Put on Your brave

Put on Your Brave:  Part One

You can do it”, “Put your brave on Mummy,” Just think you can”, Olivia and Mia coaxed me gently.  I was frozen with fear.  Stopped in my tracks, knees wobbling and unable to take another step.

For as long as I could remember I had been petrified of heights. As a child, this fear had caused embarrassment. As an eleven-year-old, I froze in front of all of my peers half way up an 8ft rock abseiling at school camp. However, as an adult my fear of heights had become easily managed through avoidance.  This approach had served me well until today when Olivia and Mia dragged me from the pool chair begging me to join in their fun on the waterslides at the caravan park.

It had been almost a year to the day that we had left for Western Australia. We found ourselves in Yeppoon, along the Capricorn Coast of Queensland for a quick mid-year school holiday adventure.  Dave and I had recently reflected on what a significant milestone the 12-month mark had been since we decided to travel as a family and the ways we had grown as individuals and as a family.  The biggest growth in the family was by far baby Alice who was now 15 months old toddling around the caravan park like a boss, causing smiles and mischief wherever she went.

Navigating her toddling on the boat in 2metre swells may have been a different story for us on this holiday if our little mariner wasn’t so instantly lured to sleep by the gentle rocking of the sea.

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For the rest of the family, while the day to day had largely returned to the normal chaos, we had all made changes that reflected our hearts desire for the freedom that we had experienced defying traditional notions of ‘normal’.

Six months ago, I had decided not to return from maternity leave to the job I knew and loved but rather start my own law firm practicing in an area I believed deeply in.  To begin with, the flexibility of working for myself meant surfing with Dave in my lunch hour and being able to pick the girls up from school every day.  However, those close to me knew that lately, I had been working around the clock, struggling with the juggling of the demands of work and trying to be a near enough satisfactory mother, wife and friend.  While overall, we had adjusted relatively well, as we approached the end of term it become clear that we were all desperate to reconnect as a family and enjoy each other beyond day to day logistics.

So, here we were on our first day of holidays at a cross road. Would I show my two oldest daughters’ vulnerability and courage or was I just too scared? I backed down the stairs twice returning to my pool chair before I found my brave. Finally, with Mia in front of me and Olivia behind me I slowly crawled to the top of the waterslide stairs screaming at the top of my lungs all the way down. The girls too were screaming too with delight as my biggest cheer squad…our next adventure had just begun.

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Part 2: The Capricorn Coast

Stand up paddle boarding, snorkelling, caving, biking, fossicking for thundereggs had filled nearly every moment of our last five days. With an amusing but failed attempt to make it across to Great Kepple Island on our second day of the holiday (20 knot winds and large swells), we decided to make the most of ‘waiting the weather’. We were not disappointed.  While we had initially chosen the Capricorn Coast in Central Queensland as our holiday destination for the white sandy beaches and warm crystal- clear waters, when the weather turned, we were pleasantly surprised by the natural inland beauty.

We started our wet weather adventure at the Capricorn Caves, where we explored 390 million year old limestone caves. Every little palaeontologist dream was fulfilled as the caves provided a real fossil tour where the girls got to sift through sand and dirt to find real bones of marsupials who had inhibited the marvellous caves hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Our family’s love of playing in dirt and mud was brought to the next level on our second wet weather day when we fossicked for thunder eggs at Mr Hay.  While I have never really been a rock person, I admit that repeatedly sledging a metal pick at hard stone was quite cathartic and became the perfect opportunity to vent those minor school holiday frustrations associated with five people being living inside an 18ft tin can in the pouring rain.  We all found our fortunes in the mud and the excitement on the girls faces as the lovely volunteers cut open our thunder eggs with circular saws revealing the inner beauty of the agate, jasper and quartz that had been formed beautiful patters and colours was very special.

Finally, after the skies cleared, the winds dropped we decided it was time to explore the islands.  While figuring out how to get both a caravan and boat back to Sydney with one vehicle and child wrangling three kids between the two of us on a former commercial fishing boat in the open ocean has caused some logistical hurdles the absolute beauty of the Kepple Islands overwhelmed us.  Within a stone’s throw we had our choice of any number of deserted islands in the Great Barrier Reef National Park.  Surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Southernmost part of the Great Barrier Reef, the girls explored back in their happy place of nature. This transported us all to a state of joy from simple pleasure.  The days on the water filled all of our contentment cups. Dave finally got his peace and quiet and a moment of pride on one of the rides back home with four out of four of his girls fast asleep on the boat.

I truly hope that none of us ever get too busy to stop together enjoying the precious and restorative moments of simply being.

