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?

Fab Feb Photo Collage Festival: Day 8 Girl Guides

4 x 7UP collageLike many young girls of my generation I became a Girl Guide when I was about 10. However unlike many others I hadn’t followed the normal path through Brownies. Joining the Guides was a big deal because in those days it had the reputation of either not being friendly to Catholics, or vice versa. Certainly one of the deciding factors was that the Guide leader of our company was herself a Catholic and would take the three or four Catholic Guides with her to Mass when we went camping.Pauleen Guide test

I don’t know what the rationale of the objections might have been. Certainly there doesn’t seem too much in the Guide oath to be threatening:

I promise that I will do my best:
To do my duty to God,
to serve the Queen and my country,
To help other people, and
To keep the Guide Law.

pauleen064

The equal prominence of the British flag as well as the Australian is interesting yet typical of the era.

Perhaps my joining up had to do with my neighbourhood friend who joined at the same time and whose parents would often drive us to events. On other Saturdays we would walk through the shoulder-high grass along the creek bank with one or other of our parents watching us until we reached the NARM bridge (near the local tannery) and they could see us heading to the Guide hut.Pauleen Guide tests crop

I really enjoyed much of my Guiding experience and learning and passing all the various tests. The image featured today is one of my tests, possibly the one entitled “Nature” for my Second Class test. I also remember doing another one for which I documented the changing seasons, flowering trees and birds in the bush at the end of our street. Along the way I learnt a variety of skills, some useful and some not. I remember being aghast that people didn’t know the names of all the streets in their area, and now I’m one of those too ….remembering where places are but not bothering with street names.

It doesn't look like any of us were having fun here.

It doesn’t look like any of us were having fun here.

There were also local hiking and picnicking outings, always making sure to bring our plastic sit-upons so our personal sit-upons wouldn’t get wet. We would make damper and cook it over the open fire. There would also be periodic camp fires near the Guide hut and we’d have a fine time singing.

The other fun thing about Guides was going on camp and my first Guide camp when I was about 10 was the first time I had overnighted, or perhaps spent more than one night, away from home. I distinctly remember that my parents had felt quite lost without me <smile> or that’s what they told me.

My old Guide badge for our group.

The old Guide badge for our group.

Whenever we went on camp we would travel in the open back of an old five ton truck driven by another Guide’s father who lived near us. We would sing Guide songs as we went along and it was great fun, though these days of course it would never be permitted for safety reasons.

We used to have those great big heavy canvas tents and flimsy sleeping bags ( I had mine for years) and woollen blankets. The dining area was in a big marquee and all the meals were cooked in big metal dixies. I suppose we must surely have helped with the meals but I don’t recall. We would also dig our own latrines and erect hessian screens around them. Bathing was done in big round metal tubs in another screened area. My first camp was at Brookfield and was beside a creek bank. I remember that we were provided with fresh milk each morning straight from the farmer’s cows, and also that there was a water snake in the creek when we went swimming.

Guides flooded Samford

Flooded in at Samford. We were on the land to the right, Water Police mid-stream and anxious adults on the far side.

However my most memorable camping trip is one I described a while back. You can read all about it in this 52 weeks series post on disasters…my sole experience of being on the front page of the paper.

I did enjoy Guides a lot but gave it up when I was heading to my Junior or Year 10 exams, probably just after being awarded my First Class Guide Badge. Unlike some of my friends I wasn’t tempted to continue along with the more challenging Queen’s Guide text.

Fab Feb image

Family Hx writing challenge

This post is part of the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing Challenge.

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.