Peedamulla Campground

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Kim:

I stood in awe of the sunset over the beautiful red earth of the Banyjima people. I pinched myself. Perhaps, like the beautiful stories told by the traditional owners of the land at Peedamulla campground, I was, in fact, dreaming.

It was thanks to a recommendation from friends that we had found Peedamulla campground in the heart of the Pilbara, between Onslow and Karratha. This hidden beauty is a Tourism Western Australia initiative called, ‘Camping With Custodians’, which enables visitors to stay on Aboriginal lands and engage with indigenous members of the local community.  

Just hours prior to writing this, Olivia and Mia had been sliding through expansive mudflats on the mouth of the Cane River. ‘Come on Mum, we’ll show you how to have some fun,’ Mia excitedly urged. ‘You need to make the most of this,’ she continued with wisdom that could only come from a four-year-old covered head to toe in mud. Given her age, there was really no way she could have understood the significance or complexities of what we were experiencing at Peedamulla. That we privileged white fellas were able to explore such significant country and hear stories about the history of the land through eyes so different to our own.  

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Earlier in the day, we had been bush bashing along 4WD tracks to the significant cultural site on the property where each year young Aboriginal men would complete their traditional month-long initiation into manhood. Our generous host was Preston Parker, whose family were the current owners of the campground and adjoining cattle station built in the 1880’s. Preston explained to us that up to ten tribes from the Pilbara region would gather on the land annually for Wardilba, a traditional celebration where singing, dancing and storytelling would continue into the early hours of the morning. This celebration continues to this day. This is most miraculous, and a testament to the determination of Preston’s family, given the context of devastating historical depopulation of the Indigenous people in the region. My heart filled with sadness when I viewed the General Certificate of Exemption under Section 18c of the Aborigines Protection Act 1909-1943 that actually prohibited speaking in native language; engaging in dance, rituals, and native customs; and associating with fellow indigenous people. Despite the near extinction of his family’s language during that time, Preston spoke with a gentle but fierce determination and hope that Peedamulla would become a place where Aboriginal people of the region would return to the land to share traditional knowledge, customs and language of their culture.

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We were fortunate enough to also be taken through the ruins of the original Peedamulla Homestead built for the pastoral station pioneer Edmund Burt in the 1880’s and destroyed by Cyclone Vance in 1999. We also sat and listened to stories around the campfire each night, as well as visiting a culturally significant waterhole surrounded by the most incredible rock formations. The girls made new friends with some of the local kids, who gladly let them ride along on the back of their four-wheeled motorbike through the red dirt. While they may not have appreciated its significance, it is my hope that the opportunity provided our girls with an experience that will become a small building block towards their proper appreciation of the history and culture of country.

There is no doubt that the Peedamulla land is a place of restoration. Beyond the beautiful setting, the land provides a catalyst of restoration. May this be so not just for passing tourists, but far more importantly, for the future generations of the traditional custodians of this harsh but beautiful country.  

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Little trinkets of joy

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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.

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  • 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’.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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Bushwalking and Beyond

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Kim:

We completed our longest bushwalk of the trip this week. It was a whole three and a half kilometres, and a significant achievement for the little legs of our family. Despite my sports-filled childhood and Dave’s love for the wilderness, previous to this trip our daughters had become increasingly accustomed to the instant gratification that city life has to offer.

By the time Livy and Mia had reached the age of two, we were rarely a stone’s throw away from an ice cream shop for when they were hot, a babycino for when they were cold, and the ABC iView app for times of boredom, public misbehaviour, or parental desperation. Before embarking on this trip, our reward system for their behaviour had become so out of control that Dave and I regularly joked that they were being rewarded for wiping their bottoms. We had frequently lamented that despite our best efforts, our life had become like a pressure cooker about to explode, or a smartphone running way too many apps and in desperate need of a full recharge. A direct result of this was a mild dose of self-entitled children whose easily-tired legs rarely needed to transport them further than the length of the shopping mall.

The first kilometre of our bushwalk was full of joy as the girls were perfectly content to busy themselves jumping over rocks, exploring new things, and engaging in adventurous games. By the second kilometre, their little legs were growing tired and it was clear that they were looking for a way out of their discomfort. Their expectation was evident: either Dave would carry them, or they would magically grow wings and fly out of the forest just like Tinkerbelle. Either way, their fun was over, and much to our discredit they were not accustomed to being pushed beyond their comfort zone.

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Immersing our family in nature and bushwalking on this trip was an intentional decision to develop perseverance and resilience in our children. We hope these qualities will outlive the duration of the trip. While Dave and I made sure to point out all the world heritage listed beauty spots that took our breath away, it seemed that it was our own attitude towards the situation that shaped their experience the most.

