Tis the Season

Kate and Renee pop back in for a Yuletime look at some charming history of the end of year festivities in Australia, through a maritime lens.


By Episode Topics

Christmas bushes on open rowing boat

The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912) Sat 23 Dec 1882 Page 1125

Kate's Christmas Bush Tree

Kate’s Maginificent Christmas Bush/Tree

Wet wattle

Wet wattle

The season in the Aboriginal calendar – D’harawal Country


Christmas in the Colonies

Stapleton, Maisy. & McDonald, Patricia R. & Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, 1981. Christmas in the colonies. David Ell Press in association with Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales Sydney

Barangaroo Boat Conservation Project

Barangaroo Boat

Christmas Fruits Sale Ad

New christmas fuits sale list from SMH 1856

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) Tue 23 Dec 1856 Page 6

Christmas Mince Pies

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954)  Tue 24 Dec 1850 Page 1

Christmas and its festivities at Sydney

The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893)  Tue 30 Dec 1856 Page 3

Christmas at Sea – by Robert Louis Stevenson

(first published in Scots Observer 1888)

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor’wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But ’twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops’l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So’s we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every ‘long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessèd Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessèd Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
‘All hands to loose top gallant sails,’ I heard the captain call.
‘By the Lord, she’ll never stand it,’ our first mate, Jackson, cried.
… ‘It’s the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,’ he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter’s day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

Handy guide to some nautical terms of the poem

sheets = sails

nor’wester = northwestern

squally = gust of wind bringing rain

breakers = rocks in the sea, can refer to reefs too

a-lee = leeward side of a vessel, the opposite of the windward side

maintops’l = main top sail, the sail immediately above the lowermost sail on the main mast

go about = tack (see below)

tacked = a vessel changing its course by turning into the wind

glass = telescope

gallant sail = the sail immdediately above the topsail

light = lighthouse