Christmas Tea Towel – by Joye Dempsey

This poem takes the form of a letter from an Aussie wife to her husband. It relates to an incident during the Gulf War when an Australian Naval Command made a training video of the ship’s company wearing tea towels around their heads. War Lord, Sadam Hussein, accused the Australian Government of ridiculing the Muslim religion. I met Squadron Leader Steve Moore of the New Zealand Air Force, when he was in Sydney to train at Nowra. Proud of his commission as the youngest bomber pilot to represent his country, Steve was flying directly to the Gulf War Zone and was immensely sad to be leaving his wife and small children. It is dedicated to him.

Dearest Darl,

We put a shrimp on the barbie, but without you it’s not much fun.
Did I tell you at the cricket, Dad was not out for a run?
They were playing down the back and everything was going fine,
`til Dad looked at the sky and said, `Geeze mate it’s gonna rain!’

Stevo fell right for it! Well he’s just one of the boys.
Dad hit a `sixer’ at him and you should have heard the noise!
It broke the dunny window and that’s bad enough alone
but Grandad wanted solitude and was sitting on the throne.
You should have heard my Mam yell, ‘I’ll have your gizzards, mark my word!’
Poor old Dad, he started running and that’s the last we’ve heard.

Did I tell you that the petrol is still rising? That’s not cool
but I’m getting really fit now ’cause I walk the kids to school.
When you see me I’ll surprise you, I can remember when
I was your last year’s ‘Christmas pudding’ but this year I’ll be your ‘Ten’.
You might not be home for Christmas – or at least that’s what we’re told.
Darl, it’s just the…well…not knowing, that really leaves me cold.
It’s the weirdest kind of mind power, it’s like we’re not in control ….
I think I’ll set my Mam on old Saddam, she’ll really shake his goal!

I went to see your mum to-day, the bush is very dry.
It hasn’t rained for some time now, it makes you want to cry.
She was watering the sheep by hand, it’s a rotten job to do
she said she found a small dead lamb, I know she misses you.

She thinks you’re better off than other military personnel,
I couldn’t for my life think why, so I said to her ‘Do tell?’
‘Well, the Poms and Yanks are totally lost when it’s dark and day is done.’
she said, ‘They won’t have a clue just where they are when the war is won.
Our boys will just look at the sky and see the ‘Southern Star
and they’ll know ‘as sure as apples’, that that is where we are.

‘You know my girl, she said to me, life sometimes is a pain,
and you wish you were that poor dead lamb, but then spring comes round again.’
She really is a tough old bird, she made us both some tea,
it was then I realised that she’d poured, instead of two cups …. three.

Oh! … I forgot to tell you sweetheart, I hope on Christmas Day
To have the family over, but we won’t have to pay.
I’ve asked them all to ‘bring a plate and I’ll bake a dish or two
then we plan to watch a video, that’s right, the one of you!

And dear, that’s why I’m writing, for I wondered if you’d send
The tea towel that you borrowed and the one you gave your friend.
On the Jacaranda we will tie them like a flag that’s flying free,
they’ll stay tied up like my heart is till you come home again to me.

When Hussein said that we are welcome at Christmas time to visit you,
it somehow sounds macabre my love and doesn’t quite ring true,
for we’ll be celebrating our Holy Saviour’s birth
And promises of eternal love and joy and peace on earth!
Whilst his offer’s very generous, I still think it’s sus’
That he promotes a celebration he does not believe, like us.

For he thinks you were insulting his religion in your guise,
When you were merely dressing for a military exercise,
You would not be undertaking if power was not his desire,
Now you won’t be home for Christmas and it really gets my ire!

I want you here for Christmas to help me trim the tree
To play Santa for the kiddies with the baby on your knee
And he’s asking for apologies, when no insult was meant
To the ordinary people when at their prayers they’re bent,
For we know prayer is the window to set our spirit free ….
If an apology’s forthcoming …. he can apologise to me!
And to all the other mothers, sisters, brothers, lovers, friends,
Who’ve sent loved ones on a mission without knowing where it ends!

Gosh! I sound just like a preacher, your eyes must feel like lead,
But my love… I get so lonely when the kids have gone to bed,
And it doesn’t feel like Christmas …. although I will pretend
for the kids sake to be happy, that’s why I’m asking you to send
me back the tea towels… though I’d give a whole king’s wealth
If Christmas gave another miracle and you brought them home…… yourself.

‘Barbie’ is short for `barbecue’.
‘Dunny’ is an outside toilet or ‘loo’.
‘Darl’ – darling.
‘Bush’ – countryside
Southern Cross – constellation in the skies of the Southern Hemisphere
‘As sure as apples’ – `for certain’.
To bring a plate – with some food on it- to share.
The Naval video on which Australian sailors were wearing tea-towels around their heads – Arab style.
A beautiful flowering, towering tree with lilac coloured blossoms.
`Chrissy’ – Christmas.