Dear Alice

1DaddyandAliAfternoonchilling

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.  

BedtimeStorytime
Bedtime story time
CableBeachsunset
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.    

Tryingtocrawl
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’.

AliwithNewFriends
Ali with her new friends
Riverpatternsandfreshwatercroc
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

MudflatpatternsnearWyndham
Mudflat patterns near Wyndham

 

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

Little trinkets of joy

ExploringtogetherWarrooraStation

Dave:

Of the books I’ve enjoyed so far on this trip, including the audiobook marathon on the sixty-odd hour drive over to our start point, a clear frontrunner has emerged: Closer to the Ground by Dylan Tomine. This personal account, published by Patagonia Books, reveals on each page a new and beautiful aspect of a father’s love for nature, his own offspring, and the daily (often hilarious) interactions between the two. I reckon it is mandatory reading for any parents who are even remotely interested in raising children in a way that encourages passionate immersion in the natural world, along with a proper understanding of our utter dependence upon it.

One aspect of Tomine’s writings that I especially identified with was his observation that some of the most profound and enduring childhood memories are, in terms of the duration of time that they cover, little more than fragments of a particular day or incident from our youth. These sticking memories also often relate to ‘ordinary’ events rather than watershed occasions.

In what, for me at least, is something of a parallel to this idea, I have found that much of the deepest joy on the trip has come, not from the ‘big ticket’ experiences (although they have been truly incredible), but rather from little details, passing comments, or shared moments that unexpectedly emerge, without fanfare, in the course of our wanderings. In a wink towards the small bits of memorabilia (wallaby bones, coloured sand, the odd seashell or coral fragment) that Mia has been quietly stashing away in a secret corner of the caravan near her big girl top bunk, I have begun thinking of these moments as ‘little trinkets of joy’.

Without wanting to distort them into more objectively grand occasions than, perhaps, they truly are, I thought it was time to start listing a few of these moments in one place, in no particular order:

  • Before leaving on the trip, Alice’s godmother, Mel, in an extravagantly generous gift presented Mia and Olivia with an old fashioned Polaroid camera (albeit adorned in bright pink livery). Kim then promptly went out and spent roughly half of our total trip budget on film sheets. At first, exposure after exposure of total dud shots was all that seemed to materialise out of the magical little slot on the camera. But after a while, the girls started capturing some really special family photos, complete with that ethereal quality that only comes with analogue film. Ansel Adams’ protégés… perhaps not. Nonetheless, a few have gained pride of place on Elsie’s dashboard. I am filled with gratitude each time I glance at them during long hours behind the wheel, along with being instantly reminded about just how precious is the cargo that I am responsible for transporting safely.

Dashboard trinkets

 

  • I have previously written about some of Olivia’s special handwritten notes. She is equally quick to say things expressing loving sentiment of a similar quality. In pure parental jest, Kim and I have dubbed her, ‘Captain Hallmark’. Often her muses bear a striking resemblance to the corny messages that one might find in a card at the newsagent. A photo of one of her smudged postcards to Mia (bearing in mind they are together 24/7) is pictured hereabouts, signed off with the handle, ‘BFFS’. I am told this stands for ‘Best Friends Forever Sisters’. In terms of her verbal declarations, she recently announced in the car, again speaking of her two younger sisters, ‘When we are by ourselves we are small, but together we are big’.

ThedraftworksofCaptainHallmark

 

  • We have had mixed success exploring rock pools. I find them to be enchanting places filled with endless opportunity for discovery. To me, they are like time machines back to childhood. Kim is more ambivalent about her precious children being on the restless edge between land and sea. One such sortie on a rough dirt track between Coral Bay and the northern boundary of Warroora Station in the late afternoon was an almost comedic disaster. Other times have been more successful. A particularly glorious moment was when I showed Mia an oversized white sea cucumber. After giving her the ‘ok to touch’ approval (something I have insisted on, given the occasional presence of nasties like blue-ringed octopus and cone shells), she promptly proceeded to pick the large marine invertebrate up, hold it straight to her nostril and say, ‘Look daddy, a giant booger!’

 

  • I have relished seeing the girls embark on tasks with true focus and purpose. An early example was a wallaby skull and thighbone that we salvaged from a sun-bleached roadkill skeleton while Kim was feeding Alice by the roadside. Upon arrival at camp, Mia and Olivia diligently set about cleaning the red dirt and road grime off the bones with cotton buds dipped in metho. They did so for much longer than a typical kids show on Netflix, and with all the diligence of real archaeologists.

