As there were a large number of cousins on my father’s side, they and their parents, Aunts and Uncles, made up the gatherings. Uncle Frank brought the red cordial, why I’m not sure. Our family was teetotal and the adults must have had to go without – or topped up the red cordial without my parents knowing! Dad, who rode track work at the Caulfield Racecourse, would always make sure there was a pony from the stables to give the kids a ride.
The most memorable of these birthdays was when I turned twelve. This may have been because an uncle brought a camera and there was a photo to remember it by, or it may have been that it was the first time I held the gathered groups’ attention, just as I was to do in politics well into the future. Mum had organized a large, natural Christmas tree which stood in the corner of the front verandah. How this came to be I’ll never know, but I can assume it was one of Dad’s schemes where he would tell someone a racing tip and get a Christmas tree in lieu. Mum had hung a birthday present on the tree for every child at the party and I, as the birthday child, handed out each of the presents.
The other Christmas I remember was again as a child when I received Shirley, my sleeping doll. The box was at the end of the bed with Shirley written across the lid. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world. It must have cost mum a pretty penny to buy her and money was always tight in our house. My reaction to this Christmas present must have been ‘just right’ as it was spoken of often at family gatherings. Mother for years later always made new outfits for Shirley for my Christmas stocking.
Christmas get togethers years on are not great gatherings at our home in Benalla. The Marples have had many home bases over the years and it wasn't our family home when our children were growing up. As grandparents, we now make sure we see both offspring and their partners and children on Christmas day. One for lunch and for tea with the other, with small presents all round for the grandchildren, who now have partners. So Christmas rolls on. No family assemblies for my birthday now, which suits me just fine!