Outback camping: the circle of life

Some like the simple swag, others prefer a bit more luxury.

Outback camping: the circle of life

HOW comfortable do you need to be during an off-road adventure? Well, that’s really one of those piece-of-string questions isn’t it? It all depends on who you are and who you’re travelling with.

I’m starting to realise there’s a bit of a circle of life thing attached to my camping life. As a lad I’d drape a canvas sheet over the motorbike and wrap myself in a couple of Indian blankets on the ground. They were partly waterproof, very ticklish and warm enough for most of the southern states (most of the year). But I was young, poor and very single. Try getting the wife to cuddle up on the ground under a tarp!

Plus, as your editor knows, there’s not a lot of carrying space on a motorcycle. Once we got into 4x4s the whole world opened up. In fact, I remember hitting the bush for work back in the 1970s in the boss’s G60 Nissan with a big canvas pole tent, a mattress on the roof, sleeping bags and pillows. I even carried a foldable table and a one-burner-ring LPG bottle. Talk about plush! But that was work and that meant weeks away at a time.

Driving offroad -carrying a lot of gear
There’s a real technique to towing a trailer through tricky terrain, and as Kenno will tell you, it starts with a firm knowledge where the accelerator pedal is. It helps if you know how the trailer hitch will behave, too.

Holidays used to see my girlfriend and I sleeping on foam mats and sleeping bags in an Egyptian Cotton two-man tent. We had a water container and lived off biscuits and cheese for the most part, drinking port at night because there wasn’t any way of keeping stuff cool. No worries when you’re 18, of course. Later on it was swags, and sometime a decade or more ago I discovered stretchers.

Meanwhile the wife wanted the security of a camper trailer for the kids when we got to that stage, and that’s how our family camps went. There’s nothing quite like a trailer when you have got a bunch of kids running amok – if for no other reason than the solitude it provides.

Kids sitting under tent
When the kids were smaller the camper trailer made heaps of sense, providing that perfect home base for our holiday trips. But we just had Holly’s 21st, and those boys are taller than me now. Which isn’t hard.

That’s also the stage when you need to be carting heaps of gear. Open our old trailer and you’ll find everything from the shade mesh ‘grass’ the wife loves to have under the awning, to the collapsible clothes hoist. There’s a pop-up bin, a table and five chairs, plenty of lights, and a box full of things like footys and kites. And you know what? Most of it has had a run.

Now that my little family is on the other side of that trailer hump, we’re starting to think outside the box. It started with the lads asking for swags of their own for Christmas, and then setting them up on the periphery of our camp. A little bit of independence goes a long way when you’re 12.

From there the wife started staying at home with our eldest daughter, preferring to do girl things, while the lads and I took off on more adventurous trips with our swags. In fact, after a decade of family camper trailer holidays I can see a time when I sell the trailer because it’s not getting any use. Me? I’m fine with a swag, but once the wife experienced the new style of ’vans with a hot shower, well, I’m thinking her swag might have been a waste of money.

4WD with canopy
Not much beats a roof topper for the couple on the move. Coupled with a base tent and annex you’ve got room for the kids, too. Not the best arrangement if you have to get up a lot during the night, though. 

Last year I finally traded my old roof topper for some Cruiser bits. Living on top of the truck was terrific, especially on the beach, with a great breeze and the chance to shake off the sand on the way up the ladder. However, the older I got the more trips up and down that ladder I had to make during the night. Not a real problem, not until the knee operation anyway.

The main reason the roof topper was kept in the shed was because 40s are easy enough to tip over as it is. Weighing in at around 50kg and sitting up high on the rack, it worked like a pendulum if things got hectic when chucking Milo from side to side on springs that have been severely softened already.

One day when I’m old, crusty and retired – the wife reckons I’m two out of three already – the plan is to drive around Australia in an old Toyota and explore new tracks. Sounds like work but without the cameras!

modern bush camping at night
Now this is civilised camping in a very uncivilised place. Modern adventuring sure comes with plenty of features attached – there’s even a hot shower to be had through that door.

A while ago I was camping with my mates ‘Troopy’ Pete Richens and Steve Gordon up at LandCruiser Park, and it was hard to get away from the brilliance and comfort both these blokes have built into the back of their Troopies. Chuck in a comfortable bed, some curtains and drawers for the kitchen stuff, and perhaps sleeping in the back of the truck is where it’s at.

Full circle? We’ll see! Catch you up a track, eh?


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John Rooth

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