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November 2008

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News and Reviews

Christmas Cheer

It is a little early for Christmas items but we can't hold them over until next month or they will be a little late. And, of course, any newsletter worth its salt must have a bumper Christmas edition. Below are some stories and poetry to get you in the Christmas spirit.

Here, in Australia, Christmas falls in summer. My childhood memories are of baked 'dinners' (for lunch or the evening meal) in the back yard, or in the street in front of our house...welcoming the southerly breeze which sometime came along in the afternoon and which was heralded by the banging of the front door. Am I just imagining it, or have those southerlies stopped blowing?

The writers below express many different facets of Christmas in Australia. If you enjoy the extracts, the entire ebook is but a mouse-click away.

* * *

A short extract from: 'That Pretty Girl in the Army,' from "Children of the Bush," by Henry Lawson"

We had dinner at Billy Woods's place, and a sensible Christmas dinner it was--everything cold, except the vegetables, with the hose going on the veranda in spite of the by-laws, and Billy's wife and her sister, fresh and cool-looking and jolly, instead of being hot and brown and cross like most Australian women who roast themselves over a blazing fire in a hot kitchen on a broiling day, all the morning, to cook scalding plum pudding and redhot roasts, for no other reason than that their grandmothers used to cook hot Christmas dinners in England.

And in the afternoon we went for a row on the river, pulling easily up the anabranch and floating down with the stream under the shade of the river timber--instead of going to sleep and waking up helpless and soaked in perspiration, to find the women with headaches, as many do on Christmas Day in Australia.

* * *

The entire ebook "Children of the Bush" from which the above story was taken, is worth reading. It includes the story 'The Ghosts Of Many Christmases,' which is a little long to include here.]

* * *

This extract is provided for the description of Christmas, but you may wish to access the full ebook and read further

An extract from: "The Convict Laundress" by Mary Theresa Vidal

It was a bright, clear day--how bright, how blue, and how clear, none but those who have been out of the British isles can understand. It was Christmas day; but instead of frost and snow, and cold, and leafless trees, and blazing fires, there was intense heat, and the trees looked, as they always do in Australia, a dingy blueish tint, but still full of leaf and blossom: and here and there, where marks of cultivation peeped through the interminable forest or bush, there were strips of the brightest green maize, refreshing indeed to the eye, and contrasting pleasantly with the brown grass, and the tall white trunks of the gums. The house, or rather weather-boarded cottage, was four or five miles from the settlement, where there was a wooden church. Thither the family had repaired on this morning. There was but one service, for the clergyman proceeded to another congregatation eight miles beyond. There had been beef and plum pudding for dinner, the government men, or convicts, partaking in the Christmas fare; and there were thoughts of those far away, and many a lingering regret for the old associations of the season. Yet as the evening breeze sprung up, and stirred the gums and acacias, and breathing through the cottage refreshingly cool, the spirits of all rose, and with one accord they went out into the forest at the back of the house. The merry voices were echoed round and round, and I could see the farm-servants and working men as they strolled under the trees. Every one being out, I went to the back, to see that all was safe. There was a large waste piece of ground with the men's huts, the stables and barn, and nearer the house stood the kitchens and store. Two or three dogs lay about, the poultry were busy picking up their food, and a pet cockatoo came jumping up to my side, begging for a bone in its peculiarly unharmonious voice. As I stood, feeling rather lonely, I heard a dull, melancholy noise; it came from the kitchen. I thought every one had been out: I listened again. Yes, it was from the kitchen, and it was certainly some one in grief: heavy sobs and a low moaning formed a strange contrast to the distant sounds of mirth and merriment!

* * *

'Tangmalangaloo' by John O'Brien appeared in the June 2008 Newsletter. I repeat it here so that yo do not need to look for it.


The bishop sat in lordly state and purple cap sublime,
And galvanized the old bush church at Confirmation time.
And all the kids were mustered up from fifty miles around,
With Sunday clothes, and staring eyes, and ignorance profound.
Now was it fate, or was it grace, whereby they yarded too
An overgrown two-storey lad from Tangmalangaloo?

