When school holidays were coming, the list would be ticked off. Sleeping bags, tents, tarpaulins for over the tents, rubber sheets for under the tents, water containers, fishing rods, papoose, saucepans, cutlery, plates, cups, beakers, books, toys, barbeque tongs, matches, wine casks, food including a bewildering arrangement of breakfast cereals, potatoes, tinned sardines, tuna, some biscuits, crackers, cheeses, Bismarck herrings, sausages, some lollies (for during the car trip), Hanso-plast plasters, a solid supply of head-ache tablets, unguents for driver’s constipation, food poisoning and/ or for frequent and copious discharge of abnormal liquid faeces. Fly sprays, mosquito coils, sun tan oils, pink sun tan burn medication, mosquito screens for tent openings. Matches, swimming gear including boards and body surfing equipment. Spare fishing hooks, lines and weights. A fish scaling knife, fish filleting knife, a fish net, lemons for the oysters. Children and shorts, lots of clothing and spare shoes. Children’s friends, including James Crow and others. Finally, the esky to keep the milk in!
It was all put together with military order and discipline the day before. Each item would be ticked off carefully. After a few years we got a trailer to put it all in. This required another tarpaulin to put over it, in case the polystyrene surf boards would fly out. This then required a strong rope like netting to put over the tarpaulin to stop it from flapping. The car had to be fitted with a tow-bar. I often had severely bruised shins having walked around the van checking things and walking straight into the tow-bar. I would limp for the entire holiday.
When the children reached teen years we went over to the caravan owners side. No more tents! We were so over all the rigmarole of packing and unpacking of stuff. Many times we would have had downpours and packed up everything sodden. This then had to be spread out over the garden lawn back home in Balmain. The drying and storing took days and whatever rest and recreation we enjoyed during camping was soon soaked up in all this work. Our faces had become lined and crinkly. Camping became a chore after so many years. We needed rest from all that. We bought the caravan. It had a baffling name; As is, is! It was on-site and at a terrific spot overlooking the ocean. “Dad, dad shall we buy it”?
Before this new period, we always looked a bit down on caravan owners. Somehow they were not ‘real’ campers and not really people worthy of sitting around with at camp-fires. They even used to have antennas on the roofs of the vans and could be heard watching the Dick van Dyke show or worse, the hideous loud cackle of ‘I love Lucy’ infiltrating the Lantana and waking the Possums. I don’t really know how we made the transition from tent to caravan. Was it a mixture of hypocrisy and swallowing pride? Perhaps it was because we got to know a couple of ex coal miners suffering from ‘dusty lungs’. They lived permanently in caravans with large canvas annexes. A kind of happy mixture of both tents and caravans.
One of them we got to know as uncle Pudding. He was a rather shy man but very good with our kids. They loved him. He would go fishing with a mate who had a boat and give us part of his catch afterwards. Despite the condition of his lungs, he smoked ready rubs. I can still see him taking a pluck of tobacco out of its metal container, rub it in his hands while keeping the Tally-Ho tobacco paper sheet between his lips. He would roll his ciggy, lick the edge of his Tally-ho and light up. He kept his camp site scrupulously clean and the happy sound of his raking in the morning could be heard each day. For many years he was a figure known to us and many campers. But suddenly uncle Bill was gone. He had succumbed to ‘dusty lungs’.