Bush Kids

Children and Nature

Category Archives: Bush Camping

The Easter Bilby

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe camped in a sheltered clearing in our back paddock over Easter, a little space protected on all sides by granite boulders and tall gums. It was the perfect place to for an early morning egg hunt, which are hidden in our family by the Easter Bilby, not the Easter Bunny.

We switched to the Easter Bilby when our kids were tiny, so they have always associated egg delivery with this Australian native marsupial (rather than a feral pest). We love this  Easter Bilby book which carries a message of conservation, as well as the Easter message of new life: it describes how rabbits became a feral species in Australia with massive impacts on our native animals and on the land. Using the Easter Bilby as a symbol of Easter has been one of the first ways we have introduced our kids to concepts such as endangered animals, environmental threats, and damage to biodiversity by invasive species. We talk about these issues every year at Easter; there is lots of information about bilbies at Save the Bilby Fund.

We wove an Easter nest of eucalyptus and moss, decorated with unusual shaped leaves and feathers and bark. On Easter morning we discovered a map in the nest, left by the Bilby, showing outcrops and burrows and other hiding spots. Maps (with egg locations marked) are another cherished element of our Easters: every year becoming slightly more complex, moving from basic representations of our familiar home environment to gradually encompass details of scale, direction and basic navigation. Maps are a fantastic way for kids to develop a sense of place, scope and perspective: and representations of their known world are the best place to start.

Maps, chocolate, friends and family, time for climbing and exploring, the flames of a fire to stare into, hot cross buns toasted over the coals, and warm swags to cuddle up in at night: the elements of a perfect Easter weekend.

What defines the perfect Easter for you?

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Camping at Home

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This New Year we turned down offers to go elsewhere and opted to spend the time camping at home, five minutes down the hill along our little creek. This year I will be trying to simplify our family life (and often complex family logistics) as much as possible, and in the spirit of this new approach the decision to choose the easier option was made. Instead of hours of planning and packing and organisation and hustle, we had time for relaxing together. There was time for swimming in the creek, reading and drawing by the fire, collecting tadpoles and yabbies, spotting different coloured dragonflies and picking wildflowers. And as you can see from the happy faces above, the kids did not feel they were missing out because we chose the simpler option. It is a choice I will be striving to make more often in 2015.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPC310079On New Year’s Eve we sat around the campfire and shared our thoughts on the year just past, and our hopes for the year ahead. We wrote down the best thing from 2014, what we hope to do in 2015, and what we could improve on for 2015. We decorated our little scrolls with gum leaves, flowers, feathers and grasses and symbolically threw them into the flames of the fire as we welcomed in the New Year.

Camping at home is set to become a New Year family tradition. So simple, and yet so very good.

Honouring connections to place

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The country north of Mt Isa and south of the Gulf of Carpentaria is mostly black soil plains. The country is harsh, exposed and blisteringly hot. The limestone plateau which rises in the western parts, though, contains numerous freshwater springs which in turn give rise to permanent river systems: Lawn Hill Creek, the Gregory River and its tributaries, and the O’Shannassey. These emerald corridors of freshwater are home to an incredible array of riverine vegetation: spiky pandanas, tall Leichhardt trees, figs, cabbage palms, ghost gums and paperbarks, and lower down, ferns, bulrushes and water lilies. Birdlife and aquatic creatures are abundant, and sitting quietly on the edges we observed constantly changing parades of life, both within and around the water. At night we caught cherapin (huge freshwater yabbies) and shone our torches on the passing parade of fish, harmless file snakes, turtles and more.

Having worked extensively throughout this country with Waanyi traditional owners of the area, we were fortunate to be able to camp in and visit places that few others ever see. Our camp on the banks of the river in a spot known only to insiders was hands-down our favourite camp of our trip. Upstream a series of cascades flowed towards the quieter water adjacent to our camp, which had both shallow and deeper sections to cater perfectly to the varying swimming abilities of the kids, and downstream the river junctioned with a smaller side creek and opened up into a beautiful broader hole.

We swam all day, coming out only when we needed food or to toast ourselves in the sunshine before diving into the emerald waters once more. The kids expended so much energy they all ate adult-sized meals and submitted easily each night to deep slumbers in their swags.