A hefty son of virgin soil, where nature has her fling,
And grows the trefoil three feet high and mats it in the spring;
Where mighty hills uplift their heads to pierce the welkin's rim,
And trees sprout up a hundred feet before they shoot a limb;
There everything is big and grand, and men are giants too--
But Christian Knowledge wilts, alas, at Tangmalangaloo.

The bishop summed the youngsters up, as bishops only can;
He cast a searching glance around, then fixed upon his man.
But glum and dumb and undismayed through every bout he sat;
He seemed to think that he was there, but wasn't sure of that.
The bishop gave a scornful look, as bishops sometimes do,
And glared right through the pagan in from Tangmalangaloo.

"Come, tell me, boy," his lordship said in crushing tones severe,
"Come, tell me why is Christmas Day the greatest of the year?
"How is it that around the world we celebrate that day
"And send a name upon a card to those who're far away?
"Why is it wandering ones return with smiles and greetings, too?"
A squall of knowledge hit the lad from Tangmalangaloo.

He gave a lurch which set a-shake the vases on the shelf,
He knocked the benches all askew, up-ending of himself.
And so, how pleased his lordship was, and how he smiled to say,
"That's good, my boy. Come, tell me now; and what is Christmas Day?"
The ready answer bared a fact no bishop ever knew--
"It's the day before the races out at Tangmalangaloo.

* * *

An extract from: The Letters of Rachel Henning

December 27th 1862

My Dearest Etta,

I wrote to you last on the ninth of this month. Biddulph took the letters with him to Port Denison, whence he meant to start by the steamer for Brisbane, but after waiting a week in the Port, which he describes as the dullest, hottest and generally most detestable little town he ever saw, it became evident that the steamer had missed this trip, so he came home last Monday, to our great surprise, when we thought he was at Rockhampton at least.

The steamer is expected again next week, and he is going off again tomorrow to meet her. I hope he will be more fortunate. It is very inconvenient that the Murray is so uncertain, as it is nearly a hundred miles from here to Port Denison. I expect you will get several of my letters together, but if so you must be sure and read those of the earliest date first, and then they will not be so stupid, but will come in the form of a journal.

I am writing now chiefly to acknowledge your seventeenth of September letter, which reached me on the 13th of this month. You see, you may reckon on your letters generally taking three months to reach us.

Christmas Day is come and gone. It was an unexpected pleasure to have Biddulph back here to spend it with us, and though we were but a small party we were tolerably jolly. The shearing of the large flocks on the other side of the river is not over yet, so Mr Devlin, Mr Robertson and Mr Cressall could none of them come into the head station. Mr Taylor managed to come over twenty miles on Christmas morning, carrying before him on his saddle a hind-quarter of mutton, which he had begged, borrowed or stolen from somewhere for a Christmas dinner. All attempts to shoot ducks or turkeys failed: We have had a great many lately, but on Christmas Eve they entirely declined to "come and be killed".

Mr Woodward, a gentleman who is camping with cattle on the other side of the Broken River, was invited over, and he came early in the morning and bestowed his company on us for the day. He has been rather a pleasant neighbour for the last two months--riding over to see us about once a week, and I am sorry he is leaving the district. He goes to Port Denison with Biddulph tomorrow on his way to Sydney.

Well, he, Mr Taylor, Mr Hedgeland, Beckford, with Biddulph and overseers, made up the Christmas party. We dined at eight (we have got later and later as the days have lengthened). The mutton was stuffed, and was rather approved of, being the first we have had since we came here--for squatters never kill sheep. Tom made a very superior plum pudding, apple tart and custard, and any quantity of tea completed our dinner, which I have described to you, that you may not think we are starved in the bush.

Christmas Day was frightfully hot, and there was thunder about, which made it oppressive; otherwise we do not care much for mere heat now, but a cool breeze sprang up in the evening as usual, and we sat on the veranda and were rather merry, and drank to our absent friends in lime juice, which the gentlemen warmed with a little brandy. Biddulph brought up two bottles in his valise from Port Denison for the occasion. He sent some to the shepherds in pickle bottles.

