I used to go camping a lot – many years ago that was what you did either for long Easter breaks or in the summer holidays or sometimes just for a weekend. My family used to go camping around Lake Eildon (in Victoria). Back in those days you could just go bush, find a nice spot and set up camp. We would generally camp near a river (stream actually) and my uncle would fish for trout. He taught me how to fish. Mostly I got the fly tangled in a tree but sometimes I caught fish. I liked the solitariness of fishing in a stream, just walking along and casting. Whether or not I caught a fish was beside the point, it was really just an activity. If I did catch a fish I would have to unhook it and then clean and scale it. All part of the process. Even putting live worms onto the hook was OK. But I was a kid then. Not sure that I could do that now.
When we were young we used to travel all the way up from Melbourne to Hervey Bay in Qld (some 2,000+ miles) in the September school holidays. 5 of us (3 kids in the back) in a Holden station wagon fully laden with tent and camp beds and food and god only knows what else. We didn’t pay attention to the preparations, we were just keen to get on the road. It was a long, long journey and my dad would drive pretty much non-stop, fuelled up on coke (as in coca-cola) and ‘no-doze’. He would stop by the roadside in the early hours of the morning for a couple of hours’ sleep and then would drive on again. We’d usually stop in Brisbane overnight with some relatives and then be back on our way. I remember how long and flat that journey was – nothing to see but the occasional billboard and lots of telegraph poles. We’d count them (out of boredom) and we would play hangman and noughts and crosses and I spy.
In those days the tents were huge, heavy canvas things with wooden poles – usually one in the middle of the tent and eyelets that had to be threaded around the corner poles. Our tent didn’t have a floor. But we had those old camp beds. I suspect they were really army cots. And no sleeping bags – mum always brought plenty of blankets and sheets. We camped right on the foreshore: crowded with tents so close to each other that you could barely move between them; as kids we didn’t care. It was exciting to be able to wake up early to the sound of the pounding surf and go and swim – at 6am! I think we lived in the water. Evening times were magical too, with the ending of daylight and the descending quiet – distant chatter and occasional raised voices of kids and adults – and the preparation of food and smell of sausages and chops cooking. I don’t think I ever appreciated the effort that went into that exercise. Our main activity as kids was playing on the beach and reading. We always sought out the local second hand bookstore and spent many hours lying around reading. It was simple but blissful. Not a care in the world.
When we camped in the bush there were usually a group of adults and I remember fondly how at night, in our tent we would hear the adults talking and singing around the fire and playing cards. When you’re camping there’s really nothing to do – walks, cards, books, swimming. I don’t think we were ever bored.
As a young adult I once travelled all the way along the east coast of Australia from Warrnambool to Darwin, camping along the way. Sometimes just stopping at a beach for a night or two and other times in little campsites in a little tent with not many provisions or accessories.
More recently I’ve had camping trips to the Snowy River and a number of canoe trips, packing our canoe with everything we needed and finding a nice place to stop. Sadly, now there are so many restrictions on where you can camp and you can no longer just go bush. You have to be in a designated camping ground. These can be horrid and don’t appeal to me. One time we canoed to a lovely little spot and set up our little tent only to find the next day a helicopter circling around and then the water police coming to tell us that we couldn’t camp there – too dangerous: a branch might fall. Despite our pleas that we were well aware of the risks, we were moved on. And so we packed everything into our canoe (the water police watched to make sure we left) and paddled to another place. Again the next day a ranger came and told us we couldn’t camp there. We explained that the camp site was way too full and besides, we didn’t have much stuff with us and would take all our rubbish away with us, that we had already been moved on and were only there for another day. The ranger relented and so we spent a gloriously quiet time by the water, doing very little – eating, drinking, reading, swimming.
But for a number of years now we haven’t camped. Instead our holidays have become more exotic, travelling to various places in Asia – India, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bali – or to Europe, Morocco, and more recently to the UK.
This year for our anniversary we decided to go camping. Our daughter and her girlfriend had been camping to Seal Rocks (Myall Lakes) and stayed at a place called Camp Treachery (!) with lovely vast camping spots and gorgeous beaches. A couple of other people I know said they’d also been there and thought the place was perfect. So off we went.
My daughter had bought a big tent – large enough to stand up in which was a first for us – so we borrowed that and planned our meals, bought our provisions, packed the car and off we went. We took everything that we thought we needed (including some nice champagne and champagne glasses) and my daughter’s double blow up mattress, sheets and pillows, chairs, a hammock, our Weber as well as one of those little portable butane burners which used to be only in the Asian shops, but can now be found in the mainstream supermarkets. We even took coffee and a camping coffee plunger. Luxury.
But of course, despite making careful lists and pre-prepping dressings, marinades and rubs, there were things we forgot. Main one being a salad bowl. How to make salad without a salad bowl. The small cereal bowls we took were too small. So my creative problem-solving skills came to the fore. I mixed everything in a plastic bag, added the dressing and voila! Problem solved.
We arrived on Friday afternoon – although we meant to leave at 10am to get here by 2pm there were, inevitably, last minute things to take care of. I decided I wanted to take our hammock, which necessitated the search for some extra ropes. And then there were the last minute food purchases – some coriander, fresh fruit etc. But finally we were on the road and arrived soon after 3pm. All good; time for a swim once we’d found a good spot to set up the tent and camp site and then we could settle in and have a G&T before making dinner. What we hadn’t factored in was the setting up of a tent we had never used. Fraught, to say the least. I think it took us nearly an hour to figure it out. The instructions were vague (and I suspect translated from Chinese – never a good thing). But at last we were done and the tent was up, the bed inflated and made up and our food stuffs and drinks packed in ice. And so to dinner – seared salmon with a tomato, pomegranate and roasted lemon salad. I had roasted the lemons at home as well as the pomegranate dressing and the chilli-lime salt for the salmon. Simple and perfect. And then there was nothing to do but sit around the fire and drink red wine. No wifi, no service = no phones, no iPads. Blissfully relaxing.