“Exquisite Absurdity”

Christmas lunch in Queensland when the temperature soars!

Christmas in Queensland was always going to be different for our early immigrants – it was hot, families were far across the sea, and the mail took months to send cards and letters home.

Immigrants first Christmas in Queensland, 1911; John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg. No. 153342

Whilst Queenslanders still ate plum puddings and hot custard even as it was “one hundred degrees in the shade”, many experienced an outdoor lunch – at the beach, at a picnic, outside the tent, in a lean-to by the tourer car, in the garden or on the verandah of the Queenslander house.

Family group eating Christmas lunch, Queensland, 1918; John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg No. 145810.

A newspaper man, writing in 1862 about an exceedingly hot Christmas Day in Brisbane, described the whole affair of hot meals and parlour games in such heat as an “Exquisite Absurdity.” ("CHRISTMAS, 1862" Brisbane Telegraph, 21 December 1954, p. 21, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article217158876)

Photographs were taken to document this unique Queensland style of Christmas celebration, and newspaper articles suggested ways to achieve Christmas lunch whilst camping at the beach.

Esplanade at Burleigh, Queensland, Christmas, 1932; John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg No. 87803.

Even under canvas, there was no rest for the cook – Mrs W Spink of Red Hill was cooking her plum pudding on Christmas day in her tent at Maroochydore in 1940 - an 6lb pudding that took three hours to cook. Her neighbour, Mrs Bettridge was cooking for 21 in her tent on Christmas Day.

In 1867, in the Queensland Bush, English writer John Nicholson (writing under the pseudonym of Tadberry Gilcobs) wrote that the silence of the hot Christmas day was punctuated by the “babbling of the irritated pudding and the sharp sound of cicadas” until the laying of the table cloth indicated that the Christmas meal was ready to be served. Christmas dinner in 1867 consisted of “Plain turkey, suckling pig, vegetables. Then the plum pudding, grinning in several places and showing his amiable currants, then other deserts, port and kaludah, pipes and poetry.” ( Gilcobs, Tadberry The mysterious cooks : a tale of Australia ; to which is added Christmas in Queensland. A. Ireland, Manchester, 1867).

Christmas lunch menus in hotels in Brisbane nearly one hundred years later demonstrate that the fare was very similar, with the addition of chilled soup and seafood and ice cream.

Besides enjoying a hearty lunch, Christmas activities were varied – from rides in a car with Santa Claus,

Christmas in Roma, 1922; John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg No. 193130.

to games on the beach, cricket matches everywhere and musical performances.

Singing around the piano at Christmas in a home in Baroona, Queensland, 1913; John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Image No. 7709-0001-0011

State Library of Queensland has a range of resources from photographs, newspapers and journals, e books, music scores, children’s stories and cooking books that document Christmases past in Queensland. This Christmas, spare a thought for the cook of the 6lb Christmas pudding on a blistering day under canvas at Maroochydore!!

Merry Christmas and Compliments of the Season

Christina Ealing-Godbold
Research Librarian
Information Service, State Library of Queensland.

Resources

Books

The mysterious cooks : a tale of Australia ; to which is added Christmas in Queensland by Tadberry Gilcobs. In storage. Request then collect from level 4 RBJ A823.1 GIL

Bush Christmas: Christmas in Australia, edited and compiled by Dobe Newton. In storage. Request then collect from level 3, G A820.8033 1983

Margaret Fulton Christmas, by Margaret Fulton. Open Access, level 2, 641.5686 2008

Classic Christmas : traditional and contemporary, by food director Pamela Clark. Open Access, level 2, 641.5686 2009

Homecooked feasts : favourite celebratory recipes from Australian kitchens, recipes selected by Maggie Beer and Valli Little ; foreword by Ian 'Macca' McNamara. Open Access, level 2, 641.5994 2008.

Christmas food and feasting : a history, by Madeline Shanahan. Open Access, level 2, 641.5686 2019.

Australian table dainties and appetising dishes : a handy guide for Australian housekeepers in the preparation of fruit, vegetables, game, fish, salads, sweets, and the picnic basket, by Mrs Wicken. Request then collect from level 4, RBJ 641.5 WIC.

The upside-down pudding : a small book of Christmas feasts, by Colin Bannerman. Open Access, level 2, G 641.300994 1999.

I'm Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas, by Marcel. Desaulniers and Ron Manville. State Library E Book, Online access.

Christmas crackers : Australian Christmas poetry, compiled by Ann Weld and illustrated by Katherine Stafford. Open Access, level 2, CLG A821.30833 1990.

. The ephemera collection contains documents of everyday life generally covering publications of fewer than ten pages. These may include: advertising material, booklets, brochures, postcards, programmes, stickers, tickets, menus,… Request then collect from level 4 (Menus and toast lists)

Music scores

Four Australian Christmas carols by Colin Brumby. Open Access, level 3, SCR 783.454 b886 aus

Christmas bells three part-songs for Christmas, poems by Thomas Shapcott ; music by Colin Brumby. Open Access, level 3, SCR 782.625 B886 CHR.

More information

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