The modern bushwalkers, with their dinky little stoves, miss all the atavistic
pleasures of the campfire. Sure they can crawl into their space age tents, ignite the meth or gas
or hexamine and have a brew within minutes and a hot meal in just a few more. But what then? What
do they do for the rest of the evening before curling up in their rainbow hued sleeping bags? Read
by the light of a 9 L E D head lamp? Listen to music on their I-pod? They certainly can't sit
around the dying embers of a camp fire, chatting about past events and future trips. Sure they can
sit and chat, but without the warm glow and smell of wood smoke, there is no focus point to stare
into and dream as you discourse. Not like in my day.
I vividly remember my first walking trip to Cooks Beach on Freycinet Peninsular. We had only the most
basic gear, but with a frypan, dehydes, bully beef, rice and a fire, we cooked up a meal that I can
still taste 50 years later. The smoke got in eyes and up noses, but kept the mozzies at bay. Then
there was my first trip with the caverneers. I knew a lot of them were Rover Scouts, so anticipated
the obligatory camp fire, and geared up accordingly. Come the evening in a bush hut, and as I fronted
up to the fireplace with tucker bag, billy and frypan I found they were all fiddling round trying to
get their infamous "chuffers" going. So I had to go out and gather twigs, fern, bark and logs, and get
a fire going. Either that or have a cold dinner. As soon as I had the wood burning nicely and a good
bed of embers, the scouts all decided to abandon their smelly, noisy, and potentially lethal heat
sources and take advantage of my creation. To this day, I believe that they only used the stoves in
a spirit of keeping up with the latest trends. Fashion victims!
One truly memorable trip, four of us trooped across the Ben Lomond plateau for a whole day in fog.
Late in the afternoon the fog turned to drizzle, gradually increasing in intensity. We located an
overhanging cliff which provided sufficient shelter to set up a campfire. There was plenty of dry
wood and soon a cheerful crackling blaze was going hard up against the rock face. Bad move. The rock
was full of minute water filled cracks. The water turned rapidly into steam, and the rock started to
disintegrate. Explosively! Bits of hot, sharp-edged rock came zooming out of the immediate vicinity
of the fire, and we were rapidly forced to take cover. And what was the cover? Boulders big enough to
shield us, but out in the downpour.
Then there was the time in the South West when we were woken at piccaninny daylight by a typical Cox
Bight shower. Forced out of my fart sack by hydraulic pressure, I decided to stay up and do everybody
a favour and make up a brew. I put my acquired skills to work and collected dry twigs from branches of
standing trees, split a few with the indispensible sheath knife and made a small pile over a candle stub.
Lit the candle, got the kindling going, removed the candle, added more and bigger sticks, blew into the
core of the fire using my drinking tube, a length of PVC piping with copper tubing nozzle. Hung the billy
and had it boiling in minutes, Handful of tea and a couple of swings, and then called "Tea's up". "Bugger
off Brownie" was the mildest suggestion.
Once I was forced to ignore fire regulations and light a campfire in a National Park. It was at the end
of a hard, cold, wet day. I was experiencing the first symptoms of exposure. I needed food and warmth.
When I tried to get my meth stove working I found my fuel had been contaminated with water. Shaking and
shivering I gathered kindling and sticks, and managed to get a fire going. Two big cups of soup and a pan
of dehyde stew later, in my bag with a cup of sweet coffee; I was well on the recovery trail.
Somewhere under my house is a battered frypan with a hollow handle. This is my campfire pan. I would shove
a suitable stick into the handle and sit a couple of feet away from the fire. No burned knuckles, no
balancing the pan on unstable foundations. Modern methods are great when you need to do your cooking in
a tent, but I treasure my evenings spent beside a campfire.