The Nicklebys: A Story for Catholic Children
by: Sue Felton

CHAPTER FOUR: The Camping Adventure

Edward and Joe have learned all the 50 questions and answers of the ABC of Camping. Father Brown is very impressed. He has kept his promise and organized a Bush Boys fathers' and sons' camping trip. A small group of boys and their fathers, from the parish, are going to the Minna Mountains for two nights. Father Jackson will be saying Mass for the parish while Father Brown is away.

Edward and Joe are helping Dad load up the car. They have a three man tent with a sewn-in ground sheet, three sleeping bags, billy cans, bowls and mugs and all kinds of other camping equipment. Edward has a list and he is checking off each item as it is packed into the car. Edward's list was drawn up after reading the Clothing and Equipment list in the back of the Bush Boys book that Father Brown gave them when he came to morning tea a few weeks ago.

Edward and Joe look like real Bush Boys. They are wearing roomy shorts and cotton shirts with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow. They have thick socks and sturdy boots on their feet. And they haven't forgotten their wide brimmed hats to protect their faces from the sun. Dad also looks like a Bush Boy. He has read the book too. He even knows most of the answers to the catechism questions.

Mum organized all the food for the trip. Of course, she used the Food List, First Camp part of the Bush Boys book to help her decide what food to buy the boys. Mum makes sure that Dad and the boys have everything they need for their camping adventure and then she and the girls leave for their stay with Auntie Vanessa and the cousins.

Finally, the car is packed. Dad locks the front door of the house and the boys are off. They are very excited. Father Brown has given Dad a map. The plan is for all the fathers to meet at the camping site halfway up the Minna Mountains.

By lunch time, everyone has arrived at the camp site. There are five fathers, ten boys and Father Brown. The first meal is easy. Mum has packed a picnic: sandwiches, apples and Anzac biscuits.

Now it is time to erect the tents. Edward and Joe have pitched their tent in the garden a few times to make sure they know how it goes up. They have no trouble getting their tent up. But some of the other fathers are having lots of trouble.

Mr Wright reads out the tent instructions again and again but his sons, John and Mike, can't quite seem to understand how the tent goes together.

Mr Taylor has three sons: Gerry, David and Paul. Each of them has a different idea about what is the best way to erect a tent.

Mr Short and his son Mark do a good job and so does Father Brown.

That leaves the Pearson family. Mr Pearson hasn't even brought a tent. He has decided a tent is too much trouble. He and his sons are planning to sleep in the back of their van.

With all the tents finally up, Father Brown says it is time for a bush walk. Edward and Joe can't wait to set out. They have water bottles, a snack, a small first aid kit, a map and a compass in their backpack. They are ready to go.

Everyone sets off down the trail. Edward, Joe, Dad and Father Brown look for suitable sticks to use as staffs. Soon the track heads down a steep slope and the staffs come in handy for keeping their balance. They are all walking at a steady pace but Edward and Joe don't forget to watch out for any interesting wildlife.

It is not long before some interesting wildlife is spotted. A snake suddenly slithers across their pathway. Paul Taylor has run ahead and so he sees it first. He screams.

"Don't panic, Paul," says Father Brown. "The snake won't harm you if you stay back. It will just slide off into the bush." Paul calms down and they continue to walk.

By now there is a long straggly line of walkers. Father Brown is in front. Paul no longer wants to lead. Poor Mr Pearson brings up the rear. He is not used to walking and he is beginning to get tired. Father Brown notices Mr Pearson is struggling along. "I think it's time to halt for a rest," he decides. They have come to a shady pool. It is a wonderful place to stop.

Dad reaches into the backpack and then hands out the water bottles. It is a warm afternoon and the boys enjoy the cool refreshing drink.

But the Wright boys refuse their bottles of water.

So do the Taylor boys. They have spotted a log that juts out over the water. They want to run along the log to see if they can get from one side of the pool to the other. Onto the log they jump, one after another. Paul is in front, followed by his brothers, Gerry and David. Slip! Slide! Paul loses his balance and falls plop! into the pool. Gerry crouches down and reaches for his younger brother. Splash! Paul pulls him into the water too. David doesn't know what to do. He looks around at the group of fathers and shouts for help. Mr Taylor comes running. "They can't swim," he panics. And all of a sudden, he too loses his grip on the smooth log and he slides into the pool to join his sons.

Then everyone laughs. The water isn't deep at all. It doesn't even come up to Paul's chin. All the Taylors pull themselves from the water. They are not laughing. They are feeling very uncomfortable. They are not wearing Bush Boys cotton shorts and shirts. They are wearing jeans. Their legs feel very heavy.

Father Brown sighs. "We'd better head back to the camp site," he decides. "You can't go on in wet jeans. It will be hard enough work just walking back from here."

Mr Pearson is secretly relieved. He is exhausted. He is thinking longingly of a cup of coffee.

More than an hour later the sorry band of hikers staggers into the camping area. Father Brown heads for the approved fireplace. "Come and help me build and light a fire, Edward," he says. Edward can't wait to try out his Bush Boys skills.

