We’re firm believers that for kids to grow to love the bush, the outdoors and everything in it, they have to be exposed to the outdoors and everything it has to offer. And I don’t mean just once or occasionally, but more on a regular basis and in real life, not by looking at a TV or a computer screen.
But many people flinch at the drive to get to their favourite destination when there is a kid in tow. Generally, it’s the adults who have more of an issue with it than the kids. You just gotta get the kids into the groove of travelling as early as possible, we reckon.
It’s a long drive — Melbourne to Halls Creek via the Tanami — and we used to do it non-stop. Well, we stopped for fuel, nature and food, but that was all.
The ol’ 47 Series ‘Cruiser — not known for its speed, I gotta say and towing an offroad modified telecom trailer to boot — rattled its way across the blacktop and rough dirt, that was the Tanami in the mid 1980’s, in 51 hours. The drive north from Melbourne to Cairns (where our Cape York jaunts used to start back then) was quicker — 49 hours — but again it was non-stop except for the obligatory fuel and nature halts. Not a record time by any means, but pretty darn good for when you have a young kid on board.
Trent had started travelling at two months of age when we took him camping for the weekend up around Rubicon on the edge of the Victorian High Country. By the time he was two he was at pretty much at home in the scrub, while travelling for long hours didn’t faze him, although WE got so sick and tired of ‘Peter Pan and Ticker Bell’ that it wasn’t long before we bought him a Sony Walkman (the latest of technology back then) so he could play it as many times as he liked. He turned two on a three month trip to Cape York where, with his grandparents, we went crabbing, collecting oysters, fishing, hunting pigs and generally exploring out of the way places.
The back of the ‘Cruiser had been fitted with a canopy and we had a crawl-through from the front seats to the rear interior and that was Trent’s abode, sleeping bed and playground. That was shared with our Rhodesian ridgeback, Zaka, who went on every adventure and generally took up more room than the kid, although they shared it (and sometimes their food) without any arguments.
We never expected Trent, on those stops for breakfast, lunch or dinner, to actually eat anything, we just let him run riot with the dog in a local playground or park. Tucker time for him was back in the car when we were rolling again, knocking over the miles and there were always snacks for him to munch on and share, books to read and the Walkman to listen to, along with the scenery slipping by which was always good for, ‘I spy with my little eye’ type games. And during the nights when we hauled into some remote roadhouse for fuel and a quick break he thought it was ultra-cool to be walking in and saying ‘Hi’ to the truckies. Back in the car Trent would take over the front passenger seat while Viv would crawl into the back for a kip while Trent would watch for ‘roos and cows. He never lasted long and just nodded off where he sat.
Sure, there were compromises, the most obvious being the changing parade of trikes and bikes that adorned the roofrack of the truck as Trent got older and the bikes got correspondingly bigger.
At the age of four (or was it five?) we had him rock climbing in the Grampians and snorkelling off the reefs in South Australia. By nine he was shooting bunnies and by 10 had his own motorbike. By 12 he had his basic scuba diving qualifications and was way better and quicker than his ol’ man on a motorbike.
And so life went on. Trent now runs a tour business taking SUP surfers to the Maldives, divers to New Guinea and 4WD travellers to Africa or the remoter areas of Australia (see moontours.com.au). Once in a while his parents get to join him on those trips — life can’t get any better than that!
So, take your kids camping and touring, as early as possible. You may make excuses about the kids not being able to cope, but we know differently. And, whatever the cost and pain of introducing your young ones to the bush, such shared adventures and development of character will pay you back tenfold!