By Ort from Alvah - 27 August 2017
So you think you wanna go camping do ya, well good for you, it's about bloody time.
I don't claim to be an expert on nothen but I've been around the traps a couple of times and learned a thing or two along the way. This is for the newbies and the seasoned campers as well. Nobody knows everything, including me, so everybody should pick up a tip or two.
Mate, ya don't kneed a flash rig with all the bells and whistles, my first solo camping trip, I was about 13/14 and still pretty wet behind the ears, was on me trusty pushey, a box of matches, old blanket "borrowed" from mum, wrapped in a bit of black plastic, the stuff you put under concrete, pinched it of Dad and got me butt kicked when I got home, 20 foot of fishing line wrapped around a stick, a couple of hooks stuck in the stick, ya don't wanna loose em, a pocket full of worms, and I mean literally, a pocket full of mums biggest and best, straight out of the veggie patch, it was mums turn to kick me but this time...
"You been diggen worms in the garden again?"
"Not me, (if that little "not me" fella ever gets caught he's gunna get one hell of a flogen) must have been the bandicoots, agen."
"Yer, two legged ones wearing a hat, (BOOT, she got me that time, bugger) don't do it again."
"No mum, I promise." (not until next time ha ha) I was a shit of a kid but that's another story.
"Where are you going?"
"Camping down the creek for the night."
"Does dad know where you're going?"
"Yer, I told im, but you can tell im agen in case e forgot." Yer right, like hell I did, he wants me to mix concrete with him.
I can feel the pressure startin to mount, their startin to do what parents do best, worry out loud and do their best to ruin a young fella's fun. When I was a pup I was convinced mum and dad stayed up late at night skeeming the best way to stuff up my best made plans.
Anyway, I'm inta the shed grabs me pushey, stuff it, I should have fixed that flat tire yesterday, no matter, can't let little things like that stop a man on a mission, an I'm off, like a bucket of prawns in the sun, with me "swag" tied to the handle bars, billy bashing me knee and me pocket knife diggen a hole in me leg, what's a bit a blood, it'll wash off and it only hurts till the pain goes away, down the drive round the corner an I'm gone. You little ripper, I got away with it, for now anyway. Live for the now, don't worry about tomorra when mum finds out dad didn't know, it's all good.
That billy was an old milk tin with a bit of fencing wire for a handle, don't know why I carted it around, maybe it's just not camping without ya trusty ol billy, didn't use it for a while until I discovered tea and coffee.
Some things in life sorta stick with ya a bit more than others, like my first crack at usein that billy for the first time. I was pretty excited, sittin on a log, the billy on the fire, I didn't think it was ever gunna boil but it did and in goes the tea leaves, this is long before tea bags, let it boil for a while and off it comes an give it a couple of wacks with a stick to settle most of the tea leaves and into me old tin pannikin. A minute ago I couldn't wait for it to boil now it won't cool down quick enough. I tell ya mate, that first sip went out a hell of a lot quicker than it went in. It tasted like ... an if I ever catch that bloody cat the bastard of a thing is history.
What went wrong? Some smart ass said, and I'll bet he's still laughin about it, when ya put the tea leaves in, chuck a couple a gum leaves in as well. Maybe he meant a couple a dead leaves an not a great handful of green ones. I found out a while later he didn't mean that either, mongrel. Ya can try it if ya wanna but I recon you'll be looking for that bloody cat too.
Where was I, yer, leggin down the track to the creek like me life depended on it an it probly did. Mate have you ever tried goin hell for leather down a cow track on a pushey that's got a flat front tyre? Well don't do it now, ya shoulda done it when ya was a pup, ya mend quicker. No matter I got there and yep, the blood washes off.
Now first things first, tie the pushey to a tree so it doesn't wander off, (practise for later in life when the pushey had four legs), and then get the fire going and of course it had to be big enough to cook a cow on, it's a wonder the cockie didn't come down and kick me but, (notice I got me but kicked a lot as a pup, can't imagine why), for being so stupid and wasting his time. Next super important job is to clear a spot for me swag at the base of a big old Blue Gum, looks good, all those big dead branches 30 foot up, well they only fall on other people and tourists hey, not me I'm on me first camping trip, alone, and besides I've got me billy and me pocket knife, what could possibly go wrong.
With the camp squared away, and that took a good 30 seconds, now what? The camp is beside a big, deep crystal clear pool full of fish. You old timers will remember creeks like that from when you was pups. Maybe 15 / 20 years later I took me girlfriend down there for a swim, that's what we used to call it back the, and the creek was as dead as a Dodo. We saw one fish and it had like a big cancer on it's side, forget the swim. Farm runoff perhaps. So we went for a walk instead. And that's enough of that.
