We’ve been enjoying Cairns these last few days, and will be here for a month to get our fill of Tropic North Queensland. As I look around I see a bustling and growing tropical metropolis that is now a tourist mecca, I see so much that has changed. I first set foot in this region 30 years ago on our first adventure north of the Capricorn. We had two vegemiters in tow and I was barely pregnant with number three.
Way back then in yesteryear, Cairns was a sleepy port barely waking to her potential. We spent our time up at Palm Cove, which offered good camping in the council caravan park. Palm Cove was just that, a cove edged by palms with a narrow waterway and marsh area that ran adjacent to the beach like an ocean billabong and it harboured crocodiles on the hunt. Something we were very aware of at the time.
My most pleasant memory of that time was waking to the sound of the flute, played by a fellow camper as he was herald to the sun. It was a beautiful memory. Today it’s a running avenue of 4 and 5 star resorts and of a weekend you can find a busy and bustling market, which takes over the town… never can two worlds be further apart.
Of Cairns, I remember a sleepy port, vast cane fields and the boiling clouds up against the escarpment behind Cairns. This a prelude to the topic downpour that was expected at the precise summer time… that too was a indelible image on my mind. Now houses creep into the escarpment and tourists mill around at every turn… No wonder we remember the old days with such fondness.
With time to dally I find myself reflecting on the things long since passed. Many in my family are travellers at heart and I count amongst my family members, most now passed-on, a disproportionate number who travelled Australia in their caravans and on the smell of an oily rag.
They coped with dusty roads that are now sealed and rock culverts where bridges now exist. They camped in gravel pits and that was a given back then as organized freecamps were fewer and further apart. Then again, the whole of Aus. was a camping patch as long as you were 10klm from town. Catching fish for a feed was also a pleasure they very much enjoyed more easily than we do today and down south the occasional wild rabbit filled the dinner pot.
My rel’s carried jars of opal to pour over in the light of a lantern, enjoying the stories each of the precious gems told with their brilliant flashes and veins of colour. They had caches of sapphire and precious stones, which they had dug from the ground. Their collections were true of Aladins cave and they kept us facinated, teaching us much of our world.
Then there was Lassiters gold… oh the nuggets they could show. It was in many ways pioneering world in the freedom of travel in those days and a wonder to hear the tales around the campfire or even the kitchen table. For hours we would sit engrossed and lost in the Outback with a twinkle in our eyes, that reflected from a clear star lit night and our dreams.
Back then most every petrol station provided services that are rarely seen today. Washrooms, which included free showers and laundry facilities, a service now only found rarely enough in the Outback. Remember when every service station was expected to at least provide a public toilet for their customers … now with the upsurge of the mega grocery chains taking over the petrol stations you don’t even get a loo… your lucky to get an attendant who is even vaguely interested. Instead you get 4c off which equates to about $1 if your lucky… no other services offered, even for basic necessities of the traveling public.
Things have very much changed but not all for the worse. Life on the wallaby is much easier now and there is more company. Our rigs are worthy of the name ‘palace’ often when compared to what basic caravan originally that the early freecampers used. Our first van, the ‘Bitch Box’ as it was fondly called was a relic of those days. A little 12 foot plywood van which we toured the country in as we formed the concept of what our ‘grown-up’ van should be like. It was a wonderful adventure into days gone by and a steep learning curve for The Man and I.
Now we have portable washing machines, one of which my grand-daughter thinks is really her little toy and The Man has rigged a water bladder which sits in the foot well of the passenger seats. It is attached to a portable pump powered by the ciggy lighter… works a treat to tote water from pillar to post and to fill the tanks when needed, all without uprooting the camp and moving the van to the water.
I love the fire pigs, now so commonly seen in freecamps and they are reminiscent of days gone by and the ingenuity that the freecamper could, and still does at time exercise at times.
It’s a wonderful world, the world of memories and a pleasure to lose yourself at times when you can reminisce and daydream. This is perhaps the greatest pleasure in growing older. It’s a world you know, you understand and which only you can appreciate from your own perspective.
Remembering the good times… bring on the memories, old and new.
Jan is an Author, now retired and travelling fulltime. Join her on the journey as she travels Aus. You can find her on Facebook.