IT'S been many years since I've been camping but for a decade or more back in the mid 80s and beyond, camping was king for my family.
It was a fun way to have regular holidays, the only affordable way with three young children.
We lived in Melbourne and discovered a friendly camping ground in the north of the state on the banks of the Murray River at Yarrawonga.
We loved that camping ground so much we convinced the owner to give us a permanent spot by the river and we bought a second-hand caravan and installed it there.
There could not have been a family in the country more happy with their slice of camping paradise.
With the clarity of hindsight and the removal of the rose-coloured glasses, I don't know what we found so attractive about that spot at Yarrawonga.
The river - or rather a lake that had formed from the river being dammed further upstream - was a mass of dead grey tree stumps rising eerily from the water like something out of a creepy horror movie.
Seeing as water-skiing was the biggest activity in the place, every boat ride was a dance with death as we steered a careful path through the tree stumps and hoped for the best. How we weren't impaled or de-crutched is a matter that keeps me awake now - but at the time, it was pure holiday heaven.
We would pack the car on as many weekends as we could and rush the three-hour drive to Yarrawonga and our beloved old caravan.
Easter was huge, the park brimmed with young families enjoying Easter-egg hunts and death-defying water-skiing trips. Even though our caravan was old and could not compete with some of the swish models around the camp, we went a step higher, built an annexe attached to the caravan complete with two bedrooms, a living area with room for a sofa, dining table, fridge and freezer.
We were the envy of the camp.
We made friendships over barbecues and bonfires and the memories are all good...mostly. Apart from the time the north of the state of Victoria was gripped in a mice plague. I recall it was after a drought.
It began with just a few pesky mice invading our luxury annexe and finding their way down the sofa, into beds, inside cupboards, the oven. Then the plague grew to biblical proportions and vast grey rivers of mice gushed through every centimetre of the campsite.
Before we packed up and fled, we left rat-poison in the van and the annexe. When we returned some months later we could not open the annexe door for the rotting mice bodies piled against it.
Then there was the time when the rain was so torrential for days it was impossible to even get to the toilet block. We made the children use a potty (I recall they were between 10 and 13 at the time) and you can imagine the joy in that.
We sat inside the luxury annexe as miserable as any camper in torrential rain, watching the lovely lawns outside merge with the lake to claim our eskies and float them away down the river.
But what would camping be without a few discomforts?
They could never outweigh the friendships formed, the easy casual family fun, and...most importantly...the precious memories made for our now adult children.
OP CAMP SPOTS:
- Fraser Island
- Moreton Island
- Somerset Dam
- Girraween National Park
- Carnarvon National Park
- Mount Barney National Park
- Eungella National Park
- Rainbow Beach
- Eurimbula National Park
- Border Ranges National Park
- South West Rocks
- Dorrigo National Park - Platypus Flat
- Yuraygir National Park
- Nightcap National Park