Treetop Campsite, Ripples Creek, Vic, Australia (GMT+14, 22 December 2014)—A couple of hours north of Melbourne, certainly not more, sits this Boy Scout camp, where some 1100 pitched their tents just a few weeks back. It’s a campsite in transition, as Paul, the new manager, works to bring it back from extinction.
The odd human trait to believe that everyone—or no one—is doing precisely what you’re doing tips to the all-inclusive side for me. Thus everyone on my interminable flight here had packed their long johns and hiking boots for surely there is but one way to live Down Under. Data—my own personal history—reminds me that this is not in fact the only way people travel in Australia but it is the way I travel now. This is my third trip to Oz, the first two for work with perhaps the country’s best known brand—Qantas—one of the few words in English that gets away with following a Q with an A and autocorrect doesn’t even do its sorry-mate-but-you-really-still-don’t-know-how-to-spell.
But those experiences were not camping in the least, what with being housed in an Intercon (Aussies abbreviate via the diminutive with abandon: rellies=relatives; breakie=breakfast; firies=fire fighters) and engaging in fine-dining crawls in search of the country’s most supreme crème brulee. One Saturday during our first visit, our hosts hired a houseboat so that we could motor up the Boorowa toward the restaurant that Zagat’s deemed to have the finest burnt custards in the land.
This is not that.
We, now, are crossing the land in a different style, we being four of my family plus me (the sixth member having left just a few days before my arrival), who move via 4-wheel-drive kitted out for water crossings, steep declines on rutted tracks, and hauling that weird contraption known as a camper-trailer, steel box by day, spacious tent where all five of us comfortably sleep at night, with side drawers that slide out housing a sink, a camp stove, a broiler, several pantries, and a sizable refrigerator. And a faucet, and many more drawers, and an awning or two, a prep shelf, and a dozen other things that I can’t think of at the moment.
Windmill Holiday Park in Ballarat
These comforts do not include those of the 4WD with its fridge, four more pantry drawers, a snorkel (for those water crossings that go a little too deep, which one did in not precisely that way a few months before I arrived), a kangaroo bumper (absolutely not its name but alas, no Internet access, which means I write without aid of the world’s largest encyclopedia), two solar panels that generate the power we need for this three-night stop, and two gas tanks, which slurp up $150 AUD at each filling.
Solar panels on right at Treetops
Gas prices have been falling since this excursion began, a good thing for those using large quantities of it but a bad thing for those who believe consumption monitoring is a very good thing yet again an excellent thing for those who would like to see an end to fracking and tar sands and a dozen other evil outputs of the industry that has fueled a level of comfort for a percentage of the world’s inhabitants far superior to any known before.
But back to our topic or is this our topic? Having swapped Brooklyn for the Bush, my daughter, son-in-law, and grandsons, are now into their fifth month of camping, principally in the Outback. Which is largely what Australia with its handful of large cities (wherein 90% of the population resides) and land mass that exceeds that of the US minus Alaska comprises.
The Bush, where wildlife abounds—emus, ostriches, alpacas, kookaburras, wombats, koalas, and, yes, those odd hoppers with the prehensile front legs/arms/paws. Until I looked it up in the dictionary just this very moment, I did not know its basic facts: This marsupial only found here and in New Guinea; its name came from a never-again-to-be-spoken Aboriginal language of the north Queenslanders. My kids are doing The Big Lap, a driveabout the whole continent-country, which could be some 20,000 miles, though it will be considerably more by the time they’re done.
People put such adventures on their wish lists then erase them with a dozen reasons why they could never. But these two did. Not exactly Brooklyn hipsters—though they did shop almost exclusively at the Grand Army Plaza Farmers Market, suffer the indignities of the sometimes-not-running B and the Q to take them to their from-the-outside-fascinating jobs in the city, and give birth to twins who knew their way around the Met, they decided and undecided to take this trip for quite a long time. And then they decided again, gave up their apartment, quit their jobs, dis-enrolled their nearly five-year-old boys from impending kindergarten in an overcrowded public school, put their stuff in storage, reduced their necessities to fourteen suitcases, and departed on July 30 for Sydney.
There they picked up their 4WD, which had been considerably modified from its original factory-form, and their camper trailer, and set out on their journey. They are documenting their five-Ws on their blog with such detail that the Australian Broadcasting Company has run a story on them and a camping magazine has contracted with them to write a series. It helps that they are fine writers and photographers—and that they have guts.
Within a month or so of setting out, they crossed a known challenge for 4WDrivers, Nolans Creek on the 55-km long Old Tele Track, named for the route along which the telegraph was taken all to way north in the east of the country. In their case, they happened to make that particular crossing (one of a dozen or so) in the company of three young men who were able to lend a hand when all did not go as predicted. They crossed the desert, this time without others in their wake, in 110-degree heat. They endured a night of snakes, winds, and a rainstorm so fierce that they, plus my younger daughter, who was visiting at the time, all ended up sleeping in the car. The car. Not the camper-trailer but, picture it, three adults and two little boys sleeping sitting up in a vehicle so packed with stuff that you can’t even see out the rear-view mirror.
And on they traveled—south to Longreach and Innamincka to remote stations, to The Flinders, the Great Ocean Road, and now, with my arrival, a few days first on Melbourne’s Cape Cod equivalent, the Bellarine [sp?] Peninsula; then a few more in Ballarat, an old mining town with a Sturbridge Village-like reconstruction, complete with the New York Bakery (we ordered the Devonshire Tea option, served with two scones, pronounced skons) and the Mechanics Library.
The boys were able to pan for gold (sadly, pebbles instead), peek inside the reconstructed tents of the miners, watch the melting of gold (or is it smelting) and go down into the first level of mine where gold was found both by mining companies and by father-and-son teams who picked along the vein of quartz that pulses with tiny flecks of gold; and now this campsite just outside Ripples Creek, where we were greeted by a mob of jumps. Are there as many words for kangaroos as for snow?
There couldn't be too many words for these strange creatures, who wander close to our campsite, chewing and pooping and hopping and rolling on their backs and tucking their joeys into their pouches then letting them out. They prance quickly, mostly at the end of the day when the sun is dialing down its bake temperature. And 1245 words later this writing session ends with the return of the family from a trip to town.