Whats it like? I hear you clamor. How are you coping in the car? In the caravan? Where have you been? What have you seen? Are you having fun? Just to recap for those who missed the last issue. My family and I, husband Kieran, Olivia (6), Harry (4) and Sophia (1) are half way through a three month caravan adventure along the east coast of Australia. We left cold Tasmania in June and we are currently in northern Queensland. We have driven a long way, seen and done so much and its warm! Well, warm to us.

We sailed into Sydney on the Spirit of Tasmania III, an amazing start to our adventure. We sailed through the Heads into Sydney Harbour past the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge. It was a memorable experience. To give you a brief taste of the route we have taken after we got off the ferry we went straight to the Blue Mountains to see the Three Sisters. They were wearing ear muffs and rain coats! We then spent three days exploring our Nations capital. Then it was off to the east coast at Bateman’s Bay and then north towards the sun! When we reached Port Macquarie the Olive Oil had finally thawed out and was totally liquid, and we deemed it warm enough to drink our 10 year old bottle of wine to celebrate our trip. We traveled on to Queensland through Brisbane and up to the Sunshine Coast then Bundaberg, Rockhampton. MacKay and Townsville. It is easier to describe the main cities than the myriad of places we actually stopped at in between. Unfortunately this doesnt describe the amazing diversity of places that we actually visited. For all of us, it is a voyage of discovery to see a little of the different landscapes, lifestyles and flora of Australia.

We have mostly been staying two nights in each place we stop at. Traveling for about two hours in the car between places is enough for all of us. Being together in the car has its challenges. The two older children manage pretty well to amuse themselves and can understand whats happening, but Sophia finds it dull and its difficult to entertain her for long stretches. Kieran has to concentrate on driving which leaves me to meet the constant, and I mean constant demands of the kids. I need a drink, Im hungry, I want my apple chopped up, I dont want my apple chopped like that, the music is too quiet, the music is too loud, read me a story, read me a story, read me a story……Im finding it physically and emotionally difficult to remain calm, meet their needs and retain my sanity. I keep thinking if I can do this, I can do anything. When we do stop some where new, beautiful and different everything is forgotten – well, until we get in the car again.

Living in a small caravan has its challenges too. Its not a big space and its easy to let the mess and clutter get out of control especially when the big kids are both trying to make cubbies out of the bedding. The best time of day in the caravan is 7:30pm when all three kids are asleep and Kieran and I can relax, read, do a jigsaw or chat without constant needs. The worst time is 5:45am when one child wakes up and then wakes the others. There is nowhere to go at most campsites at 6am in the dark. Our days start early and if we are traveling we are usually on the road by 8:30am.

Kieran and I are both finding and discovering our own challenges in nomadic life. I think he is secretly missing work. He keeps using phrases like “Let’s assess the situation” or “What resources shall we allocate?” I am waiting for my performance appraisal. He spent the first couple of weeks going through all the cupboards, reorganising and tidying them and sending lots of things he deemed we didnt need to the op shop. For my part I keep making them messy! It must be working because every week of so he has a frenzy or sorting and organising and looking for things to get rid of. Perhaps this is what happens to newly retired couples.

For myself Im finding it hard to relax. Although there are no home pressures the washing, shopping, cooking, bathing, cleaning teeth and getting to bed still have to be done. Only now in a new place every day often with limited time. Planning ahead and knowing what we will eat makes my life easier but it does cause me stress. Kieran doesnt think about these things at all and is happy not to pay any attention to what needs washing or making sure we have food to eat. He freely admits he doesnt give these daily chores enough thought while I will admit I give them too much thought. There must be a happy middle ground somewhere.

My hopes for the trip when we left were to cement our family relationships and make our family unit stronger. I think thats happening. We are having fun together and making memories, sharing experiences and I feel we are becoming closer as a family.

For Kieran and I there are many relationship challenges as we navigate our way through each day. Not just those cupboards and shopping but also following the map, getting to the right place and reversing and parking the caravan into a small space at the caravan park after a long and sometimes stressful drive. Those of you with a caravan will know what I am talking about. Visit any caravan park and you will see a man driving the car, trying to back the caravan into a precise spot while his partner stands somewhere near waving ineffectually trying to direct him. Well thats us!! Except I have a baby on one hip and am trying to avoid the other kids getting run over at the same time. Watching other couples navigating this relationship challenges is illuminating. You can see the body language, the stress, the idiosyncrasies and ludicrousness of it all. For starters I never seem to be standing in the right spot for Kieran to see my hand signals; secondly he never understands them anyway! It has all turned into a bit of a joke and while other couples are getting stressed and waving frantically at each other Kieran and I are using interesting gestures to get the caravan in just the right spot on our allotted pierce of grass. Our relationship seems strong enough to laugh at ourselves as we perform our caravan reversing ritual.

The children are relaxed. They are seeing so many things and the new knowledge and experiences are being absorbed. Highlights so far are visiting Parliament House and watching two Tassie Green Senators debating, seeing an endangered Cassowary at David Fleay Wildlife Park near Burleigh Heads. Enjoying the wild whales and dolphins at Byron Bay, feeding pelicans at the Entrance, visiting the Bush Telegraph Museum at Cardwell, snorkeling at Great Keppel Island, learning about mangroves at Nambucca Heads, being historical at Maryborough, seeing acres of sugar cane and bananas, walking through rainforest at Sea Acres Rainforest Reserve and visiting the Koala hospital at Port Macquarie. Walking in the Licuala Palm Forest at Mission Beach and looking for wild Cassowary, spending a whole day at the beach at Tannun Sands and kayaking in the surf, seeing the delight and enjoyment of the children. I know the kids are absorbing these things because they draw pictures of the cassowary, pretend to be sea eagles, wagtails or crested pigeons. They show us shells they have found and tell us where they found them and remind us about things we have done.

I think thats the crux of it for me. There may be stress and difficulties but we wouldnt be interacting in this way, learning about each other, learning about new places and experiences if we stayed at home. Sometimes we learn from our mistakes, but we are all learning and will carry this knowledge throughout our lives.

We are now half way through the trip and as I write we are at Mission Beach which is our signal to turn south again. My feelings at this point are mixed. We will no longer be going north into the unknown; we will be going back south, back towards our normal lives. How will that affect how we will feel and interact? Im really not sure. Part of me is excited about seeing the things we missed out on the way up and visiting places we liked again. The other half of me is nervous, unsure. I dont want this fun time to end. I dont want to go back to reality, but it will come. My spiritual journey continues to evolve. As we cover the kilometers in the car I am discovering more about myself and about my relationships. Some things I like, other things I dont like and would like to change. Maybe this turning point is a time to go back over those feelings as we head over the same physical ground and make some emotional and spiritual adjustments that will carry me through the inevitability of returning to normal life.

The changes in the children, the way they are growing, changing and maturing at these stages in their lives will be forever imprinted in my memory. This really is a life making experience for us all. Not without its challenges, but challenges which are building a stronger, healthier, happier family.

Bye for now. Mary

Diary Of A Family’s Travels – Coming Home