Back-to-the-Earth in 70s Australia by Francene Stanley
With a Land Rover pulling a twenty-five foot long caravan, my family left Robe, SA, and embarked on our year-long trip around Australia. We bought a canvas annex which clipped on the entire length, and I made a sturdy zip-up 'toilet tent' with a clear plastic window to enclose the 'porta potty' to use if we stopped in remote locations. The main bedroom occupied the front end, sectioned from the bathroom with concertina doors closing off the modern kitchen. To the right of the entrance, the children slept in a bedroom with four bunks. The décor was mostly orange, which was the colour of the seventies. Food like giant bags of flour and rice nestled in the kitchen cupboards, and a portable gas cannister powered the full size stove and oven.
Of course, the kids needed schooling. Originally set up for youngsters in remote farms, The School of Correspondence offered lessons. After plenty of letters passing to and fro, we arranged for class assignments to be sent ahead of each stop. All we had to do was let them know where we'd be when we sent their current papers back. Karen would start secondary school that year, two years behind Kym, and Amanda remained in primary school. The arrangement meant I'd act the role of the teacher and organizer. I knew I could do it.
We cut through Victoria first, planning to take the Great Ocean Road up the east coast of the country where we could pull into the safety of caravan parks for the night. I felt cold and ill-at-ease in the frosty air at the first stop. I'd left my secure home, and with it the assurance of a temperate climate. Next morning, we paused in the Dandenong Ranges to see Hanging Rock, made famous when five schoolgirls went missing at a class picnic a century before, and were never seen again. Climbing the rocky outcrop and peering into crevices, chills went up my spine and I kept a careful watch on my daring three children.
When we reached Canberra, we left our home on wheels in the park and ventured into Australia's capital city, passing ordered suburbs. Apart from gaping at the grassy slope covering Parliament House, the city didn't inspire us. Neither did the shopping area, bereft of people for the weekend.
Although this was an interval of great stress for me, it was what Graeme wanted, so I complied. But he was particularly impatient with me at times. When the Land Cruiser was attempting to pull the caravan up a steep hill, the motor struggled. The wheels needed to be locked into the four-wheel position. He'd bark at me and I'd jump out on a busy road to turn them over manually while traffic backed up behind. Doctors at a local hospital diagnosed me with arthritis in the neck, and my hips were painful, so I was slower than my agitated husband required.
Past Victoria and into sunny Queensland, we stayed at tourist parks from Toowoomba to Bundaberg, travelling over the coast road. Every two weeks, we'd select a place to dig in, explore, then pack and move on. Sometimes, we stayed at smaller beaches, camping right by the coastline, being self-sufficient with bathroom facilities. I cooked the fish Graeme caught, and baked bread in the cast iron Dutch oven on a camp fire. Further north we stayed in Arlie Beach, and Mission Beach before reaching Cairns.
I had packed my spinning wheel, only setting it up in the annex when we'd remained in the same spot for more than two weeks, which allowed me to relax. In some of the towns along the way, I did spinning exhibitions.
The children spoke to local people as instructed by their correspondence teachers during each fortnightly stop. They learned a lot by listening to different opinions on various subjects.
We met various people Graeme had contacted during the years of fly-tying fishing lures. One encounter was with an artist and his wife living in a remote area. He'd installed a giant tank in the centre of the main living room stocked with barramundi fish and piped with sea-water. Each of the other rooms opened onto this central feature, which kept the house cool while maintaining interest.
As we toured, caravan angling across many flooded creek crossings pulled by the Land Cruiser and sometimes operating a winch in tricky situations, I wondered if we would ever find anywhere suitable to buy. We looked at many potential sites within our price-range, most acreages growing tropical fruit. But then, we'd need to build a home and where would Graeme procure a job to earn enough money for that project?
Communes populated with other 'back-to-the-earthers' showed incredible possibilities—whole walls created from bottles, and underground constructions facing the coolest direction.
The temperature increased, and the raised humidity was hard to take. Further on, we staggered into Cooktown, and camped in the park on the breezy headland overlooking the bay where, a century before, the explorer Captain Cook repaired his sailing ship after the Great Barrier Reef tore a hole in the hull. Hippies roamed the countryside to feast on wild mangoes, sugar causing dreadful sores on their faces. We weren't that sort of hippie. We were a family seeking a good life close to nature that fitted in with society.
Having completed nearly a year of touring, my endurance snapped while we headed across the most northerly finger of Queensland to Karumba which faces the Gulf of Carpentaria. With tropical humidity sapping my strength and the heat trying everyone's patience, we made a group decision to return to Robe, and headed south for the route that took us alongside the red heart of the sunburned country. As the old Irish story goes, the traveller returned to find the four-leafed clover he'd been searching for growing 'right at his own back door'.