The Tea and Sugar train only came once a week on a Thursday. But the special Christmas train only came once a year.
Today was Sunday.
Four more days without sugar.
Four more days until the Christmas train. Please, please be on time. Please don’t be late.
“Tea and Sugar Christmas” is a uniquely Australian story based on the history of the so-called Tea and Sugar train that operated for 81 years, between 1915 to 1996. It serviced the settlements along the Nullarbor Plain carting groceries, news, medical services and other necessities from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie in the Australian outback. It even had a theatrette car which showed films.
This train’s weekly delivery was a lifeline for many isolated communities. Once a year on the first Thursday of December, the Tea and Sugar train transformed into the Christmas train, which in addition to the usual goods brought a special passenger, Father Christmas, who delivered gifts to railway workers, station kids and children along the way.
The story is told from the perspective of Kathleen who eagerly awaits the Christmas train and wonders whether she would meet Father Christmas, and would he have a present for her. The train finally arrives. She had waited for this moment so long. And now she stood before him. Her heart drummed against her chest as Santa asked “And what would you like for Christmas, little girl?”
Written by the Australian author Jane Jolly and illustrated by the Australian master Robert Ingpen, this book won the Australian Book Industry Award (ABIA) in 2015 in the category of Small Publishers’ Children’s Book of the Year and was named an Honour Book at the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year Awards.
Jane Jolly is a primary school teacher of 35 years and has taught in Aboriginal schools, area schools and primary schools. Jane has had three picture books published, each earning a Notable Award from the Children’s Book Council of Australia.
Robert Ingpen’s illustrations alternate between delicate pencil sketch portraits and stunning watercolour scenes and landscapes, which fold out to panoramic views, 3 or 4 times wider than the page size. The execution and design of each spread are simply sublime, as is always the case with this artist’s work. You can see more of Robert Ingpen’s books that I’ve reviewed here.
The book includes an informative historical note at the back with some real-life images of the Tea and Sugar train in action and gives a wonderful insight into this unique facet of Australia’s past. This heartwarming Christmas story is a masterful and insightful glimpse into outback Australian history.
For reviews of other fabulous Christmas books click here.