It is a well documented phenomenon. The further people are from their homeland, the more extravagant are their celebrations of national days and events. Witness for example, the St Patrick’s Day parades in New York. They’d never see anything like them in Dublin. Or the Feast of the Three Saints in Silkwood, North Queensland. It is far more elaborate and rich in ritual than the celebrations in the Sicilian village from which it originated. In a similar vein, Peter and I (well, mostly me, but Peter loved it too), succumbed to the seduction of expatriate excess, and made sure that Australia Day did not go unnoticed in West Lafayette.
Our American friends have a genuine interest and intrigue about things Australian, but really know very little about our culture and history, except for the Crocodile Hunter and his reptilian predecessor, Crocodile Dundee. I thought I would take the occasion of Australia Day to repay some of the hospitality and friendship shown to us over the past six months, and also to help expose our friends to a bit of Australiana. I decided that one of the best ways to do this was through music. Songs tell many of our stories, use lots of our distinctive vocabulary, present and/or reinforce many our cultural stereotypes and icons, and they are a sure way to enliven any gathering.
I started searching the web for lyrics to as representative a collection as I could manage, but couldn’t find one of my all-time favourites – “The Pub with no Beer”. Thanks for the wonderful response to my request for same. I now have the words and story about its origins, as well as a few more search engines I can use on future web-surfing safaris. I was fascinated to learn that the tune was actually composed by Stephen Foster, and is the melody to “Beautiful Dreamer”. That made an interesting link with American culture. I also searched for a recipe for damper, and was tempted to make a variation suggested on one bush tucker website – that old favourite, Bogong Moth Damper. Sadly, there are not a lot of Bogong moths here in Indiana, but I valiantly went searching for alternative bugs that might make an acceptable substitute. Alas, in the dead of winter, bugs are in short supply, so (I’m sure to the enormous relief of my guests who were more than gastronomically challenged by Vegemite) I had to settle for the plain and simple type with which I was more familiar. Thanks to Hannah who mailed me some good old CSR Golden Syrup (unavailable here in America), I was able to serve Bullocky’s Delight, preceded by the reading of a wonderful poem I found by Keith Garvey about a character called Damper Dan. That set the scene beautifully. I will include it here for your enjoyment.
Dampers by Keith Garvey
Knew a bloke once called Damper Dan
Remember the bludger well I can
And his dampers
Bottomless moleskins hangin’ slack
Tin of treacle, sticky and black,
Heap of flour in a dirty sack
Always camped by a bore-drains flow
Whiskery and greasy and foul and low
Never would buy a loaf of bread
‘Too bloody dear’ he always said
Cooked every day like lumps of lead
Down he’d sit with a toothless grin
Mixin’ the dough in a gallon tin
Over his bulgin’ bottom lip
Nicotine and slobber would slip
Run down his pipe and slowly drip
In the damper
Bore-drain water and weevily flour
Welded into a mixture sour
Stick to yer ribs and clog yer pipes
Give the goes as well as the gripes
And he’d say, ‘She’s a lovely feed, by cripes
Beef or mutton he wouldn’t touch
Brownie or cake he didn’t like much
‘Nothin’ he’d say, ‘like good clean flour
Never gets stale or mouldy or sour
Nothin’ gives yer muscular power
Follered his funeral without regret
Went where there’s plenty of heat, I’ll bet
And it’s safe to bet the devil could tell
How he sits all day by the hearth of hell
With his sack of flour and his evil smell
Cookin’ dampers…..Soddy bloody dampers
Of course, after hearing this, my guests could scarcely wait to have their fill of damper! But they were pleasantly surprised and all agreed it was much better than Vegemite.
We sang a range of songs and I had prepared a personalised verse of “I Love to Have a Beer with Duncan” for each of my guests. That was great fun. Peter and I did a splendid rendition of the Vegemite song (but even that didn’t sway their taste buds!!), and we all got into the actions for “A Home among the Gum Trees”. As I had hoped, the songs provided opportunities to explain different aspects of some of our significant icons and anecdotes, and we all had a great time.
I had decorated the apartment with the Australia Zoo posters that Jane sent and the stuffed animals which arrived in our Christmas parcels from home. I drew up a map of Australia with half written place names. Each person was given a piece with the rest of the name on it and had to find the spot where it went on the map. They all know where Toowoomba is now and I hope many will find their way over there to see us one day. We also had Aussie flag tattoos (more Christmas treats from home), and everyone bravely agreed to be thus tagged. A challenge was made to me to wear mine to Mass this morning (I will if you will, etc), but as I was due to give out Communion this morning, I thought it might be just a bit inappropriate. Had I not been on duty, I would have been more tempted. Just as well I had an excuse not to embarrass myself further!!
I also had made pumpkin scones using the recipe you sent me, Emily. Don’t tell Flo, but I had to use canned pumpkins. I have not seen fresh pumpkins on sale at any time other than Halloween and Thanksgiving. However, with all the other cookies, fruit, cakes, candies, etc., that my guests had brought along, we didn’t get the chance to even try them. I will take them to the Hanna Centre next week to share there. You can see that even the Swiss cuckoo clock was flying the Australian flag for the occasion.
We all had a wonderful time, and my thoughts were back there with you all. I hope you all had a great long weekend, and enjoyed your own celebration of Australia Day. I will leave the last words to Peter Allen:
I still call Australia home
I’ve been to cities that never close down
From New York to Rome and old London Town
But I realise something I’ve always known,
I still call Australia home.
I’m always travelling – I love being free
And so I keep leaving the sun and the sea
But my heart lies waiting, over the foam
I still call Australia home.
All the sons and daughters, spinning ’round the world
Away from their family and friends
But as the world gets older, and colder
Its good to know where your journey ends.
And some day we’ll all be together once more
When all the ships come back to the shore
And we’ll realise something we’ve always known
We still call Australia , still call Australia, we still call Australia home!
I’ll dry my eyes long enough to ask you this week’s quiz question: How did Billy Tea get its name?