DAVID COOK — 28 June 2013

Ah yes … the joys of camping in the Australian bush.

If you’ve lived somewhere like the UK you’re probably thinking it’s all sunshine and long sandy beaches here, but buy a camper trailer and you’ll soon discover rain is an integral part of the Australian camping experience.

It seems that no matter when you plan a trip away the blue yonder always manages to expel a bit of a downpour. Even in the middle of a drought. And because there’s two-fifths of nothing you can do about it, you either stay at home or learn to live with it.

The learning-to-live-with-it option involves three alternatives: pre-trip planning, actual on-site preparations or flapping around desperately as the rain falls, trying to fix those things that could’ve/should’ve been done on arrival when you were way too busy relaxing.

I always opt for the third.

We’ve found a bit of pre-trip planning that always works is to get out the bag that holds our gumboots and put it in the back of the car. Now it’s a big, bulky bag and it occupies space. Sure, you’re likely to spend half your time at camp moving this bag as you look for things in the car but I can guarantee you from years of experience, if you take the gumboots it
never rains.

On-site preparations can, and always probably should, include ensuring your canvas is tight and free of sagging, that ropes are tight, pegs have soundly driven into the ground and the awning slopes away from the main tent so water won’t run towards the zip, and so on. But hey, who has time for this when you’ve got everything unpacked and the wife’s opened a bottle of wine? And what about that mandatory post-arrival check to ensure the beer is cold?



Of course, one of the most significant things you can do after arrival is to scout the campsite and find a suitable location.

Never, ever, pick a depression. On a university field trip to Buchan (Vic) many years ago some of my fellow students, who were on exchange and had never slept under canvas — or nylon, for that matter — had set up their large tent in what was a wide and gently sloping depression about 50m across. You had to look hard to pick it out.

There had been significant rain in preceding weeks so the ground was already saturated, and the first night we were there it just poured. Violently. I woke in my one-man tent at dawn to find a small lake just below me. I thought it was very picturesque, with the blue nylon island in the middle. While I was watching the first of the three Celestials awoke, rolled over on his airbed and fell into about a metre of water. This created a significant wave which then toppled the
other two.



If you’re well prepared, the sound of rain on canvas can be restful, lulling you to sleep as if you’re in your mother’s arms, but for many it’s akin to switching on a floodlight. Statistically you’re more likely to leap from your bed and race around bringing in chairs, table, towels, the kids’ toys, clothing and anything else that shouldn’t be saturated, before madly zipping up the windows, tightening ropes and checking the slope on the canvas. The artful yet urgent act of pushing up bulging canvas — where rain has already collected a vast and threatening pool — is essential if you wish to avoid the impending waterfall(s) that will surely splash dirty water waist high in a kinetic frenzy.

If sleep is important, you may even have to add more walls or awning extensions in the dark soppy conditions (‘where are the rope/rod/poles/instructions?’). Even then you can discover what seemed a benign slope is now a raging torrent, channelling a fierce inundation through the middle of your campsite and eroding a gutter that threatens to snap your ankles the minute you drop your guard.

Breakfast later devolves from hearty bacon and eggs, with fried tomatoes, toast and coffee, to a furtive spooning of limp cereal as you huddle back away from the edge of the awning. Of course, you will have neglected to add the gumboots and instead will be forced to lace up wet boots or wear Crocs or thongs and wipe your drenched toes on a towel sitting lankly on the floor that progressively gets wetter and muddier.

And that questionable seam in the corner of the floor you’ve been meaning to look at for the past year or two will be leaking a muddy stream that will slowly gather under one of the kids’ airbeds and saturate the bedding hanging over onto the floor.

Sick of the whole mess, you may even pack
up in the rain, haphazardly chucking the wet poles and ropes into a tub and dragging heavy, wet canvas onto the top of the trailer while splaying mud down the front of your shirt — a shirt that’s invariably inside-out. As you tackle the four-hour drive home you’re left to take comfort that the snake’s mess beneath the cover will have to wait for a sunny day before you can dry the sodden canvas and sort through the Hades lying wretchedly in the tub.

Gee, camping can be so much fun.

Originally published in Camper Trailer Australia #64, April 2013.


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