What do I remember from my first Aussie Christmas?
Not much. Like every young ‘orphan’ freed from the obligations of family celebrations, mostly, I was drunk.
Tipsy and giddy with the novelty of feeling sun on my skin as I tore snowman wrapping from presents posted from another hemisphere.
Oh, but I do remember that birds ate my Christmas lunch.
I was camping. With my first ‘real’ Australian Boyfriend. I was in awe of a man who knew how to pitch a tent and build a fire, unlike the pastie pommy men of my Mancunian youth, my Australian Boyfriend was unfazed by spiders, sand in absolutely everything and the idea of cooking Christmas lunch in the open air.
In his tiny creaky Datsun we’d driven to a bush camp, stopping to stock up on supplies along the way, a supermarket visit for fresh fish, a cask of wine (of course) chocolates and chips and for scrubbed potatoes to bake in the campfire embers.
I have a photo of me on that Christmas morning. I am wearing a crooked paper hat, a slightly insane grin and am waving a plastic champagne flute in triumph at having escaped the European drizzle, all-day television and shouted conversations with slightly deaf relatives. Oh yes, I was young and free. There's a kangaroo in the shot, for God's sake.
After bubbles with the roos and the world's shortest gift exchange, we hiked to the nearest phone box to call our loved ones, his in Melbourne, mine in Manchester. It was probably the middle of the night for my poor parents, but they couldn't escape the bellowed "MERRY CHRISTMAS, IT'S REALLY HOT HERE!!!"
We returned to our campsite to find, of course, that the oh-so-pretty birds had eaten the potatoes cooking in our embers, and had broken into our improvised eskie to terrorise the fish fillets. My first Australian Christmas ended up being back-up Two Minute Noodles and cask wine. And lots of al-fresco pashing, so, you know, all was not lost.
In the years that followed, I got myself "adopted" by my great friend's Aussie family. They taught me about the true joys of a southern hemisphere Christmas. Mountains of plump pink prawns, ham for days, bubbles that didn't taste like lemonade, pavlova, pavlova, pavlova. And a cheese plate that would have been lunch itself on any other day of the year.