School Camp

Both of my boys have been on school camp already this year.  Youngest son returned the other week, tired and hot, but bursting with stories to tell of adventures enjoyed, fears conquered, and – even though it was held on the Adelaide Plains in the middle of a heatwave – happily declared he could have stayed longer.

Eldest son was not so ebullient.  He returned from camp in the first week of term declaring he “hated it with the fire of a thousand suns”.

(Full disclosure: those are actually my words.  Or more correctly, Shakespeare’s.  Or, you know, that geeky guy talking to Heath Ledger in “Ten Things I Hate About You”(wink emoji) 

His words were more like:

“It was shit.  I hated it.  Worst camp ever.  Don’t make me go again”)

Chalk and cheese, right?

But while my boys are very different people, with their own personalities, I can totally understand their position, as I have experienced first hand how some camps are great, and others……….not so much.

My first camp experience as a teacher, I was teaching at an all girls Catholic school in the city.  We took our Year 8 girls to a lovely, well optioned campsite in the Adelaide Hills and spent our time going on walks, roasting marshmallows around a camp fire and – I shit you not – literally singing ‘Kumbayah’.  Yes, the girls stayed up late, but that was because they were having so much fun doing each other’s hair. 

It was a thoroughly relaxing, civilised three days.

Buoyed by this experience, twelve months later I eagerly embarked on another three day camp, but by this time I was teaching at an all boys school, and I was accompanying my Year 9 home group on their “Wilderness Adventure”.

It didn’t take long for me to realise that this camp experience was going to be a little different to the last.

Even though the boys were sleeping in dorms on the first night, predictably, there was not a lot of sleeping.  In fact, when I went to check on them, the boys were not in their dorm at all.

It seems several of the boys were so eager to try out the high ropes course, they thought they would have a go – at night.  But first they had to make it look like they were fast asleep in bed.  Most of the boys clearly thought a sleeping bag and pillow hastily shoved under the covers would actually resemble a human form, but two clever young men had earlier performed a reconnaissance mission of the campsite and “borrowed” the first aid mannequins from the equipment shed and placed them in their beds.  Their plan may have worked, but they hadn’t counted on me being a child of the 80’s: I have seen ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ so many times I can recount every word of dialogue.  So the old mannequin in the bed trick?

They didn’t stand a chance.

Once I rounded up the boys and herded them back to their dorm, then patrolled the area for what felt like eternity (but realistically was until the early hours of the morning), I then returned to my dorm and collapsed into bed, pulling the covers over me and praying for sleep.

Except sleep didn’t come, because when I say covers I am talking about a scratchy as sandpaper, prison issue grey blanket that had a warmth factor of zero.

How do I know it was prison issue?

Child of the eighties, remember?

In addition to my love of Ferris Bueller, Dirty Dancing, Grease and every John Hughes film of teenage angst starring Molly Ringwald, I also binge watched every episode of Prisoner.

I had seen Doreen wash enough of those grey blankets under the watchful eye of Bea Smith on the steam press, to recognize their origin.

I’m guessing those scratchy, thin blankets serve a purpose in prison: they don’t allow you to sleep too deeply and therefore you can be on alert in case your cell mate decides to stab you in the middle of the night with a home made shiv.  In a camp dorm though, not much purpose……..

The next morning, not at all refreshed but ready to go, we packed our kayaks and headed off up the river in search of our campsite.

Just under eight hundred hours later* (*time is approximate based on my memory of it taking a bloody long time), we pulled our kayaks up the river bank and began to make camp.

After setting up tents, cooking dinner on Trangia stoves and telling stories around the camp fire, I was looking forward to blissful seep.  Looking at the exhausted boys around the campfire, I was pretty confident they were too.  Soon I was tucked up safely in my tent, utterly relieved I was not on supervision duty that night.

About a millisecond after my body carried my brain off to sleep, my subconscious told me there were footsteps outside my tent.  In that haze between sleep and wakefulness, I heard the whisper through the canvas:

“Mrs B.  You awake?”

It turns out a group of boys had come to tell me that one of their tent mates had been regaling them with his plans to stab me and throw my body in the river.  So they had come to warn me.  But it was ok though, as they had told the supervising teacher so I could go back to sleep now.

(** It is probably pertinent to mention here that while 14 year old boys have a reputation for being generally unlikeable, I loved every single one of these smart, ingenious and often hilarious young men.  The only thing is, not all of “my boys” (as I called them) felt the same way.  While many young men of that age expend their energy hating the world and raging at injustice, one of my students chose to focus all of his rage and hatred solely on me.

This was not news to me, nor to the other boys.  All year, whenever I would question this particular young man on his late arrival at school, he would announce loudly: “I was late because I figuring out ways to kill you”.)


Knowing that I was definitely not able to go back to sleep, I got up and went to find the other teacher, as well as the student in question.  We found him on the edge of the river, lighting pots of metho (that he had secreted away from all of the other boys’ Trangia stoves) and trying to sail his home made bombs across the river to set the houseboats on fire.

Needless to say parents were called, and he was driven home that night.

That meant I got to sleep blissfully for at least two whole hours before I got up and walked 15 miles so that I could go to the loo without any spectators (this was in the days before phones had cameras, but I wasn’t taking any chances).

You will be relieved to know the final day of the camp passed without incident and we were soon headed home.

Well, if you don’t count the boy who became lost in the bush for several hours during the orienteering activity. 

Or the other boy who unknowingly squatted on a nest of fire ants to defecate and was bitten on the testicle, which then swelled to three times its normal size.

But what happens on camp, stays on camp, right?

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