Ain’t no sunshine, where he’s gone
South, during the winter, iS where the real ‘grey’ nomadS are, aS david Cook diSCoverS.
We have two good friends living in Victoria who turned us green with envy when they told us they were taking their Tvan north to the Kimberley and the Territory for three or four months, starting in May and effectively bridging winter. Now that’s a neat trip – imagine rounding up three months with nothing more pressing than following the urge of a whim?
But then we received an invitation from an old friend in Adelaide, requesting our attendance at his 70th birthday and we thought, “What a great excuse this is for a trip with our camper during winter!” This was going to involve a junket to South Australia and back, so we figured we’d give the area around the Menindee Lakes, south-east of Broken Hill, a bit of time along the way. We hadn’t been there for a while, and thought it was a good excuse to take it in on our way to see an old mate.
You would think we would have more sense, wouldn’t you? This was mid-July and it was south of the Tropic of Capricorn. I am now convinced that this is an area that’s really not fit for camping any time between April and about October.
As we read of our Victorian friends’ sojourn through the tropics, we packed and left home under overcast skies. Before long, it began to rain, and it proceeded to sustain that sort of unpleasantness for the next 10 days, all the way to Adelaide and all the way home again.
We’d originally planned to free camp our way around, but, oh no. If you went off the asphalt, your vehicle sank down to the belly pan in the red goop that once qualified as a desert. We’d seen others who had suffered this fate, so caravan park-hopping it was, adding a couple of hundred dollars to the cost of our trip, along with the guilty pleasures of access to hot showers and flushing toilets thrown in.
We were racking up 600-plus kilometres every day – from Sydney to Adelaide, then to Melbourne for an errand and back to Sydney in 10 days to allow for the two-day knees-up at our friend’s place. This meant getting into camp at anywhere between 5pm and 8pm which, despite my hard-core camper self, was sometimes tough to love.
Temperatures were in the low single-digits each night and, if it hadn’t been for the onboard heater, you probably would’ve heard about our severe hypothermia on the news.
I’m not a fan of the old tradition of sleeping in layers of clothes to counter the weather, as it buffers your joints, playing havoc when getting out of bed and adding needless complexity to putting on socks (one unhappy winter day, I spent a good part of a morning dislodging a parker-clad neighbour, who’d wedged himself in his camper’s door).
I don’t know how we survived for so many years without a space heater in our old
camper, but these are a boon to modern man. They should be compulsory in all campers that are sold or to be used south of the Murray.
Now, don’t let this start some sort of interstatebashing campaign. I quite like Victoria and South Australia. I’ve spent many a happy holiday touring about and camping in all manner of places in those states, but I can now understand why there are so few people in those southern states in winter and why so many of them travel north.
While our friends were junketing about in the tropics and marvelling at how warm it can be in July, and how sunny it is almost every day, we were left shivering to the core dreaming of those long queues into those far north campgrounds.
Needless to say, we didn’t get to see the Menindee Lakes, nor anywhere else of any great interest, because we were limited to asphalt highways. But we did get to see the Big Spider at Urana, NSW, a rather creepy addition to the pantheon of ‘big things’.
We also saw a lot of water. It was across the roads, in the paddocks, pouring along every little creek line, bursting out of rivers and filling every farm dam. It lay furtively in little pools and in great deceptive sheets everywhere you wanted to get out of the car, dripping endlessly from the leaden sky, rolling through in great black storm fronts.
Everything was wet, and the once red and sandy desert around Broken Hill looked like a golf course, with its lush green grass everywhere. The feral goats were eating well, and, I suppose, so were the sheep and cattle.
The shiny new camper came home looking very dirty and drab, which would’ve been okay if we’d actually gotten offroad, but we did appreciate taking less than one minute to set up and simpler pack-ups where everything inside stayed dry.
I think next year we’re going to have to join the great social tide that floods north into the tropical climes during the colder months. It’s quite likely that we’ll meet our southerner friends on the way.
Despite the risks associated with crowding and high density living – crime, health problems, anti-social behaviour – it can only be seen as minor problems when compared with chilblains, dry rot, drowning and rust, which inhabit the south.
It’s me for a sunburn next July.
WORDS anD picS DAVID COOK
CloCkwise FRoM ToP leFT: Engaging diff locks on the blacktop at Urana was a first for David; Itsy Bitsy, the Big Spider of Urana, NSW, proved an unlikely highlight; David had to tread water and pick a line in order to refuel at the Little Topar Hotel, NSW; Road closures weren’t part of the plan.