Terence Blacker: They don't go over the top Down Under

 

Share
Related Topics

It is a big Australian party, but not quite what an outsider would expect. In a Sydney park, there is an evening concert: carols, local youth groups, the cast of Tap Dogs, a Kylie (but not the Kylie). Wearing little Santa hats and jackets, families set up their picnics in the sunny afternoon, turning the park into a field of red. There will be big crowds later, and a few mounted police officers are on the streets nearby, their horses sporting toy reindeer antlers.

One of the many surprising aspects of modern Australia is the way an unexpected 1950s vibe can suddenly manifest itself. One of the organisers of the concert turns out to be the Salvation Army – or the Salvo as, naturally enough, it is called. As evening approaches, the crowd sit patiently through a series of speeches about giving and sharing. One speaker brings a group of wholesome teenagers on to the stage. They had been rescued from the streets, he says – indeed, the lead singer had been ejected from this very event last year because of alcohol-related misbehaviour. The kids line up to sing a rap song. It is about giving and sharing.

Maybe crossing all those time zones has addled my brain but, watching the Salvo's teen band, it occurs to me that there is much to be said for the Australian style of festiveness. There are a few token lights about the place, and the shop window of the big department store, David Jones, shows a Christmas scene, but there is little sign on the streets of the semi-hysterical seasonal panic one associates with this time of the year back home. It is less marketed, less competitively happy, less aggressively companionable.

A local radio phone-in invites listeners to nominate festive favourites ("Jingle bells, jingle bells, Christmas is a beaut/ Oh what fun it is to ride in a rusty Holden ute") but not all of those who ring the programme are planning to party. One man, asked how he will be celebrating Christmas, says it will be a day like any other. When the DJ unwisely asks what he will be doing, he lists the ordinary things he will be eating for breakfast, then lunch, then dinner.

At times like this, the Crocodile Dundee image of the Aussie feels like something of a marketing stunt. Most Australians are calmer, less generally excitable than people in Europe. Christmas reveals the Pom, much derided during the current Ashes series, to be more emotional and needy, more likely to escape into an excess of food, drink and family when the opportunity offers itself.

Could it be that the reason why seasonal celebrations in Australia are relatively low-key is that goodwill is pretty much available throughout the year, that in the best sense the radio grump was right – Christmas is just another day? It is not a time to batten down the hatches against that harsh and hostile place, the outside world. Everyday non-festive reality is not so terrible.

An Australian Christmas seems less about self, about families out-yuling one another. The symbols of the season – lights, a tree, decorations – are, on the whole, simple, small and taste-free. There are few signs of anxious consumer excess. The celebrations – teenagers singing a good-hearted rap song to a tinny backing track in a crowded park, for example – are unpretentious.

Near the park in Sydney, there is a light show against the façade of St Mary's cathedral. People watch in silence as the church is covered in butterflies, meteors, snowflakes, applauding politely when it finishes. In defiance of environmental correctness, an energy company is handing out battery-powered rings which shine blue and green lights.

It seems too fancy a present for a passer-by, but the young woman offering me a ring insists. "There's enough for everyone," she says. "Hey, it's Christmas." Weirdly, the hand-out does not feel like marketing, but easy and generous, the way it should be at this time of the year. From Australia, I hope that your Christmas, too, is a beaut.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Advertisement Sales Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A publishing company based in F...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Affiliates & Partnerships

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This multi-award winning foreig...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Structural Engineer ...

Recruitment Genius: New Business Development Manager - OTE £36,000

£22000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A New Business Manager role sui...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the endless and beginningless election campaign goes up and down

John Rentoul
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

What the advertising world can learn from Zoella's gang

Danny Rogers
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor