Eureka Coetzee, Principal at Redeemer Lutheran College, Biloela, shares her Christmas memories and plans with us – memories and plans that spread across the globe, sound simply magical, and even include a little dog named Britney Spears.
By Jen Gourley
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Eureka Coetzee, you would know this lovely, charismatic, gracious person is a truly colourful character. However, although she seems to be more than making up for it now, her childhood Christmases in Namibia in southwest Africa, were not colourful, not bright and breezy.
“Our Mum is a lady,” Eureka explained, “and she does everything over the top – the way we sit, we talk, we stand, you know, you even blinked your eyes in a ladylike manner. There was just no room for any error. We wore white every Christmas. For goodness sake, who wears white? So, my poor three boys, coming from the farm… rough… parents that really don’t care about the fancy stuff in life, forcing them every year to actually enjoy Christmas, which they didn’t.”
No longer dreaming of a White Christmas, things changed for the Coetzee family, when Eureka, her husband Nols, and their three boys moved to Australia at the end of 1999. How did they spend their first Christmas here? Eating Maccas on the beach.
“They still say, ‘Mum, it was the best Christmas in our lives because there was no fuss’,” Eureka said. “There was no having to sit with your back straight and having a serviette over your lap when they wanted to wear the serviettes on their heads as boats. Christmas can definitely be less fussy, more family, more fun, you know?”
Despite the formality and picture-perfectness of those African Christmases, Eureka does have some fond memories of the festive season there.
“Growing up, Christmas was actually quite special too because we do have different traditions than what we’ve got here,” she said. “We did not hand out our gifts in the morning. We handed them out on Christmas Eve. So, you went to bed knowing what you’ve got. We didn’t have Santa. We had Santa Claus in Afrikaans – Sinterklaas. It was this big bearded man who pretty much looked like Santa and he delivered our gifts the night before.
“But the biggest highlight for me growing up was the Christmas pudding because in your Christmas pudding, there was a penny. It’s an English tradition and because South Africa was a colony of the English establishment we had pennies and then one year my brother swallowed his. Oh, it was just trauma that his penny was gone.”
It wasn’t just the pennies that made that pudding special, though. “There was real brandy in it. The kids were able and allowed to eat that Christmas pudding that was soaked in real brandy. I don’t know how much you know about alcohol, but fruit absorbs alcohol. So, we were quite privileged to have this alcohol-soaked fruit and they still do it down there. That fruit is potent.
“Christmas Day for us was church. Definitely the first thing and it was a non-negotiable, and then cold lunches. Lots of beautiful cold meats and salads and we did the jelly rings. Oh, my goodness… Carrot jelly rings and trifle, loads and loads of trifle with heaps and heaps of boiled condensed milk, which basically is caramel just everywhere.”
Eureka’s family also has a fun tradition when it comes to gift giving, and it doesn’t cost much at all.
“What we do, as a family, we have to buy each other a silly gift. And it has to come from St Vinnies and you have to have your receipt attached as proof because we don’t want you regifting stuff that people that gave you. So, we buy each other the most awesome St Vinnies gifts that you would never have bought yourself and the fun and the hysteria. And then we would play games and actually steal each other’s gifts … It’s interesting with the family that I have.”
Eureka will be spending Christmas at Warwick on the family farm, and her plans sound quite magical.
“It’s called Strathspey and it’s a beautiful Queenslander,” Eureka said. “The whole garden is covered in fairy lights. There’s no Christmas trimmings in the house. We’re going to be outside. Nols went to the Granite Belt Christmas Farm, just outside of Applethorpe near Warwick. He bought a real Christmas tree in a pot and that is on the veranda. It only has Christmas fairy lights at the moment but when I go home on Wednesday the grandchildren will be there and they will decorate it with me. Nothing in the house – we’re going to be outdoors. The garden is covered and covered and covered in fairy lights. So that is our big Christmas treat this year that we don’t have to be in a house with those three kids.
Those three kids are Eureka’s adored grandchildren – Zanti, 6, Lahni, 4, and Ziah, 2.
