It's not you, it's me

We’re currently in Katherine in the Northern Territory and this week I have learnt two things:

  1. That Australia is a very big place with not that many people in it.
  2. I am still terrible at remembering names and faces.

When you’re travelling Australia with a caravan in tow and you’re in the northern part of the country during winter peak season, it’s easy to be blown away by just how many people are doing the same thing as you. Everywhere we look there are grey nomads and other families travelling this beautiful country of ours. Every caravan park we stay at is full. Every free camp is packed out. It seems to be that everyone has had the same idea as us.

But then we stop in the one place for more than a week and I realise there aren’t as many people as doing this epic trip around the country as I think, because I keep bumping into the same people.

There are plenty of families we keep crossing paths with who we met early on in our travels in NSW or QLD. A lovely little family from Adelaide kept finding us in different spots all the way up the East Coast. We met another family at Yeppoon in Queensland and saw them again at Alice Springs and Uluru. This week Jarrah had a playdate with a friend he made over two months ago at a caravan park in Cairns. There’s lots of travelling families, but also very few. I will always remember the families we’ve met in our travels as our kids connect with each other and we tend to chat about all the things we have in common. It’s the grey nomads I have trouble remembering.

We’ve stayed in countless different campsites across a 6000km stretch of Australian Highway across almost 5 months of the year. We’ve met hundreds of retired grey-haired couples in caravans who are travelling the country and in my mind they’re beginning to blur together. This week alone I’ve had four different people approach me smiling and telling me we camped in the same place at the same time a few weeks ago, or maybe months ago, somewhere in Australia. I recognise these people’s faces but I couldn’t tell you a single other thing about them.

What’s the problem then, you ask? The problem is that it gets a little awkward because these people remember us. They remember where we’re going. They remember where we’ve come from. Some even remember the names of our kids. Because, whilst they’re just another grey haired couple in a shiny white caravan driving a silver or white 4WD, we’re those dreadlocked hippie-looking characters in the caravan with ‘Tree & Pixie’ plastered on it with the cute but loud baby/toddler and the three year old who NEVER ever stops talking. So I guess we kind of stand out.

Those conversations are always awkward. Where the person I’m talking to knows everything about my life and I know nothing about theirs. And it’s not just now that it happens, it’s been happening most of my life. I’ve always had a terrible memory for names, I’m pretty bad at listening and I’ve always dressed a little weird. I don’t really know why people remember me, but they always do.

So, to all the grey nomads out there I keep bumping into and not recognising, I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me. Next time I’ll try a little harder to listen when you tell me your name and where you’re from, because we may just meet again down the road, in this big (but small) country of ours.

There’s something about Central Australia that really resonates with me. Every time I’ve visited this part of Australia I’ve felt relaxed and at home. Every time I’ve visited, I’ve left feeling a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger and I’ve left wanting to return. It could be the relaxed way of life, influenced by an indigenous population who are still firmly connected to their culture. It could be the remoteness of this place that just screams ‘adventure’ or perhaps it’s the striking desert landscape of reds, browns and muted green. Either way, this place is amazing and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Seven weeks ago we crossed the border from Queensland into the Northern Territory. We stopped at the border sign and I cried with excitement and happiness. You see, whilst I have visited this place three times, Dave has never been here. Every time I have flown into Alice Springs, it was for a university placement and my husband could not join me. I have had amazing and life changing experiences in this place, but I have never been able to share it with him. The number one place I wanted to visit on this trip around Australia was the Northern Territory. We’re here, and the past seven weeks have been spectacular.

We stopped off in Tennant Creek where Nella took her first steps and I had fun revisiting places I hadn’t seen since 2010 when I spent 5 weeks in the town completing my teaching practicum.

After Tennant Creek, we headed to a tiny place on the Stuart Highway called Ti Tree. After three years of maternity leave, I spent two weeks teaching the upper primary class at Ti Tree School. It was challenging but a good experience for all of us. Dave had his first stint of being a stay-at-home dad and tells me it’s easier than I make it out to be. I hadn’t taught in years, had never taught primary school students and it had been a long time since I’d taught indigenous students. Suffice to say, I felt like I had literally thrown myself back into teaching. By the end of the two weeks I started to feel like I knew what I was doing, just in time for the school holidays to start and us to continue on our journey.

In Alice Springs we enjoyed chilling out for a week. Dave caught up on his TAFE studies, we went to the annual Beanie Festival and explored the West Macdonnell Ranges. I had a stall at the fortnightly Todd Mall Markets, which are my favourite markets so far. I sold loads of stock, every customer was friendly and I met some very interesting people.

We then headed to Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and Watarrka (Kings Canyon). There’s a reason these places are such popular tourist destinations. They were absolutely amazing. We walked around 30kms over 6 bushwalks over 8 days. We were very thankful for our Ergo and Tula baby carriers. We got lots of positive comments from fellow bushwalkers when they saw us walking some difficult trails, each with a child on our backs. We realised we are stronger and fitter than we ever imagined and that even though our children are only one and three, we can complete almost any single day bushwalk we come across. Even Jarrah walked over 5km one day before needing carried in the Tula. It was awesome to see our three year old climb to the top of Kings Canyon, whilst many adults around him struggled. He’s learning that he’s fit and strong and I think that’s important.

We spent another week in Alice Springs before heading out to Gem Tree on the Plenty Highway. I’d read on camping forums on Facebook that it was an interesting place to visit and it didn’t disappoint. We camped in the red dirt under the Mulga Trees at Gem Tree caravan park. The kids dug in the dirt and ran around and rode their bikes. I had never seen them so filthy! We fossicked for gemstones and came out with a small bag of garnets, 3 of which were big enough to cut and make into jewellery. Now we just need to decide what to do with them. Twice a week the caravan park puts on a camp oven roast dinner under the stars which we partook in. It was delicious and definitely worth keeping the kids up late for.

 

This morning we left Gem Tree and drove over 500kms to Tennant Creek. We’re back in the same caravan park we began our Central Australian adventure in and it’s time to head north. Soon we’ll leave Central Australia and see what the northern parts of the Territory have to offer. I’m excited about the next bit of our adventure but also a little sad to be leaving this part of the country. I know I’ll be back here again one day.