Tents, glorious tents

Flooded GuidesGiven the propensity for front page news to be all about disasters, you might be surprised that this is my mental starting point for today’s Sepia Saturday theme. You see it was the one and only time I’ve made the front page, and in my first term of high school no less. One way to get noticed I suppose.

I’d been in Girl Guides since 1960 and passed my camping test for the first class badge on 6 June 1961…coincidentally Queensland Day. We were transported to these camping adventures by an old three-ton truck, probably an old army vehicle. Guides plus camping requirements were piled in the back tray and off we went. Can you imagine that being allowed today?

I remember going to a farmer’s property on the far edges of Brisbane where we erected those big cumbersome tents typical of the era. Digging latrines and putting up hessian-screened bathing areas was also part of the fun. Bath time involved those big round metal tubs and the toilets were dirt ditches. Each day we’d get fresh milk from the farmer, or more accurately, his cows. No nonsense about pasteurisation either. Meals were cooked in large army dixies. We’d swim in the very chilly creek and hope not to encounter any eels, water snakes etc. At night we’d have a huge campfire and sing songs. The first time I went camping with Guides my parents came out for a day visit. How that happened I’m not sure – they certainly weren’t the only ones and as they didn’t have a car, they’d have had to come with someone else. I remember I was a little homesick but so were they because for the first time the nest was empty.Guides flooded Samford

Then a few years later, over the May school holidays, we went to a different site. This one was on a rise, with a dry creek-bed on one side and a small creek on the other. Overnight it rained, and rained, and we woke up to a raging creek all around us and no hope of getting off our new island. As an adult I can only imagine the anxiety and decisions the leaders had to make. You can read the whole exciting story in the linked post I wrote a while ago. Suffice to say, thanks to the Water Police, and a courageous Guide, we made it home safely and found ourselves on the front page of the local newspaper the next day.

There was no opportunity for holiday camping in Papua New Guinea, at least as far as I know, so it wasn’t until the early 80s that we introduced our own trio of little campers to holidays under canvas. This time we had been invited to join our neighbours on a camping trip to Hastings Point in northern New South Wales. Over the years our family had many great adventures there, and you can read a little about them by clicking here.

Camping in splendid isolation with a view of the sea...that's our tent.

Camping in splendid isolation with a view of the sea…that’s our tent.

The photo above (on a grey day) is of our favourite spot overlooking the creek where it joins the surf and the Pacific Ocean. It was always an anxious moment until we crossed the bridge and checked no one had usurped “our” tent site! The next chore was to check out the changes in the creek’s path and whether the pelicans were “in town” or not. In our energetic moments we’d explore the marine park among the rocks, go swimming (convincing the girls not to swim to New Zealand), or have a game of cricket , or just loll around reading a book. The wind could be pretty fierce there and by the time this tent was retired there was nary a straight pole among the collection.
The caption on this says "our firs camping weekend, Lamington NP, Anzac weekend 1985". Both tents are ours.

The caption on this says “our first (solo) camping weekend, Lamington NP, Anzac weekend 1985″. Both tents are ours.

One of our other favourite sites was at Lamington National Park where we’d see the bower birds, noisy pitta birds, rosellas and possums. It could get quite cold up there so we had some fun times rugged to our eyebrows, toasting marshmallows and playing maj jong or card games. During the day we’d go for walks in the magnificent rainforest, and perhaps feed more birds.camping Mt Lamington

And then there was the year I decided on the spur of the moment one school holidays to take DD3 and her cousin to the snow, a mere 1500kms or so away, as I’d heard there’d been great snowfalls. By the time we arrived at a motel after dark that night I was seriously doubting my sanity, especially as the motel seemed to have a high turnover of short term stays and a lot of cars coming and going! Once we reached Kosciuszko National Park, we camped below the snowline but believe me it was pretty cold just the same. The wildlife had grown accustomed to the campers so were on the lookout for snacks, like these two fellows. An improvement on our Bicentennial camping trip when the birds had eaten all our stone-fruit which we’d foolishly left on the table under the tent’s awning. When we returned the chairs were covered in the way you might expect when a critter has eaten a surfeit of stone fruit.

