Person holding compass

Around Oz

In Places, Travel and Retreats by LivingNowLeave a Comment

We had had no idea what to expect when we set off on our great family adventure. Our friends told us we were crazy to even consider camping our way around Australia with three young children.

 

I hadn’t slept in a proper bed in eleven months. I hadn’t had a shower in more than a week. My clothes were filthy. Smoke was blowing in my eyes. The fish had just fallen into the fire. You know, I think it was probably one of the happiest moments in my life.

We had had no idea what to expect when we set off on our great family adventure. Our friends told us we were crazy to even consider camping our way around Australia with three young children.

Of course, we’d had some low moments along the way but it wasn’t until that night, sitting around the campfire, that I truly realised what a wonderful thing we had done. It was a beautiful spring evening, and the stars were as brilliant as I had ever seen them. I watched as my husband, Jeremy desperately tried to rake the fish out of the red hot coals. The kids, Oliver, Dominic and Madeleine were laughing hysterically. They were relaxed, confident and contented despite their grubby faces and hungry eyes.

It struck me then just how close we had become as a family. We still argued with each other, we still annoyed each other but, most importantly, we really knew each other. We had spent hours sitting together in a car on hot, dusty outback roads, we had spent many manic moments trying to erect a tent in howling gales, and we had spent countless hours sitting around campfires exchanging stories and learning to share.

This trip may have set us back a lot financially but I realise now the question should never have been “Can we afford to do it?” but rather “Can we afford not to do it?”

It’s not as though anything had been wrong with our ‘real’ lives back in suburbia. My husband had a nice, comfortable office job and I was kept busy chasing backwards and forwards from school, pre-school, various committees, karate and soccer, as well as trying to run my small website design business.

No, there was nothing wrong with our lives. It was just that there were never enough hours in the day. It always felt as though someone was always just arriving or just leaving.

The children had loads of friends and were fit and healthy, apart from the usual sniffles and sneezes. So what made us pack it all in and hit the road? What made us take such a dangerous leap into the unknown? Maybe, it was just a feeling that there was something more to life, a sense that we were missing out on something, or maybe it was simply a fear that, at aged 42, we had discovered the rest of our lives. We were, neither of us, ready for that.

It took us a few weeks to realise what we had done. That was when the initial excitement of camping wore off and it dawned on us how hard life on the road could be. Our perilous financial position meant we were forced to seek out free, or close to free, camping sites in the bush and there were rarely any facilities. We went to the toilet behind trees, we cooked on the campfire and we watched our limited water supplies closely. The red dust seemed to get everywhere and ants were eating holes in our canvas tent. We had signed the two boys up for a distance education course and school turned into a battlefield. They never wanted to do any work and said we were too strict. It was hard and the doubts clouded in. We wondered how on earth we would ever keep going for a whole year. It seemed our friends were right.

Somehow, though, things changed. We discovered a rhythm. We worked well together as we set up the endless camps, we all knew what our jobs were and how to do them. Miraculously, the kids began to respond to us and even to work well at their school. The extra time we spent with them playing games, reading, talking and fishing was starting to make a difference. It began to feel right.

We started to have a new appreciation for the miracles of nature that were all around us and we learned new respect for the delicate balance of our fragile environment. The endless dusty dryness of the outback reminded us of how tentative our hold on this harsh and dusty continent is and how we cannot continue to squander our precious water supply. The children have gained valuable insights into how they can help protect the future of our planet. Their love for–and knowledge of–wildlife and geography and the southern sky is far and above what it would ever have been had they stayed behind a desk at school.

We have met many teachers who said that the kids would learn far more living on the road for an extended period than they ever would in the classroom and I now know that to be true. The children all speak with amazing authority and maturity on issues that many of their peers would not even be aware of. It is marvellous to see.
I think the experience of the road has also helped Jeremy and I to put our lives into clearer focus. I can look back to the things I used to worry about and see how pathetic and selfish a lot of it was. I hope that if I ever feel myself getting caught up in the meaningless trivialities of modern life again I will think back to those perfect outback nights in some amazing country and regain my balance. I want the positive influences of this trip to last forever.

I think simply being outside all of the time also made a difference to our general wellbeing. From the moment we stepped out of our tent in the morning to the moment we crept back in again in the dark we were out in the wind and the sun and the wonderful Australian fresh air. The kids no longer came down with sniffles and sneezes. Whenever we went into towns our children seemed to emanate a healthy robustness. We didn’t have a TV or a Playstation and they didn’t even care. They swam and fished and ran and played and smiled and made friends when they could. It was a lifestyle every child should dream of.

Jeremy and I began to feel the benefits, too. It was an understatement to say that we were more relaxed. We were truly liberated from the tyranny of time for perhaps the first time in three decades. If we didn’t feel like packing up camp we simply stayed where we were until we did feel like it. It was that wonderfully simple.
On top of everything else, we were losing weight. Before we set off, we had both been carrying a few extra pounds and it was great to see and feel it coming off. It was ironic that after so many painful failed attempts at rediscovering the lean and mean me of my youth, in the end I didn’t even have to try. It just happened.

We were living an active lifestyle and every day was like an all-day aerobics workout. Out of necessity, we were also eating more simply and more healthily. We had learned to use a camp oven and had amazed ourselves with the wonderful dishes we had been able to create. The frying pan and tomato sauce were out, grilling and herbs were in. A lack of materials forced us to be creative and we loved it. There were no chocolate bars or chips or biscuits. There were potatoes and vegetables and pasta and, occasionally, there was fish.

Of course, when we had set out we had planned to eat fish from the sea and the rivers every day. It was one of the ways we conned ourselves we could afford to take this trip. No matter that Jeremy hardly knew a hook from a sinker and I couldn’t scale a fish to save my life. It’s not that we have never caught a fish because we have and we have now discovered some fantastic recipes that would make even my mother jealous. It’s just that we didn’t catch them as often as we would have wanted.

That’s why that day back in September was so magical. Jeremy had long dreamed of landing the elusive barramundi. He had danced a jig of joy when he defied the Northern Territory crocodiles to reel in every angler’s fantasy. Yet when it fell into the fire and spoiled, we still had enough happiness in our hearts to smile. It was an experience, another memory. Ultimately, the fish didn’t matter. It was just being there together that was the important thing. And that was the moment that I realised it.

We’ll soon be home now and the memories will no doubt fade with time. Normal life will resume. Yet I know when I look into my children’s faces that part of the sparkle in their eyes and part of the magic in their smile will belong to our trip.

 

Cindy Gough is a freelance journalist and website designer. She is currently involved in setting up a website to highlight the benefits of travel to the older generation.

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