Australia

A Dessert Christmas in Papunya

The streets of Papunya are completely empty of Christmas lights.

You won’t find a turkey in the community store.

And the closest thing to a carol is a tune from the local Warumpi Band blaring from the stereo of a passing car.

Yet, here in a remote community about 240 kilometres north west of Alice Springs, the spirit of Christmas comes alive with the help of the local general store.

Papunya resident Kenny McDonald said he loved spending Christmas in the desert.

“Good to have family home, enjoying everybody and Christmas in Papunya,” he said.

“We join together as a community and have a Christmas party together and enjoy.”

This week, families from neighbouring communities and towns have travelled back on country for the Christmas celebration.

Christmas in the yard

man sitting on bonnet of car with drum kit.

Nearly everything is shared in remote Indigenous communities and Christmas time is no different.

Community members trickle in throughout the afternoon, making their way across the footy oval from surrounding houses, until hundreds of people are crammed into the general store’s yard for the community Christmas party.

From police officers and teachers to artists and social workers, the whole community turned out to celebrate.

Dinner is shared, stories are told and even the camp dogs get a feed, helping themselves to the leftovers.

Perched on the bonnet of a troop carrier, the entertainment arrives with a drum kit in their arms, ready to get the party started.

The managers of the Papunya store have organised the festivities.

 Blair and Brenda Coburn

“There’s been a lot of planning to make sure we had enough food for everyone,” organiser and Papunya store manager Blair Coburn said.

“It brings the group together, brings all the people in the community and they get to relax and enjoy a social event together.

“The people are having a great time and it just puts a smile on our faces too.”

Christmas magic

Children running for cover from rain in general store yard

A short shower of rain causes everyone to dash for cover and provides temporary relief from the scorching 42 degrees.

Magician Tracy Tam travelled from Sydney to entertain the crowd and said she could not believe the excitement and enthusiasm.

“The long desert roads, three hours drive as well as the heat and there was the rain, so everything was against us but it turned out to be perfect,” she said.

“I was given a heads up that they might be a bit difficult, they don’t like to be told what to do but you know magic’s magic, it’s such a universal language … no matter which culture or age group.

small child riding a tricycle

“I was blown away by the reaction; the kids loved it, they were screaming.”

The magic show finishes and a young boy hoons off on a new tricycle won in a raffle, his feet barely reaching the pedals.

He is followed by at least 20 children sprinting behind him.

There’s no doubt the bike with be a source of joy for all the children in Papunya, before it’s eventually discarded on the side of a dirt road with a broken tyre, like dozens of other bikes still littering the community’s streets.

But Christmas in Papunya is more than the latest toys or presents, it is about family, community and being home together on country.

View of landscape with small figures walking away
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