The Age’s opinion section is rolling out a series of summer pieces on the theme of ‘My Best, My First, My Worst’. These stories, penned by Age writers, range from humorous to poignant and thought-provoking tales of love, loss and summer fun.
A fundamental truth smacked me across the face as I retched into the undergrowth at a campsite by a beach on the Great Ocean Road: the idea of camping always outshines the reality.
Our memories erase the flies, the foraging animals raiding the bin, the stench of the toilet and the scrambling around for missing items.
At the tail end of a large family, I didn’t do much camping growing up. There were bushwalks, but backyard sleepovers in the old tent that Mum and Dad took to Europe in the 1960s was as close as we got to roughing it in the great outdoors.
Forays into the world of the tent during my teenage years helped toughen me up for the hardship to come. Visits to the farms of high school friends for binge-drinking sessions dressed up as camping trips.
Dips into the ball-shrinking waters of the Murray, intermixed with death-defying leaps from grain silos. The food was rudimentary: snags on a grill, bowls of Weet-bix for breakfast, but the focus for us 15-year-olds was booze and bongs.
My forays into the forest now lack the bacchanalian bravado of my youth. The days of dodging flaming debris from exploding deodorant cans and leaping through bonfires have given way to a chorus of reminders to the little people in my life: shoes off before entering the tent, wash hands, brush teeth, eat some fruit, don’t forget your hat … I’ve turned into the nagging parent camper.
The blistered feet of a teenage friend on my first summer away without the parentals now serves as a horror story to shock my kids into slathering on sunscreen.