Monday, December 08, 2008

Australian Christmas Carols

It's a couple of years since I first posted the words to these Australian Christmas Carols,
and since we don't hear them played nearly enough,
many people are unaware of their existence.

Written more than 50 years ago by John Wheeler and William G. James,
they capture the essence of the Christmas season in Australia - the weather, the birdsong, and all the other sounds of summer - whilst maintaining the intrinsic Christmas message, the birth of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to buy a complete recording of these carols. The one I have, by the Adelaide Singers, is on a 12" LP and more than twenty years old. If anyone does manage to find a newer version, I would love to hear about it. The written words alone give no inkling of the lilting, joyful melody so befitting of the Australian summertime.


Across the plains one Christmas night
Three drovers riding blithe and gay,
Looked up and saw a starry light
More radiant than the Milky Way;
And on their hearts such wonder fell,
They sang with joy. 'Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!'

The air was dry with summer heat,
And smoke was on the yellow moon;
But from the heavens, faint and sweet,
Came floating down a wond'rous turn;
And as they heard, they sang full well
Those drovers three. 'Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!'

The black swans flew across the sky,
The wild dog called across the plain,
The starry lustre blazed on high,
Still echoed on the heavenly strain;
And still they sang, 'Noel! Noel!'
Those drovers three. 'Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!'


The silver stars are in the sky,
The red-gold moon is riding high,
O, sleep, my little one, sleep!
Once long ago against her breast,
A mother hushed a babe to rest,
Who was the Prince of Heav’n above,
The Lord of gentleness and love
O, sleep, my little one sleep.

The sleepy boo-book calls across the night,
The brown moths flutter in the light,
O, sleep, my little one, sleep!
In Bethlehem long, long ago
When roads and paddocks gleamed with snow;
On this same night, that mother mild
Lulled into dreams her Royal Child
So, sleep, my little one, sleep.


The North Wind is tossing the leaves,
The red dust is over the town,
The sparrows are under the eaves,
And the grass in the paddock is brown;
As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ-Child the Heavenly King.

The tree-ferns in green gullies sway;
The cool stream flows silently by;
The joy bells are greeting the day,
And the chimes are adrift in the sky,
As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ-Child the Heavenly King.


Out on the plains the brolgas are dancing
Lifting their feet like war horses prancing
Up to the sun the woodlarks go winging
Faint in the dawn light echoes their singing
Orana! Orana!Orana! To Christmas Day

Down where the tree-ferns grow by the river,
There where the waters sparkle and quiver,
Deep in the gullies Bell-birds are chiming,
Softly and sweetly their lyric notes rhyming
Orana! Orana!Orana! To Christmas Day.

Friar-birds sip the nectar of flowers,
Currawongs chant in wattle-tree bowers
In the blue ranges Lorikeets calling
Carols of bushlands rising and falling
Orana! Orana!Orana! To Christmas Day.


All the bells are gaily ringing,
Birds in every tree are singing;
Let us in the golden weather,
Gather Christmas Bush together.
Christ is born! The angels thunder,
Thru’ the Heavens their tale of wonder,
While we pluck for His adorning
Christmas Bush this hallowed morning.

Christ has conquered Evil’s power
Hear the bells rock every tower
Birds and beasts lift up their voices,
Freed at last the world rejoices.
Onward with triumphant chorus,
Following the road before us,
Singing thru’ the golden weather,
Gath’ring Christmas Bush together.


When the sun’s a golden rose,
And the magpie carols clear,
You can say, and I can say,
On the summer morning,
Here at last is Christmas Day,
The day that Christ was born on,
The day that Christ was born on.

When the wand’ring, lonely sheep,
Find at last a shady pool,
You can say, and I can say,
On the outback station,
Here at last is Christmas Day,
The day Christ brought salvation,
The day Christ brought salvation.

When the ranges turn to flame,
And the winds like trumpets blow,
You can say, and I can say,
Seven times and seven,
Here at last is Christmas Day,
The day that Christ came from Heaven,
The day that Christ came from Heaven.

But when summer’s shining moon,
Dips a silver chalice bright,
You can say, and I can say,
Joyously and airy –
Here at last is Christmas Day,
The day Christ smiled at Mary,
The day Christ smiled at Mary


All the heavens are lit by a bright starry glow,
But the babes are asleep in the town far below,
They are sleeping and dreaming each one in his bed,
While the angels acclaim a Boy King overhead,
So Lulla, my love, O’lulla my love,
The King of the world’s coming down from above.

