I never really understood the attraction of camping in a caravan park. When I was a kid my family would go camping every year for two weeks from Boxing Day. We’d pack the Kombie full to the roof (which is even more impressive when you know that the middle seats were taken out). Then Dad and one of us kids would hop in while everyone else piled into our other car (Mitsubishi Nimbus, most gutless people-mover ever invented). All set, we’d head up into the Snowy Mountains to pitch our tents beside the Goobragandra River. It’s only about an hour trip but for me it was a journey across the borders of society and into the wilderness. For the entire time we camped we wouldn’t see another soul – except perhaps friends from Church that would drop by and camp with us for a while.
I loved those times. I was a little hermit right throughout my early teenage years, actually. We lived about 7kms out of Tumut and we didn’t exactly have close neighbours, but I couldn’t wait to get up into those mountains, away from people. I had this deep, semi-articulate hatred for society.
On reflection it was probably an emotional defence against the feeling that our family were outsiders in our community. We were poor (my parents were faith-missioners at the time) but much more highly educated than our peers (both my parents had been to Uni in a town where most people worked at the Timber Mill). We stood out morally as Christians: we didn’t watch the same TV shows, speak the same vernacular, drink at the pub, play sport because it clashed with Church, etc. It was very difficult for a kid to understand or articulate this sense of not belonging. An adult, with his or her wider experience of the world, is able to draw upon the comforting knowledge of a world which includes spectacular human diversity and mentally invokes this as a buttress against the conformist pressures of a small community. An adult Christian is also able to orient him or herself to an unseen community of unrivalled temporal and physical extent which is well equipped with narratives designed precisely to fortify the isolated. A grown-up Christian might feel all alone but is comforted by the knowledge that he or she is really part of the something big. But a little baby offspring-of-Christians is sadly pink and helpless.
It really is so very worthwhile to send teenage Christians away on Christian youth camps. Emma and I have been up at CMS Summer School for the last week and heard a number of times how significant the youth programme has been for helping Christian teenagers grow into Christian adults. A friend who teaches at a large Sydney school even told us that he started bringing his family to Summer School after seeing the difference that it made to the lives of Christian kids at his school.
This week we are camping in Ulladulla. We’ve got a really pretty spot on the headland looking out over Ulladulla harbour. The hammock is set, books are being read, there will be snorkelling.
Oh yeah, It’s in a Caravan Park…
We’re still different. But now I know that it’s not so much about me not belonging in this society, as us belonging to a different one.