I thought very much of you on Christmas Day, and of my last Christmas at home. Do you remember how bright and cold it was? And how we went out on Christmas Eve and bought a great branch of holly and dressed the drawing-room? Here we hung up over the pictures some Australian mistletoe, a pretty parasite, with bright-yellow drooping branches--like willow in the autumn--which grows in the gum-trees here. Beckford Simpson, Mr Devlin's nephew, nearly broke his neck in climbing for it, as a branch gave way, and he only saved himself by catching the trunk of the gum-tree and sliding down.
 On Friday Mr Taylor and Mr Woodward departed again after lunch, and tomorrow, when Biddulph is gone, we shall be a very small party--only Mr Hedgeland and Beckford in the house besides Annie and me. All the others are wanted at the new sheep station that is forming on the other side of the Bowen, twenty miles off.

You used to say at Danehill that "Rachel cometh with the sheep", and you might say so literally if you were here, for I am generally to be seen walking about with a quart pot full of milk and a train of nine lambs after me. They are such gentle helpless creatures that I am very fond of them, though it is rather a trouble to feed them three times a day.

To my great horror one of them broke his leg a few days ago. Tom knocked down one of the veranda benches upon him as he was bringing in dinner in the dark. Mr Taylor bound it up with splints and he hops about on three legs and does not seem to mind at all. Lamb's bones unite very quickly. The lame lamb is called Absalom, because he was found in the creek caught in a tree, not by his hair certainly, as it is of the shortest, but by his legs. One of the shearers found him and brought him to me nearly dead, but I got him round, and he was very flourishing till this accident befell him.

On the evening before Christmas Day Annie and I were taking a walk in the bush, and Lion, the great bloodhound, who always goes with us, was trotting along in front when he suddenly stopped and started back, and right in the middle of the path we saw a large brown snake. It coiled itself up and always faced Lion as he danced round and round it in a frantic state of mind between desire to kill it and a wholesome dread of its fangs.

I was rather afraid to go near it, and still more afraid that Lion would get himself bitten, so at last I made a dive and dragged him forcibly off by the ear, when he yelped dismally and the snake took the opportunity of gliding off among the grass.

He was about four feet long, and those brown snakes are very venomous. A black snake nine feet long was killed at Port Denison while Biddulph was there, but the snakes are not very numerous in this district. That is the only one we have seen in all our walks.

Our last pet was a young curlew, which Mr Taylor caught and brought in one day. Such a pretty creature, with long bill and long legs and bright eyes and grey downy feathers. We kept it for some days and it was getting tame, but one day Lion lay down within reach of its tether and I suppose it must have walked over him, and he put his great paw upon it, very likely by accident, for we found it unable to stand and it died. Lion is very good-natured to his fellow occupants of the veranda in general. The lambs caper over him, and he only utters a faint growl of remonstrance. Sometimes he licks them all over. He is a great terror to us when we have clean dresses on out walking, for he just cools himself in a waterhole, then rolls in the dust and finally becomes affectionate and comes slobbering up to be patted, and the result to a clean dress may be imagined. He is a most ferocious-looking dog, with his deep bloodshot eyes and great hanging ears and lips. I think the very look of him is a protection if one wanted it.

Mr Hedgeland has just been making for the veranda two of the easy-chairs called "squatter's delights". They are made of two straight poles, which are leant against the wall of the house ladder-wise. These are held together by two cross-bars, and to the bars is nailed a strip of strong canvas, such as we use for wool-bagging, and this forms the seat and back of the chair. The materials are simple enough, but I think it is the most comfortable kind of easy-chair I know. American chairs are nothing to it, as they do not yield as the canvas does. Try it if you want a garden chair.

No rain yet, and the country gets browner. Most of the sheep have been sent across the river, where there is better feed. We think nothing of the thermometer being 95, as it generally is that. If it gets to 100 we say it is hot. It goes down to 70 at night sometimes, as we know by Mr Hedgeland's registering thermometer.

