Happy Campers on Fraser Island

Happy Campers on Fraser Island

Happy Campers on Fraser Island

CAMPING is a bit like childbirth, you forget the pain until you go through it all again.

The main problem with our family is that no matter how organised we think we are when embarking on a camping expedition, we’re very soon proved otherwise. This is a fact I have come to not only expect, but accept. Our latest mission did, however, have all the potential of a smooth operation. This lay mainly in the recent acquisition of a second hand box trailer so no-one had to endure a two hour journey enveloped in bedding and the occasional cooking pot.

Yes, we were well and truly ready for Fraser Island. So we thought. The truth is, our camping is too sporadic to be truly organised. Years may lapse before we say yes to the pleas of friends and our children who are now old enough to toss around guilt-inducing comments such as: “We never do anything exciting.”

So, the preparation began. Probably not soon enough, now that I think about it. I did Google a camping list, having mislaid a highly organised friend’s personalised list and being too proud to ask for a reprint. I do recall trawling through reams of camping advice but was distracted a few times by things like how much food a 16-year-old might need over a four-day period, given that he’s prone to eating a full dinner again after dinner.

Another distraction was the impending campsite midnight loo visits. I was determined to nip any dingo angst in the bud by finally acquiring my own throne. This took some searching – yes, camping stores have ample loos, but I wanted something a little more subtle and given our infrequent camping, a little less costly. My journey took me to my local army surplus store which I know from experience stocks everything but bazookas.

I had a feeling they would have exactly what I was looking for. And of course they did. Even though the helpful assistant first mistook my clandestine whisper of: “Do you have a potty?” for “Do you have a patty?”

She found what I was looking for in no time at all once I’d spelt out ‘P-O-T-T-Y.’

So for a slightly inflated twenty bucks I obtained a toilet seat that fit snugly onto a bucket. Better still, I discovered a novelty UFO torch – a disc shape that lit up exactly like a real UFO – enough to scare the living daylights out of any dingo that came within a whisker of my tent.

After days of preparation, we were finally ready to embark on the camping journey. It did seem strange that we were packed to the rafters once more in spite of newly acquired trailer. Our retriever stared forlornly as we trundled off with trailer and loaded roof racks.

We had organised house sitters so our eight chickens, one chick, one dog and a cat who thinks it’s a dog would be well taken care of. Our rendezvous was 5am. We set off at 4.30am. Way on schedule. Smugness set in. This soon dissipated when we realised we had not left a key for our house sitters. Long story cut short … there was a brief delay as we retraced our steps to deliver said key.

We realised we were outclassed by our fellow campers rather early on in the equation. Immediately, in fact. As we took off, we were handed a walkie talkie through the window.

“So we can communicate while in convoy …”

The instructions were swift.

“This is ‘Eagle’, could you tell me your name, over.”

A brief consensus resulted in ‘Night Hawk.’ Our third car was ‘Rover One.’ We practised our repertoire.

My husband took on a different persona each time he relayed a message. His voice became a deep drawl – slow and suspiciously emulating one of those old war movies. So slow and deep it was soon wrenched from his hands from his long suffering children.

After a three hour’s drive, we arrived at the ferry.

A long drive later and with much: “Night Hawk, this is Rover 1. Where are you? Over.” sort of talk, we arrived at our campsite. Oh the joys. There was a communal, powered kitchen with a fridge, a shop stocking essentials within walking distance. Pure luxury compared to previous trips.

The tent was erected without fanfare and tables and chairs laid out in a more or less organised fashion. Or so we thought. We happened to glance over at our neighbours. Both layouts were perfect. The one had a cupboard – a sort of fold up apparition that housed their tinned goods, eating and cooking utensils. They also had a special ground cover. This, I later discovered, allowed sand and water to filter through rather than pool in an uncomfortable muddy mixture underfoot after an early morning downpour.

Their site remained pristine for four days. Our site, on the other hand, had all the haphazard charm of a hoarder’s hovel. Where to put everything? A perusal of fellow campers made it clear that we were alone in our disorder. These were seasoned campers. Everything had a place. They were not swamped by towels hanging from every tent rope but had neat little fold up mini clothes drier. They didn’t bring two camping toasters because unlike yours truly, they had reviewed the contents of their old camping container prior to leaving.

Come evening, I discovered another oversight – no pillows, save one lone one belonging to my youngest son. I shamelessly offered him $10 for a four-day loan. A pitiful sum perhaps but I promised to make him one out of my beach bag and spare T-shirts.

