Ghosts of Christmases past — 1 — 1951 to 2001

1951 — Sutherland


Jeanette — front row 3rd from the left



Interlude 1958

I was at Sydney Boys High and 15 years old that Christmas. We lived in Avery Avenue, Kirrawee then, in this house — but the tree was not there then….


Hear a Queen speak…

Yes, on my diary today you may hear Her Majesty’s Christmas Address. Just click on that link or this one and then when you arrive at the Royal Site, play the speech.

Don’t laugh, because I actually have enormous respect for the Queen’s Christmas Address, and the institution has resonance still for me–despite the fact that intellectually I am a republican here in Australia. After all, this is the 50th one, and it is quite a thought that I have heard all fifty!

So on that paradoxical note I wish you all the best for the season again. Particularly any royalists amongst you 🙂


I am just back from Christmas lunch with the Dowager Empress of Hong Kong. His Atlantic salmon was to die for, and the tamarind prawns were–oh my God, I don’t usually eat prawns, but they were wonderful. The Christmas cake was a genuine Mrs Beeton recipe (with a whole bottle of brandy); it was light yet flavoursome. There is no doubt the Empress has a talent. I would have loved to have shared this day with the Crown Prince, I really would, but that could not be. Sirdan was there, and Paul Davis and another friend of DEHK’s.

On DEHK’s new DVD and digital TV we saw several episodes of Queer as Folk, which is not on free-to-air TV here. It is such a shame that SBS did not get it for late night viewing, because it is actually very good indeed. I would like the chance to see it again.

Walking home was an apocalyptic experience. The ground is yellow with smoke as bushfires ring Sydney. It is very hot and there are strong winds. The south and west of the city looked to be totally in flames from the vantage point of the inner city. According to the latest news the Blue Mountains are very bad, and the road north may soon be closed. To the south around Appin seems also to be bad. M. has headed north but would have got through before the problem arose.

For many people all over the world, the year 2001 seems to have brought them more than their fair share of trials and disasters.

There have been storms and droughts as well as epidemics and famine. And this country has not been spared, with the floods this time last year, and Foot and Mouth, which has had such devastating consequences for our farmers and rural communities.

They and others whose livelihoods have been affected continue to suffer hardship and anxiety long after the newspaper headlines have moved on.

But whilst many of these events were of natural origin, it was the human conflicts and the wanton acts of crime and terror against fellow human beings which have so appalled us all.

The terrorist outrages in the United States last September brought home to us the pain and grief of ordinary people the world over who find themselves innocently caught up in such evil.

During the following days we struggled to find ways of expressing our horror at what had happened. As so often in our lives at times of tragedy – just as on occasions of celebration and thanksgiving – we look to the Church to bring us together as a nation or as a community in commemoration and tribute.

It is to the Church that we turn to give meaning to these moments of intense human experience through prayer, symbol and ceremony.

In these circumstances so many of us, whatever our religion, need our faith more than ever to sustain and guide us. Every one of us needs to believe in the value of all that is good and honest; we need to let this belief drive and influence our actions.

All the major faiths tell us to give support and hope to others in distress. We in this country have tried to bring comfort to all those who were bereaved, or who suffered loss or injury in September’s tragic events through those moving services at St Paul’s and more recently at Westminster Abbey.

On these occasions and during the countless other acts of worship during this past year, we came together as a community – of relations, friends and neighbours – to draw strength in troubled times from those around us.

I believe that strong and open communities matter both in good times as well as bad. Certainly they provide a way of helping one another. I would like to pay tribute to so many of you who work selflessly for others in your neighbourhood needing care and support.

Communities also give us an important sense of belonging, which is a compelling need in all of us. We all enjoy moments of great happiness and suffer times of profound sadness; the happiness is heightened, the sadness softened when it is shared.

But there is more than that. A sense of belonging to a group, which has in common the same desire for a fair and ordered society, helps to overcome differences and misunderstanding by reducing prejudice, ignorance and fear.

We all have something to learn from one another, whatever our faith – be it Christian or Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Sikh – whatever our background, whether we be young or old, from town or countryside.

This is an important lesson for us all during this festive season. For Christmas marks a moment to pause, to reflect and believe in the possibilities of rebirth and renewal.

Christ’s birth in Bethlehem so long ago remains a powerful symbol of hope for a better future. After all the tribulations of this year, this is surely more relevant than ever.

As we come together amongst family and friends and look forward to the coming year, I hope that in the months to come we shall be able to find ways of strengthening our own communities as a sure support and comfort to us all – whatever may lie ahead.

May I, in this my fiftieth Christmas message to you, once again wish every one of you a very happy Christmas.


And on the wireless in Sutherland in 1951

NOTE: Since it came up on Facebook comments on this post, I should mention that my sister Jeanette died three weeks after that Christmas and the King three weeks after that.


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  1. Pingback: 2023 coming — unbelievable! Part 3 of selections from 2022 | Neil's Commonplace Book

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