THE THRILL IS IN TENTS
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.
Camping opens the door for kids to enjoy thrills and spills and risk-taking adventure.