Christmas in Brisbane, Queensland. The sub-tropical city which once slumbered as an easygoing, slow paced city, derided by her larger and more brash southern relations, Sydney and Melbourne, is now a bright, bold and bustling city herself, full of rushing people, constant traffic jams, and cafes.
But on one day of the year, Brisbanites are able to take a step back in time to an earlier era. Christmas day in Brisbane is almost always a hot, sunny, summer day. Locals almost always spend their day at the beach, having a picnic or barbecue lunch, or at home around the swimming pool if they have one. It is a busy day, trying to fit in all the in-laws and sundry family groups, but on the whole, it is a relaxing and chilled out day. People gorge on too much cold chicken, turkey, ham and prawns. Salads that wilt in the heat have to be eaten quickly and then put back into the refrigerator to keep them fresh. Heady aromas from barbecue marinades can be smelt in every suburb as sausages, steak, lamb and prawns, are all cooked to perfection by the man of the house in five minutes, the praise lavished on him for a wonderful meal while the woman of the house has been slaving for hours, even days, to prepare the feast.
But there is one thing about Christmas in Brisbane which never fails to get
the attention of all and sundry. That one thing involves eating mangoes for breakfast. These days, eating a mango is relatively sophisticated, as they are now cut so that the eater can smother a square of the delicious, sweet, juicy, golden fruit with one bite, delving back into the wetness time and again, to take another bite, enveloped in the gorgeous smell.
When I was a child, we would sit on the wooden back steps of our house, and suck on mangoes for hours, eating through a bucket of the fruit in a very short time. The stringy fruit would leave long threads of fibre in the gaps between our teeth that were sometimes impossible to remove. Sometimes we would get a 'mango rash' around our mouths from eating too many mangoes. Mum would always be at us to make sure we washed our mouths properly after eating them.
There was a mango tree in every suburban back yard in Brisbane when I was a kid. Massive trees that invariably had rope swings hanging from their substantial branches. But in the months leading up to Christmas, small, hard green fruit would appear all over the tree. The trick was to try and retain as many fruit as possible, knowing that the fruit bats, or flying foxes as we called them, would come and decimate the crop if we weren't vigilant. Some people put white mosquito nets over their trees to protect them.
Then there were the Brisbane thunder storms that would come creeping in from the south-west, blackening the skies and blotting out the sun, huffing and puffing with frighteningly loud thunder and jagged lightning that would scare the pants off everyone. The storm would drop a tropical downpour of inches of rain in a few minutes, causing flash flooding. Often times it would be accompanied by cyclonic wind and hail as big as tennis balls. The storm would wreak its havoc across the suburbs and back yards of Brisbane, knocking the young mangoes from the trees.
Alas, some Christmases, mangoes were light on. It was those years that Brisbanites found out about Bowen mangoes. Those huge bullock-heart sized fruit from the far north Queensland town of Bowen, whose flesh was soft and creamy and stringless. No threads stuck in the teeth, just sweet, soft, ripe and meaty flesh that, when eaten, brought moans from people akin to erotic moans of pre-orgasmic proportion.
These days, in modern Brisbane, no more sitting in the bath tub to eat a mango. In fact, we don't even bend over the kitchen sink to eat them. These days, we devour our mangoes in a most sophisticated way, eating each dice from the skin and remaining relatively clean. Except for me. One little hangover from my childhood is that I simply cannot bear to throw away any skin which has flesh left on it. I suck at the skin and remove every portion of the sweetness, my face gets smothered in it, the smells makes me feel heady, rivulets of juice run up my arms as I hold the mango, reaching my elbows before I know it.
Christmas in Brisbane. Mangoes for breakfast. Now, THAT is sheer bliss!