RoadsideExplorations

 

  • Some of the wonderful transformations in Kim’s outlook and attitude will be the subject of our next blog. Without putting the cart before the horse, one impressive display of ingenuity that she demonstrated recently in the car involved a delicious slab of carrot-cake that she had picked up for our afternoon tea on the road. Realising that she had forgotten to get a knife out of the caravan, instead of asking me to pull over the car and go fetch one, Kim simply grabbed a Transport NSW Opal card out of my wallet (not much other use for them over here), and proceeded to use it to neatly slice up the cake for distribution. Bear in mind that one of Kim’s prize possessions back in Sydney is her fine china set for hosting high tea. I’ve said it before, but what a woman!

 

  • An inevitable result of the combination of lots of outdoor activities with down time in the car is that Mia has had more than a few afternoon naps. Whilst this might be harmless (even welcomed) for most kids, ever since she was around two years old, if Mia has even the shortest day sleep, the result is inevitably a very late night. A few days ago, at around 9pm, Mia was sitting on my lap, helping me sort and edit photos on my laptop from the day’s activities. In response to her enthusiastic and considered input as to which shots she preferred, I offered some simple praise, ‘You’re such a good kid.’ Without the slightest self-consciousness, I received an almost instantaneous retort, ‘You’re such a good grown up.

CampfireSpecialTimes

 

  • During an overnight stopover at a motel in Carnarvon, the included breakfast buffet boasted a fully automated pancake machine. Olivia, ever the lover of gadgets, took it upon herself to dial in her selected number of pancakes: three. Kim then announced that she would like two pancakes as well. So Livy, quickly performing the correct arithmetic, pressed ‘5’ on the keypad. Unfortunately, the digital display informed us that this combination of numerical commands had the machine outputting 35 pancakes! For days, despite all the amazing locations, nature and wildlife we were experiencing, the first (and sometimes only) thing that Olivia would report to friends and family during telephone conversations was this mishap that resulted in the entire family not needing lunch that day.

 

  • The self-satisfied grin on Ally’s face and accompanying heart-melting giggle upon her realising that she could prop herself up in our makeshift camp baby bath (a collapsible laundry tub), without the supporting hand of mum and dad. What a trooper she is!

 

  • Other joy trinkets have, to me, been downright holy. After watching the sunset over the Indian Ocean from atop a remote sand dune (although, in truth, the big girls preferred to run and slide down the steep sand hills in their PJs rather than enjoy a moment of quiet reflection), we all piled into Elsie for the short drive back to camp. The majestic song, ‘Lay it All Down’ by Will Reagan and United Pursuit began playing on my preloaded Spotify playlist. As everyone in the family sang along with great volume and enthusiasm (even Ali was ‘goo-ing’ and ‘gaa-ing’ happily), I found myself constantly blinking back tears, so I could negotiate the narrow 4WD track.

RunningdownSandDunesinPJs

 

  • Lesson #437 of living with four women. For an exciting change of pace, Kim and I decided to switch camp chores a week or so ago. As a result, I got to hang the washing on the caravan park clothesline. At final count (yes, I actually counted), I hung 73 individual pieces of clothing. Of that impressive amount, a total of three (3) items belonged to yours truly! The lesson here might simply be that I’m a stinky camper, and need to introduce more wardrobe changes into the repertoire.

 

  • Kim and I have had multiple conversations about what aspects of the trip the older two kids will remember. I guess only time will tell. I think, or at least I earnestly hope, that some of these trinkets (or innumerable others) will live on in the most lasting depths of their precious memories. I know they will in mine.

Daddys Girls

Swimming with Whale Sharks!

WA11photo credit Dave Randle(1)

Kim:

For me, there is something truly terrifying about jumping off the back of a boat into the middle of the ocean.

The five of us had arrived by boat on the outer Ningaloo Reef on the second last day of the whale shark season. The conditions were perfect and we had just been through the safety and ‘whale shark etiquette’ briefing for our swim with the ocean’s largest fish. “There’s nothing to be nervous about” Dave said to me, no doubt sensing my increasing anxiety.  I shot him a cold stare (a look that I may have given him a few too many times over the last few days) “Sorry,” he replied. “I am just trying to be more sensitive!” What could I possibly be nervous about? I was only about to leave my babe on a boat, plunge through a two-metre swell, and come face to face with a real shark that was roughly the size of our caravan. As I sat on the edge of the boat, ready to jump in, Olivia looked to me for affirmation. My feigned look of confidence seemed counterintuitive, particularly when someone was about to yell “Shark!”, and in response, I was to help launch my firstborn into the water and not out of it.

