There is something about getting out into wide open spaces that is good for your soul. Not just to recharge the batteries, but to bring a sense of space and wonder back into your life.
Recently, my husband and I took our three children on an Australian outback holiday. We drove from coast to coast, starting at the bottom of Australia, in Victoria, where we live, to the very top in Darwin. Now, Australia is one big country and we travelled over 6000 km to do this. We were lucky enough to see the Flinders Ranges, Coober Pedy, Alice Springs, Uluru, Kings Canyon, Dunmurra, Litchfield National Parks, Kakadu and Darwin. Half of the time we stayed in accommodation and the other half in a campervan.
I know what you’re thinking - this just takes, "are we there yet," to a whole new level. Yes, it did. There were definitely more than a few ehm, moments, and I now have a much higher appreciation for my bathroom, but there was so much more than that.
I have decided to share the key moments in this trip, and how they impacted on me. Why? Because I do hope that it inspires some of you to get out and take an adventure in your own backyard.
In no particular order:
Number One: Space
I don’t want to sound like a space cadet, but I do believe that looking into wide open spaces gives you a feeling of more space in your own life. Personally, this experience has left me more inspired and ready to write. I distinctively remember the moment when we left civilisation and hit the open roads, where there is nothing to see, but animals, red dirt, a bit of scrub and those skies that go on forever. I didn’t realise that I was craving this, until I had this experience. It was pure joy being able to look out and not have to think, just be. It was akin to meditation.
Number Two: The night sky
Like most people, we live our lives indoors. At night, we scurry around after our children, cooking, talking, eating, thinking. When we go to bed, we shut up our houses, checking everything is locked. Boy, are we missing out. When you are in the outback, you get the best view in the world. And, all you have to do is look up. There, waiting for you, is another dimension, a pathway into another galaxy. We were lucky enough to do an astronomy session at Uluru on our trip, so a little knowledge, a whole lot of interest and a star tracker app on your phone, the whole family can get involved.
I did have to laugh, after so much moving around, when one of our children said, "Well, at least the Southern Cross is familiar." And, she will always know due South now at night, which is I’m sure where she wanted to head at times!
Number Three: Living on the edge
Really, for us city folk, being in the outback feels a little like you are living on the edge. You never know what might run out on the road, what the places will be like where you are staying (particularly when you hear things like, "Don’t worry love, we’ve never turned away anyone in twenty years), or what animal you might meet in the bathroom or sometimes, your bed. I kind of like this, it adds to the thrill. More than that, it gets the whole family talking and more importantly, laughing. Wondering whether your bed will have bed bugs can actually be rather amusing (as long as there’s not), and listening to dogs/ dingos howling at the full moon in Kakadu was something I will never forget.
Number Four: Sense of History
There is nothing in the world like being an a completely untouched, ancient part of the world. It absolutely has to be one of my favourite things. To look around and see nature in its raw form feels so rare, and so, so beautiful.
We were lucky enough to witness this a few times on our trip. Being near Uluru, feelings its energy, learning its story is a gift. Just being in the wilderness at Kakadu, being its witness, is beyond words.
Australia is an old country, and its stories and heart are hidden from those who do not go out in search of it. Exploring part of this great country helped me understand where I live, and not only its recent history and the tragic actions of the first white settlers here. But, also much further back, when Aboriginal people and their land lived together in complete harmony for 50 000 plus years.
It was a time when history was told in stories. Where elders raised their children with deliberate intent for the whole being. Where knowledge, not belongings and money, was valued. Where trees were not just trees, but gave shelter, tools or knowledge about the seasons, animals and food.
Learning a little about Aboriginal history was an important and extremely interesting thing to do. It gave us an appreciation for this beautiful culture and a thirst to learn more.
Seeing some of the social issues that some Aboriginal people are facing in the transition to this new world, is heartbreaking. I am dumbfounded that this is kept quiet and is not on the lips of our politicians or being discussed in mainstream media.
There are very real issues that needs discussion, attention, empathy, healing and a new way forward that is based on respect. For me, the word respect is what matters most. It’s overdue, but is at the heart of this.
For example, hoards of people still climb Uluru, an ancient and important spiritual site for Aboriginal people. It makes my blood boil. If we were asked to take our shoes off to enter a church, we would. So, why don’t we respect the traditional owners of this land, and do what they ask - in their church. Enough said.
Number five: Time as a family
Spending time in the outback as a family has been a gift, and one that I will always cherish. Sure, spending hours in the car and small spaces was not always fun, but there was fun to be had in so many unexpected ways.
Listening to our children talk to each other (because let's face it, they had nothing else to do) and get to know each other was a highlight. We laughed together over so many silly things, and I can honestly say, that was my favourite part. We all know each other more, and we still love each other.
As my husband said, this trip will just get better with time. One of my children literally covered her eyes when she saw a campervan in the street after our trip, so I am thinking it could take her a bit longer, but seriously, these memories are the gold of childhoods - the good, the bad and the ugly.
Best family memory from trip: Doing the chicken dance as a family in Dunmurra at the (proudly displayed) 2* restaurant lost in the 70s. It was one of the funniest things we have done. How did that happen? You will have to go and find out for yourself.
So, I leave you with this.
The days are long, the years are short.
Children lay in our arms one minute, and fill the bed the next.
Wrinkle, wrinkle on the wall, who is the fairest of them all.
So, get out there and explore your own backyard, or perhaps look over the fence, and wonder what they are having for dinner. It may not sound as exciting as Paris or Rome (okay, go visit there as well), but it will give you gifts and experiences in ways you don’t expect.
Don’t wait. Just go. And, enjoy, all of it.
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I am a passionate advocate to help children to not just learn how to read, but to become frequent readers, who have forged a life-long connection with books. In this blog, you will also find helpful, practical advice for parents to help support them in their families reading journey.