by Hagan Mathews
Jonathan was proud of his initiative. When the bus pulled up to the Stoney Rises property just outside of Colac he had beaten his peers to be first out the door and open the gate. As the bus rolled through he flashed a big grin and casually leaned back, master of the manor welcoming his guests, not noticing the electric wire on the top line of the fence behind him. Only one word is needed to describe the emotion on his face in the seconds that followed: shock.
Within thirty seconds of arriving at Camp Colac the trip had claimed its first victim, and everyone except Jonathan was loving it. He relaxed a bit when I explained to him it was an electric fence and someone hadn’t been sniping at him with a BB Gun.
Each time we arrive at Colac it’s the same. We have to unload the buses and carry all our gear about 500 metres over pretty uneven terrain. Sometimes, usually after winter, the path goes through ankle-deep water and we have to jump from one clump of native grass to another. This time we had a pretty clear run save for a couple of fresh and not so fresh animal carcasses adding to the ambience.
Our campsite at Colac is nestled on the edge of an open space that changes from season to season. The sunlight was sparkling and defined by cloud shadows when we arrived. A perfect fresh Colac morning to pitch our tents and settle into.
The openness makes the campsite feel larger than it is. There are only a few small patches of grass suitable for pitching tents but from the campfire you can see a lot of activity. Benny, Fleur and Aimee chopping firewood from a fallen tree about 100 metres away. Noah, Ashleigh and Jonathan playing Yu Gi Oh. Charlie and Kaleb walking through the bushes looking for a couple of arrows we lost earlier firing his recurve bow at a tree. Kelly and Alec toasting marshmallows while Giselle and I talk about making dinner. Annalise is reading. Alex B might be sleeping. Everyone is accounted for and doing whatever they want. People drift from one conversation or activity to another. When Giselle and I start preparing dinner, people just get up and help as if they want to, which I suppose they do. At this point the setting sun illuminates some of the low clouds and the light floats down to us to make everything a little blissfully undefined.
We spent the main day collecting firewood to keep the fire burning all night, with archery and Uno for breaks. In the late afternoon we walked around trying to find an old car wreck Benny said he saw once. Jonathan saw a snake, we crashed through the bush, found some bricks from with the olympic rings branded into them from 1956 and watched the afterglow of sunset before making a late dinner by torchlight.
There were no clouds, so the sky at night was milky and huge. We stayed up late playing werewolf and building the fire to keep warm. I don’t know how we didn’t run out of marshmallows. Maybe people aren’t so quick to eat them when you clearly have enough. I fell asleep listening to students explaining why other students shouldn’t hang them and all was well with the world.
The next day we packed up and carried everything we brought with us past the carcasses back to the bus. I’m always surprised at how dirty we get from only two nights at Colac. I was ashamed to walk into the fish and chip shop. Still, eating those hot chips after a busy morning are worth any trial. Aside from the camaraderie and playfulness and cooking together and sunsets and fresh air and roasted marshmallows and whacking fallen tree trunks with an axe it’s the only reason I go to Colac.