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Confirming our travel style

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The sound was grating – like the scratching of nails on a blackboard. It was the hissing of air being let out of tyres of the armada of 4WD’s packed around us. Then there was the intermittent melody of the girls whining, “M-uuuuuu-mmmm.  Alice’s newly found mobility climbing all over me was not helping my rising body temperature as we had to wait to open the car doors.  “I need to go to the toilet.,”I turned to Dave.  “I really need to go right now and not take any children.” I repeated. This time my tone bore a striking resemblance to the hissing sound of deflating rubber.  I sucked in my mama belly in and inched my way out of the vehicle – keenly anticipating my uninterrupted moment of peace and quiet ahead… just to go to the toilet.

We had loaded ourselves and car onto the vehicle ferry to explore Moreton Island for the weekend. Whilst it seemed like a great idea a few days ago, I now feared that we had bit off a bit more adventure than we could chew this summer holiday season.  We were all pretty exhausted. After another night of baby-induced-sleeplessness, we had spent the morning bickering over the logistics of transporting a seven-metre boat through strip malls of outer Brisbane in the search to find a wholesome lunch. I questioned the necessity of bringing the boat and Dave questioned the inadequacy of a petrol station sambo on a travel day. It was in those moments that I contemplated a more stock standard way of travelling with kids. While I knew my slow loss of insanity was likely the result of sleep deprivation and the end of school holidays, the thought of sipping a cocktail poolside at a Club Med somewhere and only having to move to collect the children from kid’s club was a welcome daydream.

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The crystal clear waters of Blue Lagoon, Moreton Island

My daydream became somewhat of a reality when we arrived on the island and realised where we were staying.  Having not brought the van this far north I had grabbed a deal at the Tangalooma Resort where the accommodation was inclusive of the opportunity to hand feed wild dolphins at sunset.  Whilst less than an hour earlier I had fantasised about dumping the kids to lie around the pool, when the opportunity actually arose, I unexpectedly yet genuinely proposed that we ditch the resort, get back in Elsie and explore the island’s sandy tracks and beaches. This came as a surprise to my inner most being.

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Olivia exploring the freshwater of Blue Lagoon, Moreton Island

It took only moments to realise that, for our family at least, the road less travelled was worth all of the effort. As we navigated the soft sand tracks through the island not entirely sure of our final destination, the thrill and excitement of another family adventure was palpable.  It proved true that all Alice needed to fall asleep quickly was the familiar rough and tumble of driving off-road. The older girls excitedly pointed out to each other all of the interesting old trees and wildlife on either side of the Island’s middle road.  Without another car in sight, within minutes of hitting the eastern beach of Moreton, we spotted majestic white breasted sea eagles gracefully dive-bombing the shallows, catching fresh fish for dinner.  We danced and sung together delightfully in the crystal-clear freshwater bath of Blue Lagoon.

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Olivia and Mia enjoying an afternoon dip off the beaten path

I suppose that the unexpected beauty of family adventure travel should no longer surprise me after our extended trip to WA last year. Perhaps what surprised me most was that my memories of adventuring together had become more than a wonderful experience, but had actually permeated the deepest parts of my soul.  While it would definitely be more convenient to not be the case, it now seems clear that what I desire for our family is no longer be fulfilled by an off-the-shelf, all-inclusive holiday package.  Rather, I find myself seeking out those challenges and obstacles of travelling in quieter corners of nature. It is in these places where the cackling laughter of our kids to another bad dad joke can freely reverberate against nothing but vegetation, native wildlife and the depths of our true selves.

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Daddy’s Girls, Blue Lagoon, Moreton Island

Home Sweet Van

“In order to write about life first you must live it.” Ernst Hemmingway

The words jumped out at me as I turned the first page of my new book.  Perhaps the timing was serendipitous given it was the first day back in the van at the beginning of our summer adventure. It had taken us next to no time to switch off and the change in our vibe was palpable.

“Do you think it is just the fresh air?” Dave asked as he described the feeling of a rapid wind down.  We both knew that it was more than that.  We had arrived in our happy place (embarrassed to admit it…the caravan) after three months of transition back into our old life.  Despite our best efforts, we had not transitioned well.  On the surface, things appeared relatively normal with our weeks filled with kid’s activities, work and the start of the silly season.  The truth was that both of us had been somewhat disappointed by our inability to transplant our joyful transformation of our Western Australia trip into Sydney life.

 

We had used the excuse of sleep deprivation, busyness, and bouts of ill health as means of dulling our deeper discontent.  It had become clear over the last few months that we no longer desired the fast-paced Sydney lifestyle that we had returned to. We had, at least, admitted in vulnerable moments that the past weeks had been merely going through the motions.