“The two little girls Zanti and Lahni, they’re like just so proper and then Ziah is thrown in the mix. We call him Hurricane Ziah. He is just wild. He makes us know we’re alive,” Eureka laughed.
“And then I have a little one in London (Hugo, 6 months). He is enjoying a white Christmas. We will zoom them and have big family FaceTime. That same night, I’ll also FaceTime Mum and my sister in South Africa. And we will open some of the gifts that they’ve sent me and what I’ve sent them and we’ll open them like that. It’s wonderful.”
As well as catching up with family in England and South Africa, the Coetzees have got their Christmas Day all planned out.
“We’re not having a lunch, we’re having a brunch so we’ll get up in the morning and just lounge around. We’re not going to church – it’s a little bit far out of town and the kids are a little bit too, you know, full on, so we’re not going to church, we’ll have brunch, which will have good food in it, not necessarily breakfast. So, then we can all go and sleep and watch a movie together, a Christmas movie, the little ones have already picked it. And that night we will have our seafood platters with a glass of champagne.
“We play Christmas carols all day. My boys sing very well. They sing unbelievably well and my daughter-in-law too. So, Christmas carols are played all day all the time. There’s a lot of dancing and singing, but not Nols. No. He’s monotone. He doesn’t like the fuss of Christmas but he watches and he loves us anyway. He has to because we’re not going to go away,” Eureka said with a chuckle.
Then there’s the tradition of the slushie.
“You take a big tin of fruit juice – sounds terrible, naughty, terribly naughty, and you add a whole bottle of rum in it but Jamaican rum. Then you freeze it and it becomes a slush. We put a little bit of slush at the bottom of a glass and fill it up with soda water. That is our Christmas slushie. And it was taught to us by Cathy Wissemann (Redeemer Lutheran College staff member) to all staff, so all staff get that recipe at this time of the year. Sometimes she even is brazen enough to give us some of the ingredients. So when the boys go home, ‘Mum, have you made the slush?’ So, I have to make slush when I get home Wednesday because it takes about three or four days before it’s really frozen through. You have to keep stirring it because of the alcohol content. So, yeah, it sounds like there’s lots of alcohol at my dinnertime over lunch table but not really. Just naughty alcohol.”
What about presents? What Christmas presents were special to Eureka?
“Oh, I have always been very crafty,” Eureka said. “I love creating. I’m not good. I’m not an artist, but I believe I am. So, my whole life I just got always something to keep busy with but my first paint by numbers. A canvas with the tiny little miniature pots. I’ll never forget lifting (the lid) and that smell of real paint. It’s not the paint that you have in school. It was oil based and I took care of it so much and finished that painting … I’ll never forget that. That was one of my most memorable, memorable, memorable gifts. Ever. I was very little, I could have been eight or nine. And that was from my father. He was an artist. I was never an artist, but Dad was an artist. He was unbelievable. I think he saw that I was not born with all this natural talent but I was born with natural drive. And he just knew she’s never going to accomplish a real-life looking image – let’s try paint by numbers. The satisfaction is enormous.”
As well as paint pots, a pup was another special present that Eureka remembers vividly. A gift for her whole family – herself, Nols and their three sons.
“We had a boxer dog in Namibia (we very much love our animals). We had to leave Vicky behind because obviously it was so expensive to bring her across. We were in rental homes until we became residents and when we became residents we could purchase our own. We moved to Toowoomba from the Gold Coast then, and we were in our own house and that December Nols walked in the door and there was a big box, a removalist box, and he walked in with this removalist box and the boys were sitting there, all hot as Toowoomba was having the biggest heatwave. It was just incredible. With unpacking stuff, we were so tired of life because we so just wanted to go on a holiday and be in the ocean. And this box turned up and inside this box is the most unattractive Little Jack Russell called Britney Spears. So, we got her on Christmas in 2002. We were here two years in the country, our first animal and that was for the whole family. We had her for 16 years. Oh, she was the best dog. She was the best. Ugly as. Her tail was the wrong length. Her eyes were odd, one ear was floppy. But the best, best ever… I’ll never forget that Christmas.”
Happy Christmas, Eureka, and enjoy some magical moments with your family under the twinkling glow of all those beautiful fairy lights.