When I was growing up, summertime was synonymous with holidays camping at coastal locations. The whole family would load up the trailer, later a caravan, and drive for hours to our chosen campground, ready to relax for the next few weeks.
This form of holidaying is every child’s first introduction to travel. Driving interstate is as good as flying to Europe for a month. The excitement of driving across the border is like entering a foreign country, all eyes peering out the window to see how different life is. Even just the change in car number plates was so exciting that we could have all gone home happy. On the flip side, whenever I saw an interstate driver in my own state, I immediately became suspicious, cursing these damned out-of-towners. “There’s New South Welshman in town; I can see the fluoro yellow number plates from here. ”
Camping in a caravan park was like staying at some kind of luxurious resort. The sign of quality was in the toilet blocks (“Look at the size of the toilet block. There must be at least five showers in there! No queuing for showers tonight!”). Having enough graffiti scrawled onto the cubicle walls was always important. It provided ample reading material. It was always curious to me why people felt the need to draw pictures of penises or write poems about a man from ‘Nantucket’. I never knew where Nantucket was or why so many profound things happened to this man which required all the information of his exploits to be immortalised on bathroom walls. But I was young; profanities written anywhere were entertainment plus.
It was always daunting the further your campsite was located from the shower block. Not because we were lazy but because the idea having to make the trip at night was intimidating. Walking through the chill of a silent caravan park was scary for a child. Every footstep echoed as if I were walking through an empty hall in football boots. Every snapped twig was a potential fiend, lying in wait to rob me of my worldly possessions. Considering I only carried a torch and my toothbrush on these midnight trips, I had little to offer any thief. They most inconvenient part was having to get dressed and put on a pair of shoes to make the dash. Getting dressed half asleep would lead to with my shirt on backwards and my shorts inside out. By the time I got back to my tent I was puffed out, wide awake and not the least bit concerned with sleep.
Any animals wandering around were a treat or just plain unlucky, as if we were camping in some kind of free-range zoo. I’ve never had to worry about having a crowd of people stand around me while I eat, but not so the creatures of any camping location frequented by my family. We could watch a wombat battle its way through the bush as if it were a police chase on an episode of Cops. Kangaroos were a different proposition. They were tall, fast and didn’t take any cr*p off anyone. They stood taller and had biceps double the size of mine. Those statistics are still correct as of today. It was well known to us that a roo would happily kick someone who wandered a little too close, violently protective of their own space. But that can be said of any Australian animal. They all have that angry streak.
The size of the playground was equivalent to a star rating; the bigger the better. You would quickly survey whether or not the other children were riding bikes without helmets. If they weren’t, the place was going to be awesome. A kid’s version of lawlessness. These days it’s all jumping pillows or beach caravan parks with swimming pools. Why there is a need to swim in a pool while a perfectly good beach is literally only metres away makes minimal sense to me. Perhaps it’s sand that is the overriding factor. I couldn’t name one person that doesn’t hold contempt for sand. The moment you go to the toilet and sand falls out of your underwear is the when you know you’re on a summer holiday with the family.
Proximity to the beach was important to us as kids. Not that it mattered; we were never allowed to go down there by ourselves anyway, like there was an invisible barrier between the top of the beach access ramp preventing us from swimming. It might also have something to do with the fact that no child wants to carry anything further than they have to. They want to go to the beach without the work of getting the equipment down there. A lot like teenagers in most aspects of life. I joke about teenagers of course. The amount of effort that must go into remembering all the different abbreviations and made up words they call ‘talking’ deserves some credit.
These trips were where I learnt to ply my trade as a card shark. Various games were played to pass the time. It would all start friendly enough until a debate would begin over a little known rule. It would start with a firm discussion and end with cards on the floor. It was good to be of a time where we were disconnected from technology. Had there been phones and iPads back then, one of us would have certainly ended up with concussion.
Summer camping trips and living out of a tent or caravan were the highlights of my year. They still are, to a certain extent, even if I can’t do it as often as I’d like. They were the birthplace of my desire to want to see and do fun things, exploring unfamiliar locations. Just getting out there is the best bit.
Wayward Tip: caravan parks are interesting places. They are cheaper than hotels (well, most of the time), just don’t let some of the strange folk who frequent them deter you.