Until we were camping recently by a mountain stream in the NSW High Country, I didn’t know the lyrics "She thinks my tractor’s sexy" existed, let alone that they would be considered sufficiently appealing to monopolise nature’s chorus of bird song, the breeze through trees and the sound of running water. But apparently, they are. Or, at least, that seemed to be the opinion of a group of campers who were playing this Kenny Chesney hit song loud enough for the whole NWPS campsite to ‘enjoy’ it.
With traditional summer destinations along the coastal fringe ravaged by ongoing bushfires, many campers had taken to NSW’s mountainous regions over Christmas to escape the smoke haze for a few days — that is, before the Alps themselves came under fire threat.
In these circumstances, it was predictable that areas of country we’ve previously enjoyed by ourselves would be busier than normal. And that was fine. We were lucky enough to be able to leave our home voluntarily, confident it would be safe in our absence, and other campers were at this picturesque site for the same reasons.
With an altitude of over 1000m, this area offered the prospect of some respite from the relentless heat experienced in the lowlands. The interlocked tree canopies provided pockets of shade while the cool river was an oasis. Whether for swimming, fishing, watching nature or catching up with friends, this place had every amenity — all provided by Mother Nature. A highlight of our time away was an evening spent casting a fly-line towards (what I hoped to be) the preferred hunting ground of a sizeable trout. While my fishing efforts accomplished nothing towards dinner, they were compensated immeasurably when a platypus scuttled straight past my waders en route to his little friend frolicking further downstream. Priceless.
For the most part, the other camp groups were making their own memories, going about their daily routines, hitting the back tracks on mountain bikes, bushwalking, and making conversation at camp or down by the water. People came to this place from all walks of life, from those whose rigs were clearly accustomed to serious time away from civilisation, campers in swags who’d popped into the park from local towns to catch up over the festive season, to others on a tag-along tour, testing out bits of kit for the first time and talking excitedly about their recent acquisitions.
Then there was the ‘other’ group. The one that seemed intent on dominating the space, regardless of their impact on anyone else. While the Boom-Box would have been annoying enough, its interference was just part of the picture. Funnily enough, during the day they were relatively quiet. In the mornings, the group left camp to spend time elsewhere in the park and when they returned in the early afternoons, their behaviour was relatively muted. The issues came as the sun went down. Then something strange happened to them.
Every evening, the volume of their conversation and music increased progressively as the night got darker. At one point, we even became the unwitting audience of their impromptu simulation of the Melbourne Cup as several members cantered around on foot, shouldering a five-year-old — in the dark, after 10:30pm. It was no wonder this same kid spent most of their daylight hours in a state of perpetual grumpiness verging on tears. With so little sleep for a youngling, I was surprised that she was able to keep her eyes open beyond lunchtime.
It really left me wondering what possessed these people to think that their antics were OK. With a charitable mindset, I might wonder whether they were afflicted by some level of nyctophobia: a fear of the dark. Surprisingly, this fear is common among adults with some studies indicating nearly 40 per cent of us are afraid to even walk around our houses with the lights off (Romm, The Cut, 26 October 2016). If this is true, there must be a lot of campers huddling around fire pits at night afraid of the shadows. And if it’s true, perhaps our Chesney-loving camp neighbours were feeling vulnerable and exposed in an unfamiliar natural environment and responded by neutralising the night with the noise and commotion familiar to them back in suburbia.
Or maybe they were simply selfish boneheads.
Either way, the local police are attentive enough in the High Country to make periodic visits to formed campgrounds. So, hopefully, the collective noise complaints of several campers will help moderate the behaviour of these people in future. For the rest of us, let’s hope we’re never members of ‘that group’: the group at camp that causes eyebrows to raise and copper’s notebooks to open.
Our natural environment has so much to offer and teach us, if only we have the courage to shut up and listen sometimes.