Saturday, December 3

Australian Christmas Carols

At the time I grew up as a child Australia was more “English” than the English. We sang traditional English Christmas carols and songs about a winter wonderland each Christmas despite it being in the height of our hot summer. Our parents slaved over a hot stove to serve up our piping hot Christmas family dinner with plum pudding appropriate to any English household blanketed in snow.

At this time the landscape in Australia fades to brown, and is fanned by hot Northerly winds”, which herald the beginning of the ever present threat of raging bush fires. Australia is a fragile land and one of the driest on planet earth.

The summer heat brings with it an increased chorus from our birds who loudly proclaim the new seasons bush flowers. At that time we would head for the beach or plan family picnics alongside cool streams by shaded trees.
Australian Composer John Wheeler captures that reality with these evocative words as Christmas carols, which I like to sing each year. “Orana” is an aboriginal word meaning “Welcome”. Here are 3 of his carols

Carol of the Birds

Out on the planes the Brolgas are dancing
Lifting their feet like war horses prancing
Up to the sun the wood larks go winging
Faint in the dawn light echoes their singing
Orana! Orana! Orana to Christmas day

Down where the tree ferns grow by the river
There where the waters sparked and quiver
Deep in the gullies Bell birds are chiming
Softly and sweetly their lyrics notes rhyming
‘Orana! Orana! to Christmas Day

Friar birds sip the nectar of flowers
Currawongs chant in wattle tree boxes
In the blue ranges, Lorikeets calling
Carols of bush birds rising and falling
‘Orana! Orana! to Christmas Day

Christmas Day

The North Wind is tossing the leaves
The red dust is over the town
The sparrows are under the Eaves
And the grass in the paddock is brown

As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ child the heavenly King

The tree ferns in green gullies sway
The cool stream’s flow silently by
The joy bells are greeting the day
And the chimes are adrift in the sky

As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ Child the heavenly king

How about 3 wise drovers!!

Across the plains one Christmas night, 3 drovers riding by ….and gay
Looked up and saw a starry light, more radiant than the Milky Way
And on their hearts such wonder fell, they sang with joy “Noell Noell”

The air was dry with summer heat and smoke was on the yellow moon
But from the heavens faint and sweet came floating down a wondrous tune
And as they heard the sang full well, those Drovers 3 “Noell Noell”

The black swans flew across the sky, the wild dog called across the plain
The starry lustre blazed on high, still echoed on the heavenly strain
And still they sang “Noell Noell ” those drovers 3 “Noell Noell”


Granny said...

From one opera fan to another. Good morning - at least here in Merced, CA. I just read your comment at maison madcap and added my two cents.

I'm wondering about the melody to these carols. I have a beat up elderly piano (kind of like me) and three great-granddaughters who are becoming a little bored with Frosty and Rudolph. It would also be nice for them to know that Waltizing Matilda and Kookaburra are not the only songs Australians sing.

They know in theory that Australia's seasons are opposite of ours but the carol about the black swans would reinforce it.

I have a small, family friendly blog. We talk a lot about kids, some politics (flaming liberal me), and just generally chat back and forth. Very different from yours, I'm afraid, but we have fun.

Except for the day before yesterday when I was "flamed". Ouch.

Love to see you there or if you feel like helping me out with those melodies, I can be reached at

No secret - if you check out the blog, the email address is there.

Gary said...

Those are lovely tunes that give a sense of the sacred and a sense of place... the Huron Carol was written in Canada in 1643 (in the Huron Indian language and later in English). It's sung often in churches at Christmas.

The Huron Carol ('Twas In The Moon of Winter Time)

'Twas in the moon of wintertime when all the birds had fled
That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim and wondering hunters heard the hymn,
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

Within a lodge of broken bark the tender babe was found;
A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round
But as the hunter braves drew nigh the angel song rang loud and high
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

The earliest moon of wintertime is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on the helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before him knelt with gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

O children of the forest free, O seed of Manitou
The holy Child of earth and heaven is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant boy who brings you beauty peace and joy.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

Words: Jean de Brebeuf, ca. 1643; trans by Jesse Edgar Middleton, 1926
Music: French Canadian melody (tune name: Jesous Ahatonhia)

VB said...

This is lovely. I am interested in what the Christmas experience was like for you when you were a boy. Perhaps you could write about this.

Lindsay Lobe said...

thanks Gary for the posting, its great to hear those words linked to your majestic countryside -of rabbit skins fox and beaver pelts linked in to the traditional christmas message !!
I understand death came to this stalwart blackrobe in 1649. I read his story with great interest. He was certainly a brave man, an adventurer, a writer, a man for his times who became a martyr. Someone you could admire.

I might do a posting on the most exciting christams of all as a child, my present ----a glorious repainted Bicyle !!

Lindsay Lobe said...

I have the Christmas Carols for you and will be sending off soon.

Anonymous said...

I was preparing to sleuth all the Australian carols of my childhood but found this post straight-off, thank you!

My only beef is that brolgas are nothing like war horses! It bothered me as a child, and it bothers me still~