We had tried camping once before. That Saturday night under the stars in January ended up as the sort of disaster you spin as a good dining-out yarn long before the swag is rolled. The chops were cooked on ashes, ants infiltrated our swag, flies woke us before the sun and we ended up wedged between two industrial toolboxes.
So we slept and ate poorly, drank far too much and broke a fishing rod. And in case you are wondering the we is my one-time jackaroo boyfriend and myself.
There was something about the stars that night that stopped our enthusiasm for camping from lagging like a helium balloon in the sun.
We set out again a few months later. This time lists were made. The new hotplate made it into the ute and no fishing rods were smashed in the wood-gathering section of the evening. It was all pretty blissful for a while, until we arrived at the camp spot. The flies were thinker than chilled vegemite.
I don’t want to sound like a woose about the flies. Ben told me they’d be good for my patience. I screamed at them and shut myself in the car. A dose of Aeroguard to the face shut me up, briefly.
We sat companionably at our lines, waiting, waiting, waiting for a yellow belly to jump on the end. I began to think the fishing was a conspiracy. Perhaps the flies had concocted the elaborate ruse with the fish to get us to sit still on the side of the bank so they could maul our faces.
I pride myself on camping cred.
My first camp was in a Bedford van when I was three-months old. Occasionally I imagine my mother birthing me in a tent. Certainly my uncle loves to tell me I was conceived in that van. What I mean is, camping and I go together like cheese and tomato on scummy bread that is only good for toasting.
There is something inherently romantic about removing yourself from civilisation to battle against the harsh elements with the help of every modern gadget imaginable. It can be better than sorbet at the Eiffel Tower.
But on a riverbank near Quilpie last week there was no gadget for the bloody flies. I found myself dreaming longingly of a bee-keeper’s gauze hat. Ice cream and a trip to Paris didn’t seem so horrid.
Of course the flies only lasted until the ocre sunset coloured the horizon across the river. My rugged boyfriend rubbed a few sticks together and sparked a blaze for our snags to be burnt on.
I sipped on a lukewarm ale in appreciation. Merlot was sloshed into a plastic green glasses and all thoughts of flies left our minds. It was bliss. And then an almost-full moon began peeking through the gum trees behind the fire. At that stage I would have probably turned my nose up at a trip to France.
The token dog on the camping expedition, Boots, was wandering in and out of the creek, liberated from the shackles of small-town living. Mud caked higher and higher up the legs he would shake all over us later on.
Amongst the wining and dining there was a latent fear at the back of my mind, similar to the fear of needing to pee on long bus trips with grumpy drivers. What about the mozzies?
We thought the wind would keep them away and bunkered down in a swag, minus the mozzie net, to watch the stars and forget about the fish-less fishing lines in the water.
That move was probably as smart as putting a box of tissues in the washing machine with your best black dress.
By the time the mozzies woke us the moon was high above. My skin felt like bubble wrap and the notorious whine of malevolent insects became ubiquitous.
The mozzie net was installed but he hogged it and my flesh became the feasting zone. There was no bringing that net back to my side. Then Boots came on over, desperate for company now that slapping noises were coming from the swag. With one easy movement he spat creek sludge all over the useless mozzie net.
“If you pack all the gear up I’ll drive you home,” Ben said with a note of exasperation at my tossing, turning, complaining, slapping and generally whiney disposition.
“If you pack up all the gear I’ll drive you home,” I replied with less maturity than a three-year-old in a beauty contest.
So we ended up watching the moon in the rear view mirror and sleeping soundly with the air conditioner blowing any nasty insects away. Packing up fishing lines in the middle of the night is no-ones idea of fun.
I began to think our camping trips were doomed. My dreams of exploring Australia with a swag and a hot plate seemed as likely as my old car passing rego this year.
Then, divine intervention.
Easter stepped in and I was posted to cover the Eromanga rodeo. There aren’t many places to stay out there and my reporting duties extended beyond sunset so the swag was rolled out again. It’s widely understood that it never rains in Eromanga. It’s apparently the furthest town from the sea in Australia. But we had about 30mm on Easter Saturday. Typical.
Miraculously we clipped up the swag, avoided the left-hand side on the bottom that was waterlogged and had our first good sleep under canvas. Perhaps the most blissful part was seeing the poor sodden suckers who hadn’t zipped up their canvas the morning after. They have so much to learn.