Being the land bound sea story of the history of how six kangaroos became part of the Aussie Christmas story
(aka how Aussie kids get their prezzies)
By Joe Cooper
December is summertime in Australia. Growing up there, in Sydney, the idea of snow, pine trees, skating, sleighs, jingling bells on said sleighs and all the trimmings of “classic” Christmas was frankly a mystery to me and my mates. Most days in December the afternoon temperature was in the 80s and temperatures in the 90s in January and February were not at all uncommon. As soon as school closed for the summer break, in mid-December we changed into shorts, t-shorts, bare feet and so attired we roamed, in my case, the streets of Kings Cross, getting into and out of mischief, taking the bus to the beach, swimming, surfing, sailing and generally being larrikins. There was really not much there, there, when it came to the snow and ice part of Christmas.
Nonetheless there was a tiny wee bit of mostly un-uttered curiosity connected to Christmas. It was this Santa Cause bloke though. Yeah, we got the reindeer (yes, we did read National Geographic) and the sleigh, and the guy with the bag of presents, but how, went the question, did the reindeer survive the blistering heat in the outback?
Naturally all the Christmas stories were variations on something about this big bloke in the red suit and his team of reindeer. Well, it turns out that there was an interesting story connected with this question. I say story because I personally have no ocular proof of it, but that does not mean to say it might not be true. We are discussing Christmas after all, the time when the most unexpected things can happen. It turns out that there is a story about the reindeer in Australia and the deal Rudolf and the boys made with Santa.
It is told that some time back, in the depths of the Dreamtime the story goes, the reindeer had finally had it flying around in the baking temperatures of the Australian desert, aka the Outback. They got hot just standing around, even at night. They were tired, dehydrated, easily sunburnt, with dirt and sand in their coats, eyes, ears and nostrils and generally got home feeling crummy. Santa, being the benevolent bloke he is, felt for his team of reindeer. After all, he was, a big bloke and had on this big furry suit, more in tune with northern hemisphere in December.
So, Santa and the reindeer made a deal, the basics of the which was if Santa would sub-out the delivery of the pressies in Australia to some locals more suited to the harsh terrain then the reindeer would rest up and so be able to take on the important job of navigating the sleigh back home after the last present drop and Santa could have an early kip. And remember this is before GPS so navigating was a proper skill and responsibility you had to have yer wits about you and not be knackered from flying all over the largest island in the world. Santa thought that was a bargain and so the deal was on.
As the story goes, the next year Santa, Rudy and the boys arrived in Darwin, at the top of Australia, right on schedule for the hand- off. They parked the sleigh in the usual spot, a dark and almost deserted railway siding on the edge of town. The reindeer, Scandinavians after all and not wishing to let a good thirst go unrewarded, slipped the harness quick as a flash, disappeared down the road to the local RSL (like the VFW), had a tub (a shower) and with Dasher in the lead, trotted across the road to the pub and in short order had a round of very frosty glasses full of that delightful beverage known to labor workers the world around, a bitterly cold Pigs Ear (rhymes with beer).
They downed the first one in jig time and were actually onto their third round when all of a sudden Rudolf stopped in the middle of the yarn he was spinning. The others, who were in various states of repose, mostly with their hind legs up on the chairs opposite them and generally relaxing, all looked at him. He was quiet, with his ears back and alert and his body was rigid with the stiffness that happens when creatures get the scent of something. He put his beer down and held up his foreleg, motioning for quiet. He cocked his head in the manner we all use when straining to listen. The other patrons in the pub all stopped talking until the entire pub was as quiet as a graveyard during the Melbourne Cup. (Aussie Kentucky Derby – Whole country knocks off for two minutes or so) The only sound was the buzzing bee-like drone of the fridge compressors and the occasional clinkie-tinkle as a handful of ice fell in the icemaker.
Bluey MacFarlane, the publican, listened for a moment and looked at Rudolf, and said, under his breath, hardly audible, “Yeah, that’s them.” Now before we get too far on into this yarn, I have to give you some backstory. And story it is, for again, sad to say I have not seen the subject me-self nor do I know anyone who can swear to having seen them either, so we are going with “story.” Not saying it is not possible…at Christmastime anything is possible, right?
We all know about the kangaroos, those cute as all get out creatures found nowhere else in the world but in the Australian outback, the zoos and in ads for Australia. Most people hear “Kangaroo” and see in their mind’s eye the normal five-foot or so tall, grey ones, the kind you see the locals walking down George St. (downtown Sydney’s main drag) on a leash, or in the Qantas ads. But what most people do not know is that there is another species of kangaroo. Big ones.