I dove beneath the surface and instantly I was surrounded by the clearest blue waters. Beautiful rays of sunshine bounced through the water from above. As the eight-metre whale shark swam gently past us, the insignificance of our physical size and the importance of the diverse ecosystems of the underwater world became a reality. No longer did my opinion on this or that count. Rather, I had become a mere spectator in the wonder of the spectacular show of nature unfolding before my eyes. The whale shark was not performing for us. We were not at a zoo or watching a staged marine life show. We were in the wild. “You are kind of like annoying flies buzzing around the whale shark’s head”, our crew had briefed us.

For those short few minutes that I swam alongside the whale shark for the first time, I was overwhelmed with awe and exhilaration. My heart and ability to feel truly alive was detached from my head and ability to process the risks of swimming with this rather large creature. It came as no surprise that our experience swimming with the whale sharks was one of our most special days as a family on the trip so far.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Photo by Ocean Eco Adventures

 

Dave:

I will admit to being hard to convince that we should go on a whale shark tour. It was not so much the cost. Although, it is a very expensive day out for the family. To be honest, it’s more the idea of tours generally. Part of me just doesn’t dig going to an amazing natural location, only to be shoulder to shoulder with a flock of other tourists. Kim might say it is my overdeveloped Neanderthal instinct. I’d rather go out solo in my little boat chasing Spanish Mackerel in ocean conditions that might be described as ‘questionable’ for any vessel that fits on the roof of a car. So positioned, my idea of a ‘wildlife interaction’ is silently experiencing a mother humpback whale and her newborn calf surface unexpectedly within spitting distance of the boat’s hull. Blessedly, this is something that has already happened to me four or five times on this trip.

No tours are more hyped-up in this neck of the woods than whale shark swims. Whenever we have phoned home over the last month, a question we have invariably been asked by family and friends is along the lines of, ‘So, are you going to swim with whale sharks?’ Well, I’m here to say, despite my innate reluctance, when it comes to whale shark tours, the hype is legit.

Several different people had independently told us that, should we pull the trigger and book a tour, we should do so with Ocean Eco Adventures. I won’t regurgitate the marketing spiel here, but… our personal experience gives us little difficulty in joining the sizeable online review chorus singing the tune that, quite simply, they are the best in the business. The clincher came when we set up camp at Ningaloo Station next to the parents of the bloke who owns and operates the business. That little six-degrees-of-separation was enough for Kim, once we were back in mobile signal, to promptly make the call and book us in on what, according to the weather forecasts, looked set to be the best day for sea conditions that we’ve had since being here for over a month (it turned out to be exactly that).

WA11photo credit Dave Randle

At the risk of sounding completely repetitive and, perhaps even cliché, the overwhelming highlight of the experience for me was seeing how much our girls got out of the day. Well, Mia and Olivia at least. Alice, trooper that she is, found the soothing sounds and vibrations of 1500hp of marine engines and a rolling two-metre swell to be the perfect environment for her longest day sleep to date.

Olivia had earlier said that she just wanted to ‘get a quick look’ at a whale shark, and that would be enough. Well, by the end of the interaction, she had done every single available whale shark swim. By our estimates this meant that she would have come close to snorkeling a kilometre alongside the spectacularly marked leviathan. I was beyond thrilled when, time-after-time, we would return with our guide to the marlin board on the back of the boat for a breather and I would ask Liv, ‘Sweetie, do you want to have a rest?’ and every single time her reply would be, ‘Maybe after the next swim, Dad.’  I found this to be particularly impressive given that, on our very first swim, the giant filter feeder came unexpectedly close to our daisy chain of ten snorkelers and one of my first visions below the surface was seeing its enormous head pass within mere centimetres directly beneath Olivia’s comparatively tiny frame. Rather than freaking Liv out, this only seemed to rev her up more to make the most of the experience. What a champion!

Mia, although confident with her snorkeling (only a few days earlier she had nonchalantly completed an hour-long drift snorkel with me off the SUP out in the middle of Coral Bay), ultimately decided that she was not going to jump in with a whale shark. Fair enough for a four-year old. Instead, she had a wonderful day on the top deck of the boat, spotting humpback whales, manta rays, and even taking a few impressively in-focus photos with my telephoto lens. By the return trip to port, she had resolved a new career aspiration – boat driver!

What a day. If you ever find yourself in this part of the world in season, believe the hype. Go swim with a whale shark. Even better if you have the opportunity to share the experience alongside the wide-eyed wonder of a kid. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Photo by Ocean Eco Adventures

Tensions

LivysnorkellingatNingalooStation

Dave:

As we seem to be moving beyond that hazy line that somehow distinguishes a ‘holiday’ from a longer state of travel and adventure, I often find myself in something of a conundrum.

