From grow, grow, grow to ho, ho, ho

24 Dec, 2014 01:00 AM
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Five-year-old Holly Burns, Perth, was keen to pat Santa's reindeer Rudolph watched by Santa (aka Colin Richardson) and her sister Eliza (8).
I've only had two jobs in my life, farmer and this and I've loved them both,
Five-year-old Holly Burns, Perth, was keen to pat Santa's reindeer Rudolph watched by Santa (aka Colin Richardson) and her sister Eliza (8).

THE journey to Perth from the North Pole is a bit different to that which former farmer Colin Richardson used to make from his farm at Meckering.

Back then he piled into his Nissan Patrol and set off along dusty roads and bitumen highways.

But for his journey from the Pole he bridles the reindeers, climbs aboard his mystical sleigh heaped with presents and glides his way through the atmosphere to his city destination.

No GPS or autosteer out there, but he does rely on a bit of lunar and solar assistance!

Or so he tells the hundreds of children he entertains each year as one of Myer Perth's beloved Father Christmases.

Colin started his Santa duties six years ago and has fallen in love with the role.

"I've only had two jobs in my life, farmer and this and I've loved them both," he said.

"I get paid to do it ($29 an hour in fact) but it's so much fun I reckon I should be the one paying.

"People think being Santa would be hard, but it's not and I've tried to encourage some of my other retired farming mates to give it a go.

"They often ask what do you talk to a little girl about.

"I say same as a big girl, that's a pretty dress or they're nice shoes."

Colin says despite the recent trend for society to want to eliminate gender stereotypes the most common present requests from girls are barbie dolls and Dora the Explorer, while for boys it's Leggo, X-box and some sought of sword, Darth Vader he thinks.

"But it's got to be the one with the jewel in it, they're very specific about that," he said.

"And this year, I've had heaps of requests for bikes from both boys and girls.

"Today I had six requests for bikes where in other years I might be lucky to get six for the whole festive season.

"I don't know why, maybe the schools have had cycling campaigns or something."

Colin said he loves talking to the kids and never ceases to be amazed by some of their insights.

"I asked a nine year old boy the other day where he came from," Colin said.

"He said I come from Kalgoorlie and did you know we've got the second biggest mine in the world and the biggest one in the bottom half of the world.

"I said I know I flew over it in my sleigh the other day!

"Then there were the brothers aged seven and five who told me they'll be staying in the Esperance caravan park in a tent for Christmas so make sure I find them!"

He's had four-year-old girls who wanted "real make-up" or "a mobile phone like my big sister".

And he gets a thrill when the country kids come to town.

"A couple of years ago, these kids walked in and I thought they just have to be Beards," he said.

"I said I bet your grandad (his former near neighbour) comes from Cunderdin.

"They looked in total amazement and said yes he does and we were up there last week having a ride on the header.

"I said grandad's crops aren't too good this year are they, and they replied no they're not.

"So I said well you tell grandad Santa said his crops will be a lot better next year.

"That night when I got home there was an email from grandma which read: 'Dear Santa, we would like good crops this year, never mind about next year!!'"

And while some stories make him laugh others almost bring a tear to his eye.

Like the six-year-old girl who told him she had an older brother Brian and a 16-month-old baby brother.

"When I asked where they were she said Brian's at school and the baby's at home," Colin said.

"When she leaned over to pat the reindeer her Mum whispered to me she's an only child and these were her imaginary siblings."

Colin said another memorable six-year-old girl was an Australian now living in Bali who was back in Perth for Christmas.

She told him she didn't really need any presents because she just had a birthday last week but if he could take some presents to the kids in Bali because they don't have many toys.

Many children bring Santa cards and letters with all the usual misspellings and gaps in words like 'I've bien ve ry good but my bru ther has bien cheky and have a nic day'.

And visiting Santa is not just for little kids.

"The oldest person I've seen was a lady aged 85," Colin said.

"As her daughter explained, Mum has dementia and still thinks I'm 12 so she insists we come every year.

"The other older regular was a 29-year-old FIFO guy from Ireland.

"He came to live in Australia when he was 13 and every year since he has sent a photo back to his grandmother at Christmas time of him with Santa."

Colin's youngest visitor was a five-day-old baby.

"Her mother came straight here when they left hospital so they could get a photo to send to her parents in England," he said.

Colin now lives in Mandurah and catches the train almost to the doorstep at Myer.

The company he works for, Solutions Entertainment, has about 20 Santas on its books but needs more.

"It's not for the money, it's just a bloody good fun thing to do," he said.

"People often say to me I bet you're glad you're out of farming but I'd go back tomorrow if I could.

"I really miss my sheep and farming in general."

Colin was forced to sell his 1400 hectare farm 23 kilometres north of Meckering where he ran Olinda-blood Merinos and grew wheat and lupins when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2007.

Ironically, with none of his three children or his three stepchildren interested in carrying on with the farm, he and his wife Cheryl had just had a meeting with the bank manager a few weeks earlier.

"We planned our next five years of cropping and farming, at the end of which we intended to sell and retire.

Despite having absolutely no symptoms of ill health, those plans were immediately cut short in January 2007.

"My brother went in to have minor, unrelated surgery and the doctors discovered some non-malignant tumours which are very hereditary so it was suggested all us siblings, three boys and two girls, should get checked out," Colin said.

"I came up positive and was started on a course of within two weeks and onto chemotherapy.

"I asked the doctor if I could continue farming and he said treatment works differently for different people so it's hard to say what your prognosis is, but I can tell you once you start chemo you won't know what you want for breakfast let alone making decisions about a farm.

"And he was right.

"A CBH form about where you want to deliver your grain to came in the mail one day.

"Pretty simple stuff that I'd filled in a thousand times, but I read it three times and just couldn't get my head around it, so had to ask Cheryl what it meant.

"So that was it really, after 43 years of farming I had to make the decision to sell up.

"Luckily we'd celebrated our 40th anniversary year of farming with a big dinner to say thanks to all the people we'd worked with over the years like our bank manager, our Elders rep Mike Pilkington, our shearing contractor and our ram supplier, Don Eaton from Olinda stud.

"But it was still tough.

"The worst thing when you are having cancer treatment is losing decision making control.

"You basically just have to do as the doctors tell you and try and get better, but you're so weak you can't do much else anyway."

Fortunately Colin now is very much better and back to leading a normal life, although he knows he has dormant cancer cells in his neck and his groin which could flare up at any time so continues to have three monthly checks.

He still religiously looks at the weather map every day (some of his farming friends even ring him up to inquire if any weather is headed their way) and keeps in touch with rural news through his weekly copy of Farm Weekly.

And despite missing that lifestyle he's still very happy playing Santa at Myer for the Christmas season, thanks to Cheryl who spotted the advert calling for Santas in a city newspaper.

For now Colin climbs into the special red suit provided for him a couple of days a week and works a 9am to 1pm shift which started on November 9 and finished on December 18.

So with his ho, ho ho, I'm reckoning he's wishing for a fair dose of grow, grow, grow for all farmers next season.

Date: Newest first | Oldest first

READER COMMENTS

Mick O'Brien
25/12/2014 9:29:22 AM, on Farm Weekly

great story about my old man! Mick O

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