Thursday, 3 January 2019

On the road again

Ever since I became a mother 13 years ago I have had a recurring dream in which I am either preparing to depart on a grand adventure - and must leave my children behind - or find myself already in the middle of one, exploring some far flung corner of the globe. I might be at the top of a mountain in South America, on the African savannah, or tripping along the cobblestoned streets of old Europe, when I suddenly remember that I have children to care for, left abandoned at home. The rest of the dream passes in a panic of long-distance phone calls to find babysitters for my forgotten flock and a seat on the first flight home.

The waking, rational part of my brain never for one moment considered walking out the door and leaving my kids for more than a night or two. I take motherhood as seriously as any I have any other goal I ever set myself. I want to raise wonderful, well-adjusted people with a strong sense of self and the knowledge that they are always loved. And I never believed that I could do that from a distance. But still, part of me yearned for the wide open spaces and possibilities that only travel brings.

I spent two years travelling the world solo as a young woman. I stepped out of my last exam as a university undergraduate on to a flight to Africa when I was just 19 and made my way through Europe, India and Latin America before settling back home in Western Australia. But I never really felt like I was finished. Travel just became harder to afford and achieve once the babies started to arrive. Travelling brought so many incredible people into my life - if only for a day or two. It helped me to make sense of the world, and my place in it. It was a better teacher than the best of my university lecturers.

This trip around Australia has been a long time coming. Grant and I talked about doing it eight years ago, when he had long-service leave from his government teaching job in the city. Then he was hit by a car cycling home from work one day, and spent two months in a wheelchair, and we realised we needed to get out of the city and back to the country, where we had always wanted to raise our family. And then I found out I was pregnant with our youngest son. Our daughter was born two years after we moved home to the south coast. So our travel plans were put on the back burner until long-service leave came around again.

And now, here we are, two weeks into a six-month long journey around our island home. No alarm-clocks, or school timetables to worry about. No definite plans. We just hitched up the caravan, got in the car, and started driving east. We spent Christmas on the beach in Streaky Bay, on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, and celebrated my birthday and the New Year in the Clare Valley. I am writing this from a beachside caravan park in Adelaide, which feels remarkably like the beaches I grew up on around Fremantle. Everything feels familiar, yet new and interesting. The boys are building sandcastles on the beach and Thea is catching up on sleep in the caravan. We are free, and life feels rich indeed.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Bremer Bay

It had been three years since we last visited Bremer Bay. And it's been two years since I wrote and published a blog post. But when a long weekend coincided with some gloriously sunny winter weather, conditions were perfect to scoot around the south coast and show the kids some whales. Last time we were there it rained all weekend and we spent most of our time cooped up inside the holiday house. This time the sun shone, the whales were plentiful, and we had the caravan park pretty much to ourselves.

Fitzgerald River National Park is one of those secret treasures protected by its very remote location - a long, long way from any regional centre. Flanked on either side by the tiny fishing and holiday towns of Bremer Bay and Hopetoun, its rocky, arid interior is swathed with wildflowers each spring. And the long, protective arm of Point Ann provides a sheltered nursery for Southern Right Whales and their calves each winter.

The wildflowers were just starting to come out when we visited on the weekend, and the bay was full of whales. We drove along the beach to get a closer look at the giants lolling just beyond the breakers. My five-year-old daughter stood up on her seat and stuck her head out of the window: eyes scrunched up against the glare; cold winter wind whipping through her hair. "This is the best holiday ever," she declared, as Grant told her to sit back down.

It was another test outing for our vintage caravan, too, before heading into the workshop this week to have a new fridge installed and some leaks patched up. We'll be hitting the road at the end of the year, caravan in tow, to drive around Australia.

I've kept this blog mostly because I knew I wanted to return to it as a record of our family adventure - which is starting to feel close now. So it feels like the right time to dust off this cosy corner of cyberspace to join us on the journey.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Windy Harbour

It was a beach holiday of sorts, but we didn't pack our bathers. Or our tent, or any of our camping gear for that matter. The forecast has been bleak these holidays, and our camping plans were scrapped in favour of a quick getaway around the coast; where we enjoyed one day of glorious sunshine between hailstorms.

Windy Harbour was surprisingly tranquil the morning after our arrival, and we walked on the empty beach and played cricket in the sunshine out the back of our beach shack. Back through the trees and around the twisting curves of the Warren River we drove until we emerged on the great drifts of snowy white sand dunes that are piled up against the forest near the river's mouth.  We leapt and rolled down the steepest of the dunes, getting rather dizzy and disoriented in the process, then piled back into the car for a bumpy ride to the beach where the boys staged an impromptu foam party in the waves. Thea kicked around in the tannin stained waters of the river mouth and Quinn drew circles around every thing he could find on the beach that came from the sea.

After a stormy night the ocean was transformed into a broiling mass of turbulence and white caps. The wind turbine over the settlement's tiny store was spinning so fast it looked like it was ready to launch from its post and cartwheel away over the fishermen's houses and holiday shacks. We drove out to Point D'Entrecasteaux and watched the sea foaming on both sides of the peninsula, then turned the car around and headed for home, stopping to walk through the karri forest in Walpole when the rain let up for a little while.

I adore Windy Harbour. I have a soft spot for shack towns, and love to wander around picking out my favourite and imagining what I would do with it if it was mine. There aren't many places left like it now, although they used to be dotted up and down the coast. None of us really wanted to leave, as bleak and stormy as it had become. With a log fire and a pile of boardgames back at the shack we could happily have stayed for a week. We'll be back.

Friday, 9 September 2016

snake mountain

It hasn't warmed up enough for the snakes to start coming out of their winter hibernation. So Darcy made sure he packed a rubber one for our hike up the mountain. Endless fun was had planting it just ahead of us on the path, or in the low hanging branches of a tree to fall on unsuspecting heads.

We had the mountain track all to ourselves on the last pupil free day of winter. The boys each carried their own pack this time, but I still wore Thea on my back for a good part of the way up, and the whole way back. Up and down, up and down she climbed; in and out of her sling. Stopping to eat corn crackers and peanut butter on the granite outcrops, and paddle in the icy puddles left by the winter rain. I lifted her in front of me like a rock wallaby for the last steep incline, hopping up the slippery slopes. It wasn't quite the top, but it was good enough for us.

Coming back down I swore it was the last mountain I would carry her up, as my back groaned in complaint. We refilled our water bottles from a gnamma hole, collected ants for Lewis' ant farm and twisted tiaras from tendrils of sundew. Six hours on the mountain - a full school day of walking, with some history, biology and snakes thrown in.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Red Dirt

I'm trying to hold on to that sense of expansiveness that comes with a break in routine and an open horizon. But it is hard not to feel hemmed in when most of my days of late have been spent wrapped in layers of wool; hot water bottles and rugs placed strategically around my body and the heater struggling to keep our house just warm enough. The photos help my body to remember a warmer time and place, where anything seemed possible.

We washed a week of salt water and sand from our skin in an artesian hot tub, then smoked ourselves in front of the campfire, roasting apples and jacket potatoes and marshmallows on sticks. We climbed to the highest point in the Murchison and looked across the vast plains, where burrowing bees build little nests in the ground from the red dirt. The kids tore around in a frenzy of excitement when they awoke to find their tent capped with frost, a taste of what was waiting for us back home.

There has been snow on the mountains again this week. One day I'll drag the kids up there to play in the faint dusting that falls once or twice each year. Right now, keeping warm is more of a priority. I'm baking bread, simmering soup, and filling little bellies with warm citrus puddings and hot lemon drinks. And I'm writing, slowly but surely finding the words to tell this story.