RedNecks In National Parks: Its Not All Pretty in the Aussie Bush

Theres this idea of Australia as a land of sunsets and red dirt tracks, kangaroos and wild country that tugs at the heart strings. Look at Australia travel photos on Instagram and you'll be greeted by rich colours and big skies - a dream really, and why, pre virus, millions would flock here every year to dip toes in red earth and warms seas. I love country too, as opposed to 'this' country - a spiritual heartland that beats into the emotional ribcage, whether you're first people or not, it's common to us all who love this isolated continent. But there's also a