Every year around December, the city of Broken Hill lights up with Christmas cheer.
While in the big cities a Christmas light competition or a Christmas pageant might sound a little run-of-the-mill, in Broken Hill they are something else entirely. And for some, the Christmas pageant is a celebration of life itself.
“It’s very difficult to put in to words what it means,” says South Rotary Christmas Pageant Co-ordinator, Bill Parker. “I do have a passion for it. I have a passion for the people of Broken Hill.”
“My wife and I came here 12 years ago,” he says. “Unfortunately my wife took ill, and she passed away. We came in January and she passed away in September. So coming up to 13 years.
“And just before my wife passed away,” he says, “I joined Rotary. My life was a bit of a blur, really. I wasn’t really well-focused. I mean… I wasn’t myself, let me put it that way. I didn’t like spending time with other people too much.
“But, we had mixed evenings at Rotary, and I would go to those, and after about three years I started getting involved in the pageant, and I’ve been doing it ever since. It was a good thing for me, because I was focusing on the kids.” He pauses. “The Christmas Pageant meant I was focused on life, rather than death. And now eight years later, well it makes me so happy – and it seems to make everyone else happy, too!”
A VERY FESTIVE ATMOSPHERE
As profound as the Christmas Pageant is for Bill, the focus remains the children of the town.
“Yeah, it’s about getting the kids smiling,” agrees John Rouse, the other South Rotary Christmas Pageant Co-ordinator, who has been organising the pageant for 25 years. “It’s a day for the whole family – kids, parents, grandparents – to come out and enjoy the pageant. The kids can see Father Christmas,” he smiles. "It’s a nice family tradition.”
“We usually average between 45 and 60 floats, and it takes about and hour and a half for the whole procession to go down the street and disperse. We open by flying the Souths Rotary banner, and from there we have various floats, some of them really done up nice. The schools participate, sporting clubs, local businesses. Then Council holds an after party at Sturt Park.”
“It’s a very festive atmosphere,” says Bill. “We’re around about an 18,000 population at the moment, and we would have more than 4000 people at the pageant! The atmosphere – it’s the kids in front but the place has got as many grandmothers and grandfathers standing by the side of the road as there is middle-aged people. It’s the whole community, and that’s what it’s about. It’s very uplifting.”
TO THE KIDS OF BROKEN HILL
Though it’s a fun and highly anticipated celebration every single year, it’s during the tough times that the Christmas Pageant has been particularly special. Bill tells us about the situation a few years ago, when a local mine made 400 workers redundant.
“It affected the attitude of the town. Everybody went into a low. And it was palpable, you could just about smell it in the air. But the parents, they don’t want to share their disappointment and their trepidation about the future with the kids. So all the adults sit around the table wringing their hands and wondering how the future’s going to be, while the kids are in the back room – they’re not dummies! They know there’s something bad going on. So it affects the kids too.
“I thought, we really need to do something for them, so we’ll dedicate the pageant this year to the kids of Broken Hill, because they need something to smile and laugh about. And that was probably the pageant that had the greatest affect on me.
“Every year we front up and we do it again, and we still get a massive kick out of it. Massive kick! When John Rouse and I walk down through the pageant after we’ve got it all started, he just looks at me, and he winks.
“And I’ll look at him, and I’ll smile and just say, 'Have a look at them kids, mate. Just have a look at them kids'.”