Really big, like seven to nine foot tall, several hundred pounds, with forepaws the size of dinner plates and musculature that would put The Arnold to shame and with razor sharp foreclaws with huge feet and hind legs strong enough to clear a 20-foot-high fence without even thinking about it. Even the length of a bound between the batting and bowling ends of the cricket pitch is just a sip of tea for them. For all sorts of reasons, you do not normally see these kangaroos and that is really is a pity because they are pure white. As white as 10,000 count prima cotton Ralph Lauren sheets freshly laundered as used on the Sheik-sized bed in the Uber-Sheik’s suite at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Dubai: really white. These huge kangaroos are formidable when just standing still. But when they are on the move, the sound they make when they land is a thundering booming sound, loud enough and of a deep enough bass frequency to rattle the bottles on the bar behind Bluey from a couple of miles away. “Boom!……… boom!……..boom!” at quite long intervals because they travel a huge distance between hops. Because of all these characteristics, these big white kangaroos are known in the game as Boomers.
So back to what Rudolf was hearing—It was the approach of the Boomers, the business end of the sleigh power for Santa’s Australian run. The booming got louder and louder as they got closer of course, but then as the frequency and length of their bounds diminished as they slowed down approaching the pub, the booming tapered of to relative quiet.
Now Boomers are a bit too big to get inside the pub, so the Boss Boomer merely stuck his head inside through the open window to make sure the reindeer were there and to see if there was anything he needed to know before heading off on Santa’s Australian run. The Boss Boomer, his forepaws resting on the window sill, looked around, nodded to the other patrons and Bluey then looked over to Rudolf and smiling pleasantly said, “Giday Rudy. Good trip, mate?” Rudolf lifted his glass towards the Boomers in the manner of a toast and said, in a very faint accent, that a student of languages might have called Finnish, were she pressed for an answer, “Ya, all goot tanks. An’ da the sleigh is in da place you tell me mate,” he said with a weary smile. “Good oh” said the Boss Boomer and, casting another sweeping glance at the eight reindeer, said “Merry Christmas you blokes, we got ‘er now.”
Back at the sleigh, Santa was taking advantage of the time needed for the crew change to take his boots off and let them, and his feet, air out. “Fur lined boots are all well and good in Europe, the Americas, the UK and Canada,” he thought but they sure get one’s feet hot down here.” He had just finished his final inventory on his iPresent and exhaled a small, satisfying sigh that the inventory and lists for Australia all balanced. “Nearly done,” he said to himself, with the beginnings of a smile rustling those famous whiskers. “Just another few hours then back home to Mary, the hot tub, sauna and some aquavit,” he thought with the hint of a smile. The light sound of the Boomers approaching in short, measured, almost quiet bounds, pushed that lovely image out of his mind: Time to get to work.
“Giday Santa. Good trip, mate?” inquired the Boss Boomer. “Yah, yah all goot, just dese Ussie kids to go,” he said. The Boss Boomer smiled. To hear Santa say “Aussie,” it sounded strange the way it came through from the depths of the white beard with the odd accent. “All right,” he thought, “off to work.” “O’right, harness up you lot,” he said to the other five boomers in a voice that those in charge of the work detail use when it is time to get cracking. And I should mention that there are only six boomers because they are so big and powerful, they have the same power as eight reindeer.
The boomers were in the harness in no time flat and looking at the Boss Boomer to give the word. The Boss Boomer looked at Santa and Santa nodded. The Boss always took pride in the fact he and his crew did not need to be cajoled on like the reindeer. The boomers knew the work and just went at it.
Thus, not long after the boomers arrived at the railway yard, Santa was back on the trail with his six white boomers. North and south, east and west they travelled, zigging and zagging over the barren terrain of the outback, the rainforests of the northeast, the towers of the cities, and the lush rolling green hills of the sheep districts. The Boss Boomer led the team with razor-sharp navigation as they passed the suburbs, Santa lobbing presents down chimneys all the while with an accuracy that would make Michael Jordan’s hair curl, if he had any. Over Wagga Wagga they went and across Broken Hill, Bowral, Kalgoorlie, Bong Bong, Mittagong, Oodnadatta, Pilbara, Gypmpie, Bundaburg, Dubbo, Bird Island and the Birdsville Track, and everywhere in between.
After many thousands of deliveries, Santa’s sack was empty except for the spare presents and as he glanced over to the east the darkness was a couple of shades lighter than it had been just a few minutes ago. Christmas Day was dawning over the trackless wastes of the outback and Santa let himself have a little smile. “Nearly done,” he thought.
