When you’re tired of shooting elephants you might like to try camping

There’s been a hideous photo doing the rounds on Facebook of a family of five huddled together, smiling broadly over the body of a dead elephant, mouth full of fresh green foliage that it was presumably eating when it was shot.

It got me thinking about family holidays.

When you’re parents, you do your best you know. You get some things right and some things wrong.

We’ve never taken our family elephant shooting and we’re never, NEVAH likely to, but I reckon one of the things we have got right over the years is to take the kids camping.

And one of the best camps we’ve ever done was a 13 day trip to North West Island on the Great Barrier Reef.

It was 10 years ago, pretty much to the day. I can’t believe a decade has gone past.

From Marg's sketchbook, North West Island on the Great Barrier Reef

mutton birds and drinks o'clock

A trip like this is not for the faint hearted. Β It’s a military exercise. We had to drive for two days to get to Gladstone. We had to buy food and provisions for 13 days. The supermarket receipt was about 1 metre long (I’m not kidding). We had to take our own water. A radio in case anything went wrong. And the only amenities on North West Island (unless anything’s changed) are solar toilets. That’s it. Nothing else. We stayed in a hotel the night before departure, went to the dock at 3am, boarded the barge, dozed on deck and arrived at the island at 9am, our arrival timed to coincide with high tide. We had one short hour to float in over the reef, unload EVERYTHING off the boat, and I’m not just talking our stuff, I’m talking everyone’s.


This pile was just ours. Two family’s worth.

Unloading the barge at North West Island

And as quickly as it had arrived, it sailed away. And we were left. For 12 nights.

patterns on north west island

Now I’ve done a lot of camping over the years but I have three rules. I won’t cook in the dirt. I won’t sleep in the dirt. And I won’t sit in the dirt.

the north west hilton

Give me a good bed, a good chair (note the lambs wool throw and head rest), and a decent kitchen bench and I’m a happy camper.

Steve at our camp kitchen

It’s amazing how resourceful you can get when you have to go back to basics, especially when your son turns six while you’re away.

Darcy's 6th birthday

And you run out of bread after the first week. Half our mornings were taken up making bread to feed the gang. And it became a tradeable commodity on the island, particularly for fish and seafood from some of the other campers who’d brought boats out on the barge.

marg's pita bread

It was a beautiful experience to live simply and plan your day by the tides. We’d walk out through the channel to the edge of the reef.

walking to the drop off at north west island

We weren’t sure how Darce would go snorkelling but he took to it instantly, safe within large rockpools near the drop off.

darcy snorkelling

Cue the wildlife. Stingrays. Whales. Dophins. Sea turtles. Fish of every colour you could imagine.

sting rays.

North West Island is a National Park island, part of Capricornia Cays National Park. Even the name sounds pretty.

low tide at north west island

It’s a major nesting site for mutton birds. The first evening we were sitting having drinks on the beach and we couldn’t work out what the gathering blackness was on the horizon. It was streams of mutton birds coming back to roost on the island. Thousands and thousands of them. They’d come in each evening and head out again first thing in the morning.

sunset north west island

From memory it used to take us about 45 minutes or an hour to walk around the island. It was tiny.

the north western corner of north west island

But my god it was beautiful.

From the sketchbook

The kids swimming at high tide

On reflection we were lucky. We had 12 idyllic days of fine weather. If the weather had been foul I know it would have been a different story.

I remember feeling quite nervous about going. We were worried about the isolation. That wouldn’t bother me now. There were heaps of others out their camping, many with boats, others with radios. Help wouldn’t have been far off if we really needed it.

One of our friends made a comment years ago. He said “The thing I like about camping, is that all you have to worry about is your kids, your belly and your bed.”

It’s a nice way to step away from a busy world.

It’s a beautiful adventure if you have a good bed, a kitchen bench and a lambswool throw πŸ˜‰ I think we used about 13 kgs of gas and left with a couple of bags of rubbish. It was a great exercise in living with a soft footprint, especially important when the inside of the island is a maze of mutton bird burrows.

Beats the hell out of elephant shooting any day.

I came back and did a whole series of paintings of North West Island, well six. I’m a bit lazy like that.

north west island acrylic marg hogan

But that’s what island holidays will do to you.

N.B. No elephants were killed in the making of this story.


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    1. Posted 4 August 2013 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

      Brilliant Marg
      marvellous drawings X
      six is a series

      lets go again.

      • Marg
        Posted 5 August 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        I’d go in a flash Harrie. A series it is!!

    2. maggie
      Posted 5 August 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      All that and you can paint as well. You have absolutely captured the feeling and the colour oh that blue. For me if love were a colour that blue’d be it!
      Thanks for another delight.

      • Marg
        Posted 5 August 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        And now we have turquoise in common too Maggie lol. My absolute favourite colour in the world. Glad you liked it. I’m trying to come up with a food post for you… thinking Pat’s homemade marmalade with Narromine oranges could be a possibility. They’re peaking at the moment πŸ™‚

        • maggie
          Posted 5 August 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

          Oh it is Turquoise…right! Food no Food I enjoy all your blogs.
          Marmalade sounds good. Oh to live in the country, with a huge pantry full of jams and preserves. One day…sigh.

    3. Posted 5 August 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Hi Margaret,
      Enjoyed this a lot.

      • Marg
        Posted 5 August 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        Thanks Doug. It’s lovely to have you swing by. Glad you liked the post. It’s a special spot if you’re camping inclined.

    4. Posted 6 August 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      What an incredible and memorable trip. πŸ™‚ I have similar memories of beach camping as a kid, but nothing as isolated as this. I love it. πŸ™‚

      • Marg
        Posted 7 August 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        Hi Krista. It’s closer to home for you than me πŸ™‚

    5. Posted 18 August 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink

      Marg, this is WONDERFUL, I love you style and your sense of getting away from the world ….your painting is exquisite. xx

      • Marg
        Posted 18 August 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        Thanks Millie. Wish we could do it more often. Never happier than with a tent and a gang of friends. There’s more paintings here if you’re interested. That too I’d like to do more often.

        • Posted 19 August 2013 at 4:41 am | Permalink

          Hi Marg, will definitely take a look…exciting xx

    6. Christopher Bergen
      Posted 2 February 2014 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      beautiful margie.

      • Marg
        Posted 2 February 2014 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

        Thanks Chris. I could see you guys there πŸ™‚

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