Banana Shire Councillor Judy Pender shares her colourful Christmas memories and how much family means to her.
This will be Judy Pender’s first Christmas without her mum. Her lovely mum, Shirley Wilkie, sadly passed away earlier this year. The Wilkie Christmases were big and they were bold with a house jam-packed with relatives, all gathered together annually for jolly good times. Lots of antics, lots of laughter, lots of good food. And Shirley Wilkie was at the heart of it all.
Shirley married Keith when she was just 17, and by the time she was 27, she’d had 9 children, with Judy the eldest of the Wilkie bunch. They all lived out on Argoon Kilburnie Road on a property called “Boon Boon”.
“She was a good mum. An excellent mum,” Judy said. “And she had an excellent mother. My grandmother used to come up for Christmases, from Brisbane. She worked in Brisbane at the Holland Blind factory – used to cut out the blinds. She was widowed when I was three. My grandfather came back from Changi. He was on the Burma Railway. And he got killed in an accident. She had two boys, I had two uncles, after he came back. And he died probably about nine years after he came back. He’d been hit on the head with a sword by the Japanese and he used to get ringing in his ears and that wasn’t good. And something happened – he just slightly blacked out in the car, they reckon, just died. My two uncles were in the car with him. So, that meant that Grandma used to come up here for Christmas with the boys, and they were my fondest memories, you know, going to Gladstone with Dad in the ute. We used to have a ute – I don’t know how we all fit in but the boys used to hop in the back. And you know Grandma would always arrive with a trampoline or a set of swings or something, and one set of swings is still at the farm.
“And we used to have these huge Christmases right through my life and all our cousins would come and, you know, when I look back, I don’t know how Mum used to cater for them all, even the beds and everything. She’d bloody make room and they’d sleep all over the place, but we used to have some great Christmases.
“One of the things I really remember was we used to be scouting around, because we had Rhodes Soft Drinks here. We’d have to scout around and get the bottles for them to be cashed in and Dad used to buy us 12 dozen bottles of soft drink for Christmas. They had to last from Christmas Day to just past New Year’s Day. And, you know, we pretty well had them all cleaned up by New Year’s Day,” laughed Judy.
“Then, as I got older, the times over in the old dairy where all the grog would be kept in the old dairy fridge. And they’d go over there and everybody would be half tanked by Christmas lunch. But it used to be fun because of all the cousins and everything. Yeah. And huge! Like the presents under the Christmas tree were just absolutely great. But, you know, that’s the sort of mum she was. She really went all out… including a beautiful hot Christmas lunch.”
Shirley would cook breakfast, lunch and dinner in the old farmhouse with a slow combustion stove or a wood stove.
“I’ve got very fond memories,” Judy said. “I love my family.”
Out of all those special Christmases, last year’s is particularly poignant for Judy.
“Christmas is about family,” she said. “And it’s so important that everybody gets together. And last Christmas we had our last Christmas with Mum. And we had 60 for Christmas, which was great.”
This memorable Christmas was held out at “Boon Boon”. “We just set up marquees and shades. It was a really good day. And the little kids were up to the same things, the water fights, that we used to have when we were kids.”
Was it a lovely Christmas for Shirley?
“Yes, yes. Because of the cancer she got tired, you know, but she was good. My brothers are such larrikins… On Christmas Eve, Mum got a bit ill. So, I rung to let them know she wasn’t real good. But by the afternoon she was downstairs with everybody. My brother says, ‘Jesus, Shirl, I didn’t think you were gonna be here tomorrow.’ Gawd,” Judy chuckled. “But it was a lovely time because every family member was there. Because I’ve got a sister that lives away and a brother and it was really lovely,” Judy said thoughtfully. “It was good, it was good.”
This year, Judy and her husband John are, understandably, choosing a quieter Christmas than usual.
“We’re not having a big family Christmas. I’m going to spend Christmas with my kids at my daughter’s place at Calliope. Having a rather quiet Christmas to what I’m used to.”
However, Judy is feeling positive. “I feel good about it actually. I think we all need a bit of time, you know… You do, don’t you? And these things happen.” And Judy, who adores her five grandchildren, will have some around her for the big day.
Christmas may never be the same for Judy without her lovely mum there, but she will always have wonderful memories of Shirley – bustling around, caring and cooking for everyone, and taking it all in her stride, somehow even finding time to buy presents for her brood.
“Probably something I really, really remember getting was a manicuring set that my uncles gave me and I’ve still got it now,” Judy said. “But Mum always bought us probably the most exciting thing. Well, Mum always did all the shopping and I do the same. She always used to buy us a nice outfit. We’d always get a nice short set or something that all matched. I loved that. But I’ve always liked to have nice clothes and we used to get nice presents like that.”
There were no Christmas stockings in the Wilkie house – all their presents would be under the tree, a real Christmas tree.
“We used to go down to the creek and get the Christmas tree,” remembered Judy. “Whack it in a bucket of sand and decorate her up and put her in the corner of the loungeroom.”
Judy laughed at that memory, and then became reflective.
“You know, you don’t realise until they’re gone. What you miss, you know?”
So, it will be a quieter Christmas for Judy this year, but oh, what a feast, what an absolute feast of big family Christmases to remember, with kind-hearted, hard-working, thoughtful Shirley at the heart of them all.