All the Boo-books are silent in willow tree glade,
And the night heron listens in star spangled shade,
While the moon like a sentry stands guard on the hill
But below in the town all the babes slumber still.
So lulla, my love, O’lulla my love,
The King of the world’s coming down from above.

There are lights in the heavens in praise of a King,
There is music triumphant, and voices that sing,
Till at last in the town far below them it seems
That the babes murmur softly and smile in their dreams,
Lulla, my love,
The King of the world’s coming down from above.


O who will come with me today
Across the hills and far away,
To find beyond the burning dawn
The little town where Christ was born?
This is no road for stumbling feet
To follow through the dust and heat,
But only those whose faith holds fast
Will find that little town – at last.
O who will come with me today
To find that little town where Christ was born?

We’ll brave the mulga plains by day,
Where streams have withered all away,
But when the summer night comes down,
In dreams we’ll see that royal town.
Come! Let us dare those grim domains
Where Drought the Red Marauder reigns,
Until we find beyond the dawn
The little town where Christ was born.


The trees are whispering a secret
From twilight to dawn –
The Lord who planted the bushland,
Tomorrow is born:
Sing Gloria! Sing Gloria! Sing Gloria in Excelsis,
Sing Gloria! Sing Gloria! Gloria, Gloria in Excelsis.

The creek that flows through the gully,
Chants under the spray –
The Lord of sea and the river,
Will come with the day:
Sing Gloria! Sing Gloria! Sing Gloria in Excelsis,
Sing Gloria! Sing Gloria! Gloria, Gloria in Excelsis.

The sheep at browse in the ranges,
Are murmuring afar,
Our shepherd from Heavenly pastures
Will come with a star:
Sing Gloria! Sing Gloria! Sing Gloria in Excelsis,
Sing Gloria! Sing Gloria! Gloria, Gloria in Excelsis.


Now once again it’s Noel time,
And ev’ry steeple rings;
The sun is like the great gold star
That led the Eastern Kings;
O come with me where hills are brown,
And Christmas Bush grows wild,
So we can make a Christmas crown
To grace a Kingly Child.

O let us seek in Noel time,
Through sunshine and through shade,
Until we find the Christmas Bush
His Kingly hands have made;
The fires are burning on the hill,
The smoke is coming down,
But Christmas Bush is blooming still
To make a Kingly Crown.


Christmas Day, where-e’er you be,
Light your candles on the Tree
Set it up for all to see
To the Lord of Light above
Like the birds in happy flight
Children dance in golden light
Deck the tree for their delight
On this day of Heavenly love
When the summer night is here
Like a lantern burning clear
Every window far and near
Shining forth its tree of love
Glory to the Heavenly name
Glory to the star that came
Over Bethlehem like a flame
Glory to the light above
Christmas Day, where-e’er you be
Light your candles on the Tree.


When the Christmas Bells are pealing
On this night of Heavenly love
And the summer moon is shining
Like a chalice far above
Let us seek with footsteps lowly
God’s own mother, Sweet and holy.

Up the hill that lies to westward
Down through gullies green with fern
Where a wattle tree is blooming
Where the creeks with starlight burn
We will find a bower shady
God’s own mother, Heaven’s Lady.

All the birds of all the bushland
Sing their carols sweet and clear
Sheep and oxen gather round her
Every beast from far and near
Come and kneel in bower shady
At the shrine of Heaven’s lady.

Queen of paradise and glory
Mother of the King above
Grant that we this Christmas midnight
May be worthy of His love
God’s own mother sweet and lowly
Guide our steps in ways most holy.


In the sky above the town
Golden sun gleams brightly down
Gilding every leafy spray
On this joyous Christmas Day
Every tree that we behold
Seems a tower of shining gold
All the land is burning bright
For the King of Heavenly light
Lift your voices, let them ring
Christ is King! this golden day.

On the ranges far away
Not one cloud is seen today
And the road through paddocks brown
Surely leads to Bethlehem town
Let us all as best we may
Journey there this Christmas Day
Through the land that’s burning bright
For the King of Heavenly light
Lift your voices, let them ring
Christ is King! this golden day.


