We navigated our way blindly in the dark towards the Pebbly Beach campground. This was a struggle. The campsite was nestled in the heart of an overgrown forest, surrounded by the hefty caravans and 4 wheel drives of other campers. Our challenge was to weave Jenny’s bulky body around the intricate path of trees and vehicles; I left that task to Matty to avoid the blame of any resultant crash, bash, knock, dent, crack or chipped paint falling on my shoulders. We rumbled towards a small area of empty campground, and heaved the hand break high.
It was time to set up camp and cook dinner using the kitchen facilities we had ‘upstairs’ i.e. tucked away in storage boxes on top of Jenny’s roof rack. Mealtimes always proved to be an interesting affair. It typically required one person to climb awkwardly on top of the car, rummage their way through both boxes before launching the cooking equipment and various tins of food down into the arms of the other person. The first roof box was a treasure chest of dry food, filled to the brim with tins, cans, packets, boxes and bottles. The other contained all of our utensils, and cooking equipment. Our camp kitchen comprised of a rusty tinned kettle, a slightly chipped saucepan, an oil-smeared frying pan, a portable gas stove, a few bowls, two plates and a whole set of cheap cutlery. Any frozen or perishable food would be sealed shut in an Esky box within the deep bowels of the car. The Esky (or Eskimo) glittered with ice cubes bought from a service station to chill the box and preserve the food for longer. We thanked ourselves for this brilliant idea as we slurped on our ice-cold drinks, and then kicked ourselves once the ice had eventually melted; our cardboard milk cartons would soak and leak and we would open the box to watch our vegetables floating in a pool of tainted milk. Food storage was an issue on the road, mainly due to the limited space inside the Land Rover. In a perfect world, we would have had the luxury of a car fridge. But this was Jenny, and nothing was ever simple with her. The Esky was squeezed beneath the double mattress which you could only access from the side door. It would require heaving the box out using a handle made of rope and the muscle you gained from that three month intensive pre-Jenny workout. Breakfast was simple: a crackling bowl of rice krispies, or a sizzling plate of eggs and bacon fried over the gas stove. Lunch usually meant grazing on a packet of black pepper crackers and tins of tuna. The fancy evening menu was a collection of nice-and-easy, plain-and-simple, two minute jobs (that surprisingly never earned us the title of Masterchef Camper of the Month.) Chez Jenny was an elegant fine dining establishment, with delicacies that could appease the pallet of any hungry camper e.g. steaming bowls of soup, creamy helpings of pasta, fried fish fillets and boiled winter vegetables. We also survived on anything that lived in a tin; we became very friendly with John West.
Exhausted and deflated, we retired to the mattress, hushed and subdued by the faint scampering of wildlife and the soft pitter-patter of rain. We drifted into a light sleep but stirred moments later to the unmistakeable sound of something crawling on top of the roof. Through the dim pools of moonlight, Matty and I held each others gaze and listened intently, as though expecting a family of wombats to swing through the open window. Far too comfortable to stumble out into the drizzling rain, we ignored the scratching and closed our eyes. My last thought as I was lulled into a heavy sleep was that I sincerely hoped I had remembered to close the roof boxes otherwise my porridge would be half way up a tree by now. Naturally I had forgotten. My treasure trove of treats was now a rubbish heap of shredded plastic bags and torn cardboard boxes. Porridge oats and cheerios were scattered everywhere, the floor of the box was carpeted in crumbs and ketchup dribbled down the sides. Camping lesson learned: Close your roof boxes and protect your porridge from the Goldilocks possums that skulk around the forest looking for a high-fibre midnight feast.