On this trip, there have been no shortage of situations where we are positioned to shape the character and spirit of our children. With all of our instant gratification and bribery tools removed from our parenting belts, we stop checking the clock wondering how to pass the time between four and seven pm, and we become excited to engage in our children to the end of the bushwalk and beyond.

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Star light, star bright

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Kim:

I wondered what she saw as her tiny blue eyes fixated on the mesmerising night sky.  It had taken a few moments for the rest of our eyes to adjust before the skies opened and millions of sparkling stars danced around us. It was well past their usual bedtime as we loaded our tiniest wanderer and her excited sisters into Elsie and drove down the road away from the ambient light of the campground for some star gazing. Mia (with Dave’s assistance) drove us approximately 500 metres up the dirt road to reach the spot that Dave had scoped out for us the previous night. The Southern Cross and Milky Way were on brilliant display. To say we were completely awestruck is an understatement. The mystery of what Alice processed as she looked up to the skies was a completely humbling experience of the marvel of our Creator.

The last few days of our trip have been unexpectedly awesome. We had heard from a few fellow travellers that there is a working cattle station about 100 kms south of Exmouth that provided a great family farm stay experience. With strong winds interrupting our costal plans, we decided it would be the perfect time to head inland. We were not disappointed.   

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Exmouth Gulf Bullara Station

We arrived at Bullara Station at dusk, just in time for the nightly communal campfire where the owner of the property cooked and shared delicious damper and hearty burgers. With about 100 people from all corners of the country cosily gathered on camp chairs, drinks in hands, listening to a recital of Banjo Patterson’s timeless, The Man From Snowy River, it was the perfect setting for new friendships to be made. Given I had been longing for sharing a cup of tea and a chat with a female over the age of seven for a couple of weeks now, the opportunity to meet other travelling mums was particularly welcome. Normalising crazy travel stories was such a relief, especially when our new friends displayed no judgment the following morning when Dave and I had to make the 120km round trip to the nearest mini-market after running out of nappies!    

Given Olivia and Mia have watched the movie ‘Little Rascals’ on repeat throughout the trip you can imagine their delight when their new friend at Bullara Station showed them a REAL treehouse, complete with a pile of old timber pallets for them to continue the complex architecture of their very own fortress. Watching the simple beauty of our daughters climbing and playing among the gorgeous eucalyptus trees brought much joy to my heart. Society tells us that times when ten-year old boys could ride bikes, play tip, and build treehouses with seven and four year old girls without a parent in sight and for hours on end are over. There is a real richness is experiencing otherwise.

As Dave and I drove back to the coast, contemplating how our experience differed from our other holidays, I turned to him and said without a second of thought, “I feel like I am really living.”

 

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Stand up paddle boarding at Coral Bay
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Swimming at Coral Bay

Western Wanders

Olivia:

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in Exmouth again. Surfing it up. wandring around from beaches to whale sharks and snorkelling around. Shells  Dunes  Fish  what ever we Find.

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Family Stargazers 

in the night we Explore the star’s, planets, and more. We just can’t wait to Explore. one two three or four we have Adventures Any Where!

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A adventure is Exploring and that is a true passion you can have it too!

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The Picture Perfect Adventure Fallacy

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Kim:

Harder…faster…don’t stop!’ I encouraged Dave with great enthusiasm as he rhythmically… rocked Alice’s bassinet back and forth, desperately trying to get her to resettle so that this would not be just another 20 minute power-nap. ‘Waaaaaaaa! Baahhhh! Waaaaaaa’, our smallest team member howled in response.

I stepped outside. ‘Girls,’ I began to raise my voice, now on the verge of tears. ‘I am not negotiating with you. The next piece of food you eat will be fruit.’ Dave appeared and announced, ‘I need to get out. Go for a walk, take a shower, something, before I snap.’ We were both exasperated. It was pack-up camp time again. While we had somewhat gotten used to the process of essentially moving houses with three young children every four days, this pack up was by far the worst. The weather didn’t help. The winds had escalated to over thirty knots, which meant we literally had to try to pack up camp with all three girls cooped up in the tin can. Our usually chilled wanderer Alice has hit the four-month mark and is going through the notorious sleep regression. I thought by the third child I would be able to more easily put this phase into better perspective, but I was presently overwhelmed by the fear that I would never sleep again.  

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I walked passed the van and momentarily imagined throwing eggs at it. I didn’t actually do it – egging the caravan would require me to undertake more washing, without a dishwasher or laundry. Our dishes were already piled especially high after the dinner party we had hosted (caravan style) as a farewell to our surf instructor.