But it's cold and we need a snack!

But it’s cold and we need a snack!

Although it didn’t make the front page news, I regard my Big Trip of 1994 as my most memorable. Exhausted and burnt out from a high-intensity, very political job at a research centre it was time to take myself to the wilderness for a while (have I mentioned what a supportive husband I have?). So me, my tent and all my clutter took off in the car for points south of Queensland.

That raised bonnet suggests trouble was already afoot.

That raised bonnet suggests trouble was already afoot. Mt Kaputar National Park.

My first stop was Mt Kaputar where I arrived late in the afternoon. I got set up and made sure my brick-sized mobile phone was charged and checked in with himself. In the process I turned the car engine – and again – and again…to no avail. In the morning I got someone to jump start the car and made my way determinedly down the range to the nearest town, where I foolishly turned the engine off again. One day into my trip I had acquired a faulty alternator so I spent my second day cooling my heels in a country town waiting for it to be replaced.

Once again Hastings Pt 1989, but could be any/many of our campsites.

Once again Hastings Pt 1989, but could be any/many of our campsites.

Mercifully after that the trip went smoothly and I dawdled my way to Adelaide (I guess about 3000kms away) a couple of weeks later. While I often found myself camped with only a few other tents around, I also wasn’t being foolish. At one national park I got such a negative vibe that I just turned turkey and found a motel.

Mr Cassmob met me in Adelaide and we picked up DD2 and DD3 from the airport in Alice Springs, late as it happens, but that’s another story. This was our first excursion into the Northern Territory and little did we know then how big a part it would come to play in all our lives over the coming decades. By the time we pulled back into our driveway in Brisbane we’d notched up about 14,000kms and spent more than half the time under canvas.

At the time of the Bicentenary in 1988, submissions were sought from people around the country showing their favourite places and activities. We submitted this one of DD2 washing her sister’s hair, camping style.

Two of the Cass girls, Hastings Point. Page 272, My Australia, Robertsbridge Group Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1989.

Two of the Cass girls, Hastings Point. Page 272, My Australia, Robertsbridge Group Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1989.

As you can see, camping has been a large part of our family story over several decades. We don’t get to do it as much lately  – sleeping on the ground has worn off a little, but there is something very special about being out in the bush with a blur of the Milky Way over your head. The family cycle has turned and now our children and grandchildren love to escape the big smoke and head out to enjoy the nights away as a clan with glo-sticks, sparklers, marshmellows and a roaring fire. It is certainly creating some great cousin memories which will stay with them through their lives.

A souvenir photo, taken by one of the kids, when my parents came camping.

A souvenir photo, taken by one of the kids, when my parents came camping.

And as a finale, here’s a photo of an old-style tent taken at the Colonial Queensland exhibition in Brisbane in 1986. It was at this event that I enquired about family history research and signed up with the Genealogical Society of Queensland, thereby starting me down a path which has kept me engaged and happy for nearly thirty years.Colonial Day 1986

Now you’ve reached the end of this saga, why not head over to see what the other Sepians have had to say about camping or trios. It looks like it’s been a popular topic.

Did you go camping as a child? As an adult? Did you love it or loathe it?

H hops into Hughenden, Herston, Hastings Point and H ships

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which).

H is for Hughenden

Hughenden is a small town on the road between Mt Isa and Charters Towers and Townsville. We’ve visited in passing a few times but I can’t say I feel any empathy or true understanding of it…perhaps the most noticeable feature is this stretch of road is ancient dinosaur country and the locals are making the most of this tourism opportunity.

Hughenden's main drag. I love those old country pubs with their imposing presence.

