This weekend, we packed up the girls for our church’s annual family camp. Not really camping, it’s planned as more of a retreat, with a lot of free time for socialisation. The location was Camp Bornhoffen, very close to the NSW border.

After lunchtime on Friday, we drove off in convoy. David and I were in the truck, and Woodoo followed behind us in his car. We stopped by a local school to pick up Dayna and Darby. D+D’s parents weren’t coming down until Saturday, so we offered to take them earlier.

Calista, 12 months, March 2009
Cali rode in the truck with David and me while the older girls were in Woodoo's car.

Instead of driving straight to the venue, we stopped at David’s and my favourite location, Hopkins Creek Road, in Northern NSW. David knew the area as a child, when his parents had friends who lived up in the hills along this road.

David and I have been coming back to this spot ever since we moved back to Australia in 1999. We found a nice paddock next to the creek and introduced ourselves to the owners before politely asking if we could camp there. The owners were lovely and hospitable, and even after the house changed hands, we kept coming back (explaining the prior arrangement with the new owners) and made new friends. This was the location where David and I saw in the [so-called] new millennium on December 31, 1999.

Hopkins Creek Road crosses over the Rous River with a single-lane bridge, and there’s a lovely swimming spot just upstream of the river. Someone has tied a rope to an overhanging branch, and old bicycle handlebars provide the perfect grip for the swing into the water.

Dayna + Darby with Aisha, 4yo, + Brioni, 2yo, March 2009
The older girls went into the creek with our two swimmers. It was quite chilly, but you could get used to the temperature after a while.

The girls went into the water first, and when the older two started riding the swinging off the handlebars, I decided to have a go. David stayed with our kids so I was free to play.

Lauren + Darby, March 2009
As we became more confident on the swing, we crept higher and higher up the bank to give the swing a greater arc.

Lauren + Dayna, March 2009
Dayna loved to invent new ways of swinging into the water, but nothing topped David's magnificent somersaults through the handlebars and into the water.

Darby hurt herself by dropping into a shallower section early on. She also cut herself (quite mildly) on some rocks when swimming to the bank, so she sat out for a long time, just watch Dayna and me jumping into the creek.

Dayna + Darby, March 2009
After Darby had recovered from her earlier scare, she came back to ride the swing into the water.

Darby, March 2009
The trick was to let go at the right moment so you'd land in the deepest section of the creek.

As night approached, we drove up the road a couple of kilometres to the camp’s venue. The sleeping arrangements were bunks in rooms, and we all shared one room (David, me, Woodoo, A, B, C, D + D). We didn’t have a portable cot for Calista, and she was trouble throughout the night. She kept crawling off her mat and then losing her way back to her comfort rug.

Camp Bornhoffen, March 2009
The location was in a beautiful location, nestled in a valley between misty hills.

On Saturday morning, David took a group of men up to the peak of the hill. Unfortunately, there was no trail, so they had to make their way through the virgin bush, scrambling under thorny bushes and climbing up ravines. They came back scratched, covered in leeches, but exhilarated from their climb.

Camp Bornhoffen, March 2009
The weather was chilly and windy, but the pool still appealed to a large number of children. Aisha and Brioni would repeat the pattern of swimming, getting out and having a hot shower, getting dressed, and then coming back to me to ask to have their swimsuits put on.

I spent my time doing a large puzzle, looking after Calista and playing word games with other ladies. It was great to spend some casual time with people I usually only see at church, but I felt disconnected from everyone.

It’s funny that in a large group I can feel the most lonely, but I look around and see other people engrossed in animated conversations, and it’s just not happening at my table where I’m spoon-feeding the baby and trying to keep an eye on the other two. I guess I’m still feeling the lack of real friendships and don’t know where to concentrate my efforts.

On Sunday afternoon, we returned to Hopkins Creek with one other family, where we introduced them to a lovely waterfall and the swinging rope. After a couple of hours, David’s mother Rosie arrived, and she and Woodoo drove off in their car with our three girls.

The Fishers are going to look after our girls for a week (well— really, we haven’t specified an exact end date) while David and I concentrate on the bathroom renovation. It’s just too hard to renovate (with the water off and all those dangerous power tools lying around) with the baby crawling around and the kids wanting meals and attention. After our kitchen renovation, we decided not to attempt another huge project with the kids around.

On Sunday night, David and I spent the night in Murwillumbah. We watched Australia at the local cinema, lying on beanbags. (Half the cinema had the old-fashioned, fold-up seats, and the bottom half and the seats removed and beanbags strewn on the terraces. When the film finished, we stayed in our places, watching the credits until we saw James Fisher’s name appear.

We enjoyed a lazy day on Monday, making our way home and relaxing in our child-free house. It was funny, though — we spent most of our time in the new playroom, talking about the kids and even playing with their toys!

Now we’re tackling the the bathroom reno. We demolished everything this morning and the ran around buying the new bits and pieces to complete the job. David’s currently sanding the floor to scrape off the concrete remaining after I knocked up all the old tiles. We’re working together well, and not having the kids around makes all the difference!