Dad would always sing Happy Holidays in his best Bing Crosby voice as we’d pull out of the driveway on Boxing Day morning on the way to Corowa situated on the New South Wales side of the border on the Murray River. This was my life at Christmas time as a kid.
We started holidaying at Corowa sometime around 1969 after we had visited there one Easter when we had camped at Myrtleford. We camped at Ball Park, right on the bridge over the river and pitched our tent on sloping ground for the most part.
For us kids, it was a great place, we fished and swam the river, there was an Olympic sized pool adjacent to the camping ground and the golf course was about a 10 minute drive down the river. In most years, at least early on, the Brown’s came away as well. Dad and Uncle Arthur had grown up together and we regarded each other as family, spending a lot of time together, not just on holiday’s but on weekend barbecues and drives through the bush.
Uncle Arthur used to enjoy grabbing me by the big toe and dragging me out of bed in the morning so we could head off along the riverbank fishing. In the early years we caught a lot of redfin and there was nothing better than coming back to camp and cooking them up for breakfast. But later on the European carp began to take over the river and the edible fish were few and far between. Of course that may also have been a reflection of my skill as an angler.
I was lucky enough not to have to sleep in the tent because I had the luxury of Dad’s old Ford Thames Van, complete with a three inch foam mattress and terylene curtains to keep the mozzies out.
There was no possibility of speeding in the old thing because loaded up with everything we took away it was lucky to get over 45 mile an hour. When the Brown’s stopped coming away with us and I can’t remember why they did, I was able to bring along one of my cousins or a mate and they’d sit in the back of the van on a deck chair with the camping gear piled high around them.
The van went to God not long after this picture was taken but Dad then bought a Datsun Homer which was a distinct upgrade to the old Thames.
I’m not really sure why Mum and Dad chose Corowa, except that they spent a lot of time playing the poker machines which at that time were illegal in Victoria. Dad would get drunk and Mum would sometimes go over to the Bowling Club, create a scene and virtually drag Dad back to camp. We kids of course weren’t allowed anywhere near the clubs except probably once a holiday when we’d go over for a meal.
A lot of time was spent at the pool and we’d sometimes have a competition to see if we could swim the entire 50 yard length under water. Bombs and horsies were allowed, at least I think they were, I have no memories of any life guards wandering around telling us not to do those things. I do remember that one end was 12’6” deep and we’d play another game where we’d drop a rock on the bottom and have to duck dive down to grab it.
These were days before we knew about holes in the ozone layer and we tanned by lying on our towels on the concrete paths smothered in coconut oil.
When Karen got older and started to bring friends along and their interest in boys was developing, Mum used to lace up their side room on the tent to stop them going out. But tents didn have built in floors and it was easy for them to creep out underneath and go visiting other friends. I haven’t asked but I’m not sure Mum knew they were sneaking out or maybe she just turned a blind eye.
I think my aversions to New Years Eve began on those holidays because Dad would invite whatever stranger wanted to around for a beer, which usually became a dozen and often the night would end with blokes getting pissed on our campsite, in our space, with nowhere for me to hide. I expect that I spent a lot of time lying in the van on those nights reading by torchlight. For all that, they were fun times and I will treasure those memories of camping.