My great-grandfather McSherry and his family lived in Hughenden for several years when he was an inspector with the railways. My grandfather McSherry was also working here with the railway when he met my grandmother who lived in Charters Towers. How they came to meet I don’t know, but I’ve always assumed (yes, I know!) it was through her family’s refreshment rooms in Charters Towers. I’ve heard the Melvins also had railway refreshment rooms but I’ve found no evidence whatsoever of that, so I’m assuming it was probably a furphy, albeit a credible one.

On our last visit the people at the Visitor Centre were very helpful and tried to put me in touch with the local historian who wasn’t available. This H post reminds me that I’ve still not followed this up….the “to do” list is growing with each letter.

H is for Herston

Clydesdale c1900 John Oxley Library image, copyright expired. This was the convent during my school years.

School days, school days, good old golden rule days! My school and parish church were both “over the border” into the Brisbane suburb of Herston. Neither the church nor the school remain, replaced by a post-Vatican II church of simple architecture, while the old building shared by church and school have disappeared into memory…another job on my “to do” list is find a photo. Time, it’s always time, that catches us out.  I talked quite a lot about the school here so I won’t repeat myself in this post.

One thing of relevance to family historians: if you find your relative has been buried from St Joan of Arc church Herston and are wondering why…it’s because the priests were the curates for the hospital, and some people either converted at the last minute or came back to the church. I recall singing as part of the school choir at any number of funerals, many with no connection to the parish.

The other interesting aspect to Herston parish was the influx of European immigrants in the 1950s and especially the Dutch migrants. Don’t ask me why so many came to Herston, because I really don’t know, but as a result of the numbers, we ended up with Dutch priests for a number of years. Recently I commented on the fact that Family Search has digitised parish registers from the Netherlands: an invaluable resource for Australians with Dutch ancestry.

H is for Hastings Point

View south from Hastings Point

Hastings Point is part personal history and part travelogue. An inconspicuous mark on a map but for our family it’s been a special part of our story, filled with memories and fun times, shared over the years with friends and children’s friends. We have always camped as close to the beach as possible which means that the strong wind bent every tent pole we had. After a day of down-time from the normal rush of urban life with busy jobs and children, we’d take to exploring the rock waterholes which might conceal all manner of marine life. The area off the point is a marine park so there was usually plenty to see on these mini-expeditions and there was always the fun (perhaps less so for the feet) of navigating from one rock to the other. Most of the time there was a small spa-sized pool near the rocks which made the perfect spot for lolling around, unless you were mad keen to get into the surf, which swimming across the creek first, or wading, carefully avoiding the oyster-shelled rocks. On the southern side of the Point the surf near the rocks could be quite fierce and not all that safe for swimming unless you were a strong swimmer or out on a board.

Google Earth aerial view of Hastings Point, New South Wales

Each visit the path of the creek would have changed with tidal and weather conditions so you never knew what you’d find. One visit the creek would have a lovely sandy bank which might luminesce at night time as you walked up to the toilet block. Another time there’d be little sand on the bank and you’d be dodging around the rocks. One visit we even found a low tide mini-aquarium of marine life in a tiny pool in the creek…great fun.

Hastings Point was where we went to see Halley’s Comet uncontaminated by urban lights. Our viewing was much better on an early visit than on the date they’d say it would be optimal.

This aerial view from Google Earth shows some of the beauty of the place. Time was when the northern approach to Hastings was equally beautiful, driving through native bush of banksias. Sadly much has been altered with the bush replaced by resorts.

If you’d like to know a little more about this wonderful place you may wish to read a couple of my posts from last year, here and here.

H is for H-named ships

A ship called Hotspur, but is it the one which brought the Irish immigrants? State Library of Queensland Negative number: 63060, copyright expired.

I have done some research into emigrants from east County Clare, Ireland to Australia. When I was looking at the names yesterday I realised a number of these immigrants arrived on ships whose names started with the letter H. So here’s to them…name of ship (year) [number of east Clare people on board]. You can see the increase in numbers in the 1860s with the American Civil War.