I have repeatedly questioned, given my current circumstance (being on a trip of a lifetime), whether it is ok to complain, especially in public. I have decided (for the time being) that it is not only ok but, perhaps, important. Important, not only because I felt somewhat lost without my usual support outlets surrounding me to debrief over a cup of tea and tell me exactly what I needed to hear, but because I think it is important to be real about the fact that the idea of picture perfect parenting (or family adventures for that matter) is a fallacy.   

The frequent neighbour to the many magical moments we have been experiencing are demanding children and exhausted parents, often not bringing out the best in each other. The difficulty of navigating the effects of changing family dynamics should not be underestimated. While it was wonderful to have Dave around so much, I perhaps had romanticized my expectations of spending 24/7 with each other and having him as such a significant part of the girls’ and my routine during usual office hours. Similarly, I am sure Dave has gotten pretty jack of my constant nagging, snapping, and shorting the van’s electrical circuit by running the entire contents of one of our 90L water tank through the hot water system (it was a great shower) whilst simultaneously cranking the air-conditioner. Allowing vulnerability to be disclosed and become part of our story during this wonderful season of our lives has led to significant personal and spiritual growth. Meeting each other where we are actually at instead of where we think we ought to be has been surprisingly cathartic and enabled us to try to never take ourselves too seriously… at least most of the time.

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Swimming with Whale Sharks!

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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.

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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).

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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. 

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Photo by Ocean Eco Adventures

Van Life Grammar School

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Kim:

Unjustified leave was circled in blue pen. I was holding the official response to our application for Olivia to miss a term of school for this trip. The inner goodie-two-shoes in me began to worry. Were we depriving our firstborn of educational opportunities that she would never receive again? While my intuition suggested not, I was greatly relieved when the highly regarded school principal responded to my well intentioned, yet unquestionably over-the-top phone call with a, “Go and have a great time.” It was the best thing we did with our kids.” So here we are, nearly a month into our trip and Van Life Grammar School has just begun.

After receiving the principal’s (unofficial) blessing, Dave and I agreed that apart from the usual reading, writing, and arithmetic, a large bulk of our home school curriculum would consist of basic life skills that we had thus far missed teaching the girls because of busyness and/or lax parenting. Gone were the days when learning to ride a two-wheeled bike consisted of a push down a bitumen hill, or when poor manners resulted in a good chase around the backyard with a wooden spoon. As a result, Van Life Grammar was going to try to get back to a hint of the good old days.

Van Life Grammar School
Van Life Grammar School

Our first term day of VLGS began with Mummy’s School of Table Manners. “Sit with your legs tucked neatly under, and your elbows off the table,” I explained to the girls. Liv’s hand quickly rose. “Yes, Olivia,” I prompted, expecting her to ask me where to place her neatly folded napkin. “I just did two pongos,” she laughed, Mia quickly following suit in hysterics. Oh dear, it seemed that I was going to have a long term ahead of me. Time to call in the big guns… Mr David.

As Dave appeared in our makeshift classroom outside of the van, he was appropriately dressed in snorkelling attire. He and Olivia were off for a snorkel in Coral Bay, and upon their return they would review their underwater GoPro footage to record, on their custom-made observation chart, what species of fish they had seen, in what number, and estimate their appropriate measurements. This science lesson would be followed by a family game of cricket. Beach art was scheduled for the final period of the school day, where the girls and I would attempt to make coloured sand, beautifully presented in my empty Kombucha bottles (hopefully softening the blow for Dave of the $6 price tag).

By the following morning, our enterprising students had impressed us with their quick ability to put their maths and art lessons into practice, setting up an impromptu shop at the front of the van selling their coloured sand bottles to the lovely grey nomads until they gathered enough coin to ride their bikes to the corner store to buy themselves a supply of ice cream and lollies.

Snorkel class

While I don’t think I am a natural educator, this season has blessed me with a unique environment in which I can be intentional about teaching my daughters. I feel both an opportunity and responsibility to choose carefully each day the values, lessons and skills with which I want to impart them to grow into strong, hardworking, and kind people. I want them to leave my classroom each day with an understanding of how deeply loved they are and more of an understanding of themselves and their wild hearts. Of course, living in such close proximity to each other means that they will likely learn more from the behaviour they see modelled by Dave and I than from our more structured lessons. What a very scary thought!

Spending so much time with our children during this trip has also made us realise how much we learn each day from them. They have an incredible ability to be content and excited with simple things, show us unconditional love when we make mistakes, and make us laugh instead of cry even when things are not that funny.

The gals

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Ningaloo Coast

Tensions

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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.      

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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.

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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

      

Oh, the places you’ll go!

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Kim:

I hate this!” I hissed at Dave as we drove over yet another patch of particularly corrugated dirt road. We had about another forty-five kilometres to go on the road and the last vehicle we had passed gave us the courtesy of winding down his window to forewarn us just what a “#$%* of a road” we had left to travel.  