Mr Pearson is desperate for his cup of coffee. Father Brown's fire will take some time to get going. Mr Pearson can't wait that long. He pulls back the sliding door of his van and everyone stops and stares. He has a huge gas barbeque in the van. He and his boys lift it out and in minutes they have a kettle of water heating. And then feeling rather hungry, Mr Pearson announces that he is going to cook his dinner early.

"Perhaps that is a good idea," agrees Father Brown. "While the fire is hot we might as well cook our food. I've brought some sausages."

Edward, Joe and Dad have sausages too. And some Deb potatoes and a packet of Surprise peas and carrots. This is real Bush Boy food.

The Shorts are having frankfurters and hot dog rolls and they have brought along a bottle of tomato sauce.

The Pearson boys want baked potatoes for dinner. But then they look at the huge barbeque. The barbeque has no ashes to cook them in. Instead Mr. Pearson produces some thick juicy steaks.

Mr Wright has brought along some cans of meatballs and spaghetti. But he has forgotten to bring a can opener. Luckily, Edward's scout knife has a device for getting into cans and he saves them from starvation.

The Taylors have disappeared into their tent to change their wet jeans. When they reappear, Mr Taylor says he can't be bothered getting out all the cooking gear. "I think I'll just drive down the Mountain. There's sure to be a McDonalds at the next town. We'll buy our dinner." Gerry, David and Paul's eyes light up at the thought of fast food. Father Brown offers to cook their food on his fire but Mr Taylor shakes his head. He and his sons get into their car and they roar off down the road.

Finally, everyone's food is cooked and the hungry campers settle down to their meal. Then it is time to wash the dishes and pack away all the equipment. But Mr Pearson is too tired to do the chores. He just wheels his greasy barbeque under a tree and leaves the dirty pots and pans and plates littered on the ground around his van.

Father Brown is thinking about building a campfire. Perhaps they can sit around it and tell bush stories and sing some songs. But before he can send the boys to collect more wood, John and Mike Wright start moaning, "My head! My head!" they cry in unison. Father Brown notices their red, sunburnt faces. They weren't wearing hats on the walk. They didn't drink any water. He thinks they might have sunstroke.

Just at that moment, there is a roar of an engine. Mr Taylor has returned. He doesn't look happy. His boys look very hungry. "I couldn't find a single fast food place to buy some dinner," moans Mr Taylor. "The boys have had enough. I think we'll drive back home. We're sure to see a McDonalds before we reach our house."

We have some left-over sausages," offers Edward. But Mr Taylor refuses the food with a shake of his head. He and his boys hurry off to let down the tent that took them so long to erect.

I think I'll take my boys home too," announces Mr Wright. His red faced sons are feeling too sick to help pack up the camping gear. They just fall into the car. They wait while Father Brown, Edward and Joe help their father gather their belongings.

Mr Pearson looks at his van and thinks about his soft bed at home. He feels too tired and sore to sleep on the uncomfortable floor of the van. "We're going home too," he says. He slides his dirty barbeque and all the pots and pans into the back of the van, together with all the clinging flies.

Mr Short looks apologetically at Father Brown. "If everyone is heading home, I think I'll take Mark home too. I have to admit that I'm not really the camping sort."

"But there's nothing like sleeping under the star..." begins Father Brown. Mr Short is not convinced.

An hour later, Father Brown, Dad, Edward and Joe settle around their camp fire. They are the only ones left.

"So far it's been quite a camping adventure," says Father Brown. "Perhaps tomorrow we can do something ordinary like hike all the way up the mountain. We can take some tea and boil a billy. We might even have a swim in a pool. I bet we arrive back all in one piece and have a wonderful time. We'll do it the Bush Boys way."

Edward and Joe's eyes light up with anticipation. Then Edward looks serious. "If we hadn't read the bush catechism we wouldn't have known how to camp the Bush Boys way and have a wonderful time. We might have worn the wrong clothes like the Taylors..."

"And maybe we'd have forgotten our wide brimmed hats," adds Dad, "and suffered sunstroke."

"We wouldn't have known what food is real Bush Boys food," says Joe.

"I might have panicked, like Paul, if I'd seen a snake," admits Edward.

Dad, Edward, Joe and Father Brown are quiet for a moment, deep in thought.

"Perhaps we can have another camp," suggests Father Brown. "But next time I'll give the ABC of Camping to all the families. Everyone can learn the 50 questions and answers, just like you did."

"Yes," agrees Edward. "Then everyone, not only us, can have a wonderful Bush Boys adventure. I am sure everybody would enjoy camping in the bush if they know the right way to do things."

The next day, Father Brown, Dad, Edward and Joe make it all the way up Minna Mountain. On the way back, they discover an inviting pool and cool off in the refreshing water. They have a wonderful time but they can't help thinking they would have had even more fun if all the fathers and sons had stayed.

"We've had such a great time," says Edward, "but good times are meant to be shared."

Father Brown, Dad, Edward and Joe feel a little bit sad. None of the other fathers and sons got to enjoy the beauty of the bush like they did.

Perhaps next time...

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