THE THRILL IS IN TENTS

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - TRAVEL WISDOM - KIRK OWERS

My son saw the shark first. “It’s not a big one,” he as­sured me, pop­ping up on his board so he could get a bet­ter look. We watched the dark out­line creep fur­ther down the beach. Nor­mally I would go into a semi­panic and shep­herd my kids and any­one within shout­ing dis­tance to shore. But he was right. It wasn’t a big one and it wasn’t in­ter­ested in us. We kept on surf­ing.

Later that same day a six-foot (1.8m) di­a­mond python slith­ered into camp. We watched it closely, took a few pho­tos and went about our day.

That evening an enor­mous mon­i­tor lizard pounded into view, its long, forked tongue flick­ing out im­pres­sively. In the dis­tance that night we heard a dingo howl. My kids howled back. They love camp­ing.

They love ev­ery­thing about it: get­ting dirty, play­ing spot­light, swing­ing from trees, rolling down gi­ant sand dunes, catch­ing fish, start­ing and main­tain­ing a camp fire.

Now that I’m mid­dle-aged and soft as warm ice-cream, I much pre­fer stay­ing in a nice cabin or, even bet­ter, a fancy re­sort. But I take my kids camp­ing when I can be­cause I be­lieve it’s good for them.

And I’m not alone in this be­lief. Child psy­chol­o­gists have been warn­ing of the dan­gers of overly cau­tious “he­li­copter par­ent­ing” for many years. They sug­gest it can lead to risk-ad­verse, anx­ious teenagers who find it dif­fi­cult to prop­erly eval­u­ate dan­ger.

We’ve all heard about the prob­lem of too much screen time. But it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that kids will overuse com­puter games when they aren’t al­lowed to roam out­side and have few other out­lets for their thrills and ex­cite­ment.

An all-party par­lia­men­tary group re­port from 2015 con­cluded that kids should spend more time play­ing out­doors. It also highlights the im­por­tance of risk stat­ing: “Risky play, in­volv­ing rough and tum­ble, height, speed, play­ing near po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous el­e­ments such as wa­ter, cliffs and ex­plor­ing alone with the pos­si­bil­ity of get­ting lost, gives chil­dren a feel­ing of thrill and ex­cite­ment.” Add a few wild an­i­mals into the equa­tion and that state­ment could de­scribe a typ­i­cal camp­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for many.

I grew up in a fam­ily of campers, risk-tak­ers and ad­ven­tur­ers. We wouldn’t camp at pop­u­lar car­a­van parks by the sea. We’d be off on mul­ti­day hikes through ob­scure na­tional parks, fol­low­ing ridge-lines and canyons. Some­times we’d get lost or, worse, cov­ered in leeches. But what a time we had.

I haven’t the courage to take my own chil­dren to the wild places of my youth. But my off­spring seem nat­u­rally drawn to out­door pur­suits like surf­ing and spearfish­ing that in­volve an el­e­ment of dan­ger.

Camp­ing, while still pop­u­lar in Aus­tralia, has been in de­cline since the 1970s as Aus­tralians seek out more com­fort­able and even­tu­ally more lux­u­ri­ous lodg­ings.

I won­der if we are miss­ing out on some­thing im­por­tant in ex­change for in­fin­ity pools and king­size beds.

Thank­fully, there are still plenty of places to pitch a tent, light a camp fire and in­ter­act with na­ture.

Our lo­cal favourite has big dunes, wild an­i­mals and of­ten dan­ger­ous surf. It’s per­fect for kids. It’s called Treach­ery Camp.

PIC­TURE: IS­TOCK

Camp­ing opens the door for kids to en­joy thrills and spills and risk-tak­ing ad­ven­ture.

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