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Santa's secret safe at Woden

Date

Ian Warden

Westfield Woden Santa, Jeff.

Westfield Woden Santa, Jeff. Photo: Rohan Thomson

We think of Santa Claus' true habitat as an upmarket suburb of the North Pole but for the next few days children will find him at Woden Plaza in a pavilion nestled in a clearing between Muffin Break, Donut King and Payless Shoes.

There Jeff Brading of Higgins is (but don't tell little children this for it will only bewilder and disillusion them) one of the Plaza's two busy Santas for the duration of this festive season.

On Tuesday, we'd planned to talk to him when it was his ''Time to feed the reindeer'' (apparently this is Santaspeak for having a break and going to the lavatory, but is so cute perhaps it is a euphemism we should all be using) but instead, and because he wasn't very busy, we went right into his pavilion during a lull. The famished reindeer had to wait.

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I didn't sit on Santa's lap to interview him but stood beside him where he sat on his throne in a red and gold pavilion framed by a small forest of (imitation) fir trees decorated in red and gold and with flickering lights.

We'd hoped Brading, a carer when he's not doing seasonal jobs, would have some horror stories of Christmas-crazed toddlers and shopping-frazzled parents. But no, he was disappointingly serene, his calm voice barely muffled at all by his thick white whiskers.

''I enjoy doing it. The kids get a laugh and a smile and so do I. This is the third year I've done it now. No, I don't find it difficult at all [I'd wondered about the potential ordeal of being nice to all children, all the time, irrespective how deserving the urchins were] and the only thing that's a bit difficult is that sometimes the child really doesn't want to meet Santa.''

Yes, while I was there some littlies were understandably unhappy about being plonked on the knee of a total stranger dressed in red velvet and whose whisker-covered face they couldn't see. In the same way Ned Kelly in his iron helmet, with just that slit for his eyes, used to put the wind up all who saw him. So on Tuesday there were some tears and some carryings on, although some children, including a brother and sister, were well into the spirt of things.

''But when they're scared,'' Brading told us ''I just work with them. I have a bit of fun, I play peek-a-boo. I let them ring my bell. I give them whatever present I've got to give away.'' Tuesday's was a spectacular Rudolph red nose that lit up when worn. You could even say it glowed.

''Some of them ask if I'm the real Santa and when they do, I tell them that, no, I'm Santa's helper and that he's just too busy to be there in person. And I don't promise them presents. I ask them what they would like and I tell them I'll do my best.'' (Eavesdropping parents must decide whether to make those dreams come true.)

What trinkets are the bourgeois Canberra children of 2012 expressing hankerings for?

''iPads and iPhones are very popular and mobile phones are pretty popular, too. And a few kids go for posh toys and sometimes a microscope or a telescope.''

The only downside to part-time Santadom Brading could think of was his gay costume - designed, of course, for a land of blizzards. ''It gets pretty hot.''

But we were speaking at 2pm and it was going to be 5pm before he was going to be free to go and feed the reindeer and change into clothes more appropriate for Christmas in this hemisphere.

Business was booming as I left. A beaming mother and two chortling children had joined Santa on his capacious throne and all was joy and laughter.

Nearby, as if to emphasise the importance of a flesh and blood Santa, a truly ghastly ''adaptor-operated'' model Santa ($259.50), danced (of necessity, on the spot) and sang its repertoire of ''Five English Xmas Songs''.

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