Marking the passage of time

25 Dec, 2016 02:00 AM
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"WHAT time is Midnight Mass this year?" was a question I once heard asked of our local priest in Kulin, seemingly an exceptionally strange sort of question, but as they say "you had to be there".

For it wasn't a foolish question in the country where there are more towns than priests, for both parties were aware that the Midnight Mass question was really about the timing of the Christmas Mass.

In a non-religious setting, it's not unusual to hear the question in late April as Anzac Day approaches, "what time is the dawn service?", with it being unlikely that the answer would be when the first rays of the sun appear over the horizon.

Country people have their own calendars, for although Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, it is also the end of harvest and the end of the season, while Anzac Day is increasingly being seen as the start of seeding.

As a boy, I soon learnt that on every second Tuesday, the pictures were on at the Kununoppin Hall - and no, they weren't called movies back then, nor was I around when they were called "talkies".

A proliferation of drive-in theatres around the bush finally put an end to the travelling pictures, although, in turn, the drive-ins eventually gave way to television.

The long weekend in June was always Country Week hockey, and my brother and I would always say that if we had finished seeding, we would be starters, although we once went because seeding hadn't started yet.

In those pre-TV days, a dance was held somewhere in the area every week and as they were major social events, all were aware that the dancing season finished as harvesting started.

Therefore, Saint Patrick's Day on March 17 was an important date, for St Pat's Ball at Trayning signified the start of the dancing season.

A lot of the Trayning kids went to the local convent school, and the boys knew when puberty arrived, for it was when the nuns said to the parents - "it's time he went".

A terse message that meant that it was time their son left the gentle life of a convent school and embraced the rough and tumble of a boarding school.

The end of the first school term was May, enabling school kids to help during seeding, while farmers generally tried for an August shearing - the end of term two.

Although we were able to handle the longer terms, it seems that they are too long for the newer generations, hence the four terms and holidays that are of little help to farmers.

But we are fortunate here in the southern hemisphere, for the end of the calendar year also coincides with the end of the school year and the end of most farming seasons.

Although the powers-that-be insist on a financial year that starts on July 1 and ends on June 30, many always ran their financial books on the basis of a cropping year, not an official financial year.

A wonderful story about the use of local knowledge to answer serious questions was told in a poem by John O'Brien, the pen name of a NSW country priest in the late 1800s.

It tells of a bishop questioning a group of country school children, asking if anyone knew of the real significance of Christmas Day, causing one to leap to his feet, for at last he had a question he could answer.

"It's the day before the races," he revealed.

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