Of all the wonderful activities that I have been blessed to enjoy amongst the wonders of God’s Creation, there are two that hold a special place in my heart. One is fishing (no surprise there). The other is landscape photography. Both require time. Lots of it. For any real success to be tasted, a confluence of factors must align –tides, winds and moon phase for the former; lighting conditions, careful composition, and accurate exposure for the latter.

I don’t think I was ever too deluded in my expectation that this trip would permit me to pursue both passions at large, everyday, for as long as I wanted, whenever the desire to do so seized me. Perhaps my bride would beg to differ. But I hope that I was accepting from the outset that travelling with three kids requires a totally different mindset when it comes to activity planning.

I have found that there are lots and lots of opportunities on the trip for me to pursue these passions (thanks in large part to Kim’s grace and willingness to grant me regular leave passes). But, it’s not some kind of free-for-all. One option is to bring the kids (or at least the two older girls) with me on these sorties. Another approach is too get up super early, before the van’s other inhabitants begin to stir, and head out for a quick session that has me back by around the time Kim’s first caffeine hit has begun to taper off.    

Kayaking in the Oru on Ningaloo Reef
Kayaking on Ningaloo Reef

What I have noticed over the last week or so is that, whilst the option of involving the kids in what were previously ‘me-time’ activities is not without its drawbacks, it is deeply rewarding, and is providing the raw materials for what I sense will be truly lasting memories that are full of joy.

It has also been wonderful to see that, just as Mia and Liv have such different personalities, their preferred activities for ‘Daddy-time’ involve clear individual preferences that are sometimes in sharp contrast. Looking at the ‘About Us’ section for the blog that Kim wrote before we left, it is funny to see that Liv was, then accurately, described as anxious and reserved, whereas Mia’s daredevil streak is more than hinted at. How funny it is that the opposite has emerged to date.    

Liv has been super adventurous – enthusiastically bounce arounding in chop and wind in the tinny as we zoom out at full throttle to a snorkeling spot consisting of amazing soft coral gardens that we found more than a kilometre from dry land. Upon arrival and without hesitation, she then exits the boat, navy-seal style, and happily swims around spotting fish and talking excitedly with remarkable diction through her snorkel. Mia also enjoys the boat, but on a very different basis and with a number of immutable rules. Rule No.1 – she gets to drive for a minimum of 90% of the time. In so doing, she diligently pushes and pulls the tiller steer of the outboard in immediate response to Daddy’s instructions. Rule No. 2, we are to travel at no faster than idle speed. This obviously limits our exploration range somewhat, but we did manage to putter to a footprint-less beach hidden behind a rocky outcrop. Once there, Mia happily began shell prospecting, chatting the whole time about which discoveries she was most excited to show ‘Bubba’ (our name for Olivia) when we got back to camp.      

DuneadventureswithLivy

One of my more successful ‘Me-time’ plus ‘Kid-time’ outings was taking Olivia in the boat to some impressive sand dunes that I had noticed returning home from an early morning fishing outing whilst we were at Ningaloo Station. Olivia had expressed immediate interest in an exploratory run to check them out. I had suspected that there were some interesting wind patterns in the dunes so took a mental note that, perhaps, I could do some landscape photography when we got there. I was not disappointed. As Livy repeatedly rolled down the highest dunes like a runaway 44-gallon drum (all the while declaring that she was not even a little bit dizzy), I managed to snap a few frames of the intricate sand details.

Sanddunedetails

Sanddunedetails1

I’m also pleased to report that my solo fishing trips have been fruitful. In a break from my almost exclusive catch-and-release practices back home, it has been nice to actually be fishing to supply the family with a source of nutrition. The menu has varied from Spanish Mackerel (super fun to catch with lightning fast runs, but hardly a banner culinary experience) to us all feasting on a stonker of a Coronation Trout (close relative of the revered coral trout, which I recall having seen for sale at the Sydney Fish Markets for the princely sum of $95/kg).  

I’m yet to have much success in integrating a serious fishing outing with the kids, which is perhaps the last stronghold of melding ‘Me-time’ with ‘Dad-time’. The tension remains. I guess this is all a pretty good dilemma to have to try to work through…

Coronation Trout
Coronation Trout

Flyfishing in paradise

      

Teach a man (or daughter) to fish…

Dave Blog 4 - Shark Bay Twilight

Dave:

I am mindful from the gracious feedback that Kim has received about the blog that many who are digitally dropping in on our adventure do so primarily to read the sage and honest mothering and life advice that my dearly beloved offers in her every post. This probably means that I will be at something of a cross-purpose (or perhaps just downright irrelevant) if I use this forum to start banging out stanzas on how incredible the fishing is over here, complete with detailed technical information about rigs, target species and localities.

