Halloween is big up in the Jabiru, apparently. The two grandchildren, 5 and 3, now staying with us, have lived up in the NT all their lives, and have practised Halloween rituals with their friends every year. They were very enthusiastic about continuing it here. (I did have the curmudgeonly thought that they wouldn't even have known about it if their mother hadn't disclosed the date to them.)
Halloween at Brindabella?! To my knowledge, it has never happened here before, although I have indeed encountered spirits here. I have got up in the grey early dawn, enough light to see the outline of the mountain tops, I've felt the chill in the bathroom, and looking out seen Jack Frost striding across the paddocks with his long spindly white legs. I've seen his breath, long white wisps of it, trailing behind him like aeroplane trails through the valley. I've rushed outside to cover the potatoes and dahlia shoots, but no, he's got there before me, flicking a sparkling frosty net over them. By mid morning, they're black and dead.
And when the Fire came through the Valley, people said it was a monster, out of control, destructive beyond anything anyone had ever seen before. It burned the earth down several inches, the wind was scorching flames that blew trees horizontal before it killed them. It hurled fire balls across the sky. Horses ran terrified into fences, wild animals hid down each others' holes, sheep and cattle ran blind, burning their feet. It was a hellish force, turning everywhere it went to blackened ashes.
And there are spirits in the garden, playing always just out of sight. Often, I half glimpse one. I don't know its shape, or its colour, only its movement, quick, elusive, busy with its spirit business. I stop what I'm doing and look. I can hear birds, and the sound of the river, and the wind, and I think the Brindabella spirits are full of trickery, like the fairies in the Old Country used to be. They imitate familiar sounds, they pretend to be other creatures.
But no witches, no ghouls, no vampires.
Pumpkins are out of season, but there is a big display of specially grown ones at the supermarket, and my daughter buys one. (They are apparently grown for Halloween, and are easier to hollow out, at $6.99 a kilo.) She also buys a witch's hat, masks, purple spiders, and spider lights to decorate the house with.
On the day, the children are very excited. The cousins arrive with their masks. J has a black hood which makes him look like a small member of IS. G has a Spiderman costume, handed down from her brother, which she is extremely pleased with. E wears a green mask under her witch's hat, which gives her face an eerie and disconcerting blankness. They run screaming and chasing each other round the house.
I find myself making a Halloween cake, although where I've got this idea from is a mystery. Perhaps a fairy whispered something in my ear? Instinct tells me it must be a chocolate cake. I'm stumped as to the decoration; however, the children are very confident that dribbled chocolate in the form of a spider's web, with one of the purple spiders lurking in a corner, will fill the bill perfectly.
E thinks the house need more decorations. I am stumped again, but she is very practical. 'I'll just make some spider webs,' she says, 'and stick them on the walls.' She cuts circles out of paper, and fills them in with black texta webs and tiny black spiders, and then sticks them all over the living room. This is a fairly big project, and takes about an hour out of her screaming and running around time.
Then it is time to go trick and treating to our accommodating and hospitable neighbour. I asked her some days ago if it would be alright for us to bring the children round for this, and she was amused and delighted, and asked us all for drinks as well.
The children piled into the back of the ute in their costumes, and a weird and scary sight it was, enough to frighten any local Brindabella spirits still out of doors back into their holes.
E had been somewhat dismayed that we were only going to be visiting ONE neighbour, being used to lots of neighbour bothering in Jabiru. This was soon forgotten when we got there. Our neighbour had provided all sorts of goodies, things I wouldn't have dreamed of. Glow in the dark bracelets! Glittery jewellery! Eyeball chocolates!
A good deal more screaming, and rushing in and out of the house slamming the door happened. Our neighbour opened a bottle of champagne. The sky darkened. The river bubbled and chattered beyond the house. The garden folded down softly, hiding the garden spirits. The dogs waited it out patiently on the verandah. Then the children somehow got their feet muddy, and the mosquitoes started to bite, They were tired and it was over.
They rode back home in the ute, costumes askew or abandoned, watching the last glimmers of light go out in the sky. It was a happy Halloween.