Our first (rather amusing) attempt at free camping…

Camping; it’s about being prepared. Taking on nature and winning. Well, at least that’s what I thought, but then I realised that caravan parks were made to make me think I was taking on nature. After all, in some ways, staying at a caravan park actually has more luxuries than home. 

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Okay, so the beds may not the most comfortable, but at least I don’t have to worry about many of the typical household chores like cleaning the toilet and shower, hubby doesn’t have to mow the lawn, and the kids will have play equipment to entertain themselves with. 

But I wanted a more “genuine” camping experience. So, hubby introduced me to the concept of free camping. Now, free camping is not about finding some place where we can camp for free – which is what I thought the word ‘free’ meant. No, free camping meant that there was no electricity, no showers and, if we were lucky, drop toilets. Now there was an adjustment. 

I quickly learnt the best way to use one: I would place the sleeve of my long-sleeved shirt over my nose (no matter the weather, I insist on wearing a long-sleeved shirt in one of those things) and if I was not out by the time I started to turn blue and needed to breathe out – well, I would let a breath out into my sleeve and take a small one back in…. with the smell of my washing detergent to help mask the stench around me. Do not contradict me here, I want to believe in this fantasy.

Well, we began our first free camping venture at Sheepyard Flat, in Victoria. What a lovely spot, and my first introduction to drop loos, battery-operated vans, and losing the kids in the bush – thank god they had walkie-talkies!

We needed firewood, as it was bloody freezing and I do not cope well in the cold. I am like a big grizzly bear who has been woken from my winter slumber. So off went the boys to round up the firewood while I made lunch – after all, nothing beats a salad sandwich after all that manly work.

Anyway, that night we were happily sitting around the fire. The boys were so pleased with their fire that they cooked the steaks on a hotplate over the flames for dinner. A few beers and wine into the evening and we decided it would be a great idea to break out the marshmallows. Time to teach the kids to roast their marshmallows and burn their mouths with hot molten sugar, but the little buggers turned the tables on us.

Mia, our youngest, wanted to have a go at doing it by herself. She was seven, so it seemed reasonable to assume she could do so without injuring herself … we just didn’t count on her injuring anyone else.

We demonstrated the marshmallow roasting process for her, but as most parents would probably realise, kids know best and they never, ever listen to us adults. So while Mia was roasting her marshmallow, she was also chatting happily away and not paying much attention to what she was doing – until she discovered that her marshmallow was on fire. She freaked out and flung the stick into the air, all while screeching like a banshee. 

The marshmallow flew off the stick, hurtled over the fire and landed smack on the inside of my brother’s leg, right near his kneecap. You know, that really hairy part near your knee that really hurts when the hairs are pulled (the boys will know what I mean) – yeah, right there. It was like watching a flaming rock fly through the sky, and as much as it happened really fast, I remember it in slow-mo.

Now, my brother is no wuss. The guy was in the SAS and faced some pretty serious enemy situations, but this was an enemy that had him squealing like a stuck pig and, well, we were not much help as we were too busy rolling around laughing on the floor. I think this enemy beat him, as he was not quiet when we ripped that dried up clump of sugar off of him. No boys, we did not go gentle… I mean, man up there princess.

I learned a lot about free camping that weekend, like how to maximise the use of our batteries, the joy of drop toilets and the importance of preserving toilet paper, but most of all, I really enjoyed the adventure of it. We are slowly including more and more free camping into our travels – we will just be sure to hide whenever Mia is roasting marshmallows. 

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