As soon as the weather warms up, it seems that an invisible alarm clock goes off to alert Aussie families that it is time to pitch a tent. Maybe it is by the ocean, in a caravan park with icy poles, pedal carts and school holiday programs. Maybe it is by a river, in a secluded national park site exclusive to those in the know.
I’m a victim of this magnetism too. Last weekend, propelled by the sudden summery sunshine of our first truly warm weekend in Sydney, I spent hours trawling through booked-out sites to look for a camping spot for the October long weekend. Having grown up camping most holidays, it got me thinking about why we love camping in this country.
It’s an escape
Exactly why we love camping so much in Australia is hard to pin down. In an article published by Australian Geographic, University of Melbourne PhD candidate Bill Garner suggests it is about the ancient allure of connecting with the natural world, thereby forging more meaningful social interactions. There is something special about stripping back the white noise of everyday life to listen to the backing track of birdsong, or the rustle of gum leaves, or the crackle of a campfire.
Garner also notes that the presence of coastal middens implies that First Nations communities would visit top seaside spots “year after year.”
Many families will return time and again to their tried and true campgrounds. Spots such as Seal Rocks and Jervis Bay’s Greenpatch are booked out months in advance by families who secure the same sites every year. There’s something nostalgic and stress-free about return visits to favourite holiday spots.
The author of the same article, Liz Ginis, has camped all her life. Her answer to why we love camping is that “family camping is about friendship cemented under a canvas ceiling.”
That has certainly been my experience. Camping in the Warrumbungles when we were little, my brothers and I made friends with a family who had children of similar ages. They subsequently stayed at our place on a visit to Sydney. Another time in the Flinders Ranges, one of my mum’s camp kitchen microwave brownie batches broke the ice with a pair of grey nomads who urged us to stop by their Queensland home if ever we headed that way. It was also food – this time a trade of chocolate bars for fresh oranges – that got us chatting and playing cards with another group of hikers on the Overland Track in Tasmania.
On one north-coast camping trip, a friend and I spent a solid hour struggling with the fly of the tent (it was on backwards) and hammering in the pegs with a plastic mallet. Emerging from his caravan, our camping neighbour offered us his mallet and helped secure our pegs for us. I’m sure it was a combination of generosity and irritation at our incessant hammering that prompted the act of kindness. Either way, we were very grateful. The sense of campsite camaraderie is another reason why we love camping in Australia. Comparing camper-trailers, swapping tips at the barbeque and recommending bush walks nearby is all part of the experience.