How is it possible, that we work so much better together in such a confined space?”I asked Dave earlier in the day after contemplating how settled we all were.  Almost immediately, feelings of being frazzled and overwhelmed as an inadequate wife and mother dissipated into feelings of joy and contentment into being ourselves with each other for the coming summer weeks.

The girls immediately found their feet back in the caravan. Their pride was palpable as they befriended first-time campers like they were old hands showing them the ropes as they burned around on their bikes.  We were curious to see if Alice’s newly found mobility would make caravan travel a potential disaster. Fortunately, she developed a quick sense of familiarity, bordering perhaps on instinct given the proportion of her life to date that she has spent in a van. Besides a few technical adjustments to convert her old bassinet space into a playpen (or perhaps more accurately, mini-prison cell) she was as good as gold. She has also continued to earn her reputation as “the Chiller”, and is winning the hearts of all those around her.

After a full night of blissful sleep (another first in months), we began to unplan our days, making the most of opportunities as they arose, and intentionally being present enjoying the abundance of time as opposed to the abundance of stuff we didn’t really need. The girls and I found an incredible strawberry farm near Port Macquarie laughing out loud as we filled our buckets with hand picked strawberries soon to be drowned in home made chocolate sauce and devoured for the rest of the day.

I had spent so much time contemplating whether those deep feelings of contentment that I had felt while travelling this year would return or whether I had arrived at accepting the reality that the holiday was over.  On day six of our summer adventure I realised something… contentment is not a feeling but rather a choice.  As we basked in the afternoon sun on the boat on Wallis Lake, a pod of five gorgeous dolphins surrounded us.  Inspired by the chance to adventure again, I jumped on my stand up paddle board reminded by the breaching marine mammals that sometimes the best way of displaying your life was jumping from beneath the surface to take a breath.

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A Proportional Reaction

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Kim:

‘I think that reaction sounds proportional to the situation,’ the GP assured me.  

‘You mean to tell me that you actually don’t think I need to be admitted to the psych ward despite me just telling you that I am slowly losing my mind and feel completely overwhelmed?’  I asked.

It was week two of the rainy term three school holidays. While we had officially returned home from Western Australia three weeks prior, Alice and I had more recently arrived back from a ten-day trip to Texas. There we had experienced an incredible gathering with one thousand of my colleagues from around the globe. While the trip bore much fruit, the extreme jet lag, excitement from the last three months, and transition back into Sydney life had hit me like a tonne of bricks.  

It was the first time that I had stopped in order to begin processing what had just been, while simultaneously trying to keep up with our ‘normal’ life back in the city. Our nights were like a circus. We had spent a week playing musical beds between jet lagged little Alice and the two older girls, who, from our months in the caravan, had seemingly forgotten how to sleep outside of arm’s reach of us and each other. Despite their newly-found independence, the older girls barely let Dave and I leave their sight within our home without worrying where each of us were. Our home suddenly seemed overwhelmingly large, and Dave and I continued to ask each other why we ever thought we needed such an obscene amount of indoor space. While I had spent so much time intentionally slowing down over the last three months, I was now overwhelmed by the pace that the city required of me just to keep up with my responsibilities each day. As I over-analysed the situation and what was causing me to become so stressed, it seemed the only thing that had changed while we were away was myself.

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Double rainbow on Sydney’s Northern Beaches

While there was no doubt that part of the way I was feeling could be attributed to post-holiday blues and the loss of the daily embrace of those turquoise waters, it seemed that I was also deeply yearning for the joy I had experienced in living simply and experiencing the divine in the uninterrupted natural rhythms that van life had to offer. As I allowed myself to experience those feelings, Dave and I also journeyed to the stage of acceptance together. Acceptance that we were no longer travelling and able to spend each day together, that there were bills to be paid and work to be done, and that the destinations now to be explored would require us to navigate Sydney traffic. We were also able to accept that we were not the same people that we had been three months ago, and that wherever in the world we were, we could choose to be intentional in slowing down, and choose to wander joyfully together. And so, as the school holidays came to an end and the sun finally appeared from behind the clouds, we have chosen to try to navigate this next season, whatever it may bring, with joyful hearts. While the next season of writing will not entail regular reports of world heritage reefs and swimming with whale sharks, it is my intention that it reflects the same joy and honesty as my previous posts as we continue to joyfully wander together.

We have also resolved, as a family, to actively seek out and experience the natural wonders and beauty in our neck of the woods. So, with that in mind, the photos accompanying this blog are a random selection of nature that Dave has photographed in and around the Greater Sydney area over the past few years.  