Humbolt (1852) [4]; Himalaya (1855) [3]; Hilton (1855) [2]; Herald of the Morning (1858) [9]; Hornet (1859) [3]; Hotspur (1863) [26]; Himalaya (1865) [6]; and Hornet (1865) [15]

The original source for this data came from the Board’s Immigrant Lists from State Records NSW. The east Clare data has been extracted from my own database.

Today’s A to Z 2012 recommendation:

Somebody has to say it…I love this woman’s bolshie attitude. Her position is set out clearly and logically on her topic of the day. She reminds me of a friend and former colleague of mine.

52 weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 29: Water and Hastings Point holidays

View from the hillside at Hastings Point

The topic for Week 29 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Water. Do you have any memories of the sea or another body of water? Did you live there or just visit? What did you do there? You can also describe a body of water by which you live or visit in the present day.

As a young girl I’d enjoyed Guide camps so when asked to go camping at the beach with the neighbours I was keen to give it a try, but Mr Cassmob’s camping experience was of Army cadet camps at Canungra in the middle of winter…not positive. However encouragement from our new friends meant that we took the plunge and went camping with them over the border of New South Wales at Hastings Point. Well, that was the start of a love affair with a beautiful place, not just for camping but for day drives and picnics. So many family memories were built up there. Even arriving exhausted from work we would soon unwind and truly relax.

I should describe Hastings Point’s geography a little. The Point is a high ridge line between two superb beaches with vistas in both directions. Below it is a marine park with huge rocks and many little nooks and crannies with shells and sea creatures. To the northern side of the hill a creek runs out to the sea and adjacent to this is a wide flat area that is the open camping area. It had no facilities other than open air cold showers down one end, water on tap and public toilets down near the road and nearby a little shop.

The view south from Hastings Point

It was, and largely still is, a beautiful spot…you can see other images on my Summer post. We were never keen to camp there during peak season at Christmas or Easter and I can’t remember ever doing so. We loved it when we turned up and the camping ground was empty bar one or two other tents. Our favourite site was right near the water, overlooking the mouth of the river where it ran into the sea. Of course this was also the position which got the maximum wind from the ocean so many was the time when we needed tent adjustments in a storm. Not to mention that every one of our tent poles had an impressive bend in it!

Every time we’d visit Hastings the path of the river would have changed with tides or other unknown influences. One time the walk along the creek to the toilets would be wide open sand, the next time it would be pebble or rock-strewn. On one magical night as we walked along it, the fluorescence (I think) sparkled each time we stepped into the sand. It was like sparklers going off….gorgeous.

Another time the river was so shallow we explored little rock pools within it and in one found a myriad of sea creatures: shells, crabs, anenomes etc. It was totally enthralling.

Camping in splendid isolation at Hastings Point...that's our tent.

Hastings was where we went to watch Halley’s Comet pass over in 1986..something I’ll never see again in my lifetime though our children might. The sky was so clear that the stars were always like a light-show so we could see the comet easily. Actually we got the best view of it one night ahead of the “advertised” optimal viewing and saw its movement across the sky.

On Anzac Day one year we were camped there when the Air Force, no doubt from Evans Heads, skimmed the ridge and flew very low over the rocks and water holes giving people something of a fright. As the jets continued on their way towards the Anzac Day ceremony at Tweed Heads or Coolangatta they had to flick a wing over any yacht masts so you see they were definitely flying “mach 2 with their hair on fire” at about 500ft or lower.

Apart from all the little rock pools to be explored for sea creatures (including baby octopus), there were usually a couple of much larger pools formed among the rocks which filled with each high tide. These were perfect for small children (and large adults!) to swim/loll in quite safely. The creek was better for swimming as the kids got bigger and as the flow could be quite fast was great for the boogie boards too. The creek’s only downside was the oyster shells on the rocks at low tide…cuts best avoided. When surfing was required we could swim across the creek to swim on the surf beach across the way. Our children were always fearless and looked set to swim for New  Zealand though the day we saw what initially seemed to be sharks brought them back in with great speed. Turned out to be dolphins but it gave us and them a bit of a start! Another heart-starter moment was coming within inches of a death adder in the nearby bush while in bare feet….luckily it was lazy from sleeping in the sun!

