One of the weirdest thing about being a northern hemisphere fellow in a southern hemisphere world is obviously the fact that it’s blazing hot at Christmas-time in the antipodes.

Readers who were on board this time last year will remember the article Home Thoughts From Abroad when Melbourne was visited by the thunderstorm to end all thunderstorms on Christmas Day 2011. I am pleased to report Christmas Day 2012 was much less dramatic.

Summer in the heat has its own traditions. Using the barbecue not the oven, for one. (Indeed, wandering the streets at this time of the year at any mealtime will leave most people salivating by the time they get home, as the air is perpetually heavy with the sweet smell of grilling steaks and snags – otherwise known as sausages or links, depending on where you’re from.) Oyster Bloody Mary shooters are a regular in the Wellthisiswhatithink household – they’re a hell of a good way to start the meal preparation time. Most people down here now choose seafood not turkey on Christmas Day itself – especially lobster, (hang the price), and, of course, the ubiquitous prawns. (Which down here are gigantic, not the shrimps you get around northern Europe.) Heading to the beach or the cricket on Boxing Day is another favourite.

(We actually prefer to call Boxing Day “St Stephen’s Day” in our home, for obvious reasons.)

And not least in the traditions of the Christmas-New Year is the annual “Blimey, it’s Christmas already, we really need to get the pool ready for use!”

It was particularly the case for us this year, because during the off season we had the pool re-painted, after years of it looking like a patchwork quilt of the previous three paint jobs, all of which had worn off the base concrete to some degree or other.

The ineffably beautiful Jacaranda tree, inspiration for our "new" pool.

The ineffably beautiful Jacaranda tree, inspiration for our “new” pool.

So the pool is now unique. No, I don’t mean it’s nice, or new looking, or all that. On a whim, we chose a colour that the pool painter said the paint company told him had never been ordered before! It’s called “Jacaranda”, after the flowers of that lovely tropical tree which abounds throughout Australia at this time of year, or if you feel a little more prosaic, “Purple” would describe it just as well.

We now have the only purple pool in Melbourne. Unless you know different.

So, sure as the most common comment you hear at this time of the year is “My God when is it ever going to rain?” Dad gets despatched to the pool to get the accumulated detritus off the floor of the pool so it can be enjoyed in the warmer months. Our pool is surrounded by very beautiful trees that shed constantly (not a smart idea to plant them in the first place, but we inherited the problem) so a decent blow and it can look like there’s a small field growing on the floor of the pool overnight.

The funny thing is, we have one of those automatic pool cleaners. The ones that quietly vibrate their way around your pool, vacuuming up the crap and cleaning the water at the same time. But ours is seriously old. It was given to us as a gift years ago, and has been quietly putt-putting around on and off ever since, gradually getting less and less efficient. But we can’t bring ourselves to chuck it out. It’s almost like a pet. We call it the Putt-Putt and nurse it back to life every summer with loving care, which this year involved actually taking it to the pool shop in desperation, whereupon Mr Putt-Putt Vet (known to the rest of the community as the man who runs the pool shop) diagnosed a near fatal hole in a critical part of the structure, which he repaired for free with something akin to cement. Thus far, Putt-Putt is well, and I am eternally grateful to his saviour. If you want to know a pool man who actually does something – anything – for free, call me.

But Putt-Putt has a problem. It’s on the end of a hose which doesn’t reach easily to the shallow end of the pool. In addition, the pool was dug many moons ago, when they didn’t make structures that are peacefully sloped to the deep end that isnt so deep anyway.

In our pool, the slope down to the deep end is like the north face of the Eiger and the deep end is so deep that you could drown a brigade of cavalry in it and no one would notice. Putt-Putt simply can’t make it up the hill.

Walking the Putt-Putt ... a time honoured Wellthisiswhatithink Christmas tradition.

Walking the Putt-Putt … a time honoured Wellthisiswhatithink Christmas tradition.

So every year, we undergo a ritual called “Dad’s walking the Putt-Putt”.

This involves me using the device exactly as it isn’t meant to be used, in other words, carefully shepherding it around the shallow end of the pool as if it was, indeed, a gentle old dog needing a bit of help finding his water bowl. Automatic it ain’t.

It’s all worth it in the end. There is nothing much as wonderful as reading the newspaper by a sparkling pool and plonking into it when one gets overheated. Friends come round and share quality time – once they get past worrying that we’ll think they only want to see us because we’ve got a pool – we are quite happy to acknowledge that they want to see us AND we’ve got a pool ready and waiting on a 100 degree day – bonus.

One Christmas tradition in Australia is not so welcome. The fires have started up in Tasmania over the last couple of days and it is feared lives have been lost along with plenty of homes. And today there are over 100 fires burning in New South Wales with over 20 of them out of control. In Victoria, we lost 173 hundred people (with another 414 injured) in February 2009 in an event called Black Saturday. The event is still seared into the minds of the entire community. For twelve terrifying hours the fire separated me from my family, still on holiday in an area with a fire roaring towards it, as I had chosen to return from our family holiday early. My daughter’s best friend was with her and my wife. At one point, her parents phoned my wife and asked for the numberplate of her car. No one needed to ask why. If they got caught in the firefront, they wanted to know how to identify that their daughter had died.

It is hard to explain the horror of the inevitability, the inexorability, the sheer uncontestability of a large grass or bush fire in Australia. Of course, we are not the only country that suffers these frightening events, but as the driest continent in the world we suffer them more often, and more severely.They are a natural part of the bush renewing itself. Essentially, humans were never meant to live here, and we do so at our peril, clinging to the land nervously, knowing full well we are not in charge.

As the world warms, the fires will come earlier, and harder, than ever before, just as they have this year. Indeed, the weather in NSW today was reported earlier as the worst fire danger day ever recorded.

As I walk the Putt-Putt around the shallow end, you can’t see it, but I am praying. You can read below about Australia’s “Dome of Heat”.

  1. Wendy says:

    Walking the putt putt … Your tale brings back so many happy memories of my own dad who spent many hours “playing with his puddle” in the backyard of the house where I grew up. Our puddle, alas, was the requisite blue. Probably a good thing my dad didn’t know that Jacaranda was on offer. We were already well known in the area as the family with the BRIGHT orange Volvo.


  2. Bill Hayes says:

    Stay safe and keep the tales coming!


  3. paul says:

    I would die for a pool in the garden, but to be honest, I would like a jacaranda tree just as much. One if the most beautiful things I have ever set eyes on.


    • Paul, I have no idea if Jacarandas can thrive in a climate like the UK. They certainly don’t do AS well in Victoria as in SA, Qld and NSW, but it can get down to freezing here and they survive. I suspect if you grow the tree originally in a hothouse until it is established you might be lucky, or you could try your local gardening society and ask what they think. I can send you some seeds to propagate if you like!


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