By Ellen Hill, Deep Hill Media
Burnt-out, cranky and desperate for solace to rediscover what it is to be a family, we packed the hatchback to the ceiling with just enough breathing room for Son & Heir and aimed for the coast.
We were so eager to leave behind the constant bbbbrrring of the phone, ping of the tablet and cha-ching of the hard-earned cash leaving the house that we set off in the dark at 3.30am.
Our pre-dawn escape turned out to be a fantastic inadvertent decision: with gloriously traffic-free freeways, we had covered a chunk of distance by sunrise.
When we pulled into Port Macquarie on the mid-North Coast of NSW for breakfast. a few bleary-eyed tradies and annoyingly beautiful bodies smugly jogging along the waterfront were the only human encounters while we chowed into our bi-annual takeaway food brekky.
Just as we were beginning to flag, the hatchback was bouncing along a worn dirt track like an overburdened black beetle into Illaroo Beach on the far north coast of NSW between Coffs Harbour and Grafton.
We drove through the gates, reveling in familiar sights, feeling the oppression of worldly cares lifting from our hearts – until our gaze lifted, the rose tints slipped away and we were rudely confronted with reality.
Rows of overlapping tent lines, 4WDs littering the trackside, naked children trudging towards the beach and their undies flapping from makeshift clothes lines lay before us and the whiff of 50 barbecues sizzling in the summer sun hung in the salt-laden air.
After 10 hours on the road it was too late to turn back. At that stage we would be hard pressed to find an alternative campsite either.
We ended up pitching camp in a perfect spot on a little rise at the back of the campground next to the bush with plenty of room for a large tent and a fire. By the time the hammock and clothes line were strung in front it had become our private den, where we stayed for two weeks of blissful unwashed solitude.
Our contentment to live alongside the masses in dishevelled harmony got us thinking: Why do millions of Aussies abandon their comfortable air-conditioned suburban palaces in search of a seaside Nirvana they know in reality is a tortuous day-long journey in the stinking heat with a 4WD crammed with squabbling offspring, blow-up beach toys and bikes precariously tied with odd bits of rope to the back obscuring the rear view?
Renting a small patch of ground under the stars for $350 a fortnight means you can afford to take a cruise up the mighty Clarence River on the M.V. Mirigini from the boat ramp at Iluka because you haven’t had to shell out $350 a night for a hotel room.
It means you can buy the kids an ice cream after a day at the beach because you’ve bought healthy food from the supermarket and cooked it yourself on the barbie rather than splurged on takeaway food or expensive restaurant fare.
While the face of the Aussie beachside camping trip has changed, the spirit certainly hasn’t:. Thousands of Aussies join the mass migration up the east coast of the continent in search of surf, sand and sun, a simpler life, a breath of fresh air and re-connection with human beings they are supposed to share a life with.
From the swimming sessions, meal times, ducking into town and strolls at dusk, the campsite moves as one.
When one kid hears “Ja-ack! Tea’s ready! Tell Chloe to tell `Arry to tell Teagan tea’s ready!”, every kid knows it refers to them and, with a grumble and towels dragging on the ground, they trudge barefoot through squeaky sand still baking hot from the 40 degree sun and head for the family trough.
With vast skies above and heaving water gobbling up the heavenly bodies in front, there is space enough for all at a beachfront campsite.
Even when the cowboys of the sand in their new 4WDs tear down the beach just out of reach of the waves, even when generations of campers have bagged the ultimate spot since 1952 and even when the grey nomads park a lumping great SUV with its whopping great aerial and pull-out veranda in the middle of the ground, there is space for all.
Like a flock of cantankerous cockatoos in a tree, the family groups squawk and squabble over the food. They hustle and huddle at the showers and grizzle and groan over chores. But they do it together.
When myriad electronic brain drainers and conversation killers every family is infected with eventually expire, there is no alternative but to talk to each other, play games, physically exercise, explore the surrounds and, wait for it …do absolutely nothing but sit around the campfire.
Camping is a fantastic leveller. Yeah, the neighbours might have a new Range Rover to your ancient hatchback, they might have a you-beaut camp dunny and a portable oven but you all look the same in the water. Everyone smells putrid after a few days. Everybody blisters like an overcooked fried egg white in the sun.
It’s cliche for sure, but nothing beats a dreamy sunset walk along the beach with your love while the kids you made together skip and squeal in the shallows in the distance.
Nothing matters when kids slave away all day in the blistering sun on a sandcastle and moat or digging a hole to the centre of the earth, only for the sea to wash away their progress in one spiteful wave on the next inbound tide. The ritual is repeated on the morrow over and over again and committed to the memory bank to be savoured when the complications of adulthood cloud a difficult day.
