unleashes his inner Bear Grylls on a camping trip.
Halley’s Comet last passed over Earth in 1986. I was a young lad in Year 8 and our school went camping at Wilpena Pound in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. A teacher came into the boys’ tent at some ungodly hour and dragged us out in our flannel pyjamas to see a distant comet cross the southern skies. The dance of the universe filled our 13-year-old eyes. Then, freezing cold, we turned, got back into our sleeping bags and fell asleep.
This was the highlight of my camping experience. I am not a fan. I don’t see it as fun to get into a tent in the middle of nowhere – a place known for John Jarratt-esque serial killers and creatures that can poison/make your life extremely uncomfortable. To live without wi-fi or electricity, and be cold and hungry. To get frustrated travelling to the middle of god knows where to put up a difficult tent, only to pull it down again days later and then try to get it to fold back together just as it was before you set it up. Nature schmature. So, I hate camp. I hate it so much you can call me David Bell from now on. Then the letter came via my son’s school with an ominous sentence: “For Year 1 camp, a parent is required to be with the child.” After losing 26 straight games of paper scissors rock with my wife (she cheats), it came down to old Bushtucker Dave here to grab the khakis and gear up for father-son camping. Out in the wild… on the school’s lawn. This meant other parents, who probably love “getting back to nature”, were going to make me look bad in front of my son. I may dislike camping, but I’m super-competitive. So Leo and I went and bought an easy-erect tent, sleeping bags, head torches and a blow-up mattress. He was so impressed with my knowledge of what we needed. Thanks internet. Then the rain came. It started on a Monday, and through the grey skies I saw hope: I’m going to get out of this. As the biblical waters fell from the sky into Wednesday night, I had to brace Leo for the worst. “In my experience,” I told him squinting into the clouds, “it doesn’t look good, champ.” I blew my cheeks out for effect. The school did not agree, and come Friday we ventured to the oval which was already like what I imagined Glastonbury Festival to be like, except without Oasis and with more seven-year-olds. There was mud everywhere. The rain was relentless and Leo said, “Well, we’re allowed to sleep in some classrooms.”
It was like he had awoken the Bear Grylls in me. This bear had been in hibernation for 31 years. “No,” I looked down at my cub, “we bought this stuff to camp. Let’s get camp!” Leo blankly stared at my musical theatre-like quip.
It was cold. It rained all night. I had to put the tent up and take it down in the muddy rain. There was no galactic event – but I loved it. We laughed. Played games with the other families. Told stories in the near-floating haven we had set up on the soccer pitch. We bonded in a way I never thought we would, doing something I had never liked. It meant so much to him and I felt, as a parent, that I had achieved something.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to do it again. But I will… before Halley’s Comet returns.
It’s what imagined Glastonbury to be like, but with less Oasis and more seven-year-olds”