Rocky road of an un­happy cam­per

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - FRANK SMITH

SOME peo­ple are born campers. I am not, but even so it is an ac­tiv­ity I have at­tempted on oc­ca­sions.

My first go, build­ing a makeshift shel­ter with fel­low Boy Scouts, failed dis­mally. To tighten the ropes hold­ing the wooden sup­ports to­gether, we wet the rope. Said rope shrank and held the poles fast un­til they dried out and the whole con­trap­tion col­lapsed about our ears.

Dur­ing a trip to Canada’s Rocky Moun­tains, I was banned by my fam­ily from erect­ing a bor­rowed tent. It was one of those com­pli­cated con­trap­tions made of can­vas and cane. Bendy bits of tim­ber had to be placed inside sleeves in the cor­rect or­der and then, in the­ory, the whole con­trap­tion would spring into shape. More of­ten it did not, and if you let go, the tent was likely to take off in the wind like a run­away para­chute.

Al­though it was sum­mer, the nights in the moun­tain states were re­mark­ably cold. The tent also pro­vided lit­tle in the way of in­su­la­tion from the weather. I was made to get up in the morn­ing and light a fire be­fore ei­ther of my ladies would emerge. First came my wife, drawn by the smell of cof­fee. Later (some­times much later) my then teenage daugh­ter ap­peared, swathed in a jumble sale-like col­lec­tion of clothes, look­ing as if she had just emerged from hi­ber­na­tion. By com­mon con­sent, she did not speak un­til af­ter the sec­ond cup of cof­fee.

We had our own tent for a trip to Broome. My wife and I slept in the tent while our daugh­ter had her swag in the back of the sta­tion wagon. Ar­riv­ing late at South Hed­land af­ter a dash from Paynes Find, we stopped at a ser­vice sta­tion for a meal and a shower and then went to look for some­where to pitch our tent. Find­ing the South Hed­land Car­a­van Park closed for the night, we chose a flat bit of spinifex nearby.

All seemed well un­til the po­lice ar­rived at about 3am to make sure we were not about to sab­o­tage the air­port run­way, which was next to our park­ing spot.

Hav­ing de­cided we were harm­less, the con­sta­bles de­parted, and then we no­ticed some in­tense itch­ing. We had camped on top of an ants’ nest and the oc­cu­pants were min­ing us as a source of pro­tein.

Later we toured Tas­ma­nia in a campervan. We soon got used to a top speed of 20km/h up hills, but other tourists did not. We ne­go­ti­ated Ele­phant Pass with about 30 ve­hi­cles be­hind us un­able to pass un­til we reached the sum­mit, where we could pull off the road. On the way down we gath­ered be­hind us an­other con­voy of ir­ri­tated mo­torists.

We also dis­cov­ered that trav­el­ling over bumpy roads ex­tin­guished the flame in our gas-fired re­frig­er­a­tor. Two steaks we had bought at Cra­dle Moun­tain be­came so high, we had to throw them out in the bush. Then a gang of Tas­ma­nian devils kept us awake as they squab­bled over the meat.

Since then I have care­fully avoided all camp­ing. Thank good­ness for B&B es­tab­lish­ments.

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