On her family’s farm at Tickera on South Australia’s Copper Coast, Emily Donnell is putting up a Christmas farm gate display for the fifth year.

She usually sketches the rough idea, thinks of a theme, looks around the farm for materials to use before she and the family get to work.

This year eight-year-old Lachlan took over the spray can duties and painted Santa’s bright red coat on the family’s canvas of choice — a few hay bales.

a christmas tree made of tyres

Last year’s Bluey and Bingo display attracted a lot of attention.(Supplied: Emily Donnell)

“The locals look forward to seeing what we do each year,” Emily said.

“A couple of families even try to sneak a look at what we are up to.”

Last year, the Donnells transformed a couple of hay bales into the famous duo Bluey and Bingo from ABC’s TV Bluey.

Emily said they had positive comments from people as far afield as Germany.

two children and their parents

The family are proud of this year’s display.(Supplied: Emily Donnell)

Re-use, re-gift, recycle

Emily originally got the idea while on holiday in South Australia’s South East, where she saw the community get together for a Santa display competition.

The family’s first display was a Christmas tree made out of old tyres, and it’s still one of her favourites.

“We don’t throw away a lot on the farm. You never know when they might come back to use,” she said.

hay bales that have been turned in to a black cow for a christmas display

Eden, 12, and Bailey, 11, with their Christmas cow Betsy on their farm in Wandearah between Port Broughton and Port Pirie.(Supplied: Natalie Colin Ferme)

Dreaming of an outback Christmas

The origins of the farm gate Christmas display can’t really be traced, just like it would be hard to find the original person who strung up Christmas lights outside their house. 

But it’s something that has been giving passers-by something to smile about in remote corners of the country for years.

hay bales turned into a christmas tree and santa

Jodie Stockman’s farm gate Christmas display north of Burra on the Barrier Highway.(Supplied: Jodie Stockman)

In Far West NSW, Greg and Lily Martin have put together their sixth farm gate display at Nelia Gaari Sation.

Greg said this year’s display almost did not happen due to COVID-19.

a display of kangaroos pulling Santa's slay

Nelia Gaari Station’s 2021 Christmas display.(Supplied: Nelia Gaari Station)

The main jewel, a wooden cutout of Santa Claus being pulled by kangaroos instead of reindeer, was sent from overseas.

This piece, however, is the only purchased item in the display against the red desert backdrop. 

‘I had no idea what she was talking about’

A 100-year-old rusted piece of farm equipment, which is also part of the display, almost eclipses the overseas import.

a sign that says nelia gaari station with christmas tinsel

This lump of metal has been given a festive makeover.(Supplied: Nelia Gaari Station)

“It was just as a lump of scrap metal, an old steel rack. I had driven past it a million times,” Greg said.

“I had no idea what she was talking about until I went out and had a look.”

Greg and Lily have decorated it with Christmas ornaments.

“Now it’s a Christmas tree,” he said.

a rusted piece of farm equipment decorated like a christmas tree and a bench with toys sitting on it

Greg and Lily Martin at Nelia Gaari Station love to get into the Christmas spirit. (Supplied: Nelia Gaari Station)

Greg said they started creating the displays for their 10 grandchildren to see on their visits to the station.

Though there will be no visitors to Nelia Gaari this year, Greg is pretty happy when he catches someone slowing down to take a peek at his work.

“Oh look, you don’t sit at the farm gate and wait for it, but you do catch ’em slowing down.”

How farmers are turning junk and hay bales into festive cheer
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