Sunday, 4 October 2009

Christmas at Bundaberg

The eldest son (and second child) of John and Mary Jane (nee Hull) McIlhagger was George who was born 29th April 1872 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was probably called after his uncle, and maybe his great-grandfather. He was eleven when he arrived with his parents in Australia. In 1897 at the age of 25 he married Anni Elizabeth Deoberitz. He had become an Engine Driver at Millaquin Sugar Mill. George and Anni had seven children, but before we come to them I want to quote George's recollections of his teenage years, in which he refers to his Aunty Martha. This was not the Martha who was the subject of my last blog - that was his younger sister. This Martha was his mother's sister, so was a Hull. She was the Martha who had married Edward Palmer and was probably the person who encouraged her sister Mary Jane and her husband John - George's parents - to emigrate. Here are George's recollections:

I can barely remember my grandfather as he died when I was about four (He must mean his maternal grandfather, Joseph Hull, as his grandfather David McIlhagger didn't die until 1899). I can remember his bald head (which I inherited) and he appeared to be rather stern but very kind. He had a sulky and a buggy and we loved to go for rides with him out to Lovers Walk which was well into the bush in those days. Grandfather had a friend, a Mr. Preston, who lived at Lovers Walk. In those days watermelon, along with roast chicken, was a Christmas special. Mr. Preston grew watermelons so at Christmas we rode in the buggy to get some. He had a long white beard and was, from memory, short and stout, so a visit to him at Christmas was a visit to Santa Claus. We always gave him our stocking request.

Motor vehicles were few. Deliveries were made by horse and cart. The grocer orderman came one day and the delivery was made the next in a dray pulled by great Clydesdales. Warm milk was delivered each day and stories were told of the milkman topping up his can with water if he was running short. We had a baker called Kazzy, who kept all the children on his run well-behaved by saying he would take us back to the bakehouse to be made into bread if we misbehaved. With all the horses around, there were plenty of blacksmiths so a favourite past (sic) time was standing near the entrance to the Smithy watching horses being shod. Even today (1988) the smell of burning coal brings back memories of the blacksmith shop.

Christmas was a special time when the whole family got together for Christmas dinner at the McIlhaggers. They had a pepperina tree and a favourite trick each year was to slice a piece of wood off the tree and slip it into someone's dinner. It resembled ham so the unlucky one had quite a time trying to cut and eat the pepperina wood. On Christmas Eve, Bourbong Street was closed to traffic from Barolin Street to Tantitha Street from about 5pm to 10pm. It became a Mall and was crowded with half the population of Bundaberg and district. It was the night of the year with late night shopping. All shop awnings were supported with posts and every post had green leafed branches tied to them a few days before Christmas so the street looked very cool and pleasant.

Aunty Martha made excellent plum puddings in the cloth. She must have made dozens every year because everyone seemed to have one of her puddings hung up for weeks before Christmas. I remember during the early days of the war using the pudding as a bomb. Even after numerous drops the pudding was still wonderful. When we went to live on the farm near Aunty Martha, we loved to visit her as there was always something special to eat. Her cake tins were never empty.

Going to the beach was special as it was a long trip by sulky or buggy. On Boxing Day, New Year's Day and Railway Picnic Day a special train would run to Bargara. It would be crowded and would pick up passengers at almost anywhere along the line where someone waited. The area on the hill at the southern end was known as Nobs Hill as only business people would picnic up there. The ordinary people had their picnics in Frogs Hollow near the road or among the trees. It was a very happy day with some very sunburnt people going home.

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