When we try to sanitise the Christian message out of Christmas then it is not Christmas. It becomes a shopping spree circulating around a rather out-of-place fat red chap.

When we try to sanitise the Christian message out of Christmas then it is not Christmas. It becomes a shopping spree circulating around a rather out-of-place fat red chap. Photo: Tamara Voninski

St George has ground into the days over 40. Everything is hot; the bitumen is melting on the roads creating a semi-fluid tar pit at the corners where the turning truck tyres cause friction.

The backpackers are here in the hundreds picking table grapes for your Christmas. They form colonies along the river bank between the periods of finishing work until it is cool enough to go inside. There is the French Quarter at the Amphitheatre, the Koreans at the Sails, the Sudanese at the tables and Fijians at the boat ramp. In our house ''Agatha'' from Hong Kong is staying. They are all burnt brown and reclining, trying to use as little energy as possible for energy is heat and heat is hell.

At 4.30am all are up and work starts at 5.30. There is a job to do and it pays well if you work hard, and it is more comfortable if done early. The supermarkets, all independents, are packed with shoppers as if there is going to be a flood. But this year, the water is running low and cotton fields are being shut down mid-crop to move water to the residual crop that is destined to go through to harvest.

The nights are pleasant if it goes below 25. The houses near the bore head run out of cold water as the water from deep inside the earth comes up too hot to shower in. Deep inside the earth granite rock with a latent radioactivity, from which the heat cannot escape, heats the water resulting in a nuclear powered shower. Hot rocks, nature's nuclear reactor.

Beer goes down like water and leaves you bloated. Your metabolic requirement, like the stock under the trees in the paddocks, needs little more than a drink of water and a good view.

In the early morning the pool is crowded with the tri-club and the swim club then followed by escapees from the domestic blitzkrieg of tormented kids and housewives looking for reprieve from the weatherboard and iron as husbands sit in tractors or work sheds. However St George is mild next to that which lies on the other side of the mulga at Cunnamulla, Eulo, Thargomindah and Birdsville.

I have a friend who lives between Cunnamulla and Quilpie and at this time of year it may not be hell but I reckon if you could climb a big tree you would see it. At Charleville you could put on your washing, make lunch, hang your washing out, eat lunch and take your washing in, all during your lunch break. Now in this environment it is rather interesting to see the representation of a rather overweight, elderly gentleman in a heavy red suit on every third lawn. Accompanying this oddity is a range of animals which would do well to stay away from the sights of the local roo shooters or they may be dispensed as a service to the landholder.

The cultural portrayal of Christmas in western Queensland is a paradox but the spirit is undeniable. It is family; it is faith and the required penitence; it is socialising at the drop of a hat and having the beer fridge full for any who call in; it is trying to be nice to those who you know are going to be lonely. I have to say it but there is something uniquely Australian about Christmas out west but I suspect everywhere in Australia is afforded that accolade.

When we try to sanitise the Christian message out of Christmas then it is not Christmas. It becomes a shopping spree circulating around a rather out-of-place fat red chap. It is little more than a maxed-out credit card and a hangover. It would be better to be alone, go for an early morning ride instead, if there was not a deeper meaning somewhere that we can be better to each other than what we are and better to ourself by being so. Christmas lets us return to our family and our core away from the distractions that the rest of the year forces on us.

Some political colleagues returned from Communist China the other week. A lasting impression was the Christmas carols they heard everywhere. It appears China is less hung-up about celebrating our traditions than we are; maybe they see the value that we have lost.

>> Barnaby Joyce is the Nationals' Senate leader and the opposition spokesman for regional development, local government and water.