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Lane Cove National Park
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Lane Cove National Park
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Rock platform on Sydney’s Northern Beaches

Dear Alice

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Dave:

Dear Alice Grace,

My darling daughter, as this special trip has drawn to an end, here are some thoughts to share with you about this incredible experience that you have been on with us as a baby.

You will, it seems, grow up in strange times. Proof of that might be that a letter from a father to his infant daughter is posted online for others to read. Then again, maybe this is just another, era-appropriate, form of an incredibly proud and besotted father gloating about his children. If so, I guess it is not so strange after all.

One of the things that sticks with me the most is your awaking from every single nap, however long or short (and there were plenty of short ones), with the most heart-melting smile for whomever had the privilege of being the first to catch your sparkling eyes. These sleeps have been in all manner of places – in boats (big and small), that dastardly car seat, the pram, the Baby Bjorn, the fold-up cot inside the van, and once or twice ensconced in the plush bedding of the swish Mantarays Resort in Exmouth.  

Whilst you will likely not have the slightest memory of this incredible family trip, it is important to your mum and me that, in the fullness of time, you come to know how wonderfully you have enriched it. Your presence has taught your bigger sisters invaluable lessons, including about caring for others. One example is when Olivia, sitting next to you in the car on a long day’s drive when you were particularly unsettled, persisted in figuring out how to turn your wailing into the most delightful giggles, by composing a little ditty that would become our unofficial family anthem for the trip. As we would all come to sing countless times like some kind of crazy family musical troupe: “We do the Gah Gah Yo Yo. We do the Gah Gah Yo Yo. We do the Gah Gah Gah Gah Gah Yo Yo Yo Yo Yoooooo…” Mimi, similarly, when it was her turn to be your neighbour in the backseat, declared to your mum and me that the real secret to getting you to sleep was to strictly follow these steps, in order. (1) Sing one song (2) Rub your tummy and (3) Sing two songs.  

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Bedtime story time
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Cable Beach sunset

I also want you to know that throughout the past three months your mama, as always, has been so incredibly brave and committed to your wellbeing, even in a setting that was initially far outside of her comfort zone.  You have also improved Daddy’s ability to actually perform risk assessment, and to not be quite as a cavalier in crazy outdoor activities than he might otherwise have jumped into without really thinking.

Now, back to those day sleeps. I am heartened by the fact that the longest and most peaceful ones occurred when you were in your capsule or pram in a boat out on the deep blue sea.  I hope this points to an early affinity with all things aquatic that will continue to grow stronger as you get bigger. Your older sisters may tell you that this may be thrust upon you – from tying saltwater flies using all sorts of crazy materials supposed to be used for kids craft, to being plonked on the front of a stand up paddle board or kayak clad in a bright PFD, to any number of other marine-related activities that we will no doubt be involving you in as soon as humanly possible.    

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Trying to crawl

Most of all, there is no doubt that you, ‘Big Al’ (sorry – that’s one of those dad things that might stick), have drawn your family so much closer together. First and foremost, through our shared love and adoration for you, which has become particularly strong through our being together all day, every day, for three months. But I think you have also helped us to feel a stronger sense of common responsibility as a family. Such as the need for total cooperation during bath time, in a collapsible laundry tub, outside the caravan and on a folding table. Then there was your commencement on solids, halfway through the trip, and your almost immediate discovery of a wonderful new form of creative expression that we will dub – ‘Outback Food Body Art’. As for your preferred medium, it seems that you have resolved that a combination of mashed avocado and banana is without peer, both for ease of application and its striking colour palette.

There have also been so many times on this trip when your mum and I have been gobsmacked by your innate sense of the sisterhood bond. Sometimes it has just been an adoring stare directed straight at Bubba or Mimi for a precious, silent moment. At the other times, this bond has been so strong that the only attention and affection you have desired was that of your older siblings.

Your personality has emerged so beautifully on this trip.  Whilst there is no doubt that you have been blessed with the gift of being chilled out, the odds-on favourite for describing your unique persona in a few words has now evolved into something more along the lines of, ‘carefree but streaked with defiance’.

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Ali with her new friends
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River patterns and freshwater croc

We are already completely committed to doing another major family trip in our caravan when you are a bit bigger. Then you will have some special memories of your own that will hopefully last long into adulthood. Maybe that is just an excuse – but I’m sticking with it. My deep love for travelling the wilder parts of this country has grown ever deeper from experiencing it as part of a family. If, God-willing, we are given the opportunity to embark on similar adventures with our family when you are older, I’m already wondering what it is that will take your breath away. What is it that will most capture your imagination? Will you be like Olivia – entranced by wildlife and trying new things (epitomised in her incredible whale shark swim)? Or, will you be more like Mimi – always looking for a chance, on dad’s lap, to drive the car (especially on bumpy 4WD tracks) and the boat, along with making new friends that were really ‘hers’ and not just tagging on with her big sister? Or, will you be like both of your sisters and take such delight in simply having the time and space to be outside and create your own innocent world of games and exploration? Time will tell. For now, your mum and I just want to thank you once more for being such a good sport. We love you more than words. You truly are our joyful little wanderer.

