Campgrounds during school holidays look like a railway lost and found sale. Tents, boats, barbecues, golf clubs, surfboards, cars and trailers, all jammed together in abject disarray.
I never understood why people flee the city to the great outdoors for a little serenity and then set up house cheek-by-jowl amongst hoards of strangers; close enough that family disputes are unavoidable—not to mention beer-gut belching and thunderous farts encouraged by peals of laughter from an ever ready audience.
Those mercifully unfamiliar with roughing it might imagine a public camping area at dawn to be a tranquil setting, a veritable pocket of raw nature where bush-bird melodies echo hauntingly between rows of tents. An escape from a rabid metropolis void of civility to where wood smoke and morning mist gently swirl as frying eggs sputter, and salty bacon yields to the heady aromas of fresh coffee.
Not bloody likely mate, sunrise in a January campground is more likely to spawn the bickering of sleep-starved kids punctuated by obscenities from shrieking parents.
A peculiar ritual begins as the sun slowly climbs, goading its worshippers to baste themselves in oils and lotions reeking of composting fruit—the flies go berserk. Suddenly, as if rehearsed, comes the clatter of aluminium chairs popping and clicking into position for another day of people-roasting where misshapen bodies are paraded, void of aesthetics and shame. Noon stirs the nightshift carousers from their sweaty cots, deflated airbeds and smelly pup tents. You know them by their coughs and gasps as they wheeze through their first cigarette and cheap coffee while boisterously reliving boozy feats from night before.
Grand sport begins as those diehards who swilled and sang all night surrender their hangovers to hunger and ignite the barbecue ready to cremate anything resembling food matter.
A total fire ban notwithstanding, acrid smoke soon billows forth sending globules of hot fat through the air before settling on the windows and paint of someone’s new car. The choking smoke rivals burning tyres and sends an army of campers scurrying to the south end for fresh air where ravenous mosquitoes await and a torrent of unprintable abuse ensues.
The ever-present line-up for the toilets and showers eclipses Christmas Island’s Detention Centre as cultural differences in toilet habits become annoyingly obvious—personal hygiene is not universally embraced. The muddy river soon becomes a desirable alternative to many—who’s up for a swim?
Of greater concern is that people are more polluted than the river. Immune to the stale barbecue smoke are mosquitoes that still viciously attack while invisible sand flies suck your ankles dry. And so goes the day until teatime.
Teatime is an entertainment extravaganza not to be missed. It’s the madness of Mozart’s Magic Flute where everybody gets into the act and choreography is abandoned. Flickering fires and roaring barbecues dot the area, mindful of Coventry after a German bombing raid while scores of shadowy figures lurch to and fro in the smoke.
Sunburned children squeal with every movement and the quiet man from the next tent swigs unabashedly from his five-litre of port. His wife denigrates him publicly for letting flies into the tent—he cares not about flies or her. Mountains of oily sausages are cooked, or burned, each wallowing beneath the chef’s personal sauce—some of it life threatening.
The ice machine bolted to the caretaker’s office overheated and karked it in flames. Everyone took pictures. My ice had long melted and thus a warm beer went straight to my brain striking me as silly as the rest.
In my tent dinner was served, a sirloin steak, not rare as ordered—dry as an Egyptian mummy and just as tough. It slopped about in a nondescript sauce with runny potatoes on a paper plate squatting in my lap. The steak knife was sharp, very sharp, I soon discovered as it found a hole in the leathern meat, piercing the soggy paper plate and buried itself in my leg. My new Jarvis Walker, khaki bush-pants turned red; I thought it was the beetroot. My friend’s wife became hysterical at the sight of my blood and toppled the barbecue that threatened a sequel to the great fire of London as white heat beads scattered beneath parked cars.
Camper camaraderie rallied dozens of Samaritans with everything liquid, drinks included. The fire was snuffed in a moment, so was the dinner and my love of camping. Although my leg throbbed I was afraid to look—probably hit an artery, I thought.
Jack Daniels, no ice, was prescribed as a painkiller and worked wonderfully.
I slept upright in the chair that night. As dawn broke the kids again declared war upon each other and the campground 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 now for next year mate?”
No chance! Camping is 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.