Christine Muller is a much-loved, lifetime resident of Thangool. Her parents, Geoff and Gloria Webb, ran the town’s convenience store, Webb’s Self Service, for decades – an integral part of Thangool’s history and character. Christine taught at Biloela State School for five years, before she married her husband, John Muller. She’s one of those bubbly characters who brightens up everyone’s day and she’s also contributed so much to the local community, being named the Banana Shire Citizen of the Year in 1994.
There are so many sights and sounds that can make people think of Christmas. But for Christine Muller, there’s one particular smell that’s so special to her.
“My fondest memory and my most treasured, I suppose, was the smell of a real tree. It overwhelmed me when I was a child. And, in those days, we were able to go and chop one down from the creek,” Christine said. “You know how smells can evoke memories? Well, that was the smell of Christmas to me.
“And we used to make the little decorations that would go on it, you know, the coloured paper and stuff – that was beautiful. And wherever we had Christmas, we mostly had it at our own homes and shared it around the family, but sometimes we’d be at Tannum (at the family beach house) and they’d still try to find a tree for over there as well.
“The next thing that I absolutely loved but didn’t appreciate until I became a grandmother, was the three generations of people at the same event. I was one generation, then my mum, and then my grandparents, and then now that I’m a grandma there’s that same love of Christmas, but of a different sort of Christmas. Some people want it to be the same and they don’t want it to change. When I was a child, there were things I absolutely adored. Then when I was a mum, I tried to make those things or, or other things, memorable for my children. And now with my grandies I just sit back and just watch them enjoy it. I can imagine how my grandma felt, you know, watching us because she had 13 of us. Was it 12? Anyway, a lot.”
You can’t share memories of Christmas without talking about food, and at all those big family Christmases, Christine recalls there was always plenty of delicious food.
“Apart from all the hams and the chickens and everything, because seafood wasn’t a thing in my youth, but now we definitely have prawns every year, you know, but in the olden days, it was just the ham and the chickens and then, occasionally, they’d do a roast pork or something if it was not too hot. But we were very progressive as a family because way back when people were still having meat and three veg and plum pudding and custard, we were into the salads. So, my mother’s potato salad. Oh, my goodness, it was just beautiful. I still miss it to this day.
“One grandma would make the plum puddings. And of course, the threepences (thruppences) and sixpences went in. And she’d put them in, cooked in there so you didn’t know whether you were going to get one. Some years it was very depressing when, awww, I didn’t get one. She had extras but then eventually she learned to cut the plum pudding and put one in (for each serving). We didn’t know until years later that she actually put it in later. So, everybody got one. And then my other grandma used to make these pies, these apple and apricot tarts. And she’d put pastry on the top and then put icing and coconut. Oh, my goodness. And they’re still my favourite tart.
“And, of course, Mum used to make these lovely condensed milk tarts and so did the aunties, so everybody made something gorgeous.”
If you’re looking for something different to try for a Christmas dessert this year, Christine makes something that her family is crazy about.
“My family’s tradition, if you like, which we started when I had my kids, is I make a coffee cream roll, and it is yumbo and I only make it at Christmas because it’s so rich. You get a packet of Nice biscuits and you crush them up and you put in coffee. And then you roll it out like a dough. And then you put whipped cream with Tia Maria in and you roll it up like a sponge roll and then cut it. You can only have one piece. I mean, it is just so rich. But the kids love it and so that’s my job for Christmas – to make the coffee cream roll.
At Christine’s family Christmases, there was not just food to eat, but food for the soul. There would always be music, and lots of it.
“My auntie and uncle used to play the piano accordion and the accordion. And then my grandma had a pianola and Mum played the piano and then, later on, I played guitar and so do my boys. So, we’ve always had music at Christmas and always the Christmas carols and then, after lunch, anything that’s anybody’s favourite songs or the nostalgia ones, that’s how it was in my childhood anyway – just dancing and laughing and music everywhere. It was so beautiful.”
If you ever ended up at a Webb or Muller Christmas, you’d know that there would always be games too. Card games, board games, or crazy fun games invented by Christine for her kids. At once stage John and Christine had a nine-hole mini golf course around their house at Thangool, and Bocce is a big favourite too.
Christine and John have three sons, Adam, Paul and Grant, and five adored grandchildren, ranging from 9 to 15 in age.
This year the Mullers will be going to Rockhampton for Christmas. “We’re all going up to Adam’s because he’s got a pool and we think we might try to make it to the lagoon at Yeppoon maybe on Christmas day for a bit of a swim.”
Christine has a beautiful memory of singing late at night at Christmastime.
“I remember midnight mass, it was called, even for the Anglicans. And we all go to church at 11 o’clock and sing all the Christmas carols. And then by the time we got home, of course, we were exhausted. I think there was Dad and Mum’s idea that we’d be asleep,” laughed Christine.
“But it was fun and just being in the presence of God and singing carols, which, at that time, I didn’t realise the significance of the words but I just loved the tune. Now, as an adult, you know, I absolutely honour and appreciate the words of the carols. Very, very touching and very true, you know, biblically.
“And then I was thinking, usually the adults would all be snoozing after lunch when I was a kid. And then they had to get ready to do it all again at night-time as we’d have lunch and tea all together. We’d have to eat the leftovers. Everything would be put away and then everything would be brought back out again.
“And in those days when I was a kid, we didn’t open the shop. It shut on Christmas Eve, and it didn’t open for four days and that was such a treat to me because Dad was always so busy. And it was so lovely to have him home for four days. And it just it never occurred to me that it was something very special, you know? Because when you lose them, it becomes a memory that he was always there at Christmas. And then we’d have another break over New Year. But in the olden days, when I was a kid and Dad was so busy, Christmas was just a real family time because we were all together.”
And what about Christmas presents? Do any special ones stand out?
“I don’t remember a lot of Christmas presents that I got but I do remember two,” Christine said. “One was an Annie Oakley outfit. I must have been about seven. And another one was this beautiful beauty case that I still have. It was one of those old wicker ones with the little clip on and on the inside there’s all these places you can put the pins and whatnot. My mum, she was the best present buyer.”
Because Christine and one of her cousins were only six months apart in age, they would often be given the same present, so they had a pact that if one opened their present before the other, they’d try not to tell the other what was under the wrapping paper. And they both got that wonderful beauty case that year.
As Christine reflected on how much fun her Christmases have been over the years, she’s also appreciative of the effort that went into that fun.
“I think, now, Mum must have been cooking for days, so must have everybody else, you know, but they never once complained or anything. They just did it. And I thought that’s pretty special. I’m so blessed because I know some people at Christmas time don’t have nice families. And they’re lonely or they’ve got terrible memories of what happened on Christmas day for them. But I consider myself so blessed because with mine, I don’t remember one bad thing, and that’s saying something, isn’t it? That’s something wonderful. So, I’m very grateful.”