My throne was also proving a little inefficient. Terrified of the dingoes I heard pattering round the campsite at night, I decided the throne was a viable option. But where to dispose of contents in the morning? Surrounded by busy Easter campers, were I to walk to the ablution block carrying anointed black receptacle, it all but screamed: “Wee bucket coming through!” So after one night’s use, I chose the dangerous method of waking up husband and dragging him to the loo – and playing ‘scary UFO’s’ with my new light en-route.

Once I’d got over an extreme bout of camper envy, I settled into my surroundings. Accepted that sand underfoot was unavoidable on a sandy campsite. Embraced midnight dingo encounters, the night sounds and blissful lack of computers, mobile phones and schedules. Loved the laughter brought on by card games, campsite chatter, the sleepy tent banter of my precious family as we settled in for the night.

I revelled in the waves crashing onto the beach as I drifted off to sleep. By day, was infatuated with the beauty of inland lakes, of unspoilt beaches and unbearably beautiful rain forests.

Another bout of camping? I know that in spite of myself, I’ll be there trailer and all. The pain will again be a distant memory.

And I’ll be organised this time, because, you see, I found the old camping list … folded neatly alongside the two unused camping toasters.

Text and Photos Copyright 2012 Lois Nicholls

Lois Nicholls

Lois Nicholls

Fairy Tale Formal

Lois Nicholls
Lois Nicholls

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—When the uninformed see the composed, elegant, beautiful images of other people’s daughters posing at their ‘formal’, they have no idea that behind every smiling, buffed beauty in exquisite dress, heals and hairdo is a harassed mum who hasn’t had time to shave her legs.

I thought I would never succumb. No-one was going to force me to bow to peer pressure, book for MAC make-up (“can’t you just do your own?”), acquire a Coach clutch and source killer heels. We weren’t going to sit for hours at the hairdressers trying to replicate a delicate ‘do’ featured by Kate Moss in Vogue. I wasn’t going to be the mum trawling tirelessly through boutiques in search of THE MOST UNIQUE FORMAL DRESS ON THE PLANET. Book a spray tan? Too artificial, darling. No, not I. How wrong I was. Have done all of the above bar Coach clutch. I’ve been unwittingly sucked into the great Year 12 formal vortex and there’s no fleeing now. How on earth did I think I’d escape?

But have I learned a lot! During the search for the elusive dress, I was suddenly privy to an entire range of designers I’d never heard of: Camilla, Zimmerman, Sass & Bide, Bec & Bridge … rolled off my daughter’s tongue as though she’d been fraternising with the Packers all her life. Such are the joys of the internet. And Vogue. She was incorrigible. She’d send me links to dresses she’d seen while perusing online boutiques during her double Maths class. Maths, for goodness sake!

Armed with a strict budget, she continued her online quest at home. The first dress was a disaster. Having two brutally honest brothers turned out to be a blessing in disguise because when the feather-light parcel arrived and the slip of a dress paraded, my younger son took one look at his sister and announced she looked like a laboratory assistant. It was arctic white, a tad clinical and I’m afraid his comment completely ruined any chance of a revival.  So back it went.

We finally agreed that the online route could be fraught with mishaps so we headed off to the much-lauded fashion mecca otherwise known as ‘The Valley’. Other mums have called it ‘The Valley of Doom’ because there’s a fair chance an emotionally exhausted mum could keel over for good through sheer shopping fatigue. Perhaps it’s folklore but some mums have also been known to spend an entire day trailing from shop to shop only to return home empty-handed after uttering some final innocuous words akin to: “Don’t you perhaps think it’s a bit too tight?” In comparison, our trip went rather well, given that we found the perfect dress in only our third boutique. It was beautiful and within budget. My daughter looked stunning.  All done and dusted a whole three months in advance. Not bad going, I thought smugly.

I was wrong. Three months, it turns out, is far too long to like a dress. It’s also far too long to actually return a dress. Before my darling daughter is labeled a spoilt brat, let me explain—she’s not. She buys most of her own clothes, sews many of them, is a seasoned ‘Op’ shopper and accomplished bargain queen. And in her defense, I did see a flicker of indecision when the shop assistant and I gushed over the dress I thought was perfectly adorable (perhaps mildly influenced by the painful thought of more boutique trawling). And there was a touch of uncertainty when I hurriedly suggested: “Let’s buy it now!” So the dress went on eBay and without blinking, my fashionista daughter sourced a new one.

It’s admittedly rather lovely and she promises this one’s for keeps. Now, all we need are accessories, spray tan, hair, and makeup. How hard can that be?

Illustration by Lara Nicholls on Society6 – http://society6.com/laranicholls