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Commercial camping grounds anywhere in this great country during Christmas summer holidays downunder look awfully like those wretched railway lost and found sales of yore. Tents, boats, barbecues, golf clubs, surfboards, cars and trailers, and overflowing garbage bins all jammed together in abject disarray. It is a wonderful attraction for the curious.

However, this overly jaded curmudgeon wonders why people flee the city in search of the great outdoors and a little privacy to happily set up camp amongst hoards of strangers, close enough that family disputes can be followed word-by-un-Christian-word during a time of supposed spiritual reflection?

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There is, however, a perverse form of entertainment by eavesdropping on strangers loudly airing their marital discontent with each other. If that becomes tedious there is always the crass beer-gut belchers, not to mention thunderous, wind-breaking passages lauded by peals of laughter from an ever ready audience—and sniggers from the always ‘offended’ snowflakes.

So many different people in the one place and somehow, nobody seems very much out of place. Of course, there is always a coterie of standoffish pseudo intellectuals that pretend to read the complete works of Shakespeare and or Thackeray. A menagerie of Aussie life in itself, perhaps, with its uniformity of shorts, T-shirts, thongs and paucity manners—Australiana about which much has been written?

Those unfamiliar with campgrounds might well imagine that dawn in the Australian bush would be a serene setting; a veritable pocket of raw nature where bush bird melodies echo hauntingly between disorganised rows of tents. An escape, perhaps, from a rabid metropolis of confusion to a respite where wood-smoke and morning mist gently swirl as frying eggs sputter and salty bacon pops in the pan yet yields to the heady aromas of fresh coffee?


But alas, not bloody likely me-maties! Sunrise is more likely to spawn the bickering of sleep deprived brats punctuated by foulmouthed parents showing their pedigree if not their family lifestyle.

At first shaft of light on most mornings, a peculiar ritual begins with a considered low frequency whispering at first, but still loud enough for anyone to follow the script. As the sun slowly climbs, its golden magic goads its worshippers to baste themselves in oils and lotions stinking of composting fruit and other efficacious balms of great expense—the lurking flies are thus whipped into a busy frenzy.

Then suddenly, as if perfectly choreographed, comes the clatter of metal-framed chairs popping into position for another day of people roasting where misshapen bodies are paraded, void of aesthetics and oblivious to all shame.

Noon heralds Act Two:

Last night’s carousers stir from their sweaty cots, deflated airbeds and smelly little tents albeit hastily erected. You know the type by their coughs and gasps as they wheeze through their first cigarette while boisterously reliving proud boozing feats from the night before.

Therein begins a sort of grand sport as those diehards that sang the night through surrender their hangovers to hunger and ignite the barbecue ready to cremate anything edible found in the bottom of the Esky.

Reminiscent of a sacrifice by the ancient Aztecs, acrid smoke billows aloft transporting globules of hot fat through the air before settling on the windows and paintwork of cars caught in its creeping fog. It clings curiously to the white fabric walls of wobbly gazebos, a camp favourite for kids to smear naughty slogans, later to be illuminated by the magnetic red dust kicked up by a noisy trail bike.


Smoke from the many barbie’s rivals that of a bush fire and sends an army of campers scurrying to the south end for fresh air. Squadrons of mosquitoes soon learn it is a place to feast, a smorgasbord of various flavoured people that elicits a comical torrent of unprintable language.

Certainly worth the price of admission is the ever-present line-up for the toilets and showers that might equal Manus Island’s Detention Centre ablution blocks. This is where differences in toilet habits become annoyingly obvious—one soon learns that personal hygiene has by no means a universal template. A visit to any city public dunny teaches that lesson many times over.

The river, however, quite unlike the turquoise and scudding white spume of a rolling ocean, is instead muddy and it always is because cattle from the nearby farms keep falling into it and thus scramble violently to save their sorry lives. Nevertheless, it soon becomes a desirable alternative to the amenities block, although one wonders if the people are more polluted than the river.

Meanwhile, now immune to the stale barbecue smoke are the damned mosquitoes that still viciously attack while invisible sand flies suck your ankles dry. And thus the day vacillates until teatime.


Teatime presents the main event:

As Jimmy (The Schnoz) Durante often said, “everybody wants to get into the act,” and so they do!

Flickering fires and barbecues dot the area, mindful of Coventry after a German bombing raid while scores of shadowy figures drift to and fro in the smoke. Sunburned children squeal with every movement and the quiet man from the next tent has aborted Shakespeare and now swigs unabashedly from his five-litre carton of warm plonk. His wife denigrates him loudly for allowing flies into the tent—he doesn’t care and if she had her fill of grog she wouldn’t care either.

Mountains of sausages are cooked, or burned, each wallowing beneath the chef’s personal sauce. A mostly sugary goop that welds all it touches to the barbeque plate. Merrymaking becomes elevated by heady rushes from warm beer and the tempo slips into high gear.

Word spreads quickly that the ice machine next to the caretaker’s office has overheated and caught fire. Everyone runs to take pictures.

Meanwhile, the ice in my small Esky had long melted and thus, a frothy, warm beer shot straight to my brain making me as silly as the rest I fear. Dinner was ready, a sirloin steak, rare to order—so I thought. In truth it was as dry as an Egyptian mummy and just as tough. It slopped around with a mushy tomato and soggy lettuce on a paper plate squatting in my lap.

The steak knife was sharp, just what a camper needed said the salesman who also sold me a porta-potty that leaked. I soon discovered just how sharp that knife was as it zipped clean through the meat and the soggy paper plate, burying itself a goodly distance into my leg. I swore loudly, my new Jarvis Walker, khaki pants bought specially for camping turned red. I thought it was the beetroot.

The port drinker’s wife next door became hysterical at the sight of my blood and toppled the barbecue, which threatened a sequel to the great fire of London as white heat beads scattered beneath parked cars and burned holes in everything plastic—which everything is these days or bloody bamboo shreds.

Camper camaraderie rallied when a Samaritan with a bucket of god knows what snuffed the fire in a moment. 


That moment also ended my dinner and my love of camping.

Although my leg throbbed fiercely I was afraid to look—probably hit an artery, I thought as I put on a brave face. Jack Daniels, no ice, was prescribed as a painkiller and worked well enough. After all, one has pride and showing the fallibility of an old curmudgeon is just not an option—is it?

I slept upright in the chair that night. But, as dawn broke and the kids again declared war upon each other the ritual would be duplicated.

No thank you! This humble scribe with wounded leg and throbbing head hobbled to his car. When negotiating the exit boom gate the manager yelled, “Hoy! Wanna book for next year mate?” Bah, Humbug, I yelled!

Camping in crowded campgrounds seems to be the art of getting nearer to nature while getting further away from a cold beer, a hot shower, a flushing toilet and a comfortable bed. Maybe I’m missing the spirit of tribal living, but I’m OK with that! Maybe a motor home is the option? All mod-cons included and the landscape can be viewed from the window, away from rowdy people and damned mosquitoes.

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