#1189: Six White Boomers by Rolf Harris

Peak Month: December 1961
3 weeks on CFUN chart
Peak Position #5
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart

Rolf Harris was born in Western Australia in a small town near Perth in 1930. He moved to London, England, in 1952 and got work with the BBC the following year. He was featured in a children’s one-hour TV show called Jigsaw, offering a regular ten-minute cartoon drawing section with a puppet called “Fuzz” made and operated on the show by magician Robert Harbin. Harris went on to illustrate Harbin’s Paper Magic programme in 1956. In 1954, Harris was a regular on the BBC TV show, Whirligig, which featured a character called “Willoughby,” who came to life on a drawing board, but was erased at the end of each show. Concurrently, Harris performed his piano accordion at an expat club for Australians and New Zealanders in London called Down Under. While there Harris wrote his signature song “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport” which became a hit in Australia and New Zealand in 1960 and in North America in the summer of 1963.

In 1961 Harris recorded a Christmas-themed song about the need to replace reindeer with kangaroos for his sleigh ride to drop off presents to children in the heat of an Australian December. The song was titled “Six White Boomers.”

Six White Boomers by Rolf Harris

Early on one Christmas Day a joey kangaroo,
was far from home and lost in a great big zoo.
‘Mummy, where’s my mummy? They’ve taken her away.’
We’ll help you find your mummy, son. Hop up on the sleigh.’
Up beside the bag of toys little joey hopped,
but they hadn’t gone far when Santa stopped.
Unharnessed all the reindeer and Joey wondered why,
then he heard a far off booming in the sky.

Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun.
Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
on his Australian run.

Pretty soon old Santa began to feel the heat,
took his fur lined boots off to cool his feet,
Into one popped Joey, feeling quite okay,
while those old man Kangaroos kept pulling on the sleigh.

Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun.
Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
on his Australian run.

Joey said to Santa, ‘Santa, what about the toys?
aren’t you iving some to these girls and boys?’
‘They’ve got all their presents, son, we were here last night,
this trip is an extra trip, Joey’s special flight.’

Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun.
Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
on his Australian run.

Soon the sleigh was flashing past right over Marble Bar,
‘slow down there,’ cried Santa, ‘it can’t be far,
Hop up on my lap here, sonny, and have a look around.’
‘there she is, that’s mummy, bounding up and down.’

Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun.
Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
on his Australian run.

Well that’s the bestest Christmas treat that Joey ever had,
curled up in mother’s pouch feeling snug and glad.
The last they saw was Santa heading northwards from the sun,
the only year the boomers worked a double run.

Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
racing Santa Claus through the blazing sun.
Six white boomers, snow white boomers,
on his Australian run.

Boomers were “old man kangaroos” and, according to Rolf Harris, the preferred method of getting around on a sleigh in Australia. Unlike in America, where December 24th can be a cold, event snowy event, Australia has cities with historical averages on December 24th of 96F. Rolf Harris’ tale is told in a straightforward way about a young kangaroo who wants to know where his mummy has gone. Santa lets young Joey kangaroo hop on his sleigh in order to help find his mum. At length, with the old man kangaroos pulling the sleigh, Joey spots his mum bounding up and down. They are reunited while Santa heads off with the boomers on his sleigh. The hitch is that this year Santa has already had his regular Australian run to deliver the toys on December 24th, and on Christmas Day takes an interest in Joey kangaroo’s plight to find his mummy. As a result Santa and the six white boomers do an extra Australian run just to find Joeys Mum.

It was only in 1959 that Quantas Airlines began flights from Sydney to New York. The expense and several stops between the Pacific coast of North America and Sydney meant few travelers in 1961, from Canada or America, had journeyed to the Land Down Under. So radio listeners were hearing a Christmas tale about a place most could only dream about someday visiting.

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas is a poem first published in the Sentinel newspaper in Troy, New York, December 23, 1823. The poem was published anonymously and is thought by scholars to be owed to the Dutch Sinteklaes tradition in Manhattan. In 1809 Washington Irving had published a story titled A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the end of the Dutch Dynasty under the pseudonym Deitrich Knickerbocker. In that story it was written: And the sage Oloffe dreamed a dream,‍—‌and lo, the good St. Nicholas came riding over the tops of the trees, in that self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children….

By 1823 Christmas Day was overtaking New Year’s Day as the preferred genteel family holiday of the season, but according to Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace in their book, A History of New York City to 1898, some Protestants viewed Christmas as the result of “Catholic ignorance and deception” and still had reservations. By having Saint Nicholas arrive the night before Christmas Day, the anonymous poem “deftly shifted the focus away from Christmas Day with its still-problematic religious associations.” As a result, “New Yorkers embraced Moore’s child-centered version of Christmas as if they had been doing it all their lives.” (The authorship of the poem is claimed to be either by the biblical scholar, Clement Clarke Moore or Major Henry Livingston Jr., with scholars lining up on either side of that controversy.)

The popular Christmas tale was published around the world, including in Australia:

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
and he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

Rolf Harris was not the only person living in Australia who noticed that there hadn’t been a snowflake seen for months down under. He penned his lyrics to “Six White Boomers” as a whimsical response to the Australian dilemma of imagining Santa Claus’ whirlwind stops across their continent in scorching heat.

In 1963 Rolf Harris was on the same billing for a Christmas show with the Beatles at London’s Finsbury Park Astoria which ran for 16 nights which featured the Beatles singing backing vocals on “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.” One of his most popular tunes was “Jake The Peg” with the suggestive lyric: “I’m Jake the Peg, diddle-iddle-iddle-um/With the extra leg… diddle-iddle-iddle-um,” in 1966. From 1967 to 1974 Harris was host on the BBC programme, The Rolf Harris Show. In 1969 his song, “Two Little Boys,” spent six weeks in the #1 position on the UK charts. Harris is credited with inventing a simple homemade instrument called the wobble board. As well as his beatboxing, Harris went on to use an array of unusual instruments in his music such as the Jew’s harp. He was among the very first to feature a didgeridoo on a pop recording. In 1971 Rolf Harris, who had visited Vancouver on numerous occasions wrote a song dedicated to the city called “Vancouver Town ’71.”

In 1993 Harris did a cover version of the Led Zeppelin song, “Stairway To Heaven,” which became a Top Ten hit for him in the UK. Between 1955 and 2012 Harris starred in five movies and appeared in eleven TV series. In 2005, Harris was commissioned to paint a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for her 80th birthday. During his career Harris received the highest orders bestowed on civilians in both Australia and the United Kingdom. However, after a 2013 conviction for having sex with several underage girls and was convicted of 12 counts of indecent assault. He served time in jail from 2014 to 2017 and lost his titles for Order of Australia and Order of the British Empire.

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