As you sit by your wide open window
On that most blessed night of the year
And you look at your slumbering oxen
In the paddock the wind has burned sere
And you think of that old Christmas story
Of the beast and the Heavenly glory
You’ll remember it tells how at midnight
When the bells are beginning to ring
All the oxen kneel down in their paddocks
As they worship the Heavenly King
All the oxen so patient and lowing
Bowing down to the infant most Holy
While you gaze through the bright summer moonlight
All the pasture will glimmer like gold
And you’ll wait by the wide open window
Just to see if such wonders unfold
Just to see if the oxen are kneeling
When the Christmas bells all begin pealing.


Sun gleams bright, Hearts are light
Merry, merry Christmas
Bells ring out, children shout
Merry, merry, merry Christmas
Sheep in fold, Shine like gold
As the day is dawning
Riding by Stockmen cry
“Welcome Christmas morning.”

Golden Day, when we say
Merry, merry Christmas
In the street, where we meet
Merry, merry, merry Christmas.
And with pride, Fair and wide
All our homes adorning
Earth and sky, sound the cry
“Welcome Christmas morning.”

So with joy, man and boy
Sing with us together
On this morn, Christ was born
Merry, merry, merry Christmas
Raise the song, Loud and strong
In the shining weather
Joy bells ring, Christ is King
Merry, merry, merry Christmas.



If you listen to Just Classics on ABC Classic FM through the week December 22-26 you will hear, for the first time on Classic FM, all 13 James' Christmas Carols


102.3 in Canberra

Noella said...

Well, there's a nice collection of Australian Carols, Alice, and some I've never heard.

I've just come home from our Church music team practice of Christmas Carols for several sessions we will have at the local shopping centre.

Thank you for bringing your selection to our attention.

Blessings to you and your family.

shellyC said...

Even I who is not religious would rather listen to these than the 'shite' Santa songs I have had to listen to at the 'carols' night at the kids school!!
...Santa Bring Me a Dinosaur!!

Kerri said...

I so much appreciate the words to these carols, Alice, although they make me a little homesick for Australia :)
I'll have to do some research and see if I can find the tunes.
Thanks so much for sharing them.
So far this December I've avoided hearing "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" and I'd sure like to keep it that way! LOL

Carolyn said...

I just bought a big bunch of Christmas Bush which set me singing that Australian carol. I dug out the sheet music, only to find I had the melody but not all the words. Then I found yours. Thanks.


Merle said...

Dear Alice ~~ Great post with those wonderful Aussie Christmas Songs.
They are great, thanks for posting them. Today is 16th and I believe it is your and Richard's wedding anniversary. I hope you have both had a wonderful day and many more Happy Anniversaries to you both.
Have a lovely Christmas also.
Take care, Love, Merle.

chris said...

its always good to see xmas carols from another country; interesting.

Jane said...

I adore these and have an LP with them on it. I must check and see how many of the carols are on it. I also have sheet music and last year sang either Christmas Day or Carol of the Birds at a Christmas celebration.
I so wish we heard them more. Should contact the ABC.
About to visit your garden

Tony said...

I'm always on the lookout for Australian Christmas carols. I just don't get into the White Christmas thing (despite Mt Dandenong getting a White Christmas 2 years ago!).

Other than Six White Boomers, they are hard to find. However, I did manage to get the Aussie Christmas CD by Bucky and Champs in the mid 90s, which has a couple that were posted here. I'd like to get hold of the rest. I hope they're re-released some day soon.

Ian said...

Most of these carols are on a CD which I purchased from the ABC shop some time ago. It is called Bush Christmas and also contains poems by CJ Dennis and a number of short stories by various authors. The music is performed by the Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir. If it is not available at ABC shops there may be copies in the warehouse. I would rather listen to these carols than most others. I learned some of them in primary school back in the sixties. Good luck, Ian L.

Carol said...

yes it is a few months after you posted this, but I remember singing 'our lady of december' at school almost 40 years ago but of course having not sung it since, have only been able to remember snatches of it which is infuriating when you want to sing it! thank you so much for posting this truly delightful carol

NessaKnits said...

Thank you so much for posting these.

Anonymous said...

I've just realised that we must have come to Canberra the same time, because I've been here for 35 years too. Met my husband here a year or so later, as he'd come here from Victoria when he one one year old! Great city to live in, isn't it.

Laverne said...

Oh what lovely memories! When I was in 6th class (1973) we did a Christmas play using these songs. I played the Aboriginal Virgin Mary and sang O Sleep My Little One as a solo. I can still sleep most of these. I haven't lived in Australia for 18 years and reading through these lyrics makes my hair stand on end and I can smell the Aussie bush! THANK YOU.