When I was a young boy (in a previous century), there weren’t too many things you could do inside your home apart from eating and sleeping. You could listen to the wireless, and a good many of us listened zealously to one or two daily serials, and also to the Argonauts. You could write in and join the Argonauts – and I did that (I was Laertes 13 – were you an Argonaut, and do you remember your name?) We also had a gramophone, and a few records.
But if we wanted to see a movie, we had to go to the “pictures”. If we wanted to go for a swim, we had to go to the baths or to the beach. If we wanted to listen to some serious music, we had to go to a concert. Even to go to the loo, we had to walk up the back yard.
Since then, the relentless trend has been to make just about everything available without leaving the house. You can have any movie you want delivered electronically, and view it whenever it suits you on an (almost) giant screen, with surround sound loud enough to deafen you. You can make cappuccinos and other highfalutin’ kinds of coffee in your own kitchen. You can print the photos taken on your digital camera or your phone, instead of having to take the film to be processed. If you want to do some exercise, you probably have a treadmill or an exercise bike at home. If you want to go for a swim, there may well be a pool just outside the back door. Instead of going to the bookshop or the library, you can have just about any book you want ready to read on your Kindle in a few minutes.
There’s been a similar trend in the world of camping, although it’s taken off only recently. “Glamping” is glamour (or luxury) camping. The Google Ngram Viewer couldn’t find any references to glamping before 2009, so I was a bit surprised that Google found 1.7 million current references to it.
I really can’t see what’s the point of a set-up like this. Why not have conventional walls and roof? Is it just so people can say “We went glamping”?
There are of course all sorts of options in between conventional camping and glamping. The classic caravan has morphed into a “mobile home”, with most of the home comforts. And some of them are so big that a V8 engine is needed to pull them. There are various “pop-up” facilities mounted on ute-type vehicles, and a wide range of styles of what are still called tents.
All this is leading up to telling you that I’ve just read a book called “Born in a Tent” by Bill Garner. The sub-title is “How Camping Makes Us Australians”. I really enjoyed it. Garner’s thesis is that white settlement in Australia started as a campsite, and the nation’s history from that time could almost be told by locating all the lost tent pegs scattered across the continent.
This is a refreshingly original book, providing a lavishly illustrated history of the important role that camping has played in Australia, not only during the millennia before white settlement, but also since then. When the first white settlers arrived in 1788, camping was the only option. Today it is usually thought of as a holiday choice. But it has always played an important part in Australian life. Even our unofficial national anthem, Waltzing Matilda, is about a camper. Without doubt, our national ethos of mateship, social equality, and the “give it a go” approach to life is closely related to the prominence of the camping experience for so many Australians. Life in a tent is a life of freedom, sharing, and escape from the strictures of town and city life. A very enjoyable read for one who is a lover of camping and camp fires, and who has spent many a happy night out “where the wild dingos roam”!
Many of the significant events in our history have involved camping: the gold fields were worked by people who lived in tents (the Eureka Stockade in particular comes to mind); the Aboriginal Tent Embassy; the Azaria Chamberlain case; Daisy Bates has been described as “the greatest white Australian camper”, and was still living in a tent at age 77; the railways were built by men who lived in tents.
The Great Depression of the 1930s saw many people who had lost their homes forced to live in tents (although for many, the camping was the best part of a bad time). In 1908, a party of federal parliamentarians set up their tents at a spot near Queanbeyan, and went about assessing the suitability of the site for a new national capital.
What’s your favourite camping spot?