Your Daddy

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Mudflat patterns near Wyndham

 

Celebration and Grief… Returning Home

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Kim:

‘What do you mean, there’s no electricity?’ I asked.  I was desperate for a hot shower. The girls and I had just arrived home after our flight from Broome. Even in the most remote areas on our trip our faithful generator had provided enough energy for me to take a hot shower each day. I now stood in the pitch black in our beautiful Sydney home in the freezing cold, desperate for the comforts the caravan had offered me only hours earlier. Ironic, right?

Our final days of the trip were filled with both grief and celebration. Aware that human grief extends to not only permanent but also temporary loss, Dave and I became increasingly aware of the things we were about to grieve as we packed up the caravan for the last time.  We joked that our attachment to the van and the special memories we had shared in it were similar to Tom Hanks’ attachment to the volleyball Wilson in the movie Castaway. We attempted to prepare ourselves for arriving back to a city and a home unchanged while being acutely aware of the changes in ourselves. Three months ago I never would have imagined grieving the loss of living so simply.

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SUP’ing at Cygnet Bay

We tried hard in the last few days of our trip to celebrate the three months that had been, filling our hearts with gratitude for every single experience and opportunity. On reflection, we may have tried a bit too hard to make the last few days perfect. We were not-so-gently reminded yet again that we are not in control as we travelled down the ninety-kilometre dirt road of the Dampier Peninsula with Mia developing a forty degree fever and me delirious from the hundreds of bites all over my body after being attacked by sand-flies.

I could not have expected that the most significant things I have experienced in the transition to life back home would be both surprising and funny. Firstly, after three months of wearing thongs I did not expect that putting on shoes would be so painful. After three days back, I have feet full of blisters.

It has also been surprising to me how disinterested Olivia and Mia are in their toys. Since returning home, they have continued to spend hours playing outside making up games and inventing with cardboard boxes and garbage bags. It has been equally interesting to see how well they both transitioned back into the normal routine of preschool and school just like we never left. That said, Mia did come home from her first day back at preschool telling me that she got in trouble for throwing mud… whoops!

Over the years, Dave and I have diligently put together a large feature photo wall in our home of our family’s special memories. Looking at that photo wall, not yet holding any pictures from our trip, feels like such a significant part of our life is missing from our home. On the first day of our return I looked at our prized photo wall and had a momentary thought of our life before the trip as somewhat boring compared to the memories that would soon be hung. I am looking forward to updating the wall with reminders of our family’s decision to live outside the square a little.

The sense of home to me has always represented a very physical space, and I have at times spent extravagantly to create the perfect ambience for my interior surroundings. Now to me, home feels more about the people around me and the memories that are created together, no matter where we happen to be.

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Sunset at Cable Beach

Happiness Like This

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Kim:

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

“This is what I imagined the whole trip to be like,” Dave commented. It was 3pm.  We were all crunching on salt and vinegar chips, still wet and sandy from our midday swim, relaxing in the van together watching The Greatest Showman DVD and reading books. Eat, swim, rest, repeat. The simple life. I immediately understood what Dave meant.  

There is no doubt that we made the most of every waking moment of our trip. Yet it took us until this point to really feel like we had found our feet as a travelling family. “I think I have worked out your perfect camp style,” Dave offered. A small free camp by the beach, remote enough to feel like we were in the wilderness, yet set up for all of the luxuries our tin abode had to offer (generator to run coffee machine, Thermomix, Nutribullet and potable water for drinking and a hot shower in the van). This time we had nailed it. We were set up at Middle Lagoon, a small Aboriginal Community about 30 km off the main thoroughfare from Broome to Cape Leveque on the Dampier Peninsula. Apart from a very small patch of signal several hundred meters away from the van, we were unplugged from everything but nature and each other.  

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Dampier Peninsula
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Kim SUP’ing at Dampier Peninsula

The rhythm of our day was controlled only by the tide and temperature. High tide gave us about three hours of swimming and SUP’ing in the bath-like waters of the bay before the heat of the day would force us to return to camp for food and rest. As we ventured back down to the bay late in the afternoon, our morning landscape was barely recognisable as six to seven metres of tidal movement had caused the water’s edge to retreat almost back towards the horizon. As the girls and I collected shells and hermit crabs, we watched the local kids use hand spears to fish for dinner. Incredible patterns in the sand left the outline of where massive stingrays had rested only hours earlier. Dave had found Ali the perfect rockpool for her to bathe, fully shaded, in the warm salty water as the sun set over her little head.

