Monday, July 29, 2019

Camp Moogerah

For my last six weeks in Australia I helped out at a “school camp” a couple hours west of Brisbane. I say “school camp” to evoke that general sense - it was open for individuals to come and camp on the grounds, for church groups to have retreats, and that sort of thing, though the whole property was ready to host several hundred kids in cabins should the need arise.

In any case, I helped out around the camp - and with the owner’s personal projects - in exchange for a bed and meals. As with previous hosts where I did some physical labor, it was a nice change from my vagrant routine. Painting, sanding, gardening, and that sort of stuff is good for the soul - when one is done with a task it’s evident. You see it. Unlike a never-ending set of essays to write/edit for a paycheck or making blog posts where the only metric of success is a number next to an illustrated eyeball (“views”), it is clear: I moved that plant from here to there and it looks good.

As nice as it was to find a routine, however, it’s not a riveting tale to retell. On a typical day I’d wake up, do a task, then spend the evening trying to put something on paper. The stories are in the cracks - the days where something didn’t go according to routine. Here are a few.


On the way from the train station to the workaway, we (my host and I) passed a house. My host (Barry) pointed out that I might be doing some work at this place as it was being fixed up to rent by his girlfriend, Annie. It was a ten minute drive away from the workaway.

Maybe a week in, I was informed that we’d be spending a few days painting and fixing up Annie’s place. There was mention of grabbing some extra clothes, but I took this to mean “we’re painting, bring something you can get paint on” rather than “bring a few extra sets of clothes.” I thought we were going to the house we’d passed and, if I forgot something, it’d be a short hop to recover it.

As you may have guessed, I would not be writing this if it were that simple. Instead of driving ten minutes we ended up driving three or so hours to the other side of Brisbane where we were to post up in a different rental house owned by Annie that needed work. I was completely taken by surprise (and by the time I’d realized the error, it was too late to turn back). I brought almost nothing with me. I didn’t even bring a cable to charge my phone - my daily writing for the first day was written on the inside of the (carefully ripped open) cardboard container that held the toothpaste Barry bought me.

The next few days went well enough, work-wise, but I wasn’t the happiest person switching between paint-covered tee and “nice” tee. Not to mention having only one pair of underwear! I was a stinky mess at the end of it, despite showering, and was very glad to get back to the workaway and do some laundry!


You see how clever I am? How I made that a plural possessive? Oh boy. That’s because I made a friend in Tokyo who shares my name. As chance has it, he lives near Brisbane.

About halfway through my stay at the workaway, Simon and I were able to connect and we went on a small trip to see some of the sights to the south of Brisbane. It was a staccato adventure - stopping for an hour in Byron Bay, stopping for a minute at the easternmost point of Australia, stopping for an hour at another beach, and stopping for an hour on the Gold Coast before losing badly at a pub quiz in a section of Brisbane I hadn’t visited in my previous few days there.

The whole adventure was a nice change of pace from life at camp. Add in some solid car conversation and I had a delightful time getting to know Simon a bit better and seeing a few more bits of Australia!


I was able to get away from camp every once in a while on my own, and two places were within my striking distance: a small mountain and a pub. I only hiked up the mountain once - the pub had beer, a courtesy shuttle, and was open past 5pm.

Before we jump off the mountain, however, let me express again just how beautiful Australia is. I’ve certainly not given it its due - as an American, I had really only seen Australia through the medium of television - and who knows how much of that was sound stage or locations in California. In reality - especially when one has attained a small bit of elevation - Australia (at least the parts I was able to see in my short time there) is an all-encompassing beauty. It really surrounds you and induces you into communion and reflection. I know there are places all over the world - including the US - where this is true, but Australia really struck me. I’m so glad I hiked up Mt. Edwards.

Opposite to communing with nature, I also communed with my soul through the medium of alcohol. There was a delightful little pub near the camp that was willing to pick up and drop off folks provided they lived close enough. A wonderful alternative to drunk driving and a more palatable option for me (despite assurances that I could borrow a vehicle whenever I wanted, I wasn’t comfortable taking the option), I hopped over to the pub a few times during my stay. I got a little writing done, but I mostly socialized with locals.


Again, I had a nice time at Camp Moogerah. It provided a nice change of pace from living out of a bag and pushing toward the next bus, train, or plane. Additionally, having a routine meant I could really dig into some writing - though most of it was in my journal, I did manage to write nearly every day. Everyone associated with the camp was friendly and wanted the best for me. I’m glad chance brought me to the place.

After Moogerah, I spent one fairly uneventful night in Brisbane (though I finally had a proper steak made from “Australian beef”). The next day I had a pair of surprisingly productive plane rides (Brisbane -> Sydney -> Jakarta), where I wrote a couple stories on the tray table. I barely wrote another line for the next month (through Indonesia), but that’s a tale for another blog post!

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