My father insisted on getting out of the “big city” of Sydney each Sunday. One weekend, he drove my mother, my older sister and my ten year old self, on a car ride into the Blue Mountains and along Kangaroo Highway. This highway consisted of hundreds of hairpin bends and I remember it as the “vomit” highway. It twisted and backlashed ad nauseum. (forgive me)
We set up camp out in the bush. In those days, one could pitch camp anywhere. One of my most difficult adjustments on traveling in the USA was the concept of “private property.” (In Oregon, I woke up one morning to a rifle pointed at my head… but that’s another story.)
My father pitched our tent, hammering down stakes into dry soil, gathering supplies and reliving his Australian army days, his felt “digger”soldier’s hat crooked on his bald head. As dusky twilight descended over the blue fog of the mountains, he lit the campfire. Two Y-stakes held a long branch horizontally over a fire and on that branch hung the billy can. This rusty pot, the “billy can,” held water over the flames. Into the water my father tossed a handful of eucalyptus leaves, just picked from the prolific gum trees that exuded the classic blue tinge of Blue Mountain fog. This water boiled into gum leaf tea, sugared and sipped from tin mugs while we huddled around the dying embers of the campfire. The scent of boiling gum leaves and mountain air still hang in my memory, a smoky trail left behind…
That night, we slept in the tent, huddled inside sleeping bags, warm against the summer chill. During the night a sudden rain storm thundered down. The tent vibrated and swung in the onslaught. Awakened, half asleep and needing to pee, I climbed from my sleeping bag and felt my way through the front tent flap to the outside.
Soaking wet and blinded by the darkness and the downpour, I could not find my way back to the front opening of the tent. Scrambling around the edges of the tent, I lifted up one of the tent sides. My startled father shoved me down into the mud, shone a flashlight into my eyes and raised a thick stick over my head, ready to bash in my brains.
“What the hell are you doing?” he shouted over the rain. “I thought you were breaking into the tent.”
At that moment, the tent collapsed.
We spent the remainder of the dark hours shivering and shaking under the wet canvas.
“You never know,” my father repeated multiple times. “You never know who might be traipsing around out there in the middle of the night. You never know…”
Just as well he carried a big stick.