It wasn’t really the Christmas spirit but as kids we’d sneak through the cemetery, rummaging through the grave-top flowers looking for their polystyrene bases to use as Advent wreaths.
The start of December was the start of Advent and the old nuns had us sticking candles and holly together to tick off the weeks to the big day. Me and my mate thought we were pretty clever robbing graves, until our secret got out.
There’s always been a bit of trickery to Christmas, of course. Right back to the Romans poaching the pagans’ winter solstice. And the big man himself, JC, was likely born late March and six years earlier than we think.
The red-garbed chimney-sweep with bag-loads of pressies has been fooling people for yonks. Especially kids, and they’re not as easy to con as you’d think.
Matter of fact, parents have been getting tricked by them for ages. Fifteen and they still believe in Santa? Too right they do, if there’s a Red Dead Redemption II in it for their Xbox. Little imps should be working for Fagin.
Today’s December 1, official start to Christmas at my house, and the place already reeks of pine needles. Everyone’s sneezing.
Red and green lights are flashing. There are stockings, pudding suits, antlers for the sausage dog, angels, stars, gleaming baubles. Kids are banging out carols on the old walnut goanna – Jingle Bell Rocks and Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy — Bing or Buble are warbling away on the bluetooth boom.
Chrissie flicks are on high-rotation: Grinch, Polar Express, Elf, Nightmare, Scrooged, Home Alone, Spongebob Sleigh Ride, 34th Street, White Christmas …
So I’m thinking all things Christmas: shopping, booze-ups, family dust-ups, big silver floating trees, the Johnstone Park carols. On that last count, there’s an old hard news story to Johnstone Park that’s prompted me to scribble ‘Fyansford’ in my diary for Christmas Eve.
I’m thinking I’ll drop in for a quiet one down there. Maybe see my mate Graham Houghton with his Indian doors and Lou Woodmansey trompe l’oeil murals. Maybe the cellar door next door or the Fyansford pub. Perhaps all three. Ha! There’s a good idea. It’s my birthday next day.
My reasoning is that Fyansford is where Frank McCallum launched a sensational Johnstone Park Christmas Day party a few years back — 1852, a lot of years actually.
McCallum, aka bushranger Captain Melville, had been busy robbing folks all over the place: at Rokewood, Maryvale, Black Forest, Fiery Creek Plains, Marida Yallock …
He bushwacked 16 shearers at Woady Yallock. At Bruce’s Creek, he parted two blokes from 37 quid but slung them back a tenner for travel expenses. Must have been getting into the Christmas spirit.
December 24, though, Melville bailed up a couple of bush workers at Fyansford, relieving them of their hard-earned before heading up the hill for a Christmas Eve night of boozing and whoring.
No doubt he was thinking along the lines of his famous quote: “I’m in need of a little relaxation after my exertions.” But he gobbed off about the 100-quid reward on his head. Dumb.
When the booze ran low, one of the women ducked out to replenish supplies but returned with the cops instead. Sorted her own Chrissie present.
Melville tore out of the house, pistol and revolver blazing. He took off towards Ballarat Road, flattening another cop in the process before trying to flog a bloke’s horse at Johnstone Park. The rider disagreed and the two belted it out until the cops caught up and took the bushranger into custody.
All of this on Christmas Day, 1852, right beside Johnstone Park. ‘Christmas Day shoot-out’ would have been the perfect screamer headline for the papers. Didn’t happen, unfortunately.
Today’s elegant park was a stinking gully/waterhole back then. It had been an ‘ornamental piece of water’ — a vital resource for industry, livestock, firefighters and households — but only briefly. It smartly become a putrid reservoir for bullock, horse and dog carcasses. Cops killed 30 dogs one morning, flung them all in the dam.
Melville didn’t fair so well there, either. He landed a 32-year sentence for his troubles from old Redmond Barry but didn’t take well to the incarceration. Ended up topping himself at the Old Melbourne Gaol.
Hardly the Christmas present he’d have had in mind making his way up the hill from Fyansford. Should’ve gone to the carols, instead.
Hope you all fare a bit better. Merry Christmas.
GONZO PEDAL POWER
If you’re not up on the exploits of Newtown bike freak and endurance nut Ben Henzgen, you might be interested to learn he’s just completed an 11,000km ride through 48 American states.
Ben’s been riding rough for several years now, including a record-breaking 14,000km mountain-bike trip around Australia in 61 days in 2015.
His rep for toughness is huge. Basically immune to cold, he’ll sleep an average five and a half hours sleep a night on rough ground, rest stops, concrete slabs and in public toilets. Mad as …
His US tour was more of the same rugged nonsense. He chose to mark its completion by waxing lyrical. When he’s not punishing himself in the elements, he likes to mess around with quatrains:
“Fowl River fly-past, knees of ice.
“Post-sunrise frost is a fool’s paradise.
“Frigid fingers glacial
“Warmth lingers: nonspatial.”
Gauging by the selfie he posted this week, he might have been channeling a little Hunter S. Thompson along the way.
THE RIGHTS STUFF
It’s been a few years in the making but Highton multi-talent Grant Fraser’s homage to two people who refused to cede to the Nazis is finally set for the silver screen.
His film Strangers to the World examines the death of Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz, with her family, rather than be separated from them and go into hiding. Rachel Griffiths plays the part of Etty.
The film also looks at Austrian Franz Jagerstatter, played by Oscar Redding, who was guillotined for not fighting alongside the Nazis — without a blindfold and facing upwards at the blade. The film also features Neil Pigot, as the Bishop of Linz, who advises Jagerstatter not to throw away his life.
Other luminaries include AFI award-winner Ellery Ryan as cinematographer and Richard Pleasance penning the musical score.
Says Grant: “The film is really splendid on the big screen. We have submitted it for screening at the Australian Human Rights and Arts Festival for 2019. We are hoping that it will be accepted by film festivals both here and overseas.”
Conventional wisdom has it you’d have to be a turkey to be born on Christmas Day. Eclipsed by Yuletide events, you dip out on presents, no special day for you, no cake … all that and more.
Hasn’t quite been the experience of yours truly, who learned to keep his trap shut early in the piece when anyone looked sympathetic. As a result, I landed two pressies and those more appalled at my circumstances tossed me consolation presents half-way through the year, on June 25.
So, no complaints from this end, although the notion of a cake usually seems forgotten. But no bother, hate all that embarrassing singing, anyway.
Funny who else you can find afflicted with the nativity naissance. There’s a few: Shane MacGowan, Lemmy Kilmister, Justin Trudeau, Ricky Martin, Humphrey Bogart, Cab Calloway, Sissy Spacek, Annie Lennox.
Isaac Newton’s the fave, though. He was born December 25 but when England fast-forwarded to the Gregorian calendar in 1752 his birthday jumped ahead to January 4.