Bournda National Park is a little-known place of great natural beauty on the far South Coast of New South Wales. The park is filled with lagoons, beaches and miles and miles of native bush. We camped here over Christmas and saw a red-bellied black snake slither across the dirt road next to our site. We saw lumbering goannas, kangaroos, wallabies, the ever-present possum and a wolf spider the size of a small bird in the women’s toilet.
On our first night, we met a family on the site next to us from a town just sixty kilometres up the road. I was amazed at how free and easy the parents were, even with four kids, including a baby. It all felt a very long way from the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney.
When their kids were getting ready for shower time, the five-year-old wore her towel like a giant cape that dragged along the dirt of the campsite. Her mother didn’t seem to take note. I looked at the girl in the dirt and fought an urge to yank the towel off the ground and keep it just a little bit clean for after her shower.
Later, I said to Lee, “I want to be that relaxed.”
Later still we all sat round their campfire with guitars and a uke. As it grew dark, I interpreted the conversation for my daughter, K, who’s deaf. The boy in the family, who looked to be about ten or twelve, watched me sign. And after a while he said, “Sign language is so cool!”
Sadly, they were leaving the next day, going back to Christmas with the mum’s five siblings and their partners and kids. “I love big families,” she said to me, baby at her breast, and she told me how her grandfather was the 21st of 22.
They live in a town, a village, really, on the same stunning coastline as Bournda. I always thought that small town life would be cloistered, dull and gossipy and maybe it is, but this family appeared so much happier than any family I know back in Sydney.
Last week, on the 20th of December, we were meant to leave Sydney at nine a.m. We’d been planning to take this trip for eleven years; we’d been packing up for the last six days.
After loading up the camper trailer, throwing out stuff we didn’t need, putting every last item into storage and cleaning up for the tenants, we pulled out of the drive at twelve minutes past five in the evening.
Obviously, we didn’t make it to where I’d booked our first camp site, four hours down the coast. We pulled into a caravan park in Bulli, just north of Wollongong.
The girls, who’d been waiting all day while we cleaned, were desperate to get out. Lee set up the camper trailer, while I took them down to the beach. We kicked off our shoes and ran–I think all three of us felt the same sense of absolute freedom. We ran and ran, in and out of waves. The girls got their clothes wet. I didn’t tell them off.
I wish I could capture that feeling, bottle it and bring it out from time to time when all of life’s constraints and miseries—meetings with difficult people, a stack of papers to mark, the crying child I can’t console—begin to overwhelm the soul.
Highway One circumnavigates Australia and, at approximately 14,500 kilometres, it’s one of the longest roads in the world.
On 20 December 2015 I’ll embark on a journey around Australia with two girls and a willing Welshman.
We’ll leave our unit in Bronte and head out in a camper trailer packed with bikes, scooters, surfboards, a unicycle, a Dutch oven, books and a few clothes, tools (for my carpenter husband to pick up work), a fair amount of trepidation and an imminent sense of freedom. Stay tuned . . .