School of the road

My daughter Ling turned 13 this month. She’s a sponge for new information at the moment, discovering gaps in her knowledge which it’s a pleasure to help her fill. We have a lot of conversations along the lines of:

“Who’s Marilyn Monroe?”

“Oh my god, you need to watch Some Like it Hot immediately“.

To indulge this “life education” theme, we decided to embark on a 2-week, 2000km mother-daughter road trip (Melbourne to Sydney and back). Up via the coast, camping at beaches; a weekend at a hotel in Sydney; then back camping via the inland route. Along the way we planned a few nostalgic visits to the places where I grew up.

After packing tent, bedding, food and my entire CD collection, we hit the road mid-Sunday morning. We stopped for a late picnic lunch and walk at Nowa Nowa in East Gippsland.

We spent our first night camping at Corringle Beach, a wild expanse of surf beach extending into white haze in both directions. With a steep drop-off and not another soul on the beach, we opted for long walks and splashing in the shallows, rather than travelling via ocean rip to New Zealand.

Important life lessons learned on day one:

  • How to pump petrol
  • How to snooze by the side of the road on long drives
  • How to make camping risotto
  • Driving down a remote dirt road looking for a campsite is made fabulously dramatic with the addition of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky or Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to The Mission
  • Echidnas are super cute.


Our next camp site was at Bittangabee Bay in Ben Boyd National Park. Top lessons for the day were:

  • DON’T LOCK THE KEYS IN THE BOOT. Especially when you are 18km down a dirt road with no phone reception. I am pretty confident she’ll never do this again.
  • How to break into a locked car. Props and thanks to Parks volunteer Bevan who had the foresight to go camping with a screwdriver and wire coat-hanger.

We continued our beachy camping adventures at Mystery Bay and Greenpatch on Jervis Bay. (No photos of Greenpatch – just imagine perfect white sand and perfect aqua water. End of story.)

On Thursday afternoon we arrived in Wollongong. I lived on a 140 acre property on the edge of the city from the ages of 9 to 14, and hadn’t been back since I was 17. I met with my old friend/almost cousin, Honora, who showed us around some of our old haunts, introduced us to her partner and son and cooked us dinner, met us for breakfast and then joined us on an outing to the huge Nan Tian Buddhist temple. They were setting up Chinese New Year decorations; I took photos of a couple of lanterns for my Monkey husband and Dragon son.

It bucketed with rain on Thursday evening. Luckily we’d been unable find short-term camping so we’d booked a motel. Our good fortune with the weather continued throughout our trip; it never rained while we were under canvas.

Honora and I spent a solid 6 hours on Thursday talking about childhood memories and family news. (We both have large and colourful families.) I thought Ling would be bored but apparently it was rivetting. She was very attentive no doubt learned A LOT.

Then on to Sydney for the weekend. For Ling, who has no memory of her previous visit as a toddler, her first real trip to Sydney was about two things: the hotel and the Opera House.

This is a happy 13-year-old telling me how ordering room service will be the highlight of her life.

She now knows how to order room service. Also how much on-demand movies and mini-bar goodies cost – and that sometimes it’s worth paying.

We walked through Hyde Park, where the Sydney Festival was in swing; saw ‘The Greats’ exhibition at the art gallery; spotted the wharf where ABC’s ‘Dance Academy’ was filmed (forget Da Vinci and Monet, this was seriously exciting); ambled through the Botanic Gardens; and were suitably blown away when the opera house and Harbour Bridge came into view.

Ling’s favourite painting in the exhibition: John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Locknaw.

We watched Julie Taymor’s production of The Magic Flute (Ling is interested in costume design), caught a ferry to Milsons Point, and walked back across the bridge taking photos (Ling with her 13th-birthday camera).

 Image from

On Sunday we caught assorted trains and buses to ridiculously goodlooking Bondi, ate fish and chips for lunch and walked along the cliff tops to Bronte.

Ling was in full sponge mode, taking in everything from how to preorder interval drinks at the opera, to the effectiveness of the anti-graffiti campaign on Sydney trains. One weekend was enough!

On Monday morning I headed out early to do our laundry and buy back breakfast so she could sleep in. Then we were back on the road for our return journey…