A Carnavon Christmas

The townspeople were still rebuilding from Cyclone Hazel, when I met Daisy in Carnavon in the early 80s.

Now Daisy's a Yamatji woman. Ernie Dingo's mob. She lived in bush camp by one of the big stations. They used to raise sheep there, but now it was cattle. We met at a prayer meeting for the surprising number of Indigenous believers around town. And Daisy wanted to tell us a Christmas story. A true story about hunger and grace. A story from her country.

As the days came closer to Christmas, more and more people took off from the station for their own country. The Whitefellas to their families Perth. Blackfellas were heading to celebrations with their own people in town or the far-flung regions.

But for Daisy, this was her country. So, she wanted to celebrate there. There were only a half dozen around the old camp left, mostly youngsters, when it became clear the food wasn't going to last long. Let alone make a feast for Christmas.

Daisy wasn't worried about the lack of presents or Christmas finery. I know a lot of Aboriginal Christians on that coast, from the Yamatji  people around Carnarvon to the Bardi Bardi by Sunday Island, and what matters is sharing a meal for Christmas. Remembering how God cared for his people, by giving them the baby Jesus, who would save his people from their sins. The Christmas dinner was about this God who provides.

Her cheeks rippled with tears as she whispered the sad news. The reality was there would be no meal to share. That and the fact that she was not being able to provide for her family, well, it just ate at her. She quietly prayed that God would do something.

Daisy’s cheeks rippled with tears now. I think she said something about boys going out hunting. Or somebody setting out to buy a chicken or something. Obviously, butchering a young steer from the herd was out of the question – the consequences for killing stock were unimaginable. Either way, no one came back with a roo or a chook, never mind a turkey. But she wasn’t going to shame anybody for Christmas.

It was in the middle of that disappointment Daisy noticed the red dust cloud coming towards the camp. Nothing miraculous in that. Just a couple of blackfellas in their ute. But given that the bushcamp wasn’t on the way to anywhere, the arrival was unexpected to say the least. The men pulled up, nodded their hellos, and came straight up to Daisy.

Sill less expected was what lay there on the great steel tray. A 70 pound Emu. Freshly killed, thanks to the bullbar on the V8.

God hadn't provided chicken, or even a turkey. He'd provided a feast of game. Yes, they'd love the young emu, thank you. More than enough for all of them. It would last for days.

Daisy and her little family set to burning up logs for coals for the festive meal the next day. A bird this big would take hours to prepare. Once the cooking pit had been dug and the feathers had been plucked, they probably wouldn't eat the great roast till late in the next day. But God had proved his point. And Daisy told us that it was true, God did love his most ancient people, the Aborigines, and never more so than at Christmas.

 

Feature photo: Pierre Pouliquin

Tony Riches is the Pastor of Melbourne Indigenous Church in Footscray and an AFL Indigenous Chaplain. With his wife, Francine, and their four sons, he’s spent most of his career building Indigenous communities around Gascoyne and the Pilbara.

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