So maybe I will try a different approach – trying to capture, in words, some of the more ethereal aspects of the pastime that Kim has often referred to as the ‘other woman’ in my life. I might add that such attempts have previously failed dismally in moving the needle even a fraction with Kim, although perhaps that is because it has occurred in the context of me seeking a leave pass approval for ‘not another fishing trip’.

Fishing has been a passion of mine since I could barely walk. Apart from a brief hiatus during my teen years, it has also been a constant presence. When I travelled around Australia with a mate as an 18-year-old, it would not be much of an overstatement to say that the search for the next fishing spot (made all the more difficult by the fact that we were boat-less) propelled me forward like a sail in a stiff trade wind.

At the risk of torturing a cliché, I think I can honestly say that the actual catching of fish is no longer my primary objective. No doubt it still matters. But, it also doesn’t. At least not for reasons that fall into the category of bragging rights, chest beating, or proof-of-manhood. I think that an early morning session during our time at Monkey Mia makes a reasonable case-in-point. The day got off to an epic start when Kim rolled over in our luscious cloud-like bed in the van and gently roused me, saying, ‘Dave. It’s morning. You’d better wake up. Aren’t you going fishing?’ I know I’m biased, but can I just say as an aside, WHAT A WOMAN!

Rushing barefoot the short distance from the van to the beach, my veins pulsed with a giddy anticipation that never seems to dilute, even after many hundreds (thousands?) of similar outings. With energy reserves that are somehow absent at the same early hour on a work day, I pushed my little vessel out into the breathlessly calm water and drifted for half a moment before yanking the start cord on the weathered old outboard, which sputtered to life with the comfortingly familiar smell of 2-stroke.

With only me onboard, the boat effortlessly rose to the plane and I was soon skimming across a mauve mirrored surface. Even before the first slither of the rising sun had crested the horizon, I was overcome (in retrospect, seeing how silly it sounds, I’m going to stick to such a description from which involuntariness can be inferred) with the desire to yell with joy at the top of my lungs. And so I did. No one around to hear it, so why not? Certainly can’t do that amidst the frenetic pace of a Phillip Street morning on the way to another day in court.  

After a fifteen minute or so run (equivalent to about half a kilometre on Military Road in the T3 Lane during rush hour), I cut the motor and began fishing. Not much happened at first. That seemed, somehow, like the way it should be. Then, at around the time when the morning sun was bright enough to warrant digging amongst the strewn pile of gear for my polarized sunnies, my rod doubled over and the line began to evaporate off my spinning reel. I instantly knew this was a good fish. Still gets my heart thumping as solidly as it ever has. Slowly, and with a palpable mixture of calmness and excitement, I worked the wild creature on the end of my line to the boat. It appeared in the translucent water about 15 metres off the boat’s stern and revealed itself to be what, in NSW at least, would be classed as a near-trophy pink snapper. At that otherwise crucial moment, it was unnecessary to grapple with questions of life and death as the current closed season on the species in Eastern Shark Bay to preserve this precious resource called for a release without removing the fish from the water. That still gave me the opportunity to marvel, through the lens of the glistening water’s surface, the iridescent pink, purple and neon blue markings on the fish; to snap a couple of photos that would prove wholly inadequate in capturing same; and to temporarily feel its sheer strength pulsing through the tail wrist before it gave a sharp kick and swam back to the depths from which it came.    

DaveBlog4 - Shark Bay Pink Snapper
Shark Bay Pink Snapper

To many, this might all sound like utter bullshit. (Kim, who read this entry after I finished writing it – commented when she got about halfway through the preceding paragraph, ‘Now you’re starting to crap on about fishing a bit.’) For those who so designate, I only hope that a comparable, albeit perhaps completely different, connection with the natural world can be (or better still, has already been) discovered through other means. For me, it was another beautiful reminder that I am part of a living world that has been made in an expression of infinite creativity, and entrusted to us fallible humans to steward.