It is wonderful how soon you get used to heat. I quite thrive in it as if it was "my native air". Annie feels it more, but she is quite well, and Biddulph does not mind it at all. They say this is a much hotter summer than last was. I cannot think how the trees keep so green, but they are most brilliant green. The bush flowers are all over, and we shall have none now till autumn.

Your most affectionate sister,


* * *

From: "Short Stories in Prose and Verse" by Henry Lawson

The squatter saw his pastures wide
 Decrease, as one by one
The farmers moving to the west
 Selected on his run;
Selectors took the water up
 And all the black soil round;
The best grass-land the squatter had
 Was spoilt by Ross's Ground.

Now many schemes to shift old Ross
 Had racked the squatter's brains,
But Sandy had the stubborn blood
 Of Scotland in his veins;
He held the land and fenced it in,
 He cleared and ploughed the soil,
And year by year a richer crop
 Repaid him for his toil.

Between the homes for many years
 The devil left his tracks:
The squatter pounded Ross's stock,
 And Sandy pounded Black's.
A well upon the lower run
 Was filled with earth and logs,
And Black laid baits about the farm
 To poison Ross's dogs.

It was, indeed, a deadly feud
 Of class and creed and race;
But, yet, there was a Romeo
 And a Juliet in the case;
And more than once across the flats,
 Beneath the Southern Cross,
Young Robert Black was seen to ride
 With pretty Jenny Ross.

One Christmas time, when months of drought
 Had parched the western creeks,
The bush-fires started in the north
 And travelled south for weeks.
At night along the river-side
 The scene was grand and strange--
The hill-fires looked like lighted streets
 Of cities in the range.

The cattle-tracks between the trees
 Were like long dusky aisles,
And on a sudden breeze the fire
 Would sweep along for miles;
Like sounds of distant musketry
 It crackled through the brakes,
And o'er the flat of silver grass
 It hissed like angry snakes.

It leapt across the flowing streams
 And raced o'er pastures broad;
It climbed the trees and lit the boughs
 And through the scrubs it roared.
The bees fell stifled in the smoke
 Or perished in their hives,
And with the stock the kangaroos
 Went flying for their lives.

The sun had set on Christmas Eve,
 When, through the scrub-lands wide,
Young Robert Black came riding home
 As only natives ride.
He galloped to the homestead door
 And gave the first alarm:
'The fire is past the granite spur,
 'And close to Ross's farm.'

'Now, father, send the men at once,
 They won't be wanted here;
Poor Ross's wheat is all he has
 To pull him through the year.'
'Then let it burn,' the squatter said;
 'I'd like to see it done--
I'd bless the fire if it would clear
 Selectors from the run.

'Go if you will,' the squatter said,
 'You shall not take the men--
Go out and join your precious friends,
 And don't come here again.'
'I won't come back,' young Robert cried,
 And, reckless in his ire,
He sharply turned his horse's head
 And galloped towards the fire.

And there, for three long weary hours,
 Half-blind with smoke and heat,
Old Ross and Robert fought the flames
 That neared the ripened wheat.
The farmer's hand was nerved by fears
 Of danger and of loss;
And Robert fought the stubborn foe
 For the love of Jenny Ross.

But serpent-like the curves and lines
 Slipped past them, and between,
Until they reached the bound'ry where
 The old coach-road had been.
'The track is now our only hope,
 There we must stand,' cried Ross,
'For nought on earth can stop the fire
 If once it gets across.'

Then came a cruel gust of wind,
 And, with a fiendish rush,
The flames leapt o'er the narrow path
 And lit the fence of brush.
'The crop must burn!' the farmer cried,
 'We cannot save it now,'
And down upon the blackened ground
 He dashed the ragged bough.

But wildly, in a rush of hope,
 His heart began to beat,
For o'er the crackling fire he heard
 The sound of horses' feet.
'Here's help at last,' young Robert cried,
 And even as he spoke
The squatter with a dozen men
 Came racing through the smoke.