We stayed here for a week – longer than any other place on our entire trip, and there was time for fishing, baking damper, colouring in, birdwatching and exploring up and down the river. We ventured up to the station homestead to visit friends, returning laden with freshly baked anzac biscuits, station beef, and armfuls of fresh garden produce, including even red papaya! We also visited nearby Lawn Hill Gorge, and paddled in canoes up the incredible gorge to swim in the falls amongst the turtles and abundant fish.

There is no doubt that this country has found its way into the hearts of our children, and that the connection I have to the places and people here will continue with them. It makes those thousands of kilometres of travelling so worth while. Honouring my connections with place has become, for me, one of the most important ways of fostering my own children’s attachment to nature. And you don’t necessarily have to travel thousands of kilometres to do it: many of the strongest ties we have ourselves can be found in the natural environment around our home, or at places nearby. You just have to get out there – together.

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Road Trip: Desert Waters

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The Coopers Creek is a long way from anywhere – more or less in the centre of the Australian continent. Surrounded on all sides by relentless sand dunes or rock-strewn gibber plains, the Coopers is no conventional watercourse – something which makes it all the more remarkable and oasis-like. With a massive catchment area in the Queensland Channel Country, it is fed by rain which falls thousands of kilometres away and drains via a myriad of arterial channels into the inland. The Coopers Creek is really a series of changing billabongs. When it flows, the system fills the channels, waterholes and swamps of desert, and in exceptional years, disgorges along the channels into the salt lakes of Lake Eyre. When it does not flow, all but a few permanent waterholes are reduced to empty channels and muddy holes. It is a place of extremes – of bounteous floods and protracted droughts – an icon of the ‘boom and bust’ cycles which characterise much of our dry interior.

These few permanent waterholes are the most reliable water source for many hundreds of kilometres, and as a result, they are teeming with life. Our camp beneath red gums and coolibahs by the waters edge became a raucous cacophony every evening as the trees filled with cockatoos, parrots and other birds. We watched waterbirds of innumerable types glide past. We fished for yellow belly and sooty grunter, and dug mussels out of the mud with our toes. There were wallabies at dusk drinking from the waters edge, and dingo tracks in the sand each morning.

With some big days of travelling behind us, we felt little urge to explore beyond little forays along the billabong in the new blow-up birthday boat. We swam, fished and paddled in the cool water. We ate simple meals of fish and damper. We talked a lot about the events of the Burke and Wills expedition, and what led them to perish here, in a place of such abundance.

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# Catching his own fish was a massive rush for Cassidy.

# The blow-up boat was great for floating along the waters.

# Billabong boy.

# Sooty grunter and damper on the coals.

# Grubby twins.

# Our very simple canvas bush shower strung from a coolibah tree and filled with water warmed on the fire.

# We found these freshwater mussels by squelching about in the sticky mud and feeling them with our toes.

# A monument commemorating the place at which the explorer Wills spent his final, exhausted days.

Road Trip: Bush Birthday

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToo excited to sleep, the almost-birthday boy stayed up very late, sitting around the fire with us and chatting about birthdays past. Finally he drifted off in the swag, and I sat up long after, watching his long strong limbs at rest in the firelight, marveling at the beautiful eight year old he has become.

We celebrated Cassidy’s birthday next to a creekbed in Milparinka: an abandoned mining ghost town in the north-west corner of NSW. We collected old bits of china and glass and other treasures from around the ruins we explored at sunrise as we waited for Dad to make the coffee, followed by presents, pancakes, and then the drive to Innamincka.

There is something about ruins. There is a reckless freedom in exploring the bare remains of buildings without the usual constraints (you can jump out of windows or climb up chimneys), and an unbounded freedom of the imagination to picture what kinds of stories were played out here.

After skittering across the gibber plains and over sanddunes we arrived and set up camp on the Coopers Creek near Innamincka: the ecologically significant system of waterholes where the fateful Burke and Wills expedition played out its tragic ending.

There was a swim in the wide waters of the Coopers, and then some clean clothes before we set off to the famous Innamincka pub for a birthday counter meal, birthday cake and some cool drinks (even a lemonade!! – a big treat around here!).

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