The Boss Boomer again interrupted this slight reverie with a call back to Santa. “Oi, Santa, what’s that down there?” He nodded towards the port side of the sleigh and down to the ground. Without waiting for an answer, the Boss Boomer wheeled the team to port and descended for a closer look. Santa looked at the small dot, getting larger by the second. Within moments, the sleigh was alongside a little baby Joey (the name for baby kangaroos). The Joey was in tears and slumped on the ground obviously in great distress. “Vi, vot’s da matter son?” asked Santa. “It’s my mummy, I’ve lost my mummy and I can’t find her anywhere,” sobbed the little Joey. “Vell, dat’s no goot,” said Santa. “Come on up here and ve’ll find your mummy.”
The Boss Boomer was looking back at all this and when the Joey was all settled on an empty sack next to Santa, they nodded to each other, and the Boss and crew lifted the sleigh skywards ever so gently. By this time, they had done their work, but of course they could not think of leaving while the little Joey was stranded without his mummy on Christmas Day.
The boomers were scanning the terrain around them looking for any sign of Joey’s mum. Joey meanwhile was up on the sleigh next to Santa who was telling him stories of how the reindeer lived back home, just to take Joey’s mind of his missing mum. They had been looking for her for a while and of course the sun had come up and the day had started to warm up. Santa was not used to traveling in daylight and certainly not in the southern hemisphere at Christmas and soon enough he began to feel the heat. After a few more minutes Santa slipped off his fur-lined boots and placed them on the footboard just under him. Joey looked down at these lovely fur-lined boots and was reminded of how much they looked like his mum’s pouch that he jumped into one of them. The cozy fur-lined boot felt a lot more like home and he stopped feeling glum and started to perk up a bit.
After a while Joey, feeling better now looked up and asked, “Santa, don’t you have to go and deliver all the presents to the kids?” Santa smiled that great benevolent smile he flashes when he is interviewing kids at department stores and firehouses in the days leading up to Christmas and said, “No son, all da presents are delivered. Ve vere here las’ night. Dis is a special trip, Joey’s special trip to find your mummy.”
By now they were in the middle of nowhere, a place called Marble Bar well past the Back o’ Beyond when suddenly Joey, who had hopped up on Santa’s lap to get a better look, yelled out, “There she is! There she is!” and pointed an excited forepaw downwards, fine off the starboard bow. Santa half closed his eyes into a squint for he was looking into the east at the low, rising sun and sure enough there she was a mummy ‘roo, hopping up and down and bounding from rock to rock with all the stress and strain of a mummy who has lost her Joey.
The Boss boomer led the team down within hopping distance of the mummy ‘roo and little Joey had bounded out even before the sleigh had come to a stop. Santa and the boomers waited for a minute while mummy and Joey hugged and when Joey had finally jumped back into his mum’s pouch, he turned to Santa and the boomers and said, “This is the bestest Christmas prezzie I could ever have had. Thank you so much Santa and the boomers and Merry Christmas.”
Later on, back at the railway yard when the boomers were stretching out and the reindeer were harnessing up for the trip home, the boomers were talking amongst themselves and discovered that they had all developed small lumps in their throats right at the same time, just when the Joey and his Mum were hugging and yet they could not work out what caused it. Hearing this, Santa just smiled and said nothing.
As the boomers sauntered over to the pub for a well-earned beer they all turned and looked upwards, into the northwest sky. The last thing they saw was the sleigh climbing into the pale blue clear sky. They could see the reindeer pulling an easy load with all the toys delivered and Santa getting ready for a well-deserved kip with his bare feet propped up on the neatly stacked pile of empty toy sacks lashed to the aft handrail. And that year it is said, was the only time the boomers worked a double run.
Now I know that some of you will say, “Well, what is the sailing part of this yarn?” Yeah, maybe if you look at this way: It is a great little yarn, right? It is about a bunch of blokes, two bunches actually (All the reindeer are blokes right?) all working as a team, there is a bit of a rescue and they give the non-sailors a memory to remember and they are traversing vast swaths of the planets surface where by and large no one ever goes, without GPS… I mean the land mass of Australia is about that of the South China Sea or a bit more than two times the area of the Med. There is a sunrise in it (Ever had a really good sea story without a sunrise or set in it?) And when it is all said and done, the boys are sitting around having a beer. I mean really it is almost identical to any sea story you ever heard or told, right?
So, for all you lot with nippers, or mates with nippers, read this to them (the nippers…well, actually the mates too. This is how Christmas works in the Land Down Under.