It is probably completely unsurprising that I have sought to fan the flame of my fishing passion with both Olivia and Mia. It remains to be seen whether the embers will catch. Already, it has been interesting to note how they are expressing at least some level of what I choose to interpret as genuine interest in completely different ways. Olivia has become quite adept at tieing flies. Not only is she quite proud (and rightly so) of her own designs but is diligent in quizzing me as to what species of fish I think her hooked inventions will be most likely to fool. Mia, on the other hand, most loves the physical combat of battling a fish (even if it is only a 20cm bream). She wants to turn the handle of the reel against strain and feel the bend in the rod. Upon landing a fish, she is ever keen to touch its scales and even eyeballs! I have told them both, perhaps setting the bar unrealistically high, that a goal for me on this trip is to help each of them to land a fish approximating their own size. Watch this space for news of success or failure (assuming, of course, that Kim permits me to pen another blog on fishing).   

Dave Blog 4 - Morning Wake on Shark Bay
Morning wake on Shark Bay

That leads me nicely to an important postscript. In the months leading up to the trip I anticipated that a likely Achilles heel of our adventure would be too much persistent nagging by me to go fishing, and the correlated impact that would have on Kim’s sanity. Turns out that hasn’t been even the slightest problem (at least so far… touch wood). Nope, what turns out to be a far more potent Kimbo Kryptonite is the driving of long distances where not much happens for hours on end. Perhaps she will try to articulate her state of mental acuity during these ‘travel days’ in her own blog, but I simply cannot pass up the opportunity to detail one particular example of the evident temporary insanity she is enduring. Yesterday, the decision was made to crash at a motel room upon our return to Exmouth, rather than the frankly uninviting prospect of setting up the van in the late evening. I entrusted the job of booking appropriate accommodation to my reluctant wing-woman. She proceeded to do so by way of an online booking on her iPhone. Having successfully done so, she even bragged to the girls that she had found a place to stay with an indoor pool. Yippee! It wasn’t until we were nearing Learmonth airport, when Kim, seemingly reanimated by the prospect of coming back into mobile reception, blurted out, ‘Oh no. I’ve booked (and fully paid for) a hotel room in Exmouth… in the UK!’

It didn’t take long to see the humour in this 21st century travel faux pas, and I couldn’t resist at least a gentle probe into how it had come to pass that my limitlessly talented wife had booked a lovely BnB called ‘Devonshire’ for our family to stay in tonight on the other side of the planet! Even in her frazzled state, Kim joined me in fits of laughter and conceded, somewhat sheepishly, that she should have heard alarm bells when the tariff (which was great value, I might add) was quoted in pounds rather than the good old Aussie dollar. Needless to say, Kim has now firmly resolved that all future accommodation reservations will be by way of that arcane communication method – an actual telephone call.

“being a KiD is amasing”

Mud fun pr-1209

Dave:

In seeking to persuade me to write a trip blog (not that she has ever had much difficulty in persuading me of anything), Kim showed me a surprising number of perpetually footloose young Australian families who have amassed extraordinary coverage in the social media universe. However, one thing that immediately struck me, in some cases at least, was how overt and overwhelming the product placement and commercial elements of these ventures were. I’m told that, for those in the know, it can provide a source of income (or the provision of free gear) equivalent to a decent full-time job. Nice work if you can get it, I s’pose.

And so, in the spirit of full disclosure – I too have ulterior motives in jotting down a few random thoughts for Kim to use however she sees fit. That’s because I have made a deal as well. To wit, it has been decreed that for every blog I write… I get to go fishing! Booyah!! There you have it, I’ve sold out. In response to a comment from a good mate (cheers) in a recent post regarding the apparent lack of fishing action on our trip to date, this situation will hopefully soon be rectified with such a hard won enterprise bargain now in place.  

Shark Bay pr-0452
Shark Bay

But to be perfectly honest, I would probably write this particular entry even without such brazen inducement. It is on a subject close to my heart: the ability for kids to be kids in 2018. I am often deeply saddened by the apparent lack of ability for children today to escape the protection of their parents’ shadow or the structure of heavily organised activity (ballet on Tuesday, gymnastics on Friday, swimming lessons on Saturday morning) and just run amok. To explore, get lost, discover nature and their surroundings, and (gulp) knock up a few bruises and scratches along the way.

I understand there are very good reasons for a high degree of parental vigilance in certain settings. Unfortunately, in my professional life, I see far too much of the constellation of serious harm that can befall innocent children in the absence of proper supervision, monitoring and communication.

Here are a couple of simple experiences over the past few days that have given me more than a pinch of optimism that one of the absolute highlights of this trip will be an appropriate spreading of our children’s wings well beyond that which would be possible if we remained in our ‘normal’ life.

