United by song - and good food and cheer - friends and neighbours across the Border are hitting the streets and parks to spread the festive spirit and celebrate community ties.
SILENT Night was not so silent.
The tuning may be a little questionable, the key a little flatter than usual, but there is no doubting the enthusiasm.
And there are more thongs and shorts than your average angelic choir.
But across the playground at Pemberton Park a gathering of men is belting out the Christmas classic.
“It goes well — you get a few comments that it sounds good from a distance,” West Albury’s Shane Robertson says.
“It’s probably a bit of an irony we always sing Silent Night as loud as we can.
“And it always sounds good when voices are singing in a group like those male Welsh choirs.”
Shane Robertson, a physiotherapist at Healthfocus Physiotherapy and Rehab Outcomes, is one of the original seven to start “carols in the park” nine years ago.
He says it was when one of their mates was cranky with his partner before Christmas and called a few of them together for a bit of mateship and support.
“It started with seven blokes, then 20, 30 and now about 50 turn up,” he says.
“One year I called the police to let them know that we were gathering in the park and as a bit of a cover printed off some carols.”
But the carols and the singing have become an inseparable part of the gathering.
You can’t have the annual Christmas gathering at Pemberton Park without the chorus of carols.
“It’s just a bit of a gathering for blokes who can have a bit of a yap and a sit,” Shane says.
“Sometimes you don’t see some of the lads for six or 12 months so it’s just good to get together.
“But it’s become a bit of rolling phenomenon.
“There’s no invitations, there’s no work to do.
“Every year on the Tuesday week before Christmas it happens, people start asking if it’s on again and I just say ‘my word it is’.”
It may be the loudest, but it’s not the only traditional Christmas gathering on the Border.
Across the way at Electra Street in East Albury there have been street Christmas parties for pretty much as long as anyone can remember.
“People’s relatives turn up, a couple of people from church turn up — it’s just a couple of beers and a barbecue and everyone brings some nibbles."
Christine Brooks and her friend Veronica Robertson started it all when they decided to wheel a barbecue out on to the street one Christmas.
“That first year we weren’t very organised so we didn’t have too many come,” Christine says.
But from humble beginnings the idea of a street get-together has only grown and there are long-term residents who have barely missed a gathering.
“It just takes someone to get the ball rolling — and that’s all I do,” Christine says.
“It’s a great way to get to know who’s in the area, especially if there are any new neighbours.
“Next door brings the best egg sandwiches, which his mother used to bring.
“Another neighbour does heaps — they set up a barbecue, set up lights and tables and chairs.
“The Follingtons are great cooks and they always bring something.”
While the venue stays the same — what’s known as Sharps’ Corner — the faces are always evolving.
“It’s quite an old established area,” Christine says.
“But there’s always new faces and there were probably a half dozen children this year.”
An experienced organiser, Christine says it’s about setting a date early and sticking to it.
“You’re never going to suit everyone,” she says.
Neighbours Barrie and Bev Follington, who’ve lived there for 45 years, are among those who’ve almost never missed an Electra Street Christmas do.
“You’ve got to go back probably 25 years to the start of it,” Barrie says.
“And it’s still growing.
“It started off just Electra Street then it went down Mount Street a bit.
“People’s relatives turn up, a couple of people from church turn up — it’s just a couple of beers and a barbecue and everyone brings some nibbles.
“It’s never got out of hand — you read about these parties where everyone Facebooks, tweets or chirps or whatever.
“But we just put it on the calendar — Christine makes a few things to eat, we bring tables and chairs, and one lady (Esma Saggers) has been coming as long as we can remember and she’s now 97.
“Her son looks after her and reckons he’ll wheel her over even when she’s 100.”
Another long-standing Christmas shindig is organised by Danny and Joy Williams over at the Albury High School oval.
Another well established tradition, the Jones Street parties have been going for nearly 20 years in their present format.
Joy says she and Danny have lived on the street for 34 years.
“When we first moved in there was a beautiful old couple across the road, the McGraths, and they used to always hold a party,” Joy says.
“They would never let us bring anything, they would cater beautifully.
“They didn’t drink but provided alcohol and she was a marvellous cook.
“They passed on but a few years ago we decided we’d start doing it on the high school oval — it’s a perfect venue out there with beautiful trees.
“We did a gathering with the ladies first, that’s how we got started and ladies’ drinks went on for years.
“One year we decided maybe we should invite the men; I guess Jones Street has always been a little like that.
“I think it’s just about the community spirit.
“You don’t really see the neighbours now we’re so busy, so it’s a great time to catch up.
“We all know each other’s children then and they feel safe in catching up.”
It’s a social lot on Jones Street too, with the Christmas party a chance to organise a street dinner through the year.
And don’t think something like a little rain could dampen their celebrations.
“The last couple of years have rained and we’ve just held it under our carport,” Danny says.
Despite all the hard work, Joy says it’s worth it.
“Of course we enjoy it — once it’s set up it’s great,” she says.
“I think the boys love the set-up, they all get out the back and up the tree to put up the lights and set up the barbecue.
“And we’ve had a few different Santas over the years; we’ve had some funny Santas, some very good Santas, some reluctant Santas.
“He’s arrived in an old Sunbeam and one year he came on a motorbike and on the back of a ute.
“One of the best bits was always when the kids would all get out with their torches and go possum spotting, or you’d throw lollies for a lolly scramble.”
And it’s very much a community effort.
“Normally we have Santa come,” Joy says.
“But this year two of the grandchildren were big enough to pass out the lolly bags.
“Tom from the Jones Street Shop gives us ice-creams for the children, all the neighbours bring lollies and one of the neighbours makes up lolly bags — it’s a joint effort.
“Someone else brings the lights, everyone does their bit.”
For Danny it’s about bringing together a sense of community.
“I think it’s nice to have a close neighbourhood,” Danny says.
“Everyone looks out for each other.”
Christmas is all about traditions. It’s always hard to find the right date, sometimes the weather’s against us, and you’ve always got to have someone who’s willing to “get the ball rolling”.
But let’s hope for the sake of very merry Christmases that there are always people like that on the Border.
JONES STREET CHRISTMAS BARBAGANZA
- by JUDY BRINDLEY
December’s here again and off we go
For grub and grog, with gags and ho-ho-ho!
Christmas brings the Jones Street gang together
in hot, or even in inclement weather.
We greet each other warmly ’cause it’s been
Sometimes a year since all the group we’ve seen.
The high school oval is the perfect venue
For sharing all the goodies on the menu.
The salads and the sweets the girls provide
Are laid upon the table, side by side.
While in the background barbecues are heating
It won’t be long before we all are eating.
Who’s this arriving in a scarlet suit?
Why, it’s Santa — and he’s travelling in a ute!
The kids’ excitement reaches fever pitch
As Santa, from his wondrous bag of tricks
Throws lollies to the eager milling throng
Who’ve waited for his presence for so long.
Then afterwards they kick the footy ’round.
And spotlight when it’s dark, around the ground.
After tea we all sit down and chat,
Some tall tales told — now I can vouch for that!
Then someone lights a fire in a drum;
We gather ’round to warm our hands and bums!
When midnight comes, reluctantly we say
Farewell to all our friends who choose to stay.
We gather up the Esky and our gear,
And promise to be back again next year.