From Olympic pole vaulter to 4WD adventurer, Emma George’s main passion in life is educating families to get outdoors and explore Australia. Currently on her second big trip around Australia with four young boys, Emma’s inspiring stories will encourage you to think twice about your next family adventure.
There is nothing better than jumping in our Patrol with the camper attached and seeing our three boys smiling in the back seat as we escape the city and head for the outdoors. Even if it is just for a weekend, it gives us the opportunity to spend quality time together and swap everyday life for trees, bush, a campfire and freedom. Freedom from work and school, freedom from schedules and most of all freedom for the kids to explore, be adventurers, gain confidence and acquire skills they just can’t get in the city.
Having children is life changing in many ways, however, my husband Ashley and I vowed that our new additions wouldn’t stop us camping, fishing and getting outdoors. We took our firstborn camping when he was only eight-weeks-old, although getting out of the house was challenging and we required a totally foreign array of equipment, the change of scenery was well worth the effort.
Little babies are easy when they are breastfed as you don’t have to pack food, but when they start crawling, things get busy. I soon learnt that a plastic high chair and a fully enclosed screen tent were invaluable. The tent was a safe haven to prevent my young ones from wandering off when I had my back turned, it also doubled as a play area, kept them away from the fire, out of the dirt and stopped them eating every leaf and stick in sight.
As our family grew and the camper became cramped, the boys took to sleeping in their own Oztent that we would pitch right next to us. Our third child was only twelve-months-old and sleeping in a porta cot when he joined his three and five-year-old brothers in the aptly named ‘fun tent’. Now that my youngest is six, camping has become more relaxing again, if you can ever use the word ‘relaxing’ with three boys. The porta cot has been ditched for swags; the kids can pack their own clothes, help set up camp and unpack the car when we get home. These days the first piece of equipment I pack is our portable UHF radios so I can keep in contact with them when they explore further afield.
We love adventures and our first foray into an extended off road family escapade was in 2011 when we hit the road with our one, three and six-year-old. The first challenge was Cape York and the Old Telegraph Track, then the Savannah Way to Darwin. We ventured to the top of Arnhem Land, explored the Red Centre and crossed the desert along Gary Junction Road and arrived home in Perth three months later. Ashley conserved his long service leave when we had our babies, saving it for this big trip. Although I would have liked some more help when they were born, I was supportive of him accruing leave as it meant we would have something to look forward to. It ended up being more than just a trip; it was an epic adventure and while some people thought we were crazy going with such young kids, it was the best thing we had ever done.
It was a tough trip, we never really sat down for long, it was a whirlwind of pack up and set up, but the experiences we had were phenomenal. We crossed rivers where water was flowing over the bonnet, saw pythons devouring bush rats and fed coconuts to bush turkeys. The kids caught barramundi in Arnhem Land; we saw amazing rock art, walked around Uluru, encountered a thunderstorm in the desert, and the boys made friends with children in remote Aboriginal communities. By the end of the trip, our family had changed; we developed a special bond and were closer than ever before. We had done and experienced so much together that we were already thinking about our next trip before we even arrived home.
Fast forward five years and we are busy preparing for our second big adventure, this time for six months. Although this trip has been in the back of our minds for years, the catalyst was to do it before our oldest child starts high school. I believe that opportunities don’t just arise; you make them happen. Ashley has been fortunate to get extended leave from his work, and as we already own our car and camper, the main expenses will be fuel, camping fees and a few tours. If we need to, we can redraw on our home loan, and our justification is that we have years to pay off our house, but we only have limited opportunities to step outside mainstream life, spend time with our children and experience Australia together.
We are on version #6 of our schedule, as our original 12-month trip has been whittled down to six, but the plan is to head north during winter and make our way around the country as we aim to drive on a bare minimum of bitumen. Our big map of Australia is on the table and everyone has been reading books from the coast to the Outback for inspiration.
