Real camping

Rigby and I went for a walk along the Rosebud foreshore this morning. A week from now it will be wall-to-wall tents and caravans. Right now there are many tents set-up and caravans in place, but with gaps between. I would guess right now it’s at about 50% capacity. When it fills it will become a thriving community.

I know there are many families who have been doing this for generations. Every year, at the same time, they go and set-up in the exact same spot, next to the families who have been doing exactly the same thing. I can understand the ritual appeal of it. It’s cosy and familiar and friendly. For a couple of weeks they’re fire up their barbecues and sit in the shade of the tress sharing a beer with their neighbours as the evening wanes. Kids will run around screaming, or go for a swim (it’s an ordinary beach), or play cricket among the caravans and tents and parked cars. At the end of their fortnight they’ll pack up and return home until next year.

I’m tempted to say it’s too rudimentary for me, but the truth is many of these campers have pretty good setups. I walked by this morning admiring how organised and how professional these holiday makers are. The typical configuration is  a caravan with a tent extension, attached or separate. There will be a living area – generally open air, but with something covering it; and more space than you would expect.

More than once this morning I saw two good-sized tents – marquis sized – pitched about a dozen feet between them, with either a tarp stretched across the top sheltering all, or housed within a larger open-sided shelter. The barbecues are in place – the Weber Q a popular option now, tables, chairs, and all the rest of it. For what it is it’s pretty comfortable.

It’s not my go though. The Cheeses have invited me to spend time with them over Christmas, and I’d love to. They’re heading for a similar set-up down at Wye River. They’re heading down with other friends, all of whom I know, and I imagine will gather each night as I have described while the collective kids run riot somewhere in the vicinity. I understand the appeal, and I could easily go a few days of it, but it’s not really my idea of a holiday. It’s certainly not my idea of camping, as they describe it.

You may not know it, but I’m a camping purist (I’m starting to believe I’m a purist about many things). I haven’t been camping for years, but used to regularly once upon a time. In general I don’t believe you’re really camping unless you have to hike in or, at worst, 4WD in. And this idea of community camping is totally at odds with my ideal.

I can recall one such camping trip with a friend in the Victorian high country. We spent about an hour hiking in, and found a great camping site in the bend of a river. The great thing about it there was no-one else about (until a scout troupe spoiled the serenity), and we were totally in the embrace of nature. It was a beautiful spot there, the waters cool and clear from the mountains, the landscape lush and green, and full of all sorts of wildlife. Nothing much happened on that trip – my friend fly-fished all day while I would hike or read or cook. The weather – it was early Spring I think – was cool, but fine. It was peaceful, and a great antidote to city living. That’s camping.

On other occasions I used to camp quite a lot on the edges of what is called the outback. Once, literally, we camped back of Bourke, and probably somewhere beyond the black stump. I remember red soil country and wildlife in spades, and once fishing in the Darling River and catching a Murray Cod. Not many can claim that. Each night we would stoke up the fire and cook our meal and have a beer or spirit and yarn by the fire while all about us in the darkness the nocturnal animals signalled their presence. I remember the night so vividly, the stars shining with a clarity never experienced before, and in a pristine night sky. It was enough to make to stop and wonder and go to your sleeping bag with the wonder still in you. The mornings were so cold that water would have frozen overnight, and we would hurry, gasping, to dress, before getting an enamel mug of hot, sweet, tea or coffee. That was a life. There’s grandeur in that.

I don’t begrudge their holiday by the beach, but it’s not real camping.

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