Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas 1918

1918 marked 20 years since Fred and Dan Pilkington had ridden down to this southern-most part of the country to take up the old Sandy Point run.  The intervening years had seen them joined firstly by their cousin Charlie Griffin, and later by another brother, my grandfather Charlie Pilkington.  The four men had all married, and were raising their young families.  On Christmas Day in 1918, there would have been 12 children, ranging from my father Haughton, the eldest at 10 years, down to baby Keane, just a few months old.

Sandy Point at that time was a small farming settlement, still quite isolated from the rest of the world.  The little community was self-sufficient, relying on each other not only for assistance with the day to day work of the farms, but also for company and entertainment. 

The Commonwealth Tree, so-named for the six main branches, representing the six states making up the new Commonwealth of Australia, was a big old tree, and a gathering place for the families to meet.  The tree is long gone, and holiday homes now occupy the area where it once spread its branches.  What species is was has been forgotten with the passage of time - none of those who celebrated Christmas under its canopy in 1918 remain to enlighten us.  It was possibly a large banksia (Banksia Integrifolia, or Coast Banksia), that being the dominant variety growing between the dunes and the farming flats.  Or a Manna Gum, providing habitat for the koala.  But it could just have easily been a She-oak, or even an introduced Cyprus.

Christmas Day would have been a rare day off from the duties and chores of farming life.  A time to get together and celebrate, enjoying the company of the extended family and the freedom of the bush.  While the children played, and the women busied themselves with the Christmas picnic fare, I imagine the men sat there with their pipes and discussed the state of the world.  World War 1, which had raged for the previous four years, was finally over.  Events in their native Ireland were still unsettled, following the general election of that year, which saw Sinn Fein claim victory.  This was a key point in the Irish struggle for independence, and I'm sure would have been of great interest to these four expatriot Irishmen.
Great Uncle Fred immortalised this Christmas Day for us in his poem about the Commonwealth Tree.  It evokes vivid images of the occasion and provides a glimpse of the simpler life led by our forebears.  What they didn't grow or make for themselves, they just didn't have.  And yet, Fred's poem tells us they still had Christmas with all the trimmings - decorated the old tree, appearance by Santa, and presents all round for the children.


Christmas 1918

At the Commonwealth Tree, the grand old tree.

All were happy as happy could be.

For it, you know, was Christmas Day,

In our own dear glade, by the deep blue bay.

Tea and cake there was galore

Sandwiches, and lashings more.

Each household had its Christmas joint

God bless the wives of Sandy Point.


To the Commonwealth Tree, the grand old tree,

Came Rose and Dan to join the spree.

“She-oaks” too, and “Ennisvale”

With “Gyndahnook” had struck the trail.

Within the glade the air was balm,

Beyond, the deep was glassy calm

So all the clan had gathered round,

And mustered at the picnic ground.


At the Commonwealth Tree, the grand old tree,

The kiddies were happy as kiddies should be.

In feasting and fun there was never a pause

Til popped on the scene was old Santa Claus.

Then all the children gathered round

A real tree, right in the ground,

And Santa radiant by its side

As groom before his blushing bride.

From trunk to top-most limb was spread

With gorgeous toys and streamers red.

And Nance and Maize, with nut brown hair

With Ede and little Vidie are there.

Haughton, Ib and curly Peggy

Richard Nash and dimpled Teddy,

Tom and Jacky, sturdy boys,

Eager all to grasp their toys.

Honest eyes of brown and blue,

Flashing glances, straight and true,

Coyly seen beneath their lashes,

Waists so gaily swathed in sashes,

Ribboned hair and stockinged feet,

buckled shoes and tunic neat.

Happy children, fair and free,

As winds that rocked their Christmas tree.


At the Commonwealth Tree, the grand old tree,

Many, many happy gatherings be.

Should boys and girls in virtue grow,

Will good old Santa come and go.

Seek virtue, not the world’s renown

And forward press to win the Crown,

For time, all earthly ties will sever,

This Crown with thee will last for ever.

God Save the King and Santa Claus

Was sung, for worthy was the cause

Responsive to the clamour made

The echoes rang then through the glade.

Then a jackass overhead

In a joyous outburst said

Bushland babies all goodnight

Sweet be your sleep til morning light.

F. W. Pilkington

Sandy Point

Christmas 1918
So, as I finish my preparations for Christmas 2014, and look forward to spending another summer holiday at Sandy Point, with family immediate and extended, I look back and think both how much life has changed, and how much it hasn't.  No matter how busy our lives get, or how far away we are, the joy of Christmas celebrations and the connection with family remain constant.