The exceitement began with Christmas Day but continued into Boxing Day when I was a kid. That was the day that the holiday started. For many years when we were kids the holiday destination was the Ball Caravan Park on the Murray River at Corowa. For around 10 years I made that trek with Mum and Dad, my sisters and various other family and friends and we’d camp there for around four weeks every year. That means that I spent around a year of my life in that town.
Dad would pack up his old Ford Thames van with all of the gear and he and I would take off early Boxing Day morning. Many times there’d be a deck chair set up inside the side door and my cousin Gavin or one of my mates, David Palmer for a couple of years, would sit in that chair in the back. It wasn’t illegal in those days, there were no requirments to wear seat belts and besides the van struggled to do 35 miles per hour meaning what is now a three hour trip took us around 7 or 8 in those days.
We went with all the comforts of home, carpet for the floor, an ice chest, chairs, gas stove, umbrellas and a foam mattress for me to sleep on in the back of the van.
It was a dry heat in Corowa, the plane trees shaded the camping ground and helped keep it relatively cool in the shade. It didn’t really matter because we spent most days at the pool which was adjacent to the camping ground, spending hours perfecting our bombing and horsie technique. For those who don’t know the terms that was a way of leaping into the water and causing the biggest possible splash without doing a belly whacker. And when we weren’t at the pool we were generally down at the river swimming or fishing.
In the years when our friends the Browns came as well, Uncle Arthur would grab me by the two at some ungodly hour of the morning around dawn so that his sone Garaham and I could go fishing. In the early years we would generally come back with a feed of redfin that we’d cook up fresh for breakfast.
As I got a little bit older I’d play golf. I could be a student member with reciprocal rights to a lot of Melbourne Golf Courses for $5 per year which was a bargain even if I only played occasionally during the year. I never played often enough to become any good at the game and I’m just as happy walking around a course these days and taking photos rather than trying to bash one of those little white balls.
My sister Karen and Shirley Brown were far more sociable than I was and they made plenty of friends up there over the years, much to Mum’s chagrin because she didn’t like them mixing with boys. In fact every night she’d lace up their side of the tent so that they couldn’t get out. In those days though, tents didn’t have floors so they simply waited a while then lifted the side and snuck out. I remember one night Mum came and got me from the Van because she’d found them missing and I had to march around the park with here whilst she called out to them. We eventually found them across the other side sitting down laughing with a group of young blokes. Yes, Mum was over protective.
One year it absolutely poured with rain the whole time we were there. Dad must have had to return to work early because I remember Mum had to dismantle the camp, pack up the van and drive us home. The van boiled every 50 mile and we’d have to stop and refill the radiator. It took us around 12 hours to get home that year.
I’ve written before about how Karen and I used to have a race to see who could get brownest the quickest. Sunburn wasn’t the horror story in those days that it is now. We didn’t cover up, in fact we wore as little as possible and lay out in the sun for hours at a time. In Dad’s words by the end of the holidays we were all as brown as berries.
As I tend to do on holidays, a lot of time was spent reading. I remember that I bought the Robert E Howard Conan books one year at a book store up there which were my first introduction into the Sword and Scorcery genre. I re-read the Lord of the Rings and the Dune trilogy one holiday and became a fan of Michael Moorcock in yet another year. And I shouldn’t forget the E E Doc Smith Lensman series.
Fo the most part they were good times. I’m sure Mum and Dad chose Corowa because it was in New South Wales and therefore had poker machines in the local clubs. But Dad continued to drink while we were away and the rows would also go on. Often Mum would march over to the bowling club after Dad had disappeared for too many hours. She wasn’t averse to yelling and telling him what she thought in front of everyone figuring that embarassing him was the only way to get him to leave. And she was right.
I think that was where I grew to hate New Years Eve because inevitably everyone would get pissed and so I’d hide in the van reading my books, venturing out when the clock struck midnight and quickly retiring after a fast Happy New Year to everyone.
What I liked best was that we were away from home, for a while the world was on hold. No school work, no need to mow the lawns or polish the shoes. I could do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. read, fish, play golf, swim, all the things that made summers fun and school seem a long way off. The year I went to univeristy was the year I stopped going to Corowa. Holidays with mates were more important than holidays with Mum and Dad, and anyway, I had to work over the school holidays to earn enough money to see me through the next year.
Thus ended 10 years of summer school holidays with good memories far outweighing the bad.