Bush Kids

Children and Nature

About Pauline

Getting out there whatever the obstacles….

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One of the things I had forgotten about living ‘up north’ is just how limiting the intense heat can be. The mild summer temperatures of our home in south eastern Australia are compatible with outdoor activities at virtually any time of year, even though the bitter Winters require some getting used to. Here in the tropics, with temperatures of unvarying stinking heat for 6 months of the year, and the added bonus of biting creatures at every turn, outdoor adventures can be quite a challenge.

For us, this stint of living in a city and not having our own bush on our very doorstep has increased the importance to get out adventuring in wild places, whatever the weather. Being in the bush is a priority for us as a family, and, for each of us in our own way, fundamental to our wellbeing.

Much of the bush in the Tropics is completely inaccessible at this time of year; roads are cut off or impassable, the country is damp and boggy, mozzies are everywhere, and higher water levels in the watercourses  mean that saltwater crocs could be anywhere. It is so hot, so access to swimming holes is essential. But the high likelihood of sharing the water with a ranging saltie narrows the options even further. It also means that the few safe waterholes within easy reach of town can be very busy, and we don’t like to share with crowds of people if we can help it.

There have been other obstacles too. We’ve been hit hard by illnesses as our immune systems adjust to the different range of bugs of our new environment. We seem to have had everything from constant ear infections (from all the swimming and moist humid conditions) to low level pneumonia and chicken pox. I broke a rib in two places and our car was stolen. Our run of misfortunes seemed to go on and on. This made it even harder to get some traction on our mission to get out of town.

Determined to overcome these obstacles, we have persevered. Finding a means of getting out exploring is absolutely imperative for us. In spite of broken ribs and pox-covered kids, we sought out a few likely croc-free places higher up watercourses; places often requiring a journey of several hundred kilometres and a hot exposed hike to get into. But the effort is always worth it. Our time spent swimming in shady creeks or jumping into white water rapids was restorative and greatly needed, a salve to all the demands of the last few months.

Here are some of our discoveries:Spectacular waterfalls from the top of the escarpment
Tiered pools to swim in, and rapids to shoot down
Paperbark boats to race downstream
Shallow creeks to wade along looking for fish to catch in our netsCascading holes of deep emerald for snorkelling

Rocks fit for mermaids

Quiet calming places to spend the day in, reading and swimming, eating cake and recovering.

In the Tropics

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An extremely hot ‘wet season’ has accompanied us as we adjusted to our stint back in the Tropics. During what is reported to be the hottest wet season on record, Darwin has experienced negative rainfall — more atmospheric evaporation than downpour due to the exceptionally hot conditions. The daily temperatures are mostly around 36 degrees, with a heat index (factoring in the intense humidity) of around 42 degrees. Whilst we have had some impressive wet season cloud build up and sweltering humidity, the monsoon – which brings such cooling welcome relief and respite – was no where to be seen. It’s been a Wet without a wet.

Staying cool in these conditions is a challenge. For my mountain kids, adjusting to the relentless heat has made for plenty of red raced irritability and exhaustion. Nights are only a degree or two cooler than the day time temperatures, and this has added another excuse to the kids’ repertoire of why they can’t get to sleep at bedtime….’it’s too hot to sleep’. It’s true, even a sheet feels hot.

Cold showers, icy water, and many many swims in the pool are essential to lower core body temperatures. We go from the pool to underneath the ceiling fans and back to the pool, then repeat, repeat, repeat. Then another swim or cool shower before bedtime. Nightswims in the dark are one of our very favourite things.

But there are also spectacular coloured sunsets, and lime and papaya and pineapple and rambutan. Skies lit by lightning, the smell of jasmine and frangipani, and the plaintiff sound of curlews calling at night. Living close to the equator is sticky and sweaty, specially when the rains don’t come. But different places always have new sights sounds and smells to offer, and this tropical town is a sensory feast.

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The 52 Project: a portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2016.

