An Australian Christmas carol by John Wheeler and William James 1948

Late 1960s, Berrybank, Victoria.

The strong scent of a pine tree immediately takes me back to my childhood Christmas. Every year we would get a real pine tree from the local YMCA, mount it in an empty red and white Mobil oil can, and prop it up in the lounge room with bricks and sand. Mum would dutifully wrap the can in crepe paper to cover the rust and make it decorative. We adorned the tree with familiar Christmas lights and ornaments.

But there are other memories of Christmas time and the associated holiday. One of these is the long, long car journey to Uncle John and Auntie Mabel’s farm at Berrybank, halfway between the Western Victorian towns of Cressy and Lismore.

The North Wind is tossing the leaves
The red dust is over the town
The sparrows are under the eaves
And the grass in the paddock is brown

Most times we made that trip it was a boiling hot day with a hot north wind. As we piled into the two-tone FC Holden station wagon, we knew that the windows would have to be wound down and that we would be sticking to the vinyl seats. Going to the farm was always a great adventure – the freedom to wander around the many farm sheds, playing with firefighting knap sacks and climbing the haystacks. I had my first ever drive of a red Ferguson tractor on the farm. My cousin, Faye, had a horse named Goldie and there was Gyp the sheep dog, too.

Due to the temperature and dry heat we would often see willy willies swirling up the dust and there was always the glimmer of a mirage on the horizon. The summer had reduced the paddocks to brown stubble. In season there would be crops of barley and wheat. There was the sweet warble of magpies in the tall eucalypts across the yard as well as the sparrows under the eaves. We almost always would head off home to Geelong in the cool of the evening. The Christmas vacation day trip to Berrybank, out on the flat basalt plains, was a complete opposite contrast to the Northern Hemisphere Christmas songs that we sang about with snow, reindeer and open fires.

When I hear the North Wind Is Tossing the Leaves Christmas carol, I am immediately taken back to my childhood Christmas holiday adventure of visiting the farm at Berrybank 50 ago.

David is a Melbourne musician, music teacher and primary school teacher. His debut Stereo Story was about playing Great Balls of Fire at Sun Studio in Memphis. He has assisted in the organisation, and leading of gospel music workshops and Sunday gospel celebrations at the Anglesea Music Festivals, and is a member of The Seddon Jammers. His son Dan is the creative force of the band Jarrow.