Camping out sure ain't what it used to be

Camping out in the days before iPhones and double-shot lattes.
Camping out in the days before iPhones and double-shot lattes. 

COMMENT

As former prime minister Paul Keating once memorably quipped, if you're not living in Sydney, you're camping out.

Unless you're camping out over summer near a beach in eastern Australia.

Aeropress coffee.
Aeropress coffee. Photo: Fiona Morris

It's true that life under canvas isn't what it used to be: roll up your swag, hook a billy to your belt and go. Now people bring shower tents, gas cookers, solar panels and even paella pans.

Think about coffee. There was a time when a can of instant and a tin mug of boiling water was all you needed for a camp brew (if you needed coffee at all. Tea is a more traditional camping drink).

I thought I was being clever bringing the Aeropress on this year's summer trip to a beach about four hours from Melbourne. As a concession to the making-do-on-holidays spirit I left the whole beans and the hand grinder at home and just brought pre-ground coffee.

Not good enough, apparently. Although there was no power at the tent sites and the ablutions block featured only toilets, not showers – roughing it in an inner-suburban kind of way – this remote state park got a visit from a mobile espresso van each morning.

I had wondered why the beach (one of Victoria's most beautiful) was almost deserted at 10am. Then I discovered that the campers were queuing for lattes up at the van. I knew they were my people when I heard one guy ask for a double-shot flat white.

Apart from family groups surfing – dads with greying locks, children with equally shaggy but more youthfully coloured hair – the beach was populated by camp women in exercise pants toting rolled-up rubber mats. They were wandering back in very relaxed groups from the morning yoga class.

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"Yoga" and "camping" are two words that in plainer times would not have been seen in a dictionary together.

One thing from modern city life absent from camping, though – at least this far out – is mobile phone reception. 

Our iPhones displayed a gratifying "No Service" message as we left the last fishing village and turned off the highway, so there would be no email, no 24-hour news feed to keep up with, no social media to update: a holiday away from the 21st century.

Unless you walked to the end of the beach, scrambled over the rocks at the point and climbed a particular tree: you could get two bars of 3G there, just enough to keep a teenage girl's Snapchat streak going. There was a queue to climb the tree, and a huddle of people checking their phones below it.

It's camping out, Mr Keating, but not as we know it.

Matt Holden is a Fairfax Media columnist.