Father Christmas always arrives in a helicopter

You may not be familiar with the tradition of Father Christmas arriving in a helicopter – unless you lived in Woomera.

Woomera was established in 1947 as a rocket range in northern South Australia to test missiles and research rockets.  Many of the people working there were either members of defence forces, worked for aeronautical companies, or were scientists, engineers and technicians working for the Weapons Research Establishment (now Defence Science and Technology Group).  The town’s focus had an impact on most other aspects of life there, including Christmas celebrations.

Father Christmas arriving in a Bristol Sycamore helicopter at the Woomera School. Photo courtesy of Colin Mackellar, www.honeysucklecreek.net

Peter Zajicek was a child in Woomera in the 1960s, and attended the local primary school. He recalls the Christmas celebrations:

Father Christmas is a bit of a story.  He was one of my neighbours, Mr Roper – there was no first names for kids up there, it was all by respect for the surname – so Mr Roper used to dress up as Father Christmas, and he used to go out to the RAAF air base and be delivered back at the school where we were all waiting in lines per age group for Father Christmas to arrive, and the whole town – – – all the kids were going up there.  So we were all lined up waiting for him to arrive in this Alouette – which I think was a French jet-powered helicopter – no expenses spared!  And so the helicopter used to arrive on the oval which was a big thing, and out stepped Father Christmas and I think one year I remember noticing that it was my neighbour next door and he sort of looked at me and gave me a wink and handed me my present and I never said a word to anybody for years.”

How else would Father Christmas come?

Having spent most of her childhood in Woomera, Sue Gibbs had never seen Father Christmas arrive by any other means:

One thing that was probably a little more unusual for us, rather than for most kids – – – Every year before the stand down, in which Woomera would empty, at the end of the school year there was always a school party – a school Christmas party – and Father Christmas would arrive in a helicopter. That was just the way it happened then. The helicopter would come, and Santa Claus would get out and distribute presents to everyone, and I never thought that was unusual at that time, because that was just his transport – came in a helicopter. But now I know that it was quite unusual.”

Sud Alouette III helicopter A5-167 during a demonstration at the RAAF Base in Edinburgh, South Australia. These helicopters were used at the Woomera Rocket Range. Photo courtesy of the Australian War Memorial P00448.176.

Do you have any stories about Father Christmas or similar characters arriving by unusual means?

Read more stories about life in Woomera here.

Quotes from oral history interviews with Peter Zajicek and Sue Gibbs for the Life in Woomera Oral History Project, courtesy of the State Library of South Australia (OH 1123/1 and 5).

Post updated 26 December 2017.

3 thoughts on “Father Christmas always arrives in a helicopter”

  1. Colin McKellar’s colour photo shows a Bristol Sycamore helicopter, not an Alouette. The Sycamore’s preceded the Alouettes which arrived in the mid 60’s.

    The helicopter used to fly around the village for half an hour or so with “Father Xmas” waving to us kids before landing on the school oval, by which time we had all made our way there.

    1. Thank you for the extra information, Nigel, and for letting me know the identity of the helicopter in the colour photo. I appreciate you taking the time to leave the comment.

      I have corrected the caption.

      Best wishes,

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