By Xander Ward
Not long ago, I found myself in Ned’s Gully campground, preparing a fire as the sun dipped behind the jagged peaks of the Cathedral Ranges. Somewhere close, a kookaburra mocked my fire-making skills. Much closer, an ant said hello by nibbling at my ankle. I was almost finished setting up for the evening and could feel myself beginning to relax in the environment around me. As I got the fire going, I went over my mental checklist to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything.
Cooking system ready.
Four hours earlier, I’d had no intention of camping. I was at home cleaning some of my hiking gear when I got the sudden inspiration to go and explore. I packed a stew that I’d been saving for dinner, a change of clothes and some leftover firewood from a previous trip. All my other gear lives in my van on a permanent basis. In my tent on wheels. So very soon I was on my way towards the Murrindindi Shire, approximately two hours northeast of Melbourne.
I played some Fleetwood Mac as I drove through the glorious Yarra Valley. I collected a strong coffee from Healesville before poking my head around a local op shop. Then I drove in a concentrated silence on the Black Spur Road, the winding gateway to Buxton.
I entered camp at 4pm. Apart from a group of day-trippers who were readying to leave, the campground was completely unoccupied. So I took my time in finding some level ground and a comfortable space to call home for the night. When I was content with my choice, I wandered down to a tributary of Little River. There, I splashed my face and watched three big, grey kangaroos hopping away in the distance. Deep breath.
When I returned to camp, I began the careful process of settling in. I made sure I had enough lighting. I set up some flooring to spare my sandals from the muddy ground. I boiled a thermos of tea and found my book as the afternoon shadows grew.
As I sat on my camp chair, I took a moment to regard my campervan, tucked away between some small boulders and a family of Red Stringybarks. Two and a half years earlier, it was a retired tradie van with a mattress in it. It had certainly come a long way. Its interior was now lined with wood panels and insulation, it had roof racks, an awning, a ventilation system, a towel rack, and raised bedding area with storage tubs full of outdoor equipment neatly stacked beneath it.
Without this van, my afternoon would have looked a little different. In fact, I most likely wouldn’t have been camping at all. The greatest benefit of having a vehicle like my van is that it reduces the number of steps between my normal life in the city and the outdoors. The proximity to nature and wild places is very important to my mental and physical wellbeing. This to me is freedom.
As I stared at my van it occurred to me that there are many other ways to reduce these steps. It does not have to be a van. For some people, it could be a tent. For others, it could be a bike and a Myki card.
And for many people within our community, it is Out Doors Inc. that reduces these barriers to getting into nature.
My train of thought was broken as I noticed that my fire needed some attention. I carefully added a log and put the stew onto the heat. I sat back down and allowed myself to get excited for the hike I had planned for the following day: a grade five, scramble-style loop to the top of the razorback. And with the smell of campfire, tomato and onion, and the fresh evening air, I thanked my van, my tent on wheels, for making the experience possible.