View over Darwin harbour.

Although we now live quite close to the sea and it certainly looks beautiful, it holds less attraction because of the presence, or potential presence, of crocs and stingers which means you can only swim a few months of the year, if you’re game. I think we’ve been in the ocean only two or three times in over a decade…sticking to the pool is safer! Australia has more than its fair share of hazardous creatures but the Top End does it even better.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 28: Summer Down Under

The topic for Week 28 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Summer. What was summer like where and when you grew up? Describe not only the climate, but how the season influenced your activities, food choices, etc.

Heading for New Zealand again? Boogie boarding in summer.

How ironic that this blog topic arrived just as we left Charleville in western Queensland on a bitterly cold morning, but then that’s the hazards of living in the Land Down Under.

I suspect somehow that summer has quite different connotations for Australians than for those overseas. I remember reading a column, years ago, by former Brisbane mayor, Sallyanne Atkinson, then a journalist for The Courier Mail. She was bemoaning the multiple responsibilities and deadlines at the end of the year, especially for the mothers in a household. Not for us two separate event schedules: summer holidays in August with leisurely times and sunshine, after completing the school year; then Christmas arriving in the cool/cold weather
and an event entirely on its own (except perhaps for Thanksgiving).

You see summer in Australia runs from December to March and so coincides with the end of the school year, school graduations and concerts, Christmas shopping in the hottest time of the year and then the long (six weeks) school holidays, New Year, Australia Day, the commencement of the next school year….all in a period of about eight weeks! Great for kids, less great for parents, making a family holiday at the beach a well-earned rest.

Christmas Holiday camping at Hastings Point in northern NSW

Of course lots of people went camping at the beach in summer but our family didn’t go away at this time of the year, and preferred off-season holidays, a habit we follow even today. Nevertheless the iconic photo image of an Aussie summer is kids at the beach in their swimsuits (aka togs, swimmers, bathers, cozzies) hopefully with zinc cream on the noses. Unfortunately many of us of a certain age, also spent too much of our time at the beach lathered with coconut oil, slow roasting our skin with resultant skin cancers as adults. I remember as a teenager getting my first bikini and going to the beach with a friend blessed with non-Celtic skin. She got a lovely tan but I ended up with major sunburn which needed treating with a mix of metho and Friar’s Balsam dabbed all over the burnt area, lots of water to drink, and a good rest…. a lesson well learned!

So did summer affect what we ate? Well not at Christmas certainly, as we dutifully followed northern hemisphere traditions of roast chicken/turkey/pork and roast vegetables in the midday heat, followed by a traditional Christmas pudding….delicious, but hardly consistent with the weather. These days many people have adapted their Christmas celebrations to
take into account the 30C+ temperatures, and more often involve seafood and salads.

At home during summer I would retreat to a cool spot under the house and eat mashed-up homemade coconut milk ice blocks from a glass. Yummy! While the traditional Queensland architecture was meant to be ideal for the hot sub-tropical summers with wide verandahs and lattice, and squatters chairs for relaxing in with a cold drink, people seemed to be too busy with chores to be just chilling out and doing nothing much. As kids in those pre-swimming-pool days we’d turn the sprinkler on in the backyard and run shrieking and squealing through its cooling jets!

A rather more tranquil Hastings Point and creek, off season

On a grander scale, summer is also cricket season with the Boxing Day test match being a “must watch” event as is the Sydney to Hobart yacht race through the treacherous waters of Bass Strait. Hence another iconic image of an Aussie summer: people glued to the TV enjoying these events.

PS Images scanned with my new Flip Pal –couldn’t be simpler!