Put on Your brave

Put on Your Brave:  Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Part 2: The Capricorn Coast

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

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

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

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

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

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Home Sweet Van

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Alice

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Dave:

Dear Alice Grace,

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

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

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

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

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Bedtime story time
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Cable Beach sunset

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

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

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Trying to crawl

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

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

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

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Ali with her new friends
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River patterns and freshwater croc

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

Your Daddy

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Mudflat patterns near Wyndham

 

Celebration and Grief… Returning Home

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Kim:

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

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

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SUP’ing at Cygnet Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunset at Cable Beach

Happiness Like This

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Kim:

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

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

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

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Dampier Peninsula
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Kim SUP’ing at Dampier Peninsula

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

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

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Exploring Dampier Peninsula
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Fatbiking and fly fishing near Middle Lagoon

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

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

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Special mother-daughter moments at Cable Beach

What do you want?

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Kim:

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

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

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Stand up paddle boarding at Willie Creek Pearl Farm

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

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

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Our little wanderers wearing gorgeous dresses by Little Kimberley

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.

Daddys Girls

Western Wanders

Olivia:

Western Wanders

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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BullaraStationNightscape

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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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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