While flicking channels one day, I stumbled upon some edutainment on Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. It seems the British detective and his sidekick came on a little-reported road trip to Australia in the 1890s from Sydney across the Great Dividing Range down to Melbourne. At the foot of the western side of the Blue Mountains, they camped alongside a stream, dined and retired to bed till the wee hours, when Holmes shook Dr Watson’s arm rousing him from his sleep. A miffed Watson asked, “What in the devil do you want, Holmes?”
Seemingly ignoring the brusque response of his offsider, Holmes lay staring upwards, and replied: “Look up there, Watson; tell me what you can see.”
Watson turned his head and gazed into the dark velvety, clear southern sky: “Well, Holmes, since you ask, I see a fantastic panorama of countless stars.”
“And what does that tell you, Watson?” asked the great detective.
Suspecting a ruse, the boofhead thought for a moment. “Well, Holmes, astronomically it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets out there, some possibly with life upon them. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce the time is a quarter past three. Theologically, I see that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant creatures in his vast domain. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.”
Feeling he’d covered all bases Watson finished, “Why? What does it tell you, Holmes?”
Holmes lay a moment before replying, “It tells me that someone has stolen our tent.”
This spurred me to ponder the risks we face on a camping trip. We park our campers in isolation and wander away, leaving our valuables alone. It’s a tribute to the majority of those who go bush that it remains untouched.
Of course, that isn’t always the case. As Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson found, there are people who will steal the meal off your plate or the tent off your camp(er).
A good friend and I travelled the coast several years back with our wives. We were eager to enjoy a new free national bush camp at the end of a difficult track. We didn’t mind the rough trip in, as it kept the crowds away.
Upon arrival, it was all we’d been promised. The short walk down the hill led to a golden pristine beach in between two headlands, with crystal clear water minus the mobs and the detritus that follow. A couple of hundred metres in another direction was a bigger beach and at the rear was a glorious lake full of fish. We were well pleased and settled in for a week of leisure.
Three days of residence in this sylvan and lonely setting led us to conclude this was a little-known spot and we began to ignore the usual cautions, wandering off to enjoy lazy ambles along the sand or over to the lake to soak a bait and bring home a few bream or a flathead or two, leaving our camp just as it was when we decided to amble off.
Strolling back to camp one day, we plonked down a couple of fish before heading to the fridge for a cooling ale, when my wife spoke up: “What did you do with the fridge?”
“The only thing I want to do with the fridge is extract a thirst quencher,” I replied.
“Well, it’s gone,” she pointed out, as subtly as a truck-load of gravel on a tin roof.
“Gone? Gone where?”
“I don’t know. It’s just gone,” she said. “It’s not where we left it, and given its inability to move of its own accord I suggest it’s been stolen while we were down at the lake.”
Instantly forgetting the pieces of bream intestine drying beneath my fingernails, I leapt into action. This involved walking around the campsite, looking beneath the campers, inside the tents and behind neighbouring trees to make sure one of us hadn’t absentmindedly put it down somewhere and wandered off.
My friend snapped me back to reality by suggesting that whoever had hoisted our fridge had bad taste because they’d left his – and it was plainly the better one. I treated the opinion with deserved indifference, and then realised the track in was long and very rough and we hadn’t been long fishing; they were likely still on it.
We leapt for our 4WD and set out in pursuit, with the suspension working overtime on the track at greater-than-recommended speeds. We rounded a bend and saw an old Morris Minor up ahead, disappearing over a hump in the road.
Then it dawned on me – what was my response when we closed the gap? Was I to drag these desperate Ned Kellys from their vehicle and beat them to a pulp? What if they resisted? What if they had a large dog, or there were more of them than of us? What if they had experience in dirty fighting, or indeed, in any kind of fighting?
I pondered all this as I crested the small ridge where we’d seen our target and there it was, closer than before and plainly struggling with the terrain. Even as we looked, a large chunk of the Morris appeared to break off and tumble long the track behind, shattering into numerous small bits as it somersaulted along in the mud and sand.
“Huh, look at them,” I enthused. “Their lousy vehicle isn’t up to the stress of a hot chase like this. We’ll have ’em in a minute or two.”
The fleeing crims disappeared around a bend in a cloud of dust, smoke and flying clumps of mud as we approached the scene of the scattered bits and pieces.
“Huh, look at all this poor pommy junk. They can’t even build a vehicle. No wonder they lost the industrial war with the Japanese and just about everyone else.”
I was dismissive and triumphant. Victory and retribution was to be ours within minutes. How dare they try to steal my fridge!
Then the wife piped up: “Um, that bit of ‘pommy junk’ we just passed had Waeco written on it, just like our fridge.”
I stood on the brakes and jumped out, and yes, the ‘bits of car’ we saw tumbling down the track was actually our fridge being chucked out the window as they saw us closing in.
We began picking up what we could of the butter and beer, milk and marmalade, cold meat and condiments. It was scattered over about 50m of mud-caked track. The lid was off the poor fridge and the rest wasn’t looking too flash either. By the time we’d rescued what we could and resumed the chase, they’d high-tailed onto the blacktop around the bend and gone to ground.
We returned to camp, frustrated and angry despite being sort of victorious. At least they didn’t have our fridge, we told ourselves.
Except that when we got back to our base we found the fish we’d caught were baking in the sun and covered in a mass of flies.
We chucked them away and lived off our friends’ food for the next couple of days before beginning our journey home, sadder but wiser.
Camping can be a tough business.