A Night Alone on Australia’s East Coast
The pastel hues of the afternoon’s sunset had faded enough for me to finally take my eyes and camera lens away from the distant watery horizon. I pulled my cardigan closer around me and tucked the oversized flaps under my arms. My knees began to warm as they rested alongside the pot of water bubbling away on my gas camp stove. Hesitatingly, I clicked the button of my solar powered lamp, unsure if it had produced enough power during its short stay in the sunshine to see me through the night. Pouring pasta into the boiling water, I hoped I was estimating the perfect amount for a single person’s dinner. But when does that ever happen? With dinner cooking away, I leaned back in my fruity, fluorescent second-hand camp chair and automatically clicked the home button on my phone.
1 missed call: Dad
Here we go. I pressed the green dial button.
“Hi Amy, how are you?”
“Good thanks Dad. How are you going?”
“Yeah good. Where are you?
“I’m just at Potato Point.”
“Just a bit south of Moruya.”
“Oh. I thought you were staying in Moruya?”
“Yeah I was there last night, but I’m camping in the car tonight.”
“Oh. Right. Who are you there with?”
“What? I thought you had friends with you?”
“I stayed at a friend’s place last night, but I wanted to camp in the car tonight.”
“What? I didn’t know this was happening. I don’t think I like the sound of this.”
After 10 minutes of frantic convincing – and another call once I was tucked into bed with the doors locked – my dad was a little more comfortable with the idea of me camping alone. I can understand his concern. I was in a place I’d never been before, with no one I know immediately at hand. I hadn’t camped by myself before, or with anyone else for a long time. And I’d had to tell a few white lies to convince him I was in a safe spot.
But his concerns quickly jumped down the phone line and into my mind.
As I lay on the poorly blown up mattress squashed into the boot of my wagon, I squeezed my eyes shut and pictured opening them to the sight of a man’s face at my window. I wrapped my blankets closer around me and dragged them further up my neck. Bloody Dad. I’ve travelled overseas plenty of times and he never called me twice a night to check I’d locked the doors then.
After a few minutes, I gave into the urge of seeing what was really outside and peeked my eyes open. No one out there. Yet.
I picked up my book and turned on the car light. Within seconds, my mind played out the sounds of an approaching car. I whipped my arm up to switch off the light and lay deadly still. A few seconds later, I found the courage to sit up and look out the front window. No cars. No people. It was just the sound of the ocean surrounding my campsite. This happened twice more before I gave up on reading altogether and kept the light off. But still, sleep evaded me. Fear did not.
For the past week, I’d ummed and erred about whether to take the trip at all. I’d put off planning where I would go and used being unorganised as an excuse to bail. But at the last minute, I grew a bit of courage, chucked everything in the boot and headed south.
I was determined to replace the fears of incapability and the unknown with unexplored towns, fresh coastline and a new kind of independence. And it was happening – until Dad’s concerned voice unintentionally reminded me of why I hesitated in the first place, that is. But it was too late: I was already there, already alone.
I checked my phone. 8:17pm. It was a Saturday, and I was in bed before 9. I pictured my friends pre-drinking before a night out in Sydney. Their bed time light years away. What am I doing by myself on the edge of a cliff on the Saturday night of a long weekend? I thought. Fuck I’m getting old.
But then I remembered what surrounded me. My back window peered directly out to sea, and water was crashing against the rocks surrounding the tiny headland.
I set my alarm for 6:45am. I was not missing that sunrise for anything. I played some calming tunes on my phone to comfort me into sleep. Eventually, my eyes lulled shut.
After a slightly deflated and chilly night, my body woke a few minutes before my alarm, in anticipation. The faint light before the rising of the sun was striving to melt the dew from the car windows, with little luck.
As I opened the car door and awkwardly scrambled over the bouncing air mattress, the crisp dawn air cut straight through my pyjamas. But I grinned. I did it. I survived my first night camping alone. And would you take a look at what I did it for!
Layers of burnt orange and tickled pink light straddled the horizon. Fog, like I’ve only seen rolling through crisp green paddocks, twirled and spun atop the still water, waiting for the sun’s cue to disappear. Beams of light shot out from behind the low-lying clouds. The fears reignited by my Dad’s words at nightfall were finally assuaged in the morning light.
I grabbed my phone, unable to resist a photo. Leaving the car open, I wandered down a narrow make-shift trail on the cliffside. From my new vantage point, I could see the beach to the north, and spotted a few keen surfers already bopping around on the waves.
I snapped a few pics, feeling very pleased with my hand-picked camping spot, not to mention my ability to overcome my irrational fear of someone stumbling across my single-woman camp and deciding to take advantage.
Then a car door slammed. I spun around. There stood a man.
“Such a beautiful spot!” he exclaimed, DSLR camera in hand and a look of wonder spread across his face.
“Oh yeah, it’s pretty,” I responded faintly.
Behind him, I spotted two other men emerging from a white 4WD, also wielding oversized cameras.
I clambered back up the trail, shaking my head, snatched the keys from the ignition, closed the door and dove straight under the safety of my blanket. Tourists, I sighed. They’re just tourists like me.
The men followed the trail down the cliff and onto the rocks below. I took a photo of my view of the ocean as I peered through the back of the wagon, and sent it to my Dad.
‘Good morning! Thanks for scaring the crap out of me.’
Cover by Ben White