A fantastic piece of advice we received some months before leaving from another set of parents who had done a lot of travelling in their caravan was to get a decent set of ‘Walkie Talkies’ (2-way handheld radios) and teach the kids how to use them. To my knowledge, these sage individuals were not sponsored by any company that markets such devices. Anyone who has spent time at caravan parks knows that squadrons of kids whizzing past your campsite on bikes, scooters and various other wheeled contraptions is an inexorable part of the landscape. So it seemed inevitable that Olivia and Mia, who are both now reasonably adept on their bikes, would soon enough be invited to join such a kids-only bikie gang. When it happened, they were freshly armed with their Walkie Talkie licences and Mia was proud as punch to peddle off with a handset clipped to her T-shirt collar. This gave Kim and I the piece of mind to be able to check in every so often (ok – initially it was more like every 30 seconds) and it was all part of the fun for the kids to respond in their sharply honed radio talk – ‘We’re almost back to the caravan, Dad. Over and out.’

That little slice of independence quickly graduated to an invitation the following morning to join a half a dozen or so other kids on a hike up a private trail to the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse for a whale-watching sortie. Olivia and Mia again left with 2-way in hand. Half an hour or so later, a transmission crackled through that poor-little Mimi had hit her limit on the return march, so I sprinted off up the trail to intercept them. She was fairly out-of-puff by the time I reached them, but her overheating and thirst seemed to be quickly slaked when a 9-year old member of the crew commented that she had never seen a pre-schooler complete such a tough bushwalk all by herself.

On the road to Monkey Mia pr-0456
On the road to Monkey Mia

We have been able to share more closely in other ‘kids-will-be-kids’ experiences. Today, on our second travel day backtracking south to Monkey Mia, we pulled over for Baby Alice to have a feed and found ourselves surrounded by the stickiest, reddest and slipperiest mud imaginable. I knew that any attempted admonitions at cleanliness would likely be futile and, sure enough, after only a matter of minutes Mia was knee deep in the wet clay soil and cackling with unbridled joy. Olivia was a little bit more reluctant (in fact she was bordering on apologetic) but after I coaxed her into the action by assuring her that getting dirty was one of the best parts of being a kid, she was soon in the thick of it also. I think the photos tell the story far better than I can. Back in the car, with our upholstery taking a beating, half-an-hour or so later Olivia passed me a note without fanfare. I took one eye off the road for a second or two to read it. As I absorbed the contents of my eldest daughter’s spontaneous communication, this father’s heart was filled to overflowing. It read: “dear DaD being a KiD is amasing”.   

Mud fun pr-1218

Mud fun pr-1213

The Perils of the Tropical Nor-West

Dave002 nigaloo sunrise photo by Kim

Dave:

I have always been a bit of a softy when it comes to crying. At an early stage of our courtship, Kim chose to give me the benefit of the doubt  (‘he must just be sensitive’) when she spotted a few glistening streaks rolling down my cheeks at the climactic crescendo of the family comedy starring Steve Martin, ‘Cheaper by the Dozen 2’.

And so, it is probably unsurprising that when Olivia and Mia came charging towards me off the tarmac and through the sliding doors into the Learmonth airport arrival lounge I had to blink away eyefuls of saltwater as I embraced them joyfully. They’re here! We are all together in Western Australia and our trip has finally begun.

Prior to leaving, I tried to contemplate every contingency that could pose a possible threat or discomfort for Kim and the girls. Whilst we are beginning our wander a long way from crocodile country, starting our trip north of the Tropic of Capricorn means that there are still plenty of infamous Australian nasties (sharks in the water, snakes on the ground) to keep in mind. Then there are the more mundane risks, like ensuring the water tanks in the van are always well supplied with potable water for drinking (and, of course, multiple daily showering). Not to mention working communications, life jackets, and sun protection. On and on it goes.

Even with many months of dedicated preparation, I will openly admit that I never imagined that the first potential hazard our family would face would be… wait for it… asphyxiation by essential oils.

Having arrived at the campsite, we got stuck into setting up ‘Chelsea’ (the girls’ name for the van, ‘Elsie’ being the name of our car). I turned my attention to arranging ground sheets, tables and camp chairs outside. Kim focused on organising the van. What a team. Coming inside after some time, I was met with the overwhelming aroma that I can only liken to someone attempting to suffocate me with a large bunch of lavender. Turns out, one of the (many) things to make it on Kim’s last minute essentials list was a fancy new aromatherapy kit, complete with a high-tech electric diffuser and a selection of essential oils that was large enough to justify us setting up a stall at the Exmouth Arts and Craft market this coming weekend.

