Brissy to Rocky—674 km
[image: tit stop in a groovy little town]
The first week of our six month road trip had left me knotted up in a tight little ball of anxiety, but I had learned two things:
1) don’t attempt long driving days
2) stop when the baby wants to stop
We had a week or two hiatus in Brisbane where we stayed with The Uncles (donor uncle and partner) and during this break I avoided the car as much as possible, opting for buses or staying close to home. Despite autumn being firmly, grimly entrenched down in Sydney, in Brisbane it was still feasible to swim, so we splashed around in The Uncles’ pool, met friends at the waterpark at South Bank, lazed in the Botanical Gardens, and had a long picnic party on the river with a bunch of old friends. The Uncles joined us for the first part of leg number two, jumping in our car for a few nights with family up on the Sunny Coast. Waving goodbye to them was hard. It felt like that first day of school all over again, nervous about where to go or who to sit with at lunch, and with a slight tinge of homesickness.
[image: another fucking roadwork tit stop]
I’d made the incredibly conservative plan to drive a grand total of 2 hours and three minutes on day one, which of course took us all day. But the difference this time was that I enjoyed it. I deeply enjoyed it, so much so that by the time we arrived at our campsite I was zinging with joy. We’d stopped in a groovy little town for hot chocolate and cake, and perused the CWA (Country Women’s Assoc.) knitted goods. We’d stopped at a lake full of waterbirds, had lunch by a giant fibreglass kangaroo, and we had also made several tit stops by the side of the road while held up in the eternal roadworks blight of eastern Australia. Our campsite that night was perfect. Right next to the river in the old part of Maryborough, beside a marina of gently bobbing boats. We parked up and I got out the gas stove and made smokey beans with cheesy polenta, and my baby practiced their new trick of rolling over and over on our picnic blanket. It was in this particular toilet block that I discovered that doing jeans up while holding a baby is near to impossible. Up until now I’d taken the baby bouncer to the loos with me, popped them in it, and they’d lay there burbling while I did a poo. But this toilet stall was too small for the bouncer, and public toilets are no place to lay a baby down on the floor. Eventually I pressed them between my chest and the wall, and held them there using my weight while frantically grappling with the zipper of my fly. I wish Australia would embrace the toddler seats Singapore public toilets have fixed to their walls.
[image: marvellous Maryborough marina campsite]
The next morning we went for a wander through the nearby strip of federation buildings, and then sat in the sun breastfeeding while a pianola played Edith Piaf in the background. We got the obligatory selfie with the Mary Poppins statue and perused the chim-chimeny chalk street art (P. L. Travers grew up in Maryborough, and was also queer!) and I ate damper scones while bub oozed poo and snoozed in their wrap. Then we headed off north, chased by thick black thunderclouds. I’d found two lovely-sounding campsites on Wikicamps (an amazing app that lists all free and cheap campsites in Australia), one on a river and one on a lake, depending on how far we got. This was all part of my new plan. The night before a driving day I’d choose a “worst case scenario” camp that was only 40 mins or so away, and then pick a few more that sounded good, spaced 20-30 mins apart further along our route, giving me a stretch of potential campsites to accomodate for anything from a 1 to 3.5 hour drive. If I marked them as “favourites” on the app, I could usually find the closest one to us when bub started to stir and hit the “get directions” button without having to pull over. Yes, playing with your phone while driving is both dangerous and illegal, but you do NOT want to stop the car when you have a sleeping baby in the back.
[image: baby’s first hot steamy Queer as Folk gay sex scene]
On this particular day we were doing well until we had to slow down to pass through a little town, and in a panic that the baby would wake, I wound the windows up and turned the heating on, figuring the warmth might keep bub sleepy. Of course this meant that I was absolutely sweltering, and of course in the end it didn’t work anyway. I pulled over at a rest stop and got my boob out, while behind us two prison vans parked and a bunch of handcuffed inmates traipsed out for a loo stop. I was about to put bub back in the car and grit my teeth for twenty minutes of screaming til we reached our planned camp, when I remembered my new mantra. Stop when the baby wants to stop. We’d passed a shitty looking campsite 30 seconds before the rest stop, so even though there was a beautiful site on a lake waiting for us 28 km further north, I doubled back and pulled up at the manager’s office as it started to rain. A man stumbled out in maroon stubbies with a very red face and asked me whether I was a cane toad or a cockroach. “Sandgroper,” I replied, to which he told me where I could park my caravan. As I darted around in the rain setting up camp I realised the place was full of blokes working on the nearby roadworks. As far as I could tell, I was the only woman in camp. In Central Queensland. On State of Origin night. The game hadn’t even started yet but I could hear the loud cheering and jeering from the kitchen/tv room, and it was clear everyone in the campsite was already well and truly pissed. I got me and the baby into our little two person tent on wheels, and sat there watching old Queer As Folk dvds on my laptop and listening to the rain, feeling relieved that I had fixed the lock on the door. This was the first and last time I felt scared on the road. Eventually my hunger got the better of me, and I ventured uneasily into the fray to heat up last night’s leftovers.
