor Mum. “But I am tired!
An’ all that washing up still to be done.”