What was your worst Christmas, your strangest? Some Christmas memories blend in, others are never forgotten. For those of us who had a happy childhood Christmas remains in our memories as a time of heady excitement; dark winter days brightened with nativity plays, school parties and candlelit churches. There was one traumatic experience that dulled the excitement when I was seven. At school we were told to write a letter to Father Christmas, the girl sitting in front of me turned round and said ‘What’s the point of writing to Father Christmas when he doesn’t really exist?’ I tried to appear nonchalant, I was not going to admit my ignorance, but I was devastated. As soon as I got home from school I asked my mother if it was true; my last hopes were dashed and she swore me to secrecy, not to spoil it for my younger siblings. I soon recovered, the Christmas atmosphere remained and there was still the thrill of presents to unwrap.
When I was eleven we emigrated to Western Australia; our arrival was in October, we moved to our new house in December and my childhood Christmases disappeared forever. This was not the fault of Australia or my parents; I was growing up, the dark mystery of winter days was replaced by bright sunshine, we knew nobody, there were no gift bearing relatives visiting and my parents’ budget was tight. But by the following year Christmases were settling into a new pattern and we acquired family friends to celebrate with.
My first Christmas away from home, when I was nineteen, came about when my best friend and I planned a six week summer holiday trip across Australia, inveigling a mutual friend to share the driving and his car across the Nullabor Plain. She assured me her relatives in South Australia would be delighted to have the three of us for Christmas and indeed they were very welcoming. A collection of aunts and uncles had orchards and shops. On the first morning of our stay my two friends were commandeered to take one of the aunts to hospital with a miscarriage, I was left behind to look after her young children who I had never met before. More relatives arrived and unbeknown to us they had spotted a freezer that didn’t work properly in uncle’s shop, they warned each other not to eat the chicken. A very pleasant Christmas Day was followed by food poisoning on Boxing Day.
Next week – what was I doing at Heathrow Airport 6am one Christmas morning?
Quarter Acre Block follows the Palmer family as they emigrate to Western Australia in October 1964. At Christmas they realise how much they have left behind.