Published on October 18th, 2011 | by Ann Rickard


Travel – Glamour in the Outback

I’ve been away from you for a long time and once again I have to apologise.   I’ve been holed up on a writing project that has given me no time to write to you. But that’s nearly over now and I’m back.
I did get away last weekend and, listen to this, I’ve been camping. What’s more I’ve been camping in the Australian Outback.  Now if that doesn’t make me a rugged, pee-in-the-bushes, fair dinkum Aussie sheila, I can’t think what else could.
The dear husband Geoffrey and I flew up to Cairns, picked up an Apollo campervan and then picked up our darling daughter Jessica (who lives in Cairns) and her darling baby daughter Shaya  (who is too beautiful even for me with my fabulous literary skills to describe) and off we set in the Apollo to a place far, far away called Undara….
…but not before loading up with so much gear, it made my eyes water.
We all know going out with baby means taking a lot of stuff with you….but oh, you should have seen what we put in the Apollo for that little bubba.  A play pen so huge it had to fit into two massive boxes – the kind you get when you buy a king size bed at Ikea.
Then the pram – an enormous thing with more accessories than a jumbo jet, then a backpack  the size of a boutique hotel to put bubba in so we could trek with her on our backs.
Then bags and bags of toys and bags and bags of books, and bags and bags of clothes, nappies, bottles, special bubba cups and well…you’ve got the picture now.  No, actually you haven’t.  Finally we took the special esky Jessica uses with her husband when she goes out to the reef fishing.  This, my friends, is an esky. As big as a 12-seater dining table, it can hold a hundred kilos of fish, essential when you are catching red emperor and coral trout by the dozen, but a tad big when you are in a motor home.  However, the Rickards managed to fill the giant esky with booze and put it at the back of the motor home with the rest of the massive baby gear.
Off we went from Jessica’s house in the heart of Cairns.  She was in the front with her father I was in the back sitting at the kitchen table with the beautiful bubba strapped in her little bubba seat next to me.
When we turned the first corner, all the overhead cupboards flew open and jars of bubba food and musical toys shot through the air, and the giant esky came sliding dangerously down the middle of the motor home threatening to crush Jessica and Geoffrey. .
Not wanting to be killed by a sliding esky or lose an eye from a flying building block, we had to stop and rearrange things.  And we hadn’t even got a kilometre from home.   Cupboards were locked, the giant esky secured under the big boxes of playpen stuff, and off we went again.
The first hill we came to saw the kitchen table where bubba and I were sitting, start to slide on its rail thingie and dig into my stomach.  Although this was no threat as there is so much blubber surrounding my belly the table would have been cushioned and done no damage, we still had to make another stop to do more securing and rearranging.  .
We were still in Cairns by this stage.  Then it occurred to me:  “I don’t think there will be another bottle shop in the Outback, I think we should back-up our supply of booze.”
So Geoffrey swerved into the nearest Dan Murphy’s (no cupboards flew open and the esky and table stayed put) and while he was in there buying more gin and champagne, Jessica and I decided we’d like a snack, so we made sandwiches in the Apollo in the Dan Murphy car park.
“I’m getting into this camping gig,’’ I said as I slapped a hunk of cheese on a bit of bread.
With the giant esky now almost impossible to shut with all the booze, once again we set off in fine fettle.
Now this Apollo home was very luxurious.  Six berths, with its own toilet and shower, and microwave and television and all the appliances you need for a good holiday.  Spotlessly clean and really five star, it was pretty fabulous.  But we were not experienced campers so the dodgy start by not securing everything was our fault. I don’t want to turn you off Apollo vans.  I want you to take one of your own and travel. They’re fabulous.
For weeks leading up to this Outback experience I hadn’t been able to stop singing –
“Travel all over the countryside, ask the Leylands, ask the Leylands, travel all over the countryside, ask the Leyland brothuuuuuuuurs.”
Now I’ve made you sing it, sorry.
It took us five long hours and 9,750 choruses of ‘ask the Leylands’ to get to Undara out west of Cairns.
But it was worth it.   We were there as guests of Undara Experience, a beautiful bush camp in glorious Henry Lawson countryside to enjoy Opera in the Outback.
Well, it was just damn wonderful.
After we had set up the Apollo – that is taken all the baby gear out, set up the enormous playpen, assembled the pram and  backpack, put all the toys and books in the play pen, dragged the big esky out, found camping chairs and a fold-up table in a nifty compartment outside in the Apollo – we were well set up.
The thing about camping is it makes you speak to other travellers.  With everyone sitting outside their tents and vans you just have to be friendly.  This is new to me, a person who rushes into her hotel room without speaking to another soul.   Within half an hour of setting up camp, we had half a dozen new best friends.  Beautiful bubba didn’t want to stay in the play pen with all her toys and was very happy on the ground with us playing with twigs and leaves.
Into our second bottle of wine, we were loving the smell of the eucalyptus trees and the sweet song of the birds and really getting into this camping gig, when out of a small tent, steps a man in a dinner suit.  Full black tie dinner suit.  He was quickly followed by a woman in a  long evening gown wearing more bling than Puff Diddy.
“What’s this about?’’ we said and then realised, people were taking this Opera in the Outback seriously and dressing for the occasion.  How they got into such glamorous gear inside a tent is quite the wonder.   Another man in full dinner suit stepped out from the bushes carrying a bottle of champagne.  Wonderful it was.  Then a man wearing a kilt appeared from the amenities block followed by women dressed in fairy wings and little halo things and bunnies ears.  We of course, had nothing fun to wear.
Anyway, without banging on too long, it’s enough to tell you the Opera in the Outback was one of the most special things I’ve ever attended.  To sit in a natural amphitheatre in the middle of the Australian bush watching people costumed up, singing their hearts out while the sun set behind them, was nothing short of spectacular.  And the beautiful bubba Shaya absolutely loved the opera.  I stood her on my knees and she watched and listened fascinated.  Not only beautiful but cultured too – at age 18 months.
The next morning we had a bush camp breakfast, sitting on logs eating baked beans and eggs and bacon off tin plates and drinking tea from a billy.  Bubba was still ignoring her toys and playing with leaves and we were all happy.
When we left two days later, packing everything back into the Apollo and securing the now empty esky beneath a ton of baby stuff, we ensured we had plenty of bottled water, as someone had died in the Outback the week before.  (Her car broke down and she left it to get help and didn’t survive.)  Staying with the car is paramount in the Outback.   Off we set, again in fine fettle, got about 50km down the road, a short distance in Outback terms, when we realised we hadn’t checked the petrol.  The red warning light was showing.  We had no idea how far it would be to the next town – several thousand kilometres probably – so we had to turn and go back to Undara where we knew there was a petrol pump in the camp site.  We made it with just the smell of petrol left in the tank.
Perhaps we should do a course in camping before we venture out next time.