Stone the crows! It’s the Aussie way `init? You’re just not `Strayan if you haven’t taken the family camping, had a line of undies and cozzies strung between the guy ropes and eaten a sandy sanga in the salty haze of surf.
So grab a beer, douse yourself in mozzie spray and join Gazza, Bazza and Dazza at the barbie while Shaz, Maz and Kaz giggle and natter over glasses of bubbly and barefoot kids beg the dog to give up the cricket ball in the last rays of a tourism brochure kind of day and embrace the great outdoors.
Here’s some tips on how to escape the rat race with the rat race:
– Change your travel time or route to avoid becoming entangled in the mass migration
– However, be prepared for traffic and factor travel times accordingly, scheduling meal and rest breaks to coincide with major bottlenecks such as Macksville on the north coast of NSW to avoid frustration and stress
– Pare back the luggage, especially clothes
– Buy your own healthy food and engage the whole family in preparing meals
– Embrace the crowds as an opportunity to meet new friends
– Focus on picturesque, quirky and unique sights rather than hysterical billboards counting down the kilometres to the next fast food restaurant
* Deep Hill Media stayed at Illaroo Campground in Yuraygir National Park at their own expense.
Opera can’t be fun, sexy and a little bit naughty. Can it? Oh yes, it can.
Fresh from a sell-out season on London’s West End, cabaret-style show The Carnival plays the new auditorium at the Fairmont Resort MGallery, Leura, every Friday night until mid-November.
A stunning blend of opera, classical music and circus acts, it is a first for the Blue Mountains and sweeps aside any false notion of predictability and mustiness in Australia’s original holiday destination.
If The Carnival is an indication of the regular schedule of events promised by Fairmont general manager Geoff York, then the nightlife of the upper Blue Mountains will soon be the place to be.
Audiences know from the first note that this is no traditional piece when singer Keara Donohoe warbles through an aria repeating the lyrics “it sucks to be me’’.
The show features an all-female cast and is a very intimate introduction to Australian composer and The Carnival co-creator Chloe Charody.
Crazy characters from her imagination manifest themselves on stage and reach out to the audience, crossing that invisible boundary between the stage and the audience and stream up the aisles.
Violinist and co-artistic director Sonja Schebeck doubles as a flame eater and Donohoe and fellow songbird Michaela Leisk belt out tunes suspended from hoops. These divas have the voices of La Stupenda but the bodies of Mariah Carey.
The show centres around the beautiful young Mischa unencumbered by a job and elated by her impending marriage to a wealthy stockbroker. Her world is turned upside down when a shock encounter at her family’s annual masquerade ball reveals that her Romeo has a Romeo of his own.
Distraught and alone, Mischa stares into her bedroom mirror. Through it, a parade of bizarre characters and mythical creatures step and take her on an adventure, after which she is reborn a woman of virtue and strength.
Operatic-burlesque-music-meets-carnival in style, The Carnival debuted in London’s West End with a sell-out season in March 2011, again in October 2011, and went on to run a series of successful shows in Australia.
Charody hopes the circus tricks, outrageous costumes and more modern storylines will help entice a new generation of opera lovers – not to mention the spiciness of pole dancing.
The controversial dance genre performed by Bailey Hart in the first act is very PG, romantic rather than sexy, and the aerial tissue routines stunningly beautiful.
Just as the temperature on-stage threatens to boil over, Hart returns to cool things down with her white and silver leotard and long red hair tied in a casual ponytail, a picture of girlish innocence.
Fairmont general manager Geoff York said he was excited to bring the work, which has been hailed “a showcase of genius’’, to the Blue Mountains and looked forward to a regular schedule of events at the hotel in the future.
“This work is a small-scale production with large-scale theatricality, combining classical musicians and circus artists in a bold new show that will delight audiences of all ages.
“The show really pushes the boundaries of theatre and will help to attract visitors from all over Australia to the Blue Mountains.’’
Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon Tourism chairman Randall Walker said: “We would not have a tourism industry unless operators are prepared to take a risk and make an investment. I commend the owners of Fairmont Resort for investing in bringing The Carnival to the Blue Mountains, it is a new and colourful genre of culture.’’
The Carnival will be staged at The Fairmont Resort, Sublime Point Rd, Leura, each Friday evening until November 16. Tickets: $43.50 adults, $33.50 concession, $23.50 children (10-14 years). Bookings and information: http://www.foxtix.com.au. Accommodation inquiries: (02) 4785 0000.