Our nights were sometimes spent around the campfire watching our girls figure out how to make new desserts with toasted marshmallows. In the aftermath, only the best industrial grade steel wool would make any ingress in cleaning the burn marks off the various kitchen appliances used. As we went to bed, the billions of night stars were visible through the fly screen of the caravan bedroom window where we lay our head in the blissful sea breeze. “I wish for happiness like this forever,” I mouthed along with Michelle Williams as The Greatest Showman DVD did its thing.

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Exploring Dampier Peninsula
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Fatbiking and fly fishing near Middle Lagoon

Middle Lagoon was not entirely different to other places we had stayed. Yet it was here that our experience of simple pleasures had transformed from the novelties of travel to habits and characteristics of daily family life. That it has occurred only days before our trip ends has not dampened its impact.

I have also intentionally altered the way I interact with my children. Prior to this trip, I spent many hundreds of dollars and hours unnecessarily complicating both their play and the quality time I spent with them. The last few days, the girls have been overjoyed to play for hours climbing a nearby tree and making new inventions with empty beer cans and juice containers from our recycling bin.  While there is no doubt that upon our return, I will still enjoy fancy Mummy dates with the girls, it gives me some pause that they have been most impressed by my newly found oyster-shucking abilities and willingness to serve them absolutely 100% non-organic hot dogs on white bread for lunch.

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Special mother-daughter moments at Cable Beach

What do you want?

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Kim:

We have begun the final stretch of our trip. In less than two weeks, the girls and I will be preparing to board our flight back to Sydney and Dave, the six or seven day drive home. To say that the trip has gone too quickly is an understatement. Dave and I have caught each other in the past few days feeling both contemplative and melancholy about returning home. Yet there have also been those precious moments of reflection when I am able to celebrate the beauty of all we have experienced, and our growth individually and as a family.

A few years ago I undertook a team building exercise with a work colleague where she repeatedly asked me for two minutes, ‘What do you want?‘ In turn, I was to respond with the first thing that came to mind. I got about thirty seconds in before I burst into tears and sputtered, ‘I want someone to come and do all of my laundry.‘ While my response was clearly an overreaction to an extremely large pile of washing, it also spoke to my feelings of being exasperated with not perceiving myself to be in control of either work or home.

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Stand up paddle boarding at Willie Creek Pearl Farm

Another pre-trip experience that now comes to mind is the spiritual formation course that Dave and I did together and which required us to articulate and refine our individual and family values. This helped me to develop a deeper conviction that I wanted to more fully live and walk in the freedom of God. However, applying what I gained from the course to this trip, prior to leaving, I must admit that I failed to see how, as a naturally anxious person, removing myself from everything I knew and felt comfortable with could leave me with feeling anything but fear and worry. Fast forward several months later, and I can honestly say I have walked almost daily in the freedom of a growing relationship with God that I so deeply desired. It took leaving my Sydney life and experiencing just how small I am compared to the vast yet intimate beauty of nature to realise that I can’t hold onto controlling things that I actually have no control over. Most people who know me will probably be surprised at the deep contentment, peace and joy I have found in wild and remote places. ‘Going bush’ to truly recharge had always been Dave’s thing, certainly not mine. Yet if the past sixteen years of Dave trying to convince me that it might be worth a try has taught me anything it may be that timing is everything. Who knows, it may be that Dave experiences some kind of equivalent spiritual growth the next time I drag him shopping in New York City!

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It may still be my overflowing dirty laundry pile or screaming children that attract sympathy glances from onlookers but there have been many times on this trip that people have made unsolicited comments about what a ‘brave’ effort we are making with such a young baby. While I don’t say this out loud, the response in my head is one of bewilderment. It would seem to me now that it was more appropriate for those onlookers to comment on how lucky we are to get the opportunity to travel together as a family for such an extended period of time and fall more deeply in love with this beautiful country, and each other.

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Our little wanderers wearing gorgeous dresses by Little Kimberley
Flying high! Family fishing adventures at Dampier Archipelago

The couple who fishes together, stays together? [Part 2]

Flying high! Family fishing adventures at Dampier Archipelago

Dave:

I clearly remember watching a documentary during my final year of high school on the battle to stop the Franklin and Gordon Rivers in South-West Tasmania from being destroyed by proposed hydroelectricity dams. One of the masterstrokes of those who pushed for the protection of this World-Heritage listed wilderness was to take a bunch of politicians on a whitewater rafting trip through some of the pristine canyons that were facing destruction, so that they could actually see what all the fuss was about. When interviewed at the end of the multi-day expedition, an elected official was openly weeping on camera as he described how passionately he would fight for protection of this wilderness, now that he had actually experienced what was as stake. And so it is that personal experience can make all the difference when it comes to one’s perspective.

