I was never a fan of Christmas Carols. All that “Boughs of Holly”, “Dreaming of a White Christmas” and “Let it Snow” had no reason to exist, it made no sense to me. What was all this white stuff, and why did it suddenly appear in every television show in December?
In Queensland, Australia, there isn’t any snow – because Santa surfed.
In the north east third of the Australian continent, lays the nation’s second largest state, two and a half times the size of Texas. Historically, Dutch explorer William Jansz was the first explorer to map parts of Cape York Peninsular, but it was Englishman James Cook who is credited with discovery of the state, when he ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef in 1770. When the American Revolutionary War ended, England was in need of place to store their convicts, and consequently the penal settlement of Moreton Bay was created.
Despite the harsh environment, the area was attractive to immigrants given the abundance of timber, fruit and seafood. The original settlement was built on a river feeding into the bay, and the city was born. Brisbane (pronounced “briz-bun”) is one of the largest single municipalities in the world, measuring almost 550 square miles. Over the years it has been home to important moments – General Douglas McArthur’s South Pacific base, the Commonwealth Games, and the 1988 World Fair. The alumni of Brisbane include Sigrid Thornton, Darren Hayes (of band Savage Garden), and Indy Car Champion Scott Dixon. Today, most locals and ex-pats still think of Brisbane as a large country town.
There is no snow in December. Actually, there is no snow in any of the other months for that matter. In the sub tropical humidity, December is the first month of summer, where the sun rises just after 4:00 am, and sets shortly after 8:00 pm. The days are humid with temperature heading towards 100 Fahrenheit, but the risk of skin cancer remains so the public wear light long sleeve shirts. At sunset, the hum of mosquitoes and flocking Pink Galah’s fill the air. When the sun does go down, the humidity is stifling, ceiling fans turn all night and in the last week of December, sleep can be difficult with residents often using make shift bedding outside of the house, where it rarely gets below 75.
An hour’s drive south of Brisbane is the nation’s holiday playground, the City of the Gold Coast. With high rise holiday vacations right on the Pacific Ocean, you could look out a balcony and view the ninety mile beachfront below. Tourism is the state’s major economy, drawing both domestic and international vacationers. For the Christmas period, the resident population of the Gold Coast explodes from 250,000 to well over 3 million people. On Christmas Eve, most vacationers gather on the soft sand for synchronized fireworks, before walking to one of the local restaurants, dressed only in t-shirt and shorts, to be served the staple delicacy of mud crabs, prawns and seafood. On Christmas Day, it’s a gift exchange in the morning and in the water by 7.00am.
Christmas in Queensland is not without its risk, as the warm weather brings out the danger. Seven of the world most deadly snakes can be found in the Queensland back yard, one so poisonous that if bitten, you will not have time to phone for assistance. The spiders of the area live inside your house, and if bitten, you will wish that you had died rather than endure the pain. And in the water, crocodiles, sharks and the Boxed jelly fish. But, most locals will tell you, if you respect the environment and exercise caution, nothing should kill you.
Christmas Day is a national holidays, there is nothing open. There are no newspapers, no supermarkets open, and with the exception of major highway interchanges, there are no gas stations are open. Many a tourist has been caught out traveling in the county, having to spend Christmas in their car, out of fuel. Being a Commonwealth country, Australia has adopted the day after Christmas as a national holiday too. While traditionally it is the day that English Lords swap places with their servant staff, it also represents the unofficial first day of National Sporting competitions. Numerous sporting events are scheduled around the Christmas week, and with the vast coastline, Queensland hosts a number of water sports.
Before Australia II won the 1983 America’s Cup, there wasn’t a lot of focus on sailing in Australia. There were no World Champions and no Olympic medalists, (yet). While still a High School sophomore, my younger brother and I spent Christmas at a local yacht club in the National Championships. By the time I was able to drive, Christmas was sleeping in my station wagon in towns besides beaches and lakes. Little towns, towns that might have one store of a combined gas station, post office and hotel. Little towns that might have a population of fifty during the year, suddenly became a bustling metropolis for Christmas as sailors arrived to compete, and where the front page of the weekly newspaper was the photo of a teenager winning a National race.
It’s been almost ten years since I had Christmas in Australia. Christmas Day is a lot like the American Thanksgiving – except with heat. People will cross the country to be present when the meal is served. It’s cooking turkey and ham for days, and the need for a nap after the meal. Christmas is an Australian time of family, togetherness, and joy
But there isn’t any snow for Christmas in Queensland.