Down on the ground the stockmen jumped
 And bared each brawny arm,
They tore green branches from the trees
 And fought for Ross's farm;
And when before the gallant band
 The beaten flames gave way,
Two grimy hands in friendship joined--
 And it was Christmas Day.

* * *

by Eugene Field (1850-1895)

I am not sure where I fist saw this poem. I cannot find it in any of our ebooks. It can be found on the internet, along with more of Field's poetry.

Father calls me William, sister calls me Will,
Mother calls me Willie, but the fellers call me Bill!
Mighty glad I ain't a girl-- ruther be a boy,
Without them sashes, curls, an' things that's worn by Fauntleroy!
Love to chawnk green apples an' go swimmin' in the lake--
Hate to take the castor-ile they give for belly-ache!
'Most all the time the whole year round, there ain't no flies on me,
But jest 'fore Christmas, I'm as good as I kin be!

Got yeller dog named Sport, sick him on the cat;
First thing she knows she doesn't know where she is at!
Got a clipper sled, an' when us kids goes out to slide,
'Long comes the grocery cart, an' we all hook a ride!
But sometimes when the grocery man is worrited an' cross,
He reaches at us with his whip, an' larrups up his hoss,
An' then I laff an' holler, "Oh, ye never teched ME!"
But jest 'fore Christmas, I'm as good as I kin be!

Gran'ma says she hopes that when I git to be a man,
I'll be a missionarer like her oldest brother, Dan,
As was et up by the cannibuls that lives in Ceylon's Isle,
Where every prospeck pleases, an' only man is vile!
But gran'ma she has never been to see a Wild West show,
Nor read the Life of Daniel Boone, or else I guess she'd know
That Buff'lo Bill and cowboys is good enough for me!
EXCEP' jest 'fore Christmas, when I'm as good as I kin be!

And then old Sport he hangs around, so solemn-like an' still,
His eyes they keep a-sayin':  "What;s the matter, little Bill?"
The old cat sneaks down off her perch an' wonders what's become
Of them two enemies of hern that used to make things hum!
But I am perlite an' 'tend so earnestly to biz,
That mother says to father: "How improved our Willie is!"
But father, havin' been a boy hisself, suspicions me
When, jest 'fore Christmas, I'm as good as I kin be!

For Christmas, with its lots an' lots of candies, cakes, an' toys,
Was made, they say, for proper kids an' not for naughty boys;
So wash yer face an' brush yer hair, an' mind yer p's an' q's,
An' don't bust out yer pantaloons, an' don't wear out yer shoes;
Say :Yessum" to the ladies, an' "Yessur" to the men,
An' when they's company, don't pass yer plate for pie again;
But, thinkin' of the things yer'd like to see upon that tree,
Jest 'fore Christmas be as good as yer kin be!

Last month's postings

A list of all the books we provide is available from
Check there to see if there are other works by the authors listed below


Nov 2008 The Courts of the Morning, John Buchan            [] 1718A or .zip
Nov 2008 Sketches from the Karen Hills, Alonzo Bunker      [] 1717A or .zip
Nov 2008 Anglo-Karen Dictionary, Jonathan Wade             [] 1716A
Nov 2008 A Voyage to Establish a Colony, James H Tuckey    [] 1715A
[Author: James Hingston Tuckey]
[Title: A Voyage to Establish a Colony at Port Philip in Bass's Strait] or .zip
Nov 2008 Prelude to Waking, Miles Franklin                 [] 1714A or .zip
Nov 2008 Old Blastus of Bandicoot, Miles Franklin          [] 1713A or .zip
Nov 2008 Bring the Monkey, Miles Franklin                  [] 1712A or .zip
Nov 2008 A Self-Made Thief, Hulbert Footner                [] 1711A
Nov 2008 Ten Creeks Run, Miles Franklin                    [] 1710A or .zip
Nov 2008 Back to Bool Bool, Miles Franklin                 [] 1709A or .zip

Other Information

Newsletter Editor: Colin Choat.

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