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How to prepare for a bush camping trip

By Dick Eussen, 06 Mar 2020 Explore

Bush Camping Guide Tips

Bush camping can be a lot of fun, so long as you know what you’re doing. Dick Eussen learned this the hard way, through years of trials and tribulations.

Sometimes, bad things happen on trips, like several years ago when we pulled up at camp and discovered our 20-litre drinking water container had sprung a leak. It was empty and the only water available to us was from a nearby waterhole, quarter-full of mud and covered in scum from cow crap.

We knew charcoal was used for filtering, so we burned some big logs and piled up a heap of charcoal, which we tipped into a bucket partly filled with the crappy water and later strained the water through a bed sheath.

The mud had settled, but the taste of the water was not that great, even after boiling it for five minutes. Still, it was okay for cooking vegetables and making tea, so long as you didn’t mind your food tasting like charcoal. These days I just make sure I carry two water containers.

In those early days we didn’t have ice and Eskys, so taking cold beer bush was not an option. A bottle of OP Bundy rum, a pannikin and a water bag hung from the bullbar served us well. A canvas water bag keeps water reasonably cool, but you had to get used to the taste of the bag.

We used to take a few bottles of beer which could be kept cool by putting them in a potato sack and sinking it into a deep waterhole at the end of a rope. That worked very well until, on one trip, a croc ripped the bag open and spilled the beer out. No one was game to dive in after it. That sort of stuff makes modern men cry, but there were no crying sports stars about in those days; men didn’t cry even over spilt beer, though I did notice some damp eyes...

Another beer-cooling method was to put the bottles in petrol. That cooled them down quickly, but you had to wash the petrol smell off before you could drink it. It was not very safe for smokers, however, especially if they sported a beard.

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Love Camping

I have been caught out by flooding during unseasonal storms many times, but during one unforgettable trip we had to erect our tents in the middle of a black soil road after being trapped between two flooded creeks, south of Burketown, Queensland.

There were three vehicles in the party and we lived in the rain and mud for four days before our tyres found traction and the creeks dropped low enough to cross. I invested in a set of mud chains after that and used them on a regular basis. Mud does little for relationships, and one bloke in the party got a bit snappy until someone sat him on his backside in the gooey stuff.

Another bloke had his wife along and at the end of the ordeal he reckoned he could now only love a woman who would sleep in the mud with him, eat tin-can rations and drink warm beer and OP rum. This couple recently celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary, so the formula worked.

Campers are subjected to many ordeals: breakdowns, crocodile attacks, snake and insect bites, extreme cold and hot days, rain and flood, accidents, poor food, bad choice of company, no beer, and various other hazards and hassles. But we keep on going back because we love the bush and driving to wilderness places with our fourbies, to fish, hunt, prospect or hike. I have lived and loved through all of the above and still haven’t learned.

I must admit, however, that things are different nowadays and I have many comforts that were unheard of in days gone by. The portable car fridge comes to mind, allowing you to have fresh food and, of course, cold beer. I love a cold beer or two after a hot day in the bush or on the water. It’s a natural thing to do, especially in company of a few good mates when reliving the day’s events and sharing lies and jokes.

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Outdoor Food and Comfort

It’s marvellous how a simple meal like a piece of barbecued steak or sausage and an onion on a slice of buttered bread can taste when you’re out in the bush, but try serving something this basic up for dinner at home and see how it goes down with the family.

Good food is directly linked to enjoyment because when people are active and do things they generally don’t do at home, they tend to eat and drink more. Camping in the bush is not enjoyable if the food is bad, because having good food is paramount – better still if someone can actually cook it.

We once lived on fish and wild pigs for 10 days because someone had left all the cold-store food – steaks, bacon, eggs and more – at home in the fridge. On another trip we had no matches or lighters between three vehicles (all diesels) because all were non-smokers, so we spent much of our time rubbing sticks together trying to get a fire going.

Sometimes you have rotten luck like the time we struck really bad corrugations on a Cape York trip. We had several cartons of XXXX in the tray-back and by the time we reached our destination we discovered that all but a handful had sprung leaks from rubbing together. These days I wrap beer cans in newspaper if they are loose.

On another trip, while filming several 4WD segments for the show Escape with ET, the fridge door on the camper trailer had not been pinned and it jarred open. This wasn’t noticed until the end of the day and by this time $300 worth of meat and cold goods had gone off. At least the crows, kite hawks and dingoes were well fed.

Miss out on a good night’s sleep and you get cranky. On one fishing trip we all left our tent screens and weather flaps open for better airflow so they’d be cool when we returned, but a late wet-season thunderstorm beat us back to camp.

In fact, it was a good thing we weren’t there when the storm hit because half the camp had blown away; my tent fly was in the river and the tree to which it had been tied was struck by lightning. Of course, everything was wet, including our bedding. That was one miserable night I’d like to forget.

Getting wet from torrential tropical downpours is an occupational hazard when fishing and I have learnt to keep a couple of light ponchos with my life jackets – just in case. Another resides in my Can-Am quad after I got caught out in a heavy shower one day and almost froze to death on the ride home. Ironically, I’ve never been caught out in the rain since I stored the ponchos in the boat and in the quad.

Avoiding the Pitfalls

I used to spend much of my time promoting guided safari hunting and fishing operations across the tropics. These guys supply everything, including great food and accommodation.

The lodges and camps are generally full of good people with similar interests and the atmosphere and mateship is often awesome – or boring when the rich talk rubbish about stock markets, good wine, cheese, bad women and missed putts on the golf course!

But in the last few years I have gone back to basics by loading the Hilux and heading out to remote places where I camp and fish in the good company of my own choice. We share the cooking and other camp duties and, in general, are carefree in what we do.

Those who join us in other vehicles all have a role. We have a backyard barbie beforehand and work out who will do the shopping for the trip, as we all share the same camp-cooking facilities and kitchen.

Money is collected and handed to the person who does the groceries, while someone else is responsible for the cooking gas, stove, camp kitchen, generator, shower room, utensils and the like, because there is no sense in doubling up on stuff in another vehicle when it can be shared by all. It is not rocket science to share and allocate duties and gear.

Eat Well

Breakfast is ignored by some people, while others eat a full brekky of bacon, eggs and toast, washed down with coffee or tea. Generally, lunches are prepared in camp by someone not engaged in cooking duties. When we fish, we cook fresh fillets on a small portable butane gas cooker in a frypan – in the boat – for lunch. Fish fillets, fried in a little butter, with an egg, onion and tomato slices, placed between slices of buttered bread, makes for a great lunch, especially on a cool day.

Dinner can be barbecued steaks, a camp-oven roast, fish of the day, or whatever takes your fancy, because modern car fridges and iceboxes allow us to take cold goods into the bush for extended periods. Being isolated in the bush, or simply by distance, means – unlike the old days – you don’t have to rough it anymore. Eating dried or tinned food is for lazy campers and for those who can’t cook.

I learned long ago that taking the rough out of roughing is commonsense. These days I don’t have to drink muddy water because I have a LifeSaver Jerrycan and cold beer in my Engel fridge/freezer. Man, you gotta love modern camping…

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