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Christmas at Wombat Rocks

We will never forget Christmas 2019. B and Tand their families were staying with us, T, F and A escaping the heat and smoky air of Canberra, PS and B evacuated from an encroaching bushfire, the slow- moving but fierce Kerry Ridge blaze which had joined with the Gospers Mountain Fire, together burning for weeks.

Throughout Christmas Eve we watched the CCTV images from Wombat Rocks, B and PS’s 130 hectare property near Rylstone near Mudgee. Volunteer bush firemen fought for nine hours that night to save their buildings from the fire burning throughout their property. In the early hours of Christmas Day the firemen retreated. The property was saved. We will always be grateful to those heroic firefighters for their magnificent efforts.

 After the fire
The burnt landscape at Wombat Rocks, January 2020.

It was another fortnight before B and PS were able to return to see with their own eyes the thick ash, severely burnt bushland and fallen and damaged trees. The usually prolific wildlife was absent. Quick decisions were needed as they had invited 100 guests to their wedding at the property in three weeks time. With the generous help of relatives, friends and neighbours, they cleared the area around the house of burnt trees and ash to erect a marquee. On the day, it was a beautiful ceremony despite the evidence everywhere of the ravages of the blaze. To make it even more special, as soon as the couple had spoken their vows the heavens opened and the drought broke. The heavy rain had everyone scurrying for cover- except the littler children who had probably forgotten what rain was, and played happily in the mud, ignoring their wedding finery.
  Annie enjoying the mudA enjoying the mud, January 2020

Four years later three generations of the family gathered again, this time to celebrate Christmas. By now, the bush is blooming though there are still remnants which remind us of the fires. Most trees have recovered, others were so severely damaged first by drought and then by fire that they had become unsafe and had to be removed. After the drought, streams have formed where before there were just dry gullies.

view of Wombat RocksOutcrops of rock and many trees on the property

Through the generosity of B and P, the family celebrated Christmas 2023 at Wombat Rocks. B and P bore the main load of preparing and started planning a year in advance. Even through their stay in Europe they were developing ideas and ordering goods that would be needed, such as the individualised commemorative plates.

Christmas plates
Christmas plates

Preparations started in earnest once Liz decided to come to Australia for Christmas. For us Aussies, having our long holidays at Christmas just seems normal but in Guernsey the boys and AT-K, as a Teaching Assistant, had very short holidays. To avoid a long time away from school their stay would necessarily be brief. We all looked forward to having them with us for this Christmas celebration. Because of Covid few of us had met G now 3 years old, and for DWK and myself, the last contact with L was five years before when he was one. The family had not been all together since 2017 and since then we have acquired five new members. There were 24 people in total, coming from Guernsey, Sydney, Queanbeyan and Canberra.

Three families camped on the property and stayed longer: T and family, W, M and G; as well as PDK and family. T and WJM stayed in glamorous Glamping tents while PDK and family brought their own set- up including their converted Fire Truck.

As a tribute to our age, DWK and I stayed in the spare bedroom in B and PS’s home. LTK and WJK and families stayed at the Globe in Rylstone. Sadly DM had to delay his departure to finish up some work but almost immediately was diagnosed with pneumonia. As a result he spent his birthday on December 23 alone and ill, but was well enough on Christmas Eve to come up by train to Lithgow where WM collected him.

Ready for ChristmasReady for ChristmasThe marquee which had protected us at the wedding was again erected to keep us shaded and dry while we feasted and talked. One permanent feature is the Bush Hut, started by our grandchildren after the wedding and enhanced by them each time they visit. It has survived strong winds and driving rain. No adults are allowed except to help with construction. Seats had already been built for the three Guernsey cousins. Two more will be needed for the babies of the family next time we gather. A feature of the time together was the harmonious interactions between the cousins from two sides of the world though most were not old enough to remember being together before. The older children found ways to involve the little one

The Bush HutCousins enjoying the Bush Hut The celebrations started on December 23rd with lunch at the Globe Hotel. This was to have been a birthday lunch for DM but in his absence we took the opportunity to celebrate, belatedly from August, LT-K’s 50th birthday. Her sisters worked hard to come up with an amazing cake. We did remember DM and his birthday later on the weekend.

After lunch we went to settle in to Wombat Rocks. Most of the children became very involved in craft work to produce merchandise for the Bush Hut Shop. There were vases, pictures, place mats and more. MJM was the main planner but there was generally a great deal of enthusiasm. Various parents were roped in to help assemble the raw materials. This was the first opportunity for N, L and G to be involved with their Australian cousins and they showed their craft skills. There was also time to swim in the dam and for the newcomers a ride in the back of the Ute to become familiar with the property away from the house.

During the next three days we enjoyed a huge variety of activities. The Hut Shop, situated of course in the Bush Hut, opened for business and parents and grandparents came back laden with treasures. Another Craft session was needed to replenish the stock and the wet morning on Christmas Eve provided a perfect opportunity.

The Hut ShopThe Hut Shop

Fortunately the rain cleared by the afternoon so we could enjoy other activities including darts, cricket, pickle ball, swimming and an excellent treasure hunt organised by MJM. She had also made a Pinata which was enthusiastically whacked. We saw a range of styles used to break the papier mache open and finally the sum of all the whacks broke through. There were plenty of rewards for everyone.

