CHRISTMAS IN THE AUSTRALIAN BUSH

‘Oh! All that steam! The pudding had just been taken out of the cauldron. Oh! That smell! The same as the one which prevailed on washing day. It is  that of the cloth which wraps the pudding.  Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’

PuddingonHook

Christmas in Australia is a unique experience.  Two centuries  after  European settlement we  still cling to the old northern hemisphere  customs, especially when it comes to festive foods. In early times  families  did venture into the bush for a picnic under the  eucalypts,  but  a Dickensian  Christmas pudding still  formed the centrepiece of the ‘table’ !

THE SCENT OF GUM LEAVES MINGLES WITH THE FRAGRANCE OF THE CHRISTMAS PUD!

THE SCENT OF GUM LEAVES MINGLES WITH THE FRAGRANCE OF THE CHRISTMAS PUD!

Puddings were (are still are) sent to those  working in the outback as drovers, shearers or miners. A Queensland newspaper (The Morning Bulletin March 1951) published a recipe for boiling a pudding in the container it was to travel in:

TINNED CHRISTMAS  PUDDING

Sift into a basin 3 cups flour, and ½ cp S.R. flour, add 1lb sugar, 1 salt-spoon salt, dash of spices and pepper. Rub in 1lb lard, add 2 lb mixed dried fruits and mix well. Beat 4 eggs and add; stir in 1 tablespoon each of sherry and brandy and lastly add 2 teaspoons bicarb. soda dissolved in a little hot water. (Half-fill greased lever-top tins, close lids firmly and oil three hours. Re-heat by standing tins in boiling water one hour. Excellent to send in parcels overseas.)

But there were many occasions when bushmen had to make their Christmas pud., often with very limited resources. During the Great Depression a story by Chas. Goodliffe appeared in the Northern Territory Times, under the title, Our Christmas Dinner. The narrator and his brother Jack  were travelling with their  stockman,  an Aborigine with a far  greater knowledge of the  land than they could ever hope to achieve;

We had started off in the morning with the intention of making good progress, but after travelling a few miles we came out on a wide plain covered with beautiful young green grass, which my brother said was scurvy grass. It looked to me to be what we called in Queensland, blady grass or cutty grass but he said the right name was scurvy grass, we left it at that. As this was Christmas Day, we decided to camp on the plain, with a beautiful running stream, as clear as crystal, the water level with the banks, yet shallow enough for us to see the pebbles at the bottom of the creek bed.  We unpacked the horses, and my brother ] went on the plain to gut a big feed of the scurvy grass…

A PAIR OF PLUM DUFFERS!

For some reason, and entirely against the advice of the stockman, the brothers decided to use some of the grass in their Christmas dinner;

When Jack brought up the grass we put it in with the salt beef to give it a flavour and then I said I was going to make a plum duff: ‘What with?’ asked Jack: ‘We’ve nothing. And anyhow, what are you going to boil it in? Not my saddle cloth, I hope.’ ‘You leave everything to me’, I said. ‘I’ll manage.’ So I mixed up the pudding, which consisted of flour and sugar, together with a tin of plum jam, well stirred in, and some of the fat from the corned beef, which I had carefully saved for the occasion. For a cloth I used my shirt, a clean one of course, which I had carefully watched…While the pudding and the scurvy grass were boiling, I took a tomahawk and went looking for a tree with a suitable bulge in it, to make a large plate for our plum duff. I soon one, and a couple of large bark plates besides, as well as small forked sticks to do as forks, and then we prepared for the great treat.

 After letting the pudding boil for four hours (we had to guess the time as we had no watch) we spread our table on a green carpet miles in width, put the plum pudding on the wooden dish and sat down to share our Christmas dinner. 

The  scurvy grass in the corned beef turned out to be a disaster, especially  for the narrator. It was so tough and stringy that when he swallowed, the end of one blade stayed in his mouth while the other end found its way to the pit of his stomach.  Fortunately he recovered in time for the next course: ‘Then the pudding was served round, and I picked out the plum stones to show them it was a genuine plum pudding.  While we w ere lingering over this delight one of our horses went mad; he raced around the plain, then came full tilt across our table, put his foot in the pudding, smashed the corned junk and then dropped dead. So ended our Christmas dinner for 1886.’

Here is an Australian  poem about  another Christmas dinner in the outback,  by the wonderful  Banjo Paterson;  Santa Claus in the Bush

SANTA MAKES AN OUTBACK STOP

SANTA MAKES AN OUTBACK STOP

CLICK  HERE FOR ANOTHER STORY ABOUT   CHRISTMAS IN  RURAL AUSTRALIA.  

FEEL FREE TO COMMENT, OR  TO SHARE YOUR OWN MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS IN THE BOX BELOW.  DON’T FORGET TO COMPLETE THE ANTI-SPAM SUM THOUGH.   AND A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!!!Christms cocktail

4 Comments
  1. Thank you. Enjoyed this. I wish Australia wasn’t so far away! I’ve been there once – to Brume, Darwin and Perth – and not seen nearly enough. I have nice Australain publisher (Driven Press, so maybe one day…

    • Pauline

      Hi Barbara, thanks for taking the trouble to leave a comment. I hope next time you come to Australia you will visit Sydney and the Blue Mountains!

  2. Hi Pauline,
    You had me laughing about the stockmen, their pudding and the poor horse which met its demise on their food spread. I know all about blady grass. It grew along the creek which flowed past our barn in which we kept our pet carpet snake. It was marked beautifully in brown and black geometric patterns. It used to coil itself around the rafters and keep the rodent population from eating all the animal feed stored there. Strangely enough, it never ate any of our chickens. They roamed around outside and were locked in their pens attached to the barn on dusk. We were overcome with grief when, for the sugar cane harvest my father hired some foreign-speaking new Australians from the Balkans to cut our cane (pre-mechanical days). They were terrified of the enormous snake slithering across the barn floor when they were went to get their cane knives to begin work one morning. When they finally managed to get them they hacked our pet to pieces and when we saw the results we, my sisters and self, screamed and screamed. Nothing could console us. I have a photograph taken of me with the snake draped around my neck and its tail draggling on the ground.
    Have a lovely Christmas and I hope the new year brings lots of joy, peace and happiness to you, yours and other readers. (That includes you, Barbara. My book is for sale on Amazon – ‘Golden Promise’).
    Heather Whipp…USA

    • Pauline

      Thanks so much, Heather. I had to Google blady grass, had never heard of it before I wrote the article. What a sad but interesting story about the snake. I don’t think I could ever put one around my neck!! A very happy Christmas to you too, and much success in 2016. I will check out Golden Promise!

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