We finally did it – we’ve hit the road! I honestly had flashes of it never really happening and may have muttered under my breath a lot about Fiji looking really nice this time of year. But! After, *ahem*, a tad of an underestimate on just how long it would take to get organised, packed, and tick all of the jobs off which ‘needed’ to be done to Tilly before we headed off into the sunset…we finally pulled out of Brindabella at 10am on Sunday 19th August. ‘Only’ a week later than planned, and after some very late 2am finishes and 5am starts by one M. Steendam. Packed to the very brim with all manner of gear…we really tried to pack light, but it was proving pretty difficult considering we are setting off into inland Australia (where temperatures will be freezing overnight), but then going through the Kimberley in what is increasingly looking like October (in scorching heat). Currently I am typing this wearing thermals, thick jumper, down jacket, scarf, beanie, fingerless gloves and sipping hot tea…the girls are tucked up in bed in similar clothing with heavy wool blankets on them. This will all seem ludicrous in a mere few weeks I am hoping. But still…the hot water bottles are packed. Tick!
Our first stop was always going to be Boort, in north-western Victoria – our home-away-from-home, to our besties/doppelgangers cropping farm. As luck would have it, we arrived the day before shearing (something we thought we would miss, but lucky them: we run on Steendam time!) We hadn’t been up to Boort since Christmas, a long time between drinks, especially for our little people who have grown like mushrooms since then. Eight months is too long in the mind of a two or four year old (or thirty one year old for that matter!)
We had so much fun at ‘Inverness’, just slotting into daily farm life (as we do…) Kate and I fed the shearing crew, Eleanor had another small person to boss around, Matt did some roustabouting to earn his keep and Harriet was this strange submissive, demure child?! I think it was the changed dynamic with Hunter being a few months older than her and shaking up the status quo. We honestly could have stayed for our whole three months just in Boort, it’s never long enough with Team Nelson, four and a half hours between our houses is just too much. But we thought we’d better make tracks west or we’d never catch that wet season further up the road, before it caught us…
Onwards, due west, over the border, bye Victoria! On Matt’s birthday no less. Our next stop was in our old stomping ground (we used to live in a big old limestone farmhouse in Willalooka, near Padthaway, in South Australia – before we had kids!) My ‘Instagram wife’, as Matt likes to call her, had offered us a bed and a farm tour – can’t pass that up! For the past two years I have been chatting to Rach over Instagram, funny how sharing little snippets of our everyday can grow into something much bigger. Truth be told I probably talk to Rach a lot more than I do my actual husband! We both pretty quickly realised we are actually living parallel lives: both have daughters named Eleanor, both photographers, both married to farmers who are way too dedicated to their jobs (annoyingly good blokes) but had both neither grown up with farming parents. Huh! Through a shared love of coffee (but not bacon!), navigating early childhood mothering and living rurally with mostly just each other to converse with, Rach and I formed a fast friendship – which then developed into me landing on her doorstep, hiiiii!!!
I’ve met a few online friends in real life, and sometimes it doesn’t meet up to expectation, or they’re actually quite different to how you imagined/perceived them to be through a screen. But Rach (and Ben and Eleanor) were warm and inviting and we slotted in there pretty easily too…I’m sensing a theme of us just gatecrashing our way around Australia through farm stays!
We had to push on north though so waved good-bye to the Farmers, promising that we’d be back on our homeward journey (and actually, we pinched their portacot and bought some rather large steelwork items in Keith, so we will have to be back!) After a final big shop in Murray Bridge, we were packed to the gills with food – hoping to not have to do another big shop until we get to Alice Springs, and avoid smaller more remote and therefore expensive towns.
Our first night actually using Tilly was near Burra, at World’s End campground. We stayed here a few years ago on our way to the Flinders Ranges and it didn’t disappoint yet again. Grassy site, beautiful trees near a dry creek bed. The set up and pack down of Tilly takes literally 10-15 minutes, and that is us having only done it a handful of times, I’m sure we could have it down to quite the fine art. The girls slept beautifully tucked up in their swag and portacot, and us in our cosy bed under the hatch. The one and only other time we had used the camper was in our backyard not long after we bought it, and it was a complete and epic disaster with Harriet running a raging temperature and both girls ended up in bed with us. So the first night of everyone sleeping soundly and in their beds was a weight off my shoulders, as I was a bit panicked about how it was going to work!
The girls have been traveling beautifully – really, really well actually (touch wood!) They sleep, eat, do sticker books, read, listen to audio books, play with magnet sets…sometimes there’s a squabble in the back but nothing too major yet (other than Harriet copping the corner of a thrown book in her eye resulting in a bit of blood, ai yi yi!)
We headed up through the mid-north of South Australia after Burra, to Jamestown and towards the Flinders Ranges – a familiar scene from our trip a few years ago, but it’s still quite amazing country up here. We’ve made our home at Merna Mora Station, funnily enough on the suggestion of another Instagram friend! Alyce grew up here but now lives in Port Augusta with her young family, similar aged boys to our girls, and stuck her hand up when I put the call out for family’s looking for photo sessions along our way. So here we are, back in the Flinders Ranges, such amazing scenery and a gorgeous family – can’t wait to get my lens into some of that action tomorrow. But for now, I’m going to tuck into bed with a book and full-moon gaze through our skylights in Tilly…