“I just don’t understand what about this you find enjoyable” I asked / interrogated Dave, closer to the point of tears than I’d care to admit. I turned to my friend Jess who had spontaneously flown over from Sydney to join us for a week of adventure as we travelled ‘off the grid’ to Ningaloo Station. I was hopeful she would back my position of this not being a good idea. Despite being jammed into the boot of the car with a plethora of our gear nearly suffocating her, she seemed perfectly comfortable that our chosen form of holiday was to deprive ourselves of on-the-grid conveniences with three small children, all for the sake of… well at that particular point in time I wasn’t sure what it was for the sake of!

“The end will justify the means, Kim.” Dave assured me.  “I promise. Just trust me,” he said.  Famous last words, I thought to myself, wondering if the generator was going to be able to handle the surge of electricity required to fire my coffee machine in the morning.

We had first heard of Ningaloo Station from a friend in Sydney who had praised it as one of his all- time favourite spots from his own wanderings around Australia. The next piece of the puzzle that persuaded us to make the effort to visit happened when Dave arrived in Perth to pick up his ‘dream boat’ during the drive over.

A much maligned (by me) Gumtree purchase, the vessel in question could be rightly described as glorified tinny that fitted neatly on top of the car – weighing almost half of its aluminium equivalent (Dave made me add that bit). As a credit to his humility, Dave acted as though he had just purchased one of Kerry Packer’s prestigious mega-yachts. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder darling,” he said while dreamily starring at the new boat that the girls had named ‘Barry’. As things would transpire, the previous owner of Barry had also enjoyed many seasons at Ningaloo Station with his family shortly before his passing. When his wife heard of our plans, she was more than happy to call her friend and the owner of the station to organise for us to free camp at one of the top sites. So here we were, twenty kilometres down a corrugated dirt road travelling at twenty kilometres an hour with 45 kilometres to go.

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I didn’t doubt that where we were heading was going to be beautiful. I was actually scared of being so remote from my urban security blanket (or at least a powered van site and sealed road!). While I wasn’t happy at the thought that my coffee machine may not work in the morning, it was the anxious and invasive thought that if something happened to the girls there would be no one or nothing around that genuinely made me feel so uncomfortable with this endeavour. 

My fear was almost immediately alleviated when we were personally greeted at our camp site by our next-door neighbour, Roger, who personified a helpful Aussie mate. “I heard you were coming today”, he said happily,  “I’ll help you back the caravan in,” he offered to Dave (and thank goodness for that). “We have been coming here for 42 years. My oldest son was just her age when we first started coming here,” he explained, smiling warmly at Alice. It turned out that Roger and his wife Jan camped at Ningaloo Station for the winter months each year and was so much a part of the camp’s fabric that he has even bored his own water source. Although there were not many people around, Roger and the Ningaloo Station community welcomed us with open arms. From sharing stories over a cold beer in the afternoon, to the kids ‘collecting bones’ together, to letting us in on the best snorkelling and fishing spots, we felt far more a part of a group of people you could count on than I had imagined. Worries alleviated (mostly).  

I hate to admit it, but Dave was right. We got to camp metres away from a beautiful turquoise bay that was a quick snorkel, stand up paddle board, or kayak from the World Heritage-listed coral gardens of Ningaloo Reef. The girls spent their days happily combing the beach for shells, discovering the underwater world, and jumping off the front of Daddy’s prized boat as it bobbed at anchor about 20m from the door of our van. “I can’t believe I have such a fancy boat” Dave exclaimed at one point, before continuing, “…and all the girls want to do is jump off the front of it like a diving board.” We feasted on freshly caught seafood while watching the sunset. Similarly special moments were shared as we tilted the camp chairs to maximum horizontal and spent some time star gazing under the clear night skies.

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While we fell asleep at night to crashing waves, we were often woken up by the sudden change of weather, including some howling winds. So much so that on one night Dave had to go for a 2am swim to retrieve our 3.5 x 3.5m shade gazebo which had been picked up and blown off the beach. Not the first piece of equipment that our family had lost to a tempest, so there was no point getting too stressed about it.

As I began to unwind into a more natural rhythm I was able to connect deeply with the incredible nature and people that surrounded me. I was constantly reminded that going off the grid was not in fact losing control of my daily happenings, but rather a precious opportunity to realise I was never really in control in the first place.

I am sorry to say goodbye to this special place. A place where precious memories were created with family and friends, a place where good Aussie mateship was experienced freely and a place where my character was built by facing some of my fears. As we stopped at the end of the corrugated road to re-inflate all eight tyres before hitting the blacktop, a couple beginning their journey wound down their window to ask, “What’s the road like?” I replied, “Pretty rough,”  but then quickly added, “…completely worth it.  Have a great time.”

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