While harried shoppers paced from store to store in a frenzy of last-minute spending and stress, there were signs of the lovelier side of the festive season, in Wollongong mall on Friday.
With oversized elf ears covering her own, Mangerton trumpet-player Katie Binks, 9, sounded out Good King Wenceslas and other classics for the passing foot traffic, alongside a ‘thankyou’ sign hand-coloured by her brother Thomas.
The Binks kids did well out of the busking effort, but ultimately decided to give away most of their takings to other child performers, said their mum, Andrea Binks.
“Because Katie’s not been playing very long, she was not playing perfectly, but we got lots of encouragement to keep playing, keep practising,” she said.
“We really, really appreciated that and felt that it was the Christmas spirit come to life in Wollongong today.
“It wasn’t really about how much money they made. Because people had been so generous to them, they wanted to be generous to some of the other people busking in the mall.”
Eastward down the mall, there was a roaring trade in mammoth bunches of Christmas bush, sold at the markets from the back of a trailer for $20 a piece.
Also leading the delightful was a 10-year-old blonde labrador called Occy, there to dispense affection alongside a ‘free hugs’ sign and his owner, Thirroul’s Carolyn Lee.
Ms Lee said the hug on offer could come from “me or the dog” but crowds had shown a clear preference.
“I get a few [hugs], but it is mainly about him. I don’t mind though, as long as there’s love going out there," she said.
“There has been a little bit of a social experiment around who would get more hugs. I had my suspicions, but he’s won, paws down.”
Occy is a therapy dog for the Delta Society, which sends dogs into nursing homes, prisons, hospitals, schools and universities. As a volunteer for the service, Ms Lee has seen her dog bring out “a change in people”.
She said there was an important sentiment behind Friday’s hugs.
“Christmas can be a happy time for people, but I think it can also be a stressful time for some people and a sad time for some people, so the idea behind this was to spread some love,” she said.
“He’s just a loving dog and I wanted to share some of that love around Christmas time.”