By Ellen Hill Photos: David Hill
HOW do you make a global icon?
Take a swamp rich with flora and fauna and wait until it all dies. Squish down all the rotting bodies in layers and leave them to bake in the sun for endless millennia until they have morphed into coal and rock.
Then slice the “lasagne’’, push up wedges, let the elements mould them and allow plants and animals to reclaim the new-look landscape.
That’s the surprisingly effective explanation Wild At Heart Safaris eco-guide Keiron Sames gives visitors on his guided walks through the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area at Katoomba.
The tale will be told to those who take part in an eco-tour during the annual Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon Tourism Festival of Walking (October 6-14), during which visitors and locals will be encouraged to put their best foot forward and explore the wild beauty and unique streetscapes of some of the most popular locations in the world.
Promoting fresh air and the grand backyard of the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon region, the festival will feature treks and challenging bushwalks, history tours combined with local wine and cheese sampling, ambles through the day and walks at night, garden tours, singles walks, indigenous experiences, family events and child’s eye view walks.
It will be held at locations throughout the region including Jenolan Caves, the Glow Worm Tunnel near Lithgow and Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah, as well as Blue Mountains towns.
Blue Mountains, Lithgow & Oberon Tourism chairman Randall Walker said the festival was “a fantastic opportunity to explore the unique beauty of this magnificent World Heritage Area’’.
“It’s also a chance to rediscover well known paths through themed walks that highlight the region’s history and gastronomical experiences.’’
He tells it at Honeymoon Point about halfway along his two-hour long easy grade walk while the tourists point their camera phones at the endless vista of trees and cliffs and try to grasp the magnitude of one million square hectares of genuine wilderness.
Every few paces along the track, Sames stops to share a titbit of geological or agricultural trivia (“the process of the claystone being undercut and the land falling off is called `sapping’,’’ did you know), point out an interesting plant species or magnificent view or “shush’’ the group to listen to a bird call.
Tall, slim and super fit, Sames has been an eco-guide for about a decade, a role which satisfies his urge to share the environment with others and encourage them to be more considerate of it.
He peppers his tours with questions encouraging people to think and learn from the experience.
“Why do you think this is called the Blue Mountains?’’ he asks. “Does anyone know why the Blue Mountains are blue?’’
The tourists shuffle their feet and look at each other expectantly, each hoping someone else will have the answer.
Sames lets them squirm for a moment before relieving the tension with an explanation of the Rayleigh scattering affect.
Caused by the elastic scattering of light or other electromagnetic radiation by particles much smaller than the wavelength of the light, it can happen when light travels through transparent solids and liquids but is most prominently seen in gases.
In the case of the Blue Mountains trees, especially eucalypts, “sweat’’ and release oil into the air, which magnifies the Rayleigh scattering giving the mountains their blue hue.
He pounces on some yellow flowers (a type of pea from the Fabaecea family, apparently). Shrubby in appearance, “often they are the first to regenerate after an upheaval like bushfire’’.
Next thing, everyone’s huddled around a shrub, bent over double to see the tiny pores on the leaves, through which the plant breathes like skin.
“Anywhere you go in the bush have a look, touch may be nice if it’s appropriate, but never take anything,’’ Sames says, striding off towards a towering fern.
We soon learn that: a) only the top of the plant is living; b) what appears to be the trunk is actually the roots; c) it looks the same on the inside as the outside; d) its pithy inner material was an important source food supply for the indigenous Gundungurra people; and e) the plant grows higher than others so can reach the light source from the sun and its canopy catches falling leaves from other plants which decompose and feed it.
We move onto a scene unique to the Blue Mountains – a hanging swamp on the side of a hillside, and Sames explains how it is created before seamlessly moving onto another topic, then the next.
During the next five minutes we learn that the mountain ash eucalypt is the tallest flowering tree in the world, the sight of eucalypts shedding great strips of bark like a snake skin is a spring giveaway; gum leaves hang down (“They’re like: `Don’t let me get hot and lose water’ ’’); and of the 111 species of eucalypts, 25 per cent are found in Australia and 25 per cent of them are found in the Blue Mountains.
We move down to a temperate rainforest, which used to be the dominant plant community when Gondwanaland was all one land and the environment was moister.
“This area is a living example of that, and that evolutionary process is the specific reason why we were given World Heritage status,’’ Sames says.
We amble up a few shallow steps and are surprised to find ourselves back at the roadside, much the wiser and already missing Sames’ easy company.
- Visit www.festivalofwalking.com.au for more information about Wild At Heart Safaris guided eco-tours and numerous other activities during the Festival of Walking.