Smoked trout and marshmallows

EASTER and camping — seems the two words are inexplicably linked in the psyche of thousands of Melbournians, and our family is part of the mass exodus that heads out of town.

This year we decided to go for 10 days — in a tent.

But it sure beats being at home trying to work out how to keep everyone sane over the school holidays.

The tasks are split — my husband takes the garage, I take the house — and we both wish we could find the list we made last year.

The essentials usually make it and what gets forgotten is a great excuse to go into town.

It’s a four-hour drive, so we aim to leave early, and then mutter to ourselves as we finally pull out of the driveway around 11am.

Arriving at the caravan park the back seaters suddenly sit up, reminding me of meerkats, and as soon as the bikes are off their racks they disappear as we yell something about finding helmets.

Maybe it’s best they are not around to hear all the special words that come with putting up tents.

But after a couple of hours of effort, keeping our eyes on the grey clouds moving our way, it’s done.

Our sites are clumped together and in the centre is our fire pit made from an old washing machine tub.

The chairs are in a circle, the sausages are cooking and the wine is open.

This ancient tradition of the campfire is good medicine for us city folk and our friends staying in their cosy cabins are drawn out to join us.

Most nights there are a few that stay up late, falling under its spell, storytelling. Some nights, there are marshmallows.

Morning comes with panda-eyes, pyjamas, and beanies covering bed hair, and the kids disappear on their bikes to find one another.

They won’t be back until they are hungry, or hurt.

There are patches of sunlight coming through as the fog rises.

We follow those patches with a brewed coffee in one hand, chair in the other, and lay claim for an hour or more while we discuss who did and did not sleep well.

Someone’s air mattress always goes down, while someone else lays snug but can’t sleep because there is a growling wombat in a nearby tent.

We might discuss some options for what to do later in the day, but often, that’s short lived and we go back to our happy place of coffee and early morning sunshine.

A book may find its way to a lap, but more often than not, it sits unread.

Someone will eventually make pancakes, thankful for the flyscreen walls of the food tent that keep the wasps away from the maple syrup.

“More coffee?”

“Yes please.”

At camp, the bikes become an extension of ourselves and are very useful for hunting for the kids at dinner time.

Prior to camping it had been about 30 years since I last rode a bike, but the bike tracks around Bright are smooth and flat and I love the 3km ride to the nearest cafe for a latte.

The local trout farm, brimming with both fish and visitors, is always on our itinerary.

The kids enjoy the easy catch — I don’t enjoy watching the poor things flapping on the grass — next time, I might not go with them.

We smoke the trout in a small tin box, no bigger than a shoebox. It’s a delicate operation to remove the skin and bones, but it’s a fine, fine meal.

That’s the dinner that stops everyone in their tracks.

We make a dip with cream cheese also, so the night of awesome flavour continues well after the dishes are done.

I particularly enjoy a late night walk, even if it is just to the loo.

The park is quiet except for the crunch of my footsteps and the symphony of snorers scattered along the way.

The air is so fresh and clear; the campfires have all died down to a deep glow, and the world seems good and right.

It takes a lot of effort to get here, to set up, to plan meals, to coordinate outings and to mediate conflict.

I’m not sure you can put that many people together anywhere and not have a few “exchanges”.

We all get a bit tired and someone will lose their cool, probably me. But beyond all that something older and stronger happens at camp.

We come home a bit grubby and tired, looking forward to a shower and our own beds, but all wishing we were still there.

Whether seven or 47, the pull to the open and free space, to the days without structure and timekeeping and to the companionship of friends seems deep in each of us.