Anyway, I'm sittin there looking at the creek thinkin, will I go for a swim? Yes it was a swim, I'm alone remember, naaa the water looks a bit wet. Now remember I'm a fit, energetic young fella with holla legs, no matter how much I eat they never fill up and I've got me heart set on a big fat Sooty Grunter, (Black Brim, as in fish, the fresh water type). It never used to take long, just sneak up to the other end of the pool and gently throw the line out a couple a yards, no sinker, just one of mums prized garden dwellers, and let it drift down. Ya could pick ya fish, if a tiddler came to have a look, just gently jerk the line and it ed shoot through, then when lunch got interested, let im have it and out it comes.
All I ever did was kill it, quickly, and gut it, some fellers would leave the gut in but for me it made the meat too bitter and spoiled the fish, so out with the gut and on to the fire. Tosser, there is a cow on that fire, somewhere, and you idiot, you have used all the wood for the cow fire, go and get some more. Have you ever tried to scrape enough hot coals out of a bonfire to make a cooking fire, what could possibly go wrong, I've got my billy and my pocket knife remember, don't do it, again, it only hurts until the pain stops. By the time ya get more wood, remember you have to go further now because like a tosser ya used all the close stuff for the cow fire, get it lit and burned down to a nice bed of coals, ya don't want flame on ya cookin fire, too hot, it's almost time to get another fish for another feed. Leave the skin and scales on and on to the coals it goes. Ya know when it's cooked, the skin and scales start to blister off, ya grab ya tongs, a little forked stick and a straight one, the forked stick goes underneath the fish and ya hold it in place with the straight one, flip it over and when that side is cooked pull it out and put it on ya plate, ha such luxury, in this case the "plate" was a strip of paper bark. Knife and fork? Most of us have 5 very good ones on each hand, and ya pocket knife. Better than finger licken good.
Ok that was brunch, eventually, now for dinner. Ya know, that was so good I recon I'll saddle up for the same for dinner. Now throw the skin and bones, along with ya plate on the fire, it might smell a bit but the next poor bugger that comes along won't stand on a bone and do himself an injury, he might not have his billy and pocket knife with him, silly bugger. To wash my hands, a handful of dirt or sand and give em a good scrub and wash it off in the creek and now ya use the gum leaves. Crunch em up and scrub ya hands with em, it helps to get rid of the fish smell, but go a bit steady with it the first couple of times because some people may have a reaction to the eucalyptus oil in the leaves.
If someone in the camp gets a snotty nose, crunch up a good handful of gum leaves and boil em up, in their billy, _not yours) and get em to breathe the vapour, but again take it easy until you are sure they are ok with it.
I ended up having 3 fish and them holla legs was just about chockers, but not quite, but that's it till tamorra, come on breakey.
Life was pretty good, sittin on the creek bank with me back up against that big old blue gum just watchin the world go round, the fish lazily drifting past, all the wildlife comein in for drink and if ya sit real quiet ya'ed be surprised at how close the birds and animals will come to ya without spookin, just beautiful, the only noise is the music of the bush, what more could a young fella ask for.
Now I know some of you fellas will be sayin all that's missin is a cold beer and a hot woman. Well, now, I would agree with ya, but back then I didn't go much on beer, rum was ok but in me haste to get out the gate I forgot me stash, tosser, no matter it's all good and girls was just a pain in the but and something to throw stones at on the way home from school. How things changed a couple of years down the track but even now when I'm camping I don't drink much because accidents happen and then it ruins everyone's good time. Maybe sometime a bit further down the track I'll tell ya about some of the really not nice things that have happened to drunk campers, but not now I'm on top a the world remember.
As the sun's goin down and the wildlife is headin out to find their camp for the night I'm thinking young fella, it might be time for you to hit the horizontal too but first ya had better stoke that fire up a bit and, yer tosser, ya have to go even further for wood and ya forgot ya headlamp, (did ya notice headlamp, not torch. Headlamps leave both hands free), didn't ya so get ya finger out before it gets too dark. Did you know that a big brown snake looks just like a real good bit of firewood in the dark. One of the drunk camper stories. He didn't make it.
If ya put 2 logs side by side they will keep each other smouldering all night but don't put one end in the fire and the other end in the grass. Have ya ever been in anyway involved in a bushfire, it WILL land ya in a world of hurt if ya start one. They ain't pretty and they show no mercy. Use ya smarts because there are NO excuses.
Have ya ever noticed that just after sunset as one lot of critters is goin ta bed and the night shift is getting out, there is an eerie silence, well for a young fella out in the sticks on his pat ma lonesome for the first time it was spooky. On second thoughts I might just go and sit by the fire for a while, I'm not really that tired yet, true honest and I might want to put that yard an a half by 2 inch bit of firewood on the fir later so I'll keep it handy so I know where it is and while I think of it it's way past time to clean me fingernails, mum told me to do it a week ago so I better do it and I'll keep me pocket knife open just in case I wanna do me toe nails later.
Mate, shit was trumps I'll give ya the drum, I heard things that night I've never heard before or since, my ears was workin big time, dead set mate I recon I heard a mouse fart 500 yards away, an that thing just on the edge of the fire light that is about 10 foot long and as thick as ya arm was slowly slithering towards me an the harder I looked the more it moved. You guessed it, I had the wind up big time.
