Published February 18, 2016
Last New Year I went ‘bush, down under.’ That could mean a couple of things. But in this instance, it means I went camping in the Australian countryside with my partner. We chose to stay at Bear Gully Campground, which is situated in the Cape Liptrap Coastal Park.
Quite often there’ll be a rational link between a place and its name. I deduced that Bear Gully must have something to do with bears. And given the distinct lack of grizzlies in this part of the world, it must relate to the iconic antipodean, the Koala. The pig-like grunts that woke me regularly in the dead of night confirmed my suspicions.
But what about ‘Liptrap’? Is this a place where people regularly and literally get their lips trapped? And what kind of lips are we talking out? Bottom lips, top lips, protruding lips, pursed lips? Places are also named after people, so the mind can stop boggling.
The Cape is named after John Liptrap, who, as far as I can tell, was linked in some way to Lieutenant James Grant. Grant sighted this particular cape on 9 December in 1800. That’s what he’s known for. It’s not that impressive since there have been thousands of indigenous people who had seen it long before him.
There is bore water that is not for human consumption. The laundry and bathing facilities are called ‘the ocean’. The electricity is ‘BYO’, or solar panels if you can afford them. Or, in the case of one ‘neighbour’, a noisy generator, employed solely for the purpose of powering his son’s laptop.”
It doesn’t appear that things have changed much here between then and now. It’s basic, to say the least. Maybe that’s the reason camping is cheap, though camping equipment isn’t the same price as chips. Minimum requirements include a tent, mats, esky (haven’t got one), board shorts (always forget them), camping stove (10 bucks for the type that might explode), chairs, tarp, poles and rope for the tarp, walking shoes, insect repellent, sunscreen, petrol and food.
But the scrub of land where one may put up a tent is cheap, relatively speaking. Not relative to my rent. The spot we pitched on cost 37 bucks per night. I pay 31 bucks per night for half a house in Brunswick. The differences don’t end there.
The house I live in has hot and cold running water, a shower, laundry, doors, a roof, cooking facilities and a flushing toilet. At Bear Gully, the toilets are ‘long drop.’ There is bore water that is not for human consumption. The laundry and bathing facilities are called ‘the ocean’. The electricity is ‘BYO’, or solar panels if you can afford them. Or, in the case of one ‘neighbour’, a noisy generator, employed solely for the purpose of powering his son’s laptop. My partner soon put an end to that racket.
The lack of amenities is matched by a lack of privacy. I heard a range of bodily functions from the other side of the campground. I’m sure they were equally privy to mine.”
The lack of amenities is matched by a lack of privacy. I heard a range of bodily functions from the other side of the campground. I’m sure they were equally privy to mine. So be careful what you say and do. I know more about my campground neighbours after three nights than I do about my home neighbours after two years. Camping is real life Big Brother, but not as interesting.
Let’s talk about my fellow campers. Apart from generator-wielding loons, we were exposed to young, tattooed, beer-guzzling, burnt, nationalistic bogans. Babies who emptied their lungs to make up for the lack of cockerels on site. Mature ladies on the prowl for younger men. And park rangers who resembled something between Papa Smurf and an animated South Park character. Though they weren’t as funny or endearing.
So why bother? Well, there are a couple of reasons.
To sit on a rocky outcrop, and witness the substantial Bass Strait waves crash in front of a Wilson’s Prom backdrop is pure magic.”
The moment we walked off the campsite and onto the beach we were completely blown away. The Australian coastline – is there a more beautiful thing to gawk at? There are equals of course. Cumbria being one that I regularly wax about. Not to mention the beautiful medieval French villages that hang from the tops of the Pyrenean or Alpine mountains. But this is incredible nonetheless.
To sit on a rocky outcrop, and witness the substantial Bass Strait waves crash in front of a Wilson’s Prom backdrop is pure magic.
I couldn’t be happier to be on the outside of Wilson’s Prom looking in. While it has a proper laundry, hot showers, electricity equality, clean drinking water and sealed roads, it also has thousands of inhabitants vying for space. At Bear Gully, there were about 40 of us. This means we had beaches to ourselves for hours on end.
Camping is the art of doing without luxury, which is good for you. It taught me to appreciate what I have, added much-needed character to my personality, and helped me feel like I was better than people who have more money than me. In short, if there’s no suffering it’s not proper camping. I’d rather experience the escaping trapped wind of an obnoxious drunk nationalist than hear the theme tune to Neighbours drift across an early evening bush vista. (I know it’s not aired in the holidays, but you get the idea.)
Other sounds that expose false campers include the ‘ping’ of microwave ovens that warm food I can only dream of. The bubbling of electrically boiled kettles that complete the task in minutes, rather than a large fraction of an hour that my potentially hazardous camping stove takes. And last, but not least, the sound of people comparing their luxury motorhomes, and banging on about golf and shares.
There is an alternative to both the Prom and a basic campground. Only a few hundred metres up the beach are Bear Gully Cottages. I bet they’d have incredible coastal views, privacy, exclusivity, toilets, a shower and air conditioning.
If I won the lottery tomorrow, signed a five-million-dollar book deal, or received a hundred percent raise from my boss, would I trade the magic of proper campground life for one of those cottages? Bloody right, I would.