That being the case, maybe I am a world-class bonehead for not having sooner taken Kim on a proper fishing trip in one of the plethora of spectacular locations that I have been fortunate enough to frequent at some point over the past sixteen and a half years!

Whilst there is no doubt that our family fishing experience on this trip has reached a crescendo (as I expected it would) whilst exploring the Dampier Archipelago with my good mate, Simon Tocas, the first murmurs of the tectonic shift in Kim’s attitude towards angling pursuits (and boating generally) began to show when we were a few hundred kilometres further south in the mining town outpost of Onslow. Having checked into Onslow Beach Resort for a couple of nights to escape the confines of Chelsea the Caravan, our post-breakfast conversation turned to what the day’s activities would entail. Whilst not verbatim, in what can only be described as a bizarre role-reversal between Kim and I, the discussion unfolded something like this:

Dave: Why don’t we just spend the day lounging by the pool? The kids can swim and we can relax, maybe read a book…

Kim: Nah. I want to take the boat out to the Mackerel Islands. Let’s do it!

Dave: I dunno honey. It’s over 10kms of open ocean crossing, our boat is pretty small, and it might just be a bit much. Maybe we should just chill and enjoy the resort?

Kim: C’mon – let’s do it. I’ve double-checked Windfinder and the forecast is perfect. You can even take us fishing while we’re out there. Let’s make the most of it and go on an adventure.

Dave (by this stage wondering whether he is hallucinating and/or still asleep): Umm… Ok. I’ll get the gear ready.  

As it turned out, we had an unforgettable day exploring Direction Island. Not only did we do a bit of fishing, but as we came up into the shallows of a coral flat adjacent to the island, we unexpectedly crossed paths with a huge dugong that was completely unperturbed by our presence, allowing us to admire it from near touching distance for several minutes before cruising away. Then there were the two nesting White Breasted Sea Eagles that perched proudly on the corner of the Island. As I have said so many times to Kim, going fishing is just like being part of a David Attenborough production.  

I think Kim has done a far better job of describing her ‘conversion’ to a bona fide fisherwoman in her blog than I possibly could. So, whilst I will resist the temptation to simply say, ‘I told you so’ and leave it at that, I will just add my take on a couple of snippets from each of our three family days on the water in the Dampier Archipelago. Hopefully they will provide a glimpse into the angling evolution that my dearly beloved has undergone.

On the first day, Kim became fully initiated after landing an impressive Golden Trevally all by herself. It turns out that I was not the only one who was startled by the transformation that was taking place – when she posted a photo holding the fish (wearing a characteristically dazzling smile), on her Facebook account that evening, the image would ultimately rack up more ‘Likes’ than the proud social media announcements she had made for the arrival of any of our three kids!

On the second day, Kim (not a typo) enthusiastically suggested an early morning start, so we were on the water not long after 6am. One of the aesthetic consequences of that decision was that, at least for first couple of hours, Simon’s boat had no less than three occupants who were fishing in pink pajamas. Mia was not to be outdone on the fishing front on this day, valiantly landing a solid Queenfish (which was longer, if not heavier, than her mum’s now famous Golden Trevally). Whilst my passion for fishing has never been motivated by a desire break records, I have no doubt that Mia achieved a world angling first by landing her ‘Queenie’ attired in both shorts and shirt emblazoned with matching unicorns!

Family fishing adventures in the Dampier Archipelago
Livy fishing in her PJs
Family fishing adventures at Dampier Archipelago
Mimi in her unicorn PJs, with her big Queenfish

Our third family day on the water was spent on my boat, which seemed comparatively puny after being spoiled rotten on Simon’s stalwart vessel. Despite a vastly reduced range in our capacity to explore the archipelago, we still managed to find fish without much effort. As a rod buckled over in the holder during our first trolling run of the day, I made the all important inquiry, ‘Who wants to reel in this one?’ Despite the fact that my question had clearly been directed towards Olivia and Mia, Kim made the impassioned declaration that it would be she who would be doing the reeling in on this one. Before I could offer any words of moderation, she sprung to her feet and grabbed the buckling rod, nearly toppling our two eldest daughters overboard with her rampant enthusiasm. Whilst a man can dream, I never really thought that three of my precious princesses would actually be fighting over who got to reel in a fish…

Family fishing adventures at Dampier Archipelago
Kim photobombing our fishing photo to show off her latest catch

