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. 


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.


"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.