Flicking back through the passport I’ve been using for the past four years, it becomes apparent that since moving to Asia I’ve lived a rather nomadic lifestyle, travelling to 5-star hotels as frequently as six or seven times a year, with just my swag containing the bare essentials…
Swags: not as convenient as they used to be.
..and powered by an undeniable wanderlust (where “wanderlust” means “contractual employment obligation”).
I guess you’re wondering when I began to foster the spirit of adventure that’s led me to this point. You’re right, I did grow up in West Brunswick, less know for its wide expanses and being a birthplace of intrepid explorers than for its tiny cladding houses and disproportionate number of Italian migrants watering their concrete driveways. Yet from this unlikely departure point, I travelled north-west every Wednesday night to the 3rd Strathmore Brownie Guides, where the vagabond came alive/we danced around a papier-mache mushroom.
The group was divided into “sixes”, and I was a Tintookie, and we had to hold hands and skip around singing “We’re Tintookies, what we do, is try to make your wish come true.” Anyway, I loved it, and proudly moved up to Guides when the time came, where we were too old to be in sixes named after fairies, and instead were split into “patrols” named after Australian mammals. I became a Wombat, because that’s the sort of graceful, lissome being all pre-teen girls aspire to emulate.
I rose quickly to the dizzing heights of patrol “sixer”. We were far too mature to dance around toadstools anymore obviously, and instead, if I recall correctly, we spent most of our weekly meetings decorating Marie biscuits with icing and lollies, and then cleaning the Scout Hall toilets. But somehow in between these character-moulding activities, I acquired some other invaluable life skills from my time in the Girl Guides, ie:
-I can make a pineapple upside-down cake in a billy can.
-I know what a woggle is (it is that leather thing that you put around your scarf. Not to be confused with aglets, which are the bits of plastic on the end of shoelaces. Or, our pack leader, whose Guiding name was Wagga. What the?)
-I have the ability to construct a dish-draining rack out of some sticks and old pantyhose.
-Dilly bag. Groundsheet. Bone pillow.
Etc. I just don’t think you can underestimate the usefulness of this knowledge. If any 5-star hotel I’m in comes under terrorist attack or catastrophic long-lasting power failure, all someone has to provide me with is a large empty tin can, some flour, sugar, pineapple chunks, water, some firelighters, a box of matches, a bunch of sticks, a large plastic tub, some detergent, and about 10 pairs of pantyhose, and I’m fair chance to not only be able to make a somewhat edible dessert for four but ALSO be able to do the washing up.
Most of these skills were learned on a yearly camping competition called the Lady Stradbroke Cup, the highlight of the Guiding camping roster. You can probably compare it to the race to the South Pole Prince Harry is currently participating in with a band of limb-deficient veterans in a way, because…10-year-olds camping for a weekend in the Australian bush, while competing in challenges, most of which involved open fire? It’s well dangerous.
The lead-up to the event involved camping out every weekend for months in Wagga’s backyard in Pascoe Vale South, cooking spaghetti and pineapple upside-down cakes in her barbecue pit for her fat son. Was this the premise for the whole enterprise? I’ll never know.
We’d hoist a flagpole against her back verandah and raise our Wombat colours. We’d practice constructing our bedrolls (plastic ground sheet, mattress, fitted and flat sheet, camp blanket, doona, pillow, tied up with string. We were going to experience true Australian bush life, but with only the mildest of discomfort.) We pitched and struck bell tents and tripped over guy lines and feebly hoisted mallets over our 10-year-old shoulders while the fat son shoved cake into his mouth from a rainbow-striped banana lounge.
And a couple of months later, we were ready.
The back lawn is fucked girls, simply COVERED in divots,
but you’re ready! LET’S ROLL.
Laden with provisions that would have seen Burke and Wills well back to safety, we began the arduous journey up the Hume Highway in our parents’ Ford Falcons to the inhospitable plains of the Riddell’s Creek scout camp.
Everyone’s dad driving to camp in the ’90s.
There we laid eyes on our campsite for the first time, complete with a reasonably luxurious toilet block and within shouting distance of Wagga, who would spend the weekend on her lilo in the comfort of the storage shed. We rushed to have our bell tents up by dark, and then after a feast of hot chocolate and marshmallows roasted on a gas barbecue (“the last supper”), we retired for the night to our mildly uncomfortable bedrolls, eating the contraband chocolate-heavy scroggin everyone’s mum had supplied.
Fuck natural almonds though.
It was hard to find room in the tend for our meagre provisions of three pairs of sturdy walking shoes each, five changes of waterproof clothing, beanies, teddies, board games, cameras optional.
Dramatic representation of encampment.
(Dilly bags not shown.)
Over the next gruelling day and a half, we had to construct one simple gadget (a wash stand), one complex gadget (the dish-drying rack), cook our meals on the open fire, and keep our campsite well tidy, all while experiencing a rugged temperature range of between 18-25C.
A wash stand.
Which one of you dickheads was meant to bring the pantyhose…
I led my patrol of Wombats to an unlikely victory one year. I’m guessing I was no older than 11, because in the photo of me victoriously holding the Lady Stradbroke Cup aloft, I’m wearing jungle-print culottes with matching shirt that my nan coutured from a Butterick pattern. And I have to believe even I wouldn’t have asked for that if I were much older than 11. I just have to. That means while I was still in primary school, I was entrusted with the survival of a pack of other young girls in a fucking forest, and was better than some other 11-year-olds at doing it!
This could very well be that moment in your past that you draw a reminder of your inner strength from in the hard times like, for example, when the complimentary slippers in the hotel in Seoul were too big last week. It’s not even a thing when you’ve been a Tintookie. You can just wear your socks in the hotel room if your feet get too cold HELLO! #wombatsecrets