Dear Alice

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Dave:

Dear Alice Grace,

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

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

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

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

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Bedtime story time
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Cable Beach sunset

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

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

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Trying to crawl

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

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

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

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Ali with her new friends
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River patterns and freshwater croc

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

Your Daddy

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Mudflat patterns near Wyndham

 

Celebration and Grief… Returning Home

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Kim:

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

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

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SUP’ing at Cygnet Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunset at Cable Beach

Happiness Like This

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Kim:

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

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

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

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Dampier Peninsula
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Kim SUP’ing at Dampier Peninsula

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

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

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Exploring Dampier Peninsula
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Fatbiking and fly fishing near Middle Lagoon

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

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

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Special mother-daughter moments at Cable Beach

What do you want?

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Kim:

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

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

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Stand up paddle boarding at Willie Creek Pearl Farm

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

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

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

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

Flying high! Family fishing adventures at Dampier Archipelago

Dave:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Dashboard trinkets

 

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

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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

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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