It’s been a while since I’ve been down this way. Is there anybody there? Or have you all wandered off while I’ve been away? I wouldn’t blame you if you did. In fact, if you’re in Australia, you probably have been away.
For in Australia, not a lot happens between December and February. The country takes a siesta, a snooze, a sojourn. Sure, some people return to work immediately after new year, but they don’t really do very much those first few weeks. At least not anything that involves other people, because most of them are on holiday.
No, the Australian start to the new year actually comes on January 27 – the day after Australia Day. On the 26th, the nation rouses itself from whatever it’s been doing for the previous month and prepares for the start of the new year proper by wrapping itself in the Australian flag, drinking VB and listening to Daryl Braithwaite. Every year there are (in my view, very valid) calls for Australia Day to be moved to another date to avoid the annual tradition of rubbing the Aboriginals’ noses in the fact the Europeans invaded, but somehow the sentiment is lost amid boozed-up beachside barbecues and firework displays strangely reminiscent of the ones staged just three weeks before for New Year.
And then on the 27th, everyone returns to the office and the real work starts.
This month-long hiatus in normal activity is a challenge for the incomer who’s not completely adapted to Australian living. For most Aussies, the combination of summer weather and enforced holidays for Christmas is the perfect excuse to head to the coast or to the country. Camp sites are packed and holiday homes booked out at premium rates.
But for this new Australian, it’s just a bit too much excitement in one go. Used to splitting my leisure time between what what passes for summer in the UK and the cold, dark, Christmassy Christmas break, I can’t seem to get my head round blending the two. I like to separate my summer holiday from my Christmas one by around six months, give or take a week. The upshot is that here, I end up neither fully enjoying Christmas nor a mid-year holiday. Despite trying to maintain some of my northern hemisphere Christmas traditions – gorging on DVD box sets and chocolate – I still struggle to feel festive in Oz. It’s too sunny to see the lights on the tree, goddammit. And taking a holiday in June or July is less fun when you’re faced with the worst weather of the year and you can’t just book a £25 Easyjet flight to Spain to escape.
So I take my allotted 10 days off work, potter about, then go back to work as soon as they’ll let me. Got to earn the cash to get me to the European summer somehow.