One of the reasons I felt so strongly about home educating my children was that I didn’t want them spending so much of their childhood indoors and sitting at desks. I wanted them to grow up in a world of trees and grass, sky and clouds, creeks and oceans. Even though we lived in the city, a lot of our early home education days were spent in our wild backyard, at local parks, or at our local creek, and we went camping out of the city as often as we could.
Those camping trips were never long enough, and my husband and I dreamt of being able to get out of the city and travel around the countryside with our children for an extended period of time. About 10 years ago, we bought a coaster bus and converted it into a travelling home. Eight years ago, we took the children for a two month trip out to Uluru. While absolutely loving the trip, we realised that we were looking for a slower, more open ended adventure. We wanted to be able to linger in places, take back roads and detours, and get right away from the pressure of time and deadlines. We decided we wanted to go for two years and see as much of Australia as we could, and so planned to wait until we could take that much time out of our lives.
It seemed a long time coming, but finally the stars aligned, and a year ago we set off on our trip around Australia. We are half way through now and our three girls are about to turn 7, 10, and 13. Travelling around Australia is one of those adventures a lot of people dream about having, but most wait until their children leave home to do it. However, having an extended time to travel with your children is a fantastic thing to take on as a home schooling family. For one thing, having both parents around most of the time is a wonderful experience for everyone.
As well, everything about life is simpler: much less time is spent on chores to maintain a bus compared to a house and the chores are often fun – collecting firewood, cooking over an open fire as pelicans float by on the nearby Murray River, washing up under the stars and a bright full moon that lights up the whole country. We’ve been to some absolutely stunning places and met a whole range of fascinating people while on the road. We climbed up to view Mt Kosciuszko, threw snowballs and built a snowman with last season’s snow. We hired a small motor boat at Mallacoota, the most easterly part of Victoria, and everyone had a turn driving the boat through the extensive waterways. We stayed with a family of nine who were circus performers in Tasmania, and we met a woman who had trained as a marine biologist and who was running a wildlife sanctuary on Bruny Island.
What’s worked for us is having a few things in the bus to help us have the adventure we want to have. We are carrying a Canadian canoe and a kayak, as well as five bicycles. We also have fishing gear, an assortment of musical instruments, water colour paints, circus equipment, books, card games, and wool and crocheting needles.
Ideally we like to vary our experience on the road. Sometimes we are just travelling and going through gorgeous historic towns, visiting local art galleries and museums, or specialist centres like the Wooden Boat Building Centre in Franklin, Tasmania or the Historic Echuca Port on the Murray River. We also love either going to or volunteering at local festivals – in Tasmania we went to the Australian Wooden Boat Festival and volunteered at the Cygnet Folk Music Festival. In Warwick, Queensland we went to the Jumpers and Jazz Festival and saw a whole main street that had been yarn bombed. Not only do we get to see some great entertainment at festivals, they are also great places for the kids to participate in craft or music or circus workshops.
We love having physical adventures in the landscape. My husband and my eldest daughter, Tallulah, did an overnight walk at South East Cape, the southern most part of Tasmania, and he also recently took the two youngest girls on a three day paddle down the Murray River. Often times if we are camped in country towns, we take all five bikes off and use them as transport to explore the town. When in town we like to find a cosy, quaint cafe or pub and stay for hours writing postcards home, or catching up on travel diaries, or reading books. We also love scouring the local op- shops for good finds, or sitting in the local library to access free wi-fi and check our emails.
Fairly regularly we like to have quiet times when we find a free camp by a river, lake or beach, put up the tarp, pull out the portable fireplace and stay close to the bus for a few days or a week. At those times we go for walks, play card games, get out the ukeleles and guitar and play some music, do some baking in the bus oven, or read for hours.
One feature of our travel is that we have been trying to read both fiction and non-fiction books set in the places we are exploring. We have also been watching Australian movies about the places we are visiting. In Tasmania, Tallulah read Kate Gordon’s gothic Young Adult novels Thyla and Vulpi,
set in and around Hobart.
She and I also read Jackie French’s wonderful historic novel A Waltz for Matilda when we were travelling through Victoria and New South Wales. We watched the classic movie The Man From Snowy River and also have just started the Australian mini series All the Rivers Run, about paddle steamers on the Murray at the turn of the 20th century.
Now that we are travelling through South Australia, the youngest two girls and I are half way through a great Colin Thiele novel, The Fire in the Stone, about life on the opal fields of Coober Pedy. Books and movies give us more information and more depth to our experience of the places we are passing through.
It’s all a wonderful adventure, because although we have an overall plan, day by day we don’t know where we are going to end up or who we are going to meet. One of our most recent spontaneous adventures was when we were in Canberra, driving past New and Old Parliament House. We pulled up at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and decided to go in for a look. The people there were so welcoming that we ended up setting up camp with them for five days, on the lawns of Old Parliament House, where we could walk to places like the National Library of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia.
We spent two days exploring the absolutely fascinating Museum of Australian Democracy (which is what the Old Parliament House has been turned into) as well as having daily yarns with the dedicated activists of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. One of the hardest things we have found about this adventure is being away from our home ed community in Brisbane and all our friends and family.
One way we have gotten around that is that some people have driven or flown to where we are and caught up for a week or two, or we have swung our travels past an area where friends or family may be holidaying or adventuring. In the next month, we are looking forward to a few visitors coming out to Alice Springs to stay with us for a week or two.
Travelling has deepened our knowledge of our country and broadened our experience of the people who live here. It’s also given us time – more time to be together as a family and more time to develop new interests or devote to old passions. It’s simplified our busy city life so that on a good day we are sitting outside in a gorgeous natural setting around the camp fire with the billy on, and someone is reading a novel, someone is playing music on guitar, someone’s baking bread, someone is gathering an assortment of special rocks and sticks, and someone else is building a fairy home in the old hollows of a gum tree.
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