That’s it from me. Much love and hugs to you.  Email me back.  You don’t email me unless I email you and I’ve missed you.


These pictures don’t show the true beauty of the bush.  We’re not good photographers.  And the one of me with Shaya is terrible, but I was in bush camping mode.  The little kids and the lady with the halo were just an example of people getting into the spirit.

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About the Author

is a Noosa (Australia) local and author of six successful books, all humorous travel narratives. In 2005 Ann won the prestigious ASTW’s Australian Travel Writer of the Year and in 2007 she won the ASTW Travel Book of the Year. Ann takes a culinary tour to the South of France in June every year . Ann writes travel, dining and columns for the Sunshine Coast Daily and is the Life editor of the Noosa News. Ann also maintains a well read and popular blog site. Ann’s travels have seen her explore cuisines all over the world.

2 Responses to Travel – Glamour in the Outback

  1. Kim says:

    Ahh Ann, I think you have been too spoilt in your previous holidays. Getting away in the bush can be fun and a whole different experience, made even more special by the company you are with. We have had some wonderful camping holidays over the years with good friends and our children, special events we still remember fondly.
    I must admit though now I am a little too old to rough it completely! We have given up tenting and now have a caravan!

  2. Kath says:

    We often go camping in the bush on the banks of the Murray. The whole family kids, babies, eighty year old grandma and all. We love it. The bush has its own ambiance. The space, the sights and sounds, create a magic you can’t replicate in the city.

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