Saturday, 12th December, 2015
By Darrin Manuel
The city’s traditional Christmas singalong returns to Sturt Park tomorrow night, and it will see the ‘king of carols’ hold court one last time.
John Curtis is stepping down after serving as Carols By Candlelight’s organiser and host for more than three decades.
On Thursday, John met with the BDT to look back on his time with Carols, and marvel at how the event grew from a handful of churchgoingcarollers to one of Broken Hill’s best-loved gath- erings.
He said the idea for Carols was originally hatched by Peter Black, who approached local churches to get the ball rolling 36 years ago.
“He asked the fraternal and nobody was wildly excited about it as ministers are usually very busy, but (Baptist church minister) Ken Clendinning said ‘I’ll take it on.”
“He did it for five years which was great, and when he left it came back to the fraternal again and nobody wanted to do it, so I took it on 31 years ago.”
Over time John engendered more community interest by making the event less overtly Christian, while still respecting the holy origins of the festive season.
“When I took it over we’d get 40 to 60 people ...
I gradually made some changes to give it broader appeal.
“It got away from a ‘churchy’ feel, and I don’t mind saying that.
“The highlight, numerically, was five years ago when we had Marina Prior and we had over 4000 people there, but we’ve averaged a little more than 2000 each year over the last 10 years, it’s been pretty stable.
“It’s become a real great start to Christmas; it’s a part of what we do in Broken Hill.”
John’s desire to maintain Carols’ links with the church is perhaps best summed up with his relia- ble use of his catchphrase “Jesus is the reason for the season”.
He said his repeated use of the phrase had not gone unnoticed, and had even led to a friendly wager amongst some revellers.
“I introduced that, saying 25 years ago; I didn’t make it up, I heard it in Melbourne, but I said it and I say it each year.
“And I found out a few years ago that there’s a group of blokes and they all come with their families, and they all throw five or ten bucks in the kitty and they try and guess what time I’m going to say it, and whoever is closest to the time gets the kitty.
“It’s become a fun thing; people are hanging out waiting for me to say it. It’s tickled my sense of humour,” he laughed.
Other quirks of Carols include John’s love of telling bad jokes while on stage, and the fact the event has never been rained out - although, said he wouldn’t mind if his finale fell victim to a down- pour.
“We’ve never been rained out and that’s been amazing over 36 years, but I’d love to be rained out this year, we desperately need the rain more than we need a good night for carols, I can tell you.”
Regardless of how the night ends up, John said he would miss taking the helm at Carols despite having reached a point in his life where he feels it’s time to step aside.
“I’ve passed 70 years of age, I’ve remarried to a lovely lady, and I think it’s time to slow down a bit and spend some time growing together.
“I’ll still be around, I’m not leaving
or anything like that, but next year I’ll be sitting on the grass enjoying carols as a spectator.
“I’m feeling a little bit sad because it’s been so much a part of my life, but from the point of view of being able to sit back and relax and enjoy it and enjoy the season without the responsibility and work, that will be great.”
John said his Carols career had pro- duced a number ofhighlights, with the amazing support of the community at the top of the list.
He also thanked all the regular sing- ers, musicians and helpers who have turned up year after year to make the night special for families and their chil- dren.
Fittingly, John’s final Carols as host will feature an all-local line-up.
“We’ve seen some great local talent over the years; we’ve had some really good performers.
“And it will be all local artists this
year; we have such a great depth of tal- ent here in Broken Hill.
“It’s nice to have the occasional guest artist as well, but you can’t beat local talent.”
Carols will run from 7.30pm to 9.15pm tomorrow night, and promises to be a huge night of family entertain- ment.
As for who will take the reins in the future, John said discussions were underway with prospective successors to ensure Carols lives on.
“There’s a couple of people nibbling .... but it will continue.”