This week we camped with my two oldest friends and their kids on the Murray River, cherished days of endless swimming, playing cards, and jumping off the jetty. We watched our children, who don’t see each other often as we all live in different states, get along with one another like the closest of cousins.
Cass and Dash: a last swim and a quiet paddle in the river at sunset

Jem: we discovered the adrenalin junkie in him – wanted to go faster and faster on the biscuit
Scarlett: learning the safety signals for water boat fun on the river

new year, new adventures

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Our New Year tradition is to camp, very simply, on our own place. We load the ute with kids and food, swags and champagne and head down to our creek. At sunset by the fire, one by one, we share and write down our highlights of the passing year, as well as something we are looking forward to and something we would like to do better. Most of all the kids love hearing what their mum and dad would like to improve on.

This new year is bringing with it some big changes for our family. We are leaving our home in the mountains for a year to head north to work on a project there. My youngest babies will be starting school, and I will be working full time. John is combining bits of work with some study and taking over more of the domestic stuff/kid wrangling while I am at work. We are going to be living in an urban environment (even the Darwin is hardly your usual city), and I have all sorts of concerns about how we are going to compress our unruly spread-out country ways into a smaller, denser, more structured life.

But we have consciously chosen to live in an area which has easy access to natural spaces, to make the transition easier on us all. We are looking forward to enjoying the conveniences of town life for a while, especially being close to school and extra-curricular activities (instead of the usual 100km round trip). We are also excited about opportunities to explore the bush of the tropical north, and to keep alive our connections to people and places there. Our eldest two boys were born here, so instead of it being just a part of their history, they will now have the chance to make it an active part of their lives.

Still, there will be lots of challenges, not least missing our home and the land our children have grown up on for most or all of their lives. Even though we are currently on the road, en route to our new life, I already feel a deep yearning for what we have left behind. It will be a year of plenty of challenges as we adjust to a very different life, but also, I hope, one which will enable us to continue adventuring, as we always have.

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Last of the 52 Project for this year.
Scarlett: all she wanted for Christmas was a doll she could take in the bath. She went for a swim in the dam too, and may never be quite the same colour again.

Dash: in his element, leaping and climbing and exploring the walls of the gorge, and following a water dragon a bit too close to the edge (best not to watch)

Jem: watching the last of the light after swimming in the silky waters of this river gorge

Cass: spending a last few happy hours with his best friend before we set off on our northern adventure. 

Light on the River

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The lead up to Christmas in our part of the world is busy and full, just like anywhere else. But year after year, I am thankful that our experience of Christmas is made up of a round of meaningful celebrations and community gatherings, and that we are able to avoid getting caught up in a commercial Christmas frenzy.

At home, much-loved seasonal traditions continue to generate much excitement. The kitchen table is constantly  covered in scraps from various Christmas crafting, baking and making, and behind closed doors there are numerous secret little projects going on.

At our local Christmas party, held in an old timber hall in the middle of a paddock, Santa arrived this year on horseback and families sit down to a shared dinner while the kids climb the water tank and play in the shallows of the river.

I steal out for early runs while little people are still asleep, and drink in the scent of eucalyptus in the brief cool and quiet of morning, before the heat of a summer’s day arrives. At the end of another day of Christmas preparations we all pile into the back of the ute, and head to the dam for a swim to cool off.

At this time of year I am profoundly thankful for the abundance of our lives. I am thankful for the generosity and kindnesses of neighbours and friends. I am thankful for the joyous wild life my children lead, and for the great love within our home and our family. I am thankful for this place we live and for its beauty. I am thankful, too, that amidst all this I can stop for a moment, and watch the last of the evening light fade on the river.

Peace and love to you this Christmas!

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The 52 Project: a portrait of my children, once a week, every (most) weeks, in 2015.Scarlett: she loves pretty things but you can also rely on her to return muddier, wetter, and dirtier than all her brothers!

Dash: feeling around on the bottom of the river bed with his toes to collect freshwater mussels.Jem: fishing for slime with his feet

Cass: leaping from boulder to boulder across the river at sunset