From late afternoon we turned our attention to the Christmas traditions of our various cultures. First we had the Christmas Tableau to the background of “Away in the Manger”. We were fortunate to have a live baby in TLK, and the rest of the cast had selected their roles. We ended up with three Angels (G, J and A who all looked beautiful), M as Mary in her blue cloak, JPK as Joseph, looking very fatherly, TWK as a shepherd, enfolded in the stripy table cloth that has featured in similar K family Tableaux over he last 50 years. The three Wise Men were brothers  N with Myrrh, L with Frankincense and G with gold. They had certainly travelled a very long way to present these gifts!
Christmas TableauChristmas Tableau
Next, following the European tradition, we decorated the Christmas Tree, with the excellent help of the grandchildren. Then PS introduced us all to two different European traditions. First from his father’s Serbian roots, the Badnjak, literally "the one who brings joy" in Serbian PS lit a tree branch specially selected to be placed on the fire. In Serbia it would be an entire tree, preferably an Oak tree which grows straight and tall, placed on the fire lit to keep everyone warm on this festive night.
The burning of the log is accompanied by prayers that the coming year will bring food, happiness, love, luck, and riches. The log burns on throughout Christmas Day when the first visitor strikes it with a poker or a branch to make sparks fly, while wishing that the family's happiness and prosperity be as abundant as the sparks. We all enjoyed seeing the tree- in our case a eucalypt- burn and seeing the sparks fly out as the fire waned, we hoped  to bring us all blessings throughout the next year.
Next we moved on to the Christmas Eve meal, traditionally the main celebratory meal in the Hungary of PS's mother's family and also in many other European traditions. In fact, this tradition is also relevant for DK’s German ancestors and his cousins from his mother's Adelaide family still celebrate Christmas Eve in this traditional way. PS  produced traditional food for us all to share.

Christmas treeChristmas tree

As Christmas Day dawned families gathered in their separate quarters to exchange gifts and get breakfast. As there was no Mass locally on Christmas Day several of us gathered quietly upstairs in the house to be involved in a very beautiful Christmas Mass from Lismore, NSW. Then we all moved on to lunch, featuring a baked salmon, ham, and vegetarian selections, finishing up with the traditional Pudding with Brandy Butter and all the trimmings.

I suspect there were a few who napped on Christmas afternoon, while others delved into their presents to try them out and others enjoyed spending time together. There was plenty for everyone to enjoy during the afternoon, especially as the celebrations were not over yet- it was F’s 40th birthday, so from about 5 o’clock on, the day was Frankmas with his favourite food and gifts from those assembled.

With Christmas done there was so much activity that I could not keep up with it all, and I’m sure others will have different memories of these days. The K adults enjoyed a bush walk around the property, harking bck to the same walk the day after B and PS's wedding when the bush looked very different. Some played tennis, on a newly rolled clay court, properly marked with the invaluable help of the younger generation. There was also a Pavilion for spectators and a second court suitable for pickle ball. The tennis culminated in a tournament final with G prevailing over all comers including D M and PS.Wombat Rocks Tennis courtRocky Garros Tennis court

The magnificent inflated air mat was perfect for the gymnasts to work on their skills. They showed off some of these skills in a talent show which featured amazing gymnastics especially from A, climbing of a tree by JPK who left us all gasping at how he found footholds on what seemed to be smooth bark,Some of our gymnastsSome of our gymnastsPiano compositionG's Piano composition

and a performance by G of her own piano composition.

James climbingJPK climbing

JKK was able to show us the whole Deaf alphabet, and she and M made us all laugh with their demonstrations of  "walking" (like their cousins) . What mimics!

Swimming was popular and PS also fired up the sauna. There were novelty swimming races, sack races and a tug of war, though the latter ended with Grandpa flat on his back and two of his granddaughters in tears in case he was badly hurt. The rope had been subjected to massive forces when the younger generation mixed and matched until they were so evenly balanced that there were no winners. Then the adults took over, with men v ladies and this was too much for the rope, which could not stand the strain. Just as everyone was pulling their hardest, it broke in the middle sending Grandpa flat on his back. PDK’s excellent training and equipment came to the fore, with his stokes litter particularly useful in getting DWK off the hard ground while PDK checked that his father was not badly injured. We were all very reassured.

Enjoying the damEnjoying the dam


Tug of warTug of war


On the final day the Rocks at Wombat Rocks were the centrepiece. JPK, JKK and A were privileged to abseil on the magnificent cliff faces. Paul had come ready with the equipment and knowledge to enable these three to try out this exciting pastime.Abseiling at Wombat RocksAbseiling at Wombat Rocks

This Christmas Gathering was possible through the generosity of PS and B, not only in providing the venue but also in planning, cooking, creating a tennis court, and working both before and during the weekend to keep it all moving. Thanks also to everyone who gave their time to set out the meals, help clear them away, wash and dry up and put away the leftovers so that we could enjoy them later. Fridges were kept replenished with cold drinks, fruit and snacks were laid out and generally there was much work behind the scenes which helped the celebrations to flow.

So just as we will not forget Christmas 2019, Christmas 2023 will be remembered for the happy family celebration of this Feast, surrounded by majestic rock formations, magnificent trees and thriving undergrowth. The birds, including lyre birds, gang gangs and fairy wrens have returned, together with the wallabies, wombats, echidnas and lace monitors. It was definitely an occasion of joy to the World.

Group Christmas 2023Group Christmas 2023

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