That was ok, whatever brought the comforts of home for Kim was fine with me. But there was a little wrinkle. The entire contents of a bottle of highly concentrated extract had spilled over one of Alice’s pram accessories (that mesh netting stuff) and then the offending bit of material surreptitiously hid itself in a dark corner of the van. All three kids, exhausted from a long day’s travel, went to sleep with uncharacteristically little resistance. ‘Wow. They really were pooped.’ Kim and I commented to each other. When I went to do my routine check on them a half-hour or so later, I noticed that they were all smiling peacefully. It was then that I also noticed there was an almost visible ‘lavender haze’ still enveloping their side of the van. Kim madly started searching Dr. Google for ‘Lavender Poisoning’, I located the offending piece of material, and our first ‘crisis’ was officially averted.

 

The feature image for this post is of the gorgeous Ningaloo sunrise and our lavender-lunged daughters this morning. Photo by Kim. 

Quarantine Stops and a Runaway VW

pr-4326

Dave:

I am writing this at the end of the third day of the drive from Sydney, across Australia, to our ‘starting’ point at Exmouth (Ningaloo). The trip meter is now reading in excess of 3,000km. I am at Balladonia Roadhouse, on the western edge of the Nullarbor, which I crossed in one hit today.

Kim has told the Kombucha story at the quarantine stops (one on the Vic – SA border, the other on the SA – WA crossing), so I don’t need to say too much more. I will add that, at the latter stop, the inspector responsible for vehicle searches, upon discovery of the sizeable cache of Kim’s over-priced yuppy drink, felt compelled to interrogate me somewhat more than I was expecting. Our exchange went something along the following lines:

Inspector: What’s all this?

Me: Kombucha. It’s a fancy fizzy drink. Non-alcoholic.

Inspector (puzzled look): Why have you got so much of it?

Me: My wife doesn’t drink beer.

Inspector (puzzled look seems to shift to genuine curiosity): Oh. What do you do for work?

Me (after briefly considering whether to invoke my right to silence): I am a barrister.

Inspector (puzzled look is really set in now): What’s that?

Me: It’s a type of lawyer who goes to court and dresses up in a funny outfit with a wig.

Inspector: Oh… Ok… You can go now.

     

Quarantine road stops invariably act as a strong reminder of my pre-becoming-a-dad Baja wanderings that were spent madly chasing fish up and down Mexico’s pinky-finger peninsula. Kim has told a story from our time in Mexico so I guess I should follow suit.

The thousand-mile drive south on Mex 1 from Tijuana to the lower Sea of Cortez region is interrupted by half a dozen or so roadblocks manned 24/7 by military personnel with fully automatic weapons (many of whom seem to have barely escaped their teen-years). Like Mr. Kombucha (and with the added confusion of a language barrier created by my Spanglish speaking skills), these infantrymen always seemed somewhat perplexed about how far I was willing to drive just to go fishing from my kayak.

The most ill fated of these expeditions was the one where I set up camp in a dry-river bed in a tiny fishing village, which was then washed away overnight (along with Kim’s VW Jetta) as a full-scale hurricane hit. After several days stranded with no phone or other communication to the outside world, the road into the village having been almost washed away, we eventually managed to hitch a ride out with a local fisherman who had a jacked-up 4WD, and crawled our way to the nearest town with a public phone. When I made the call back to Kim, my carefully planned opening salve was: ‘Hi honey. I have some good news and bad news. The good news is that I’m ok. The bad news is that the car is well, um, it got washed out to sea…’.    

Now that I think about it, perhaps this is one of my (many) past (mis)adventures that has so fortified Kim in her insistence that we embark on our current journey armed with satellite phone, EPIRB, 2-way radios, and a total switch to the Telstra network for our mobiles.

pr-4331

Back to the drive, what can I say about it? It would not be huge overstatement to say that I have enjoyed every minute. I’ve also grown in my already high-level of admiration for a well-narrated audiobook.

Other highlights are more intangible and harder to convey. Like the sharp edge of the outback air in the moments after a passing shower clears, and the golden light of late afternoon making an all too brief appearance.   

So on we roll. Hour after hour. Diesel bowser after diesel bowser. With still more than 2,000 kms to go. I have awoken at 5am the last couple of mornings with the vaguest sense of guilt that I have again enjoyed a night of unbroken sleep whilst Kim wrangles the girls back home and rushes to get those final errands run.

Some of the places that we have passed through carry great spiritual significance to me from my lap around Australia in 2001. Perhaps some more on that in a later post… I am left with a mix of sobriety and overwhelming gratitude in reflecting on how fleetingly those seventeen years of walking in faith have passed. Yet I can barely begin to catalogue how full of blessing they have been.

The point, I am learning, is that true journeys take time.

pr-4348 (1)