It must also be said that our unforgettable family days in the Dampier Archipelago were marked by a different dynamic than the many previous trips when I have fished with Simon (who was formerly a full-time fishing guide) over more than 15 years. Those times have included bruising sessions of absolute tunnel vision; with the earliest start being around 2:30am and the latest not finishing until many hours into the full dark of night. In contrast, even on our days that began on the water PJ-clad, the family fishing time for this trip was still interposed with frequent and generous interventions for other activities, including paddling the SUP in the aquamarine waters, surfing a unique island beachbreak, swimming, and just chilling on deserted beaches whilst marveling at the total absence of footprints. This time around, I didn’t have a chance to cast even a single fly at a rampaging Giant Trevally or the ever-flighty yet enigmatic Permit. But, here is my confession as a hardcore Fisho: quite frankly there is no contest – I’ll take the shared family experience any day. Unicorn PJs and all.

SUP at pristine Dampier Archipelago
SUP time at Dampier Archipelago
SUP at Pilbara Islands - family fishing adventures
Kim having a break from fishing on her SUP among Pilbara Islands
The couple who fishes together stays together

The couple who fishes together, stays together? [Part 1]

The couple who fishes together stays together
After sixteen years with Dave I finally caught a fish!

Kim:

For the past sixteen and a half years, the ‘issue’ of fishing has, at times, been the single greatest point of tension in our relationship. It wasn’t the sport itself that had caused so many arguments. Rather, it was the sheer amount of time that the man who I loved most spent completely consumed and obsessed by something that I had absolutely zero interest in. As the duration of ‘me time’, shortened with the arrival of each of our daughters, I found it completely unacceptable that Dave’s need to relax was at the mercy of tide, wind, boat, and barometric-pressure. In fact, it really infuriated me that the need to have a bit of time out could not simply be satisfied by joining the local gym or catching up with a friend for coffee. Given this context, it is little surprise there was a serious shift in relationship dynamics following the day I caught my first proper fish.

For almost as long as I have known him, Dave has been fishing the Dampier Archipelago in WA with his mate Simon, who also just happened to be the best local fishing charter guide. ‘It’s my favourite place on earth,’ I would so often hear Dave declare as he virtually drooled over piles of photos of him and the boys holding big fish caught from Simon’s boat. When the penny dropped that leave passes to fly himself over to WA once a year to go fishing were not as readily available with kids, Dave took it upon himself to take up a side gig as a fishing journalist for one of Australia’s top fishing magazines. ‘This is an opportunity of a lifetime‘ I remember Dave proposing shortly after Olivia was born as the fishing magazine had just offered to fly him to the Kimberley to board an exclusive week-long charter consisting of helifishing and exploring literally uncharted waters. Accordingly, it was no surprise that as we arrived at the Dampier Transit Caravan Park, Dave had big expectations for the week.

Persuaded by the promise of deserted islands, crystal clear waters, a decent surf break, incredible marine life, and the epic company of Simon and his lovely family, I was also excited about several days on the boat exploring the Archipelago. I went from stand-up paddle boarding next to turtles, to surfing the unique beach break at Angel Island. I also found myself repeatedly asking Simon how tourists had not overrun this paradise. Indeed, Dampier did not disappoint.

SUP at pristine Dampier Archipelago
Stand up paddle boarding at pristine Dampier Archipelago
Not a footprint in sight - swimming at pristine Dampier Archipelago
Not a footprint in sight

It was about an hour into the first day that I caught my first fish. To say that the experience was nothing like I had expected would be an understatement. For many years, I had imagined sitting for hours with a rod in hand on a muddy river bank waiting for luck to strike and for the so-called prize to be a smelly, slimy sea creature. This was not the case. As I felt the rod pull and buckle, I was filled with a huge surge of adrenalin. I had no idea that when a big fish was at the end of the line, there was actual skill required. My inner competitiveness kicked in and I was not going to let this fish off the hook. To some I may have looked like I was running around the boat like a crazy woman, perhaps even a slightly negligent mama with my determination. I used all of my strength to pull my first catch briefly out of the water before experiencing the satisfaction of releasing it back to the depths. I was overwhelmed with satisfaction and joy. There was also a part of me in awe that, when the tastiest species came along, I could participate in the harvest of something that our family would later enjoy over a meal together.

There is no doubt that my newfound enjoyment in fishing has left Dave most pleasantly surprised and excited about the prospect of future family fishing adventures. Actually, scratch that, he is absolutely frothing! This trip has really provided each member of our family, on an almost daily basis, with the time and space to learn new things about one other and ourselves.

Family fishing adventures, Dampier Archipelago
Olivia, Mia, and I on our way to our fishing spot in our PJs