River Journal



Day two at Cumberland River Camping Reserve. Up at 9am. Two pots of coffee. Amy and I attempt The Age crossword. It proves difficult; it is always more difficult on a Sunday – one of the clues is “Papal Emissary” for goodness sake.

The weather has improved over the course of the day. Last night, a fine mist hung in the air over the beach and it looked like rain. Amy had a head-torch with her and its beam illuminated trillions of dancing particles everywhere she turned.

After lunch, Amy and my mother make necklaces from an assortment of beads. It is a slow, meditative process. Some of the beads are very small and difficult to thread. Amy’s pattern uses larger blue beads punctuated with rows of smaller beads of red, orange and green. My mother uses small jade beads alternating with larger metal ones.

We walk down to the beach, throw the Frisbee around. The sun plays on the peaks of the mountains and day turns to night in soft dappled light.

At night, disaster strikes! The gas lamp fades suddenly and goes out. We remove the glass cover and see that the ghostly white mantle has begun to disintegrate. Camping is good for that: removing things that you rely on so much that you take them for granted.

It is really annoying being without light. Still, we have candles with us and the tent fills with their warm, flickering glow, and an admittedly more nostalgic ambience. Some teenagers play saxophone in the shelter shed nearby, and play well. The soft sound of a jazz composition floats across the campsite. The broken lamp has offered up a nice moment.


Disaster strikes again! It started raining at about 3am last night and continued into the morning. We get up to find that we have left the entire front section of the main tent open and water has gathered there a couple of inches deep. Most of our clothes are wet, some of the food, a few of my books, but not any of our phones or my camera. That is something.

The campsite looks awful in the rain. A bleak middle class gulag. There are a few people attempting to erect tents. They stand in the rain, holding sections of canvas and nylon with expressions on their faces like the weary peasants in a Van Gogh painting. The horror. My mother reminds me of the year that the river flooded and sent cars floating out to sea – yes, things could be worse.

We are back in Geelong. The tent-flood was too much. The breaking point came when we realised that we would not even be able to have a shower because we had nothing dry to dry ourselves with. That’s all it takes sometimes, doesn’t it? Something as simple at not being able to have a shower and get warm.

Driving back was spooky. A dense shroud of mist hangs over the Otways forest. It felt like we were traveling through some kind of primordial landscape a million years ago. The road emerges and disappears again into it again and again. I feel hyper-vigilant. I watch the road for unpredictable hairpins and chicanes.



Back at Cumberland for take two. The ground has dried and the sun has returned. The campsite returns to a more idyllic state. The only sign of the deluge of the previous day is the transformation of quiet stream into raging torrent. It flows rapidly, a rush of deep brown water with licks of white foam.

Flicking through the rest of the journal from this trip, I found amid the rubbish of words that I would not transcribe here, the following, a kind of exercise in mindfulness carried out one evening in my little tent. 

A sequence of sounds heard at Cumberland River Camping Reserve, January 16, 2015, 6:35PM.

1. Pots clanging. 2. Kids singing, laughing, chatting. 3. Trees/leaves rustling. 4. Birds chirping. 5. Tents flapping in the wind. 6. Birds singing. 7. Distant murmurs of conversation. 8. Kids squealing. 9. Water splashing. 10. Rush of river. 11. Footsteps on gravel. 12. Car doors closing. 13. Kid crying. 14. Metal utensils clanging. 15. Thongs slapping against feet. 16. Motor starting. 17. Crunch of tyres on gravel. 18. Rise of the wind through threes. 19. Sand hissing against tent. 20. Esky being opened. 21. Bottle popping open. 22. Parent interrogating child about whether they will have a shower or not. 23. Parent yelling, ‘hey!’ 24. Hands clapping. 25. Girl screaming in mock terror.

Images Copyright Simon Bonneau 2015.

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