Sometime during the night, most likely early morning, I must have gone to sleep sittin up and fell over parallel to the fire and not in it, ya gotta be happy with that. When I woke up I felt like I had gorn a couple of rounds with Mike Tyson but I still had me pocket knife and lump of firewood in my hands, that would of fixed im an anything else that come along.
After I got meself sorted and had a dingo's breakey, (a scratch, a pee and a look around) and starting to think about me favourite subject, food, that's when I noticed a fair lump of a branch layen on me swag about where me belly button should have been, perhaps that's why I forgot me headlamp and sat beside the fire all night instead of bein asleep in the swag under the tree. I recon there is a reason for everything so who knows.
Lesson learned, the next time I camped there alone a couplea weeks later I took me headlamp AND a torch and when I heard a noise I didn't recognise I went and had a look. Mind you I was pretty windy first up but when those noises turned out to be a little critter, or bird, roo, or what ever, it finely sunk in that there was no big bad boogy woman out there that was waiting for me to go to sleep so she could drag me of to her lair and do horrible things to me. I gave that game away and went to sleep between two smaller fires an nowhere near that big old Blue Gum. In the morning I woke up feelin pretty good an warm as toast, thanks to a tip an old fella gave me. I'll share it with ya after, that is some time after now.
OK, now is after enough. Sometimes by choice, or because shit just happens sometimes, you end up sleepin on the ground with not much between you and the dirt. Trust me, bout 2-3 in the morning that ground gets bone chillin cold an I do mean BLOODY cold, even in summer. If it happens to ya after I give ya the heads up on how to prevent it, and you will remember this little tip wont ya, stoke the fire up and get a brew on asap an get as close to it as ya can without cookin ya silly self. No problem, right, because you always have ya trusty old billy, ya pocket knife AND a box of water proof matches with ya, DON'T YA !!!!! That's what I thought.
But that's not gunna happen to ya is it because ya've had a good deco at this yarn a couple of times and remembered everythin I've told ya, haven't ya.
Now measure on the ground a rectangle bout two paces long and one pace wide, yep you got it, bout the same size as you. Start diggen, don't chuck the dirt too far cause ya gunna want it after. Stop diggen when the goin gets to tough or ya hole is bout a foot deep an get a fire goin in it, the full length. Not a bloody great bonfire but something that will burn down to coals pretty quick. Then fill it in an park body beautiful on top. If the hole wasn't deep enough or the fire was too big you may wake up to a horrible smell at some time during the night, don't worry, it's just your clothes and skin starting to cook. It's one of those things that stay's with ya, bit like my first brew. On the up side, if you get it right ya'll sleep like a baby. Dry creek beds are a good place but keep an eye on the horizon, storms miles away can cause flash floods where you are and they are a bit like bushfires, they can ruin ya day / night big time.
If the diggen is a bit hard, then make a bed outa grass, bout a foot thick, or better still, bout 4 inches of paperbark. It's not quit as good as the fire but it'll do the trick.
As I said, food. Lucky I like fish hey.
Not long after this dad finally gave in and bought me my first rifle, an air rifle, pellet gun or what ever ya wanna call it, anyway it was heaven on a stick for this young fella, it put a whole lot of new things on the menu, pigeon, dove, parrot and I even scored a rabbit once, it all tasted like shit but ya could live on it. I got that last bit out of a movie, thanks Hoges. When I advanced to a .22, well that truly got things goin, young pig, roo, rabbit and even duck from time to time, I was livin like a king.
Notice I didn't take any tucker and was pretty much livin off the land, well in those days a fella could and nobody give a rats, but don't try it now unless ya in it up to ya ears because if someone catches ya doin it fa fun ya gunna have a big please explain to the judge and that WILL get expensive.
Another something to keep in the back of ya mind is when ya got ya headlamp on an there is other people around, don't put in the middle of ya head because when you look at someone it shines in there eyes an these modern LED lights can burrer ya eyes real quick. Kick it off to the side a bit, ya can still see what ya doin an it doesn't cause anyone any grief an keeps ya friends friendly.
After a coupla more fish, just ta top the legs up a bit, and a dozen trips to the creek with me billy to make sure the fire was good and proper out, it's time ta head home en face the music. With all me worldly possessions and a coupla good fish as a sweetener fa mum, firmly back on the handlebars, I'm walkin the bike back home cause that front tyre is totaled an I know it's gunna cost me when dad see it, I seys ta meself, self, that was a pretty good time, I'm gunna do it agen some time real soon.
That's it for now happy campers an I'll see ya next time I'm looking at ya. Enjoy.
P.S. The sweetener didn't work, grounded and no pocket money fa month, to pay fa the tyre an tube apparently. An yer, a real good kick in the butt, an yer it was worth it. Parents, who'd ave im.
Visit www.alvahwildlifephotography.com for more articles and photography by Ort.
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