I am a proud Indigenous woman. My Dad is Wiradjuri from New South Wales and my Mum is Arrernte from Central Australia.
Like most other Indigenous families, Christmas is an opportunity for everyone to come together. In a few days’ time, mine will be packing up their cars— squeezing in the whole family (including pets) —ready to leave our various homes from around the state and hit the Hume highway for the long and sometimes uncomfortable journey, to get back on Country and reunite.
Growing up, I spent most holidays with the Grant side— Dad’s side —of the family; Easter, Father’s Day and school breaks. My strongest memories, however, are over the Christmas period. Christmas is extra special, not only because of the presents and the general festivities, but because I get to go back to Narrandera— Wiradjuri Country; my Country.
Living in a big, busy city like Sydney can be draining, consumed by the bustle of everyone going about their day. It’s easy to feel lost or anxious amongst the craziness of city life. Back on Wiradjuri Country, where it’s peaceful, familiar and embedded with my family’s history, I feel I can be my true self.
When I finally see the ‘Welcome to Wiradjuri Country’ sign, I feel a sense of excitement knowing I am finally back home on the land of my ancestors.
The drive to Narrandera is long, around seven hours from my home in Sydney’s Inner West. As I drive further inland, I love seeing the landscape quickly change around me, from built-up urban areas to vast open spaces and dirt roads. When I finally see the ‘Welcome to Wiradjuri Country’ sign, I feel a sense of excitement knowing I am finally back home on the land of my ancestors.
Then there is another sign that warms my heart even more: ‘Welcome To Narrandera’, where my grandparents live.
It means it's not long until I'll turn into the long dirt gravel laneway at the back of my grandparent’s house and take my usual car spot next to the old caravan, the one that my Nan has turned into a comfortable and cozy bedroom for us sleep in. I'll jump out of the car and be greeted with the biggest, warmest hugs from my Nan and Pop and the Aunties, Uncles and cousins who convoyed with us. Then it’s straight to the kitchen for a cuppa and the famous apple slice my Aunty Jo and I request Nan to make in preparation for our arrival, which she does religiously every time we visit.
Narrandera, known as the Town of Trees, is a small town of roughly 5,000 people, located within the Riverina along the Murrumbidgee River. While Narrandera is you’re fairly typical small sleepy Australian country town, my family and I are never lost for activities when we visit.
Summertime in regional NSW gets extremely hot— around 39 degrees daily —so as per custom, you’ll find us either swimming in the Murrumbidgee or at the historic Lake Talbot Swimming Pool. As kids, my siblings, cousins and I would all hound my Aunty Jo (who is the ‘cool’ Aunty, by the way), for 50 cents to ride the slide at the pool.
While we’d be splashing around most of the day, she would be forever emptying her wallet for spare change so we could use the waterslide and go buy ice blocks to cool down in the sweltering heat. Now as adults, my cousins bring their young ones, and I can see these touching memories relived onto the next generation of Grants. It's now me who plays the role of the ‘cool Aunty’, spoiling my niece and nephew who badger me for ice blocks and take all my change.
On Christmas morning, we all wake up early, excited for the day ahead. Growing up, Pop would wake before all of us kids so he could dress up as Santa to hand out all of the presents. From there, it isn't long before Nan and Pop’s lounge room floor is covered in Christmas wrapping.
After exchanging our presents, Nan, my Aunties and I start preparing our Christmas lunch.
The heat from the oven combined with the heat from outside brings the temperature to a stifling 40-something degrees in my grandparent's iconic green and white kitchen. This doesn't seem to bother Nan, who nonchalantly cooks up a storm while the boys— my Pop, Dad, Uncles and Brothers — who have been ushered outside, sit under the pergola, have a yarn and soak up the sun.
I’ve learnt all of my cooking skills from my Nan and during Christmas, despite being a full capable adult woman, Nan thinks I make too much of a mess to beat the cream and decorate the pavlova, so instead, I'm often tasked with washing and peeling the potatoes (and subsequently, ruining my newly manicured nails).
My grandmother makes Christmas lunch as if she is putting on a feast for the whole Riverina. This isn’t just because she loves to cook, but because growing up, my grandparents had very little at their table.
The way that Nan ensures that no one is left hungry often makes me reflect on the social changes my family have gone through over generations.
The way that Nan ensures that no one is left hungry often makes me reflect on the social changes my family have gone through over generations. Because of this, I’m always mindful to never take what I have today for granted.
Nan’s attitude to food means she’s also a big believer in making a little go a long way and her massive Christmas meal keeps us all going for the next few days, as more of our extended family continues to drop by.
While every family has their own traditions and household staples, the Grant family Christmas lunch always consists of ham, turkey, corned beef, baked veggies, salads and most importantly, pavlova (not decorated by me, much to my dismay), brandy snaps and Aunty Debbie’s delicious trifle for dessert.
The sounds of Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, George Jones and Dwight Yoakam blast over the speakers. Like many Aboriginal families, country music is the soundtrack of my grandparents’ house; it has been for as long as I can remember. And on Christmas Day it gets put on first thing in the morning (well, after Pop puts on his Santa suit, of course).
My family is very musical and after we’ve overcome our food coma my Dad, Pop, Aunty, Uncles and brother will get out the guitars and start singing old songs which they grew up on and of course, the country classics (admittedly, I'm more of a listener, than a singer). The most special part, however, is when Pop and Aunty Elaine sing in Wiradjuri.
Hearing Pop sing in language fills my heart with joy and pride. Each time we visit Narrandera he teaches us more about our culture and new words in Wiradjuri— a language, like many other Indigenous Australia languages, that's classified as endangered.
Christmas is widely recognised for being about family and tradition. So for me, a proud Indigenous woman, enjoying the festive season back on my Country with family, upholding our various traditions— old and new —is the best way to celebrate. And doing so has given me the most wonderful memories.
Wiradyuri ngurambang yirambang Yiradhu
Lowanna Grant is Wiradjuri/Arrente woman and Project Coordinator at NITV. Follow @LowannaGrant