“Here love, dya like mudcrab? Oysters?” A plate of fresh seafood was thrust at me as we entered. Another bloke in an orange safety vest swooped on my baby.
“Let me hold the little one while you cook your tea. I miss me grandkids.”
We didn’t manage to stay awake for the first goal, but we managed to sneak away well fed before anyone discovered that my travelling companion was actually a Blues baby through and through.
[image: State of Origin night (baby in old mate’s arms in the background)]
The next day we only had a short drive to Rocky**, so we took it easy. Bub snoozed happily as we whizzed past the beautiful riverside campsite I’d had earmarked for the night before. Ah, them’s the breaks. Instead we enjoyed the sights of a glamorous truck stop, where I had to lay my baby down on a rug on the gravel, amongst the old cigarette butts. We rolled into Rocky in the mid afternoon and found a camping ground that stretched along the big brown river, but for some reason we were allocated a site hard up against a barbed wire fence next to the main road. I went back and complained, and was given a riverside site flanked by shiny serious-looking motorhomes. The only way I could figure to get my caravan onto our site was to back it in, a skill I had yet to master. There were no know-it-all men standing around watching, so I decided to give it a go. Fifteen minutes later that blasted caravan was still not even close to our allocated spot, so sweating and nervous and embarrassed, I eventually gave up and just parked it on the side of the road, bordering our site. At least it meant we had heaps and heaps of room to spread out the picnic blanket!
[image: Rockhampton river camp]
At sunset I wrapped up bub and went for a walk down the river. Life was good. We’d had a smooth few days and tomorrow my sister was flying in, and we were going to Great Keppel Island together. We’d made it to our first deadline destination with plenty of time to spare, and better still, I’d soon have someone with me to hold the baby so I could poo alone, stir a pot, or brush my teeth. We’d been wandering along the river bank for some time when I saw the crocodile warning sign. Shit. I’d forgotten that we were far enough north now that the waterways were sinister as opposed to scenic. I hightailed it out of there and walked across the bridge to town. I’d earned myself a takeaway Indian tonight. That evening I had my first taste of what other new parents had been struggling with since birth—a bad night’s sleep. As a co-sleeper and a skilled lying-on-my-side breastfeeder, our nights were a gentle rhythm of feeding to sleep and feeding throughout the night, with no crying and lots of sleeping on both our parts. But tonight bub didn’t fall asleep immediately on the breast. Instead they grizzled and fussed, and being acutely aware of how close the other caravans were to us, my nerves increased with the volume of crying. Eventually I got out the wrap again, tied them up tight to my chest, and went for a walk round the caravan park til they fell asleep, giving the river a very wide berth. The teething journey had begun.
[image: botanical gardens babywearing]
In the morning I got out the baby bouncer so that bub could lie somewhere safe and watch me as I packed for the island. This was a bigger job than I’d bargained on. I had to pack the dirty nappies that needed washing, enough clean ones to last us til the other ones dried, nappy cream, wipes, and the nappy bucket. I needed a shade tent for the beach, a rug for inside the tent, suncream, hats, and sunsmart swimmers. I needed warm clothes, cool clothes, and cute clothes to impress Aunty Buff. And now I also needed the teething toys. That was all before packing the food and a few little things for me. One of our grey nomad* neighbours blessedly popped over, and oohed and ahhed at the baby until I suggested she hold them while I went and had a shower. This was SO much easier than taking them with me. Where do you put a baby when you’re trying to dry and dress yourself in a shower cubicle with wet dirty floors?! Then I unhitched the caravan so that I wouldn’t have to try and park it in town, put the baby in their seat, and went and did a big food shop. On our return I realised we still had two hours to kill. I re-hitched the caravan and drove to the botanical gardens, where I cannot express enough the relief I felt when there was a parking bay long enough for us to drive straight through without reversing. I was already absolutely exhausted. We wandered around the gardens, half of it cordoned off due to asbestos that had been exposed during a recent cyclone. The toilets were in the cordoned-off bit, so I had to crouch down in the bushes to wee with the baby strapped to my chest. But I felt good. Capable, strong, and in control at last. And in a matter of minutes my sister would be touching down in town and I would have someone to share not only the load, but also the joy.
Check out all our pics on instagram: thecabbagepatchfib
*Grey nomads: the phenomenon of retirees who flock north every winter in their big shiny caravans, known for chardonnay and cheese at sunset, tv after dusk, and bumper stickers such as “spending the kids’ inheritance” on their vans.
**Rocky = Rockhampton