Whenever someone has a great idea of where to go or something to see, we cry “put it on the list”, which is growing longer by the day. To name a few, we have: Cape Leveque, Bungle Bungle, Mitchell Plateau, Gagudju, Uluru, Cooper Pedy, Lake Eyre, Agate Creek, Moreton and Fraser Islands, Point Plomer, Snowy Mountains, The Victorian High Country and a lap of Tasmania before heading back to Perth via the Great Ocean Road.
As I write this, I am busy working out schooling options, getting our ’99 GU Patrol in the best shape of her life, organising the camper and trying to ensure we have everything from a satellite phone and comprehensive first aid, to spare parts for our vehicle. It is a fine balance between having everything we need but not overloading the car with equipment we may only use once or twice. The credit card is getting a work out on fat bikes, solar panels, a hot water system, a dual wheel carrier, navigation unit, LED lights and the list goes on. We are refining our trip schedule and sending it to our friends and family in case they want to join us on sections of the trip. The count down is on, we only have weeks to go and I look forward to sharing our experiences, disasters and triumphs as we embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
The planning and packing stages of Emma’s 3 month trip can be read in Issue 2 of 4×4 Cultured.
Make camping easy and don’t over pack as the more you take, the more you have to squeeze in the car. The simpler your camping kit is, the easier it is to set up and pack up. Remember to dry and clean any damp or dirty equipment when you get home.
Get your kids involved in working out where to camp, the activities you want to do, the food shopping and what meals you might like to eat. Planning and generating the excitement of a trip is half the fun, plus kids always like being involved in the decision making process.
Try to get to your campsite before dark. That way you can see where to put up your tent and avoid nasty surprises like if there are branches overhead or ant nests around. It makes it much easier to have your camp established and the kids fed before it gets too late.
Let kids enjoy the magic of being outdoors and use their imagination and create their own games. Allow them to interact and explore the outdoor environment. Embrace the dirt – how grimy the kids get can often be an indicator of how much fun they are having.
Make sure you have enough blankets/sleeping bags to keep warm at night, particularly if you are winter camping. If you are using an air mattress, don’t forget the pump and patches in case you get a hole.
Head torches are perfect as you can keep your hands free – but remember to bring spare batteries. If you have a bright torch, pack it, as there is nothing better than spotting animals and taking nature walks at night.
Bring a book, drawing material or a small game the kids can do in their tent in case they want some quiet time or if the weather is inclement. Don’t pack too many as the fewer toys they have, the more likely they are to play outside and create their own fun and games.
I like to keep it easy, as I would rather spend time with the kids rather than cooking. I often make extra curry or pasta sauce at home, freeze it and use it when I go camping for a quick and easy meal.
Kids (even little ones) can help, whether it is collecting sticks for firewood, banging in tent pegs, carting water or doing dishes. It is good for them to be responsible and I find my boys are much better at helping when we go camping than they are at home. They also know that if they contribute, then we will take them camping more often.
Pack your first aid kit and ensure you have plenty of insect repellent, antiseptic cream, stop itch, band-aids, and Panadol™ or Nurofen™. Think about where you set up camp and if you have young children, keep a distance from water and high ridges. Check where the closest town is if you need assistance and have some form of communication, particularly if you are remote camping.
There’s nothing better than getting the kids outdoors to spend quality family time together and create memories that can last a lifetime. I grew up camping, fishing and four-wheel-driving, so it is only natural that I want my children to have the same experiences. With the increase in technology and the amount of time children are spending indoors, it is more important now than ever before to foster a love of the outdoors.
If you don’t know where to start or want some ideas on how to get your family camping, fishing, boating and off the beaten track, then check out www.lovetheoutdoors.com.au. There are videos, tips on what to take, activities and checklists with ‘how to’ sections on everything from catching that first fish to setting up a camp kitchen.
Being a former athlete, I understand the importance of healthy living and keeping not only yourself, but also keeping your children active. If you can make getting outdoors easy and everyone has fun, then you will be more likely to go again.
Emma is a former Olympic pole vaulter, setting 17 world records during her impressive career. She now spends a lot of her time exploring our beautiful country with her husband and three boys. Creator of ‘Love the Outdoors’ website, Emma is passionate about ensuring her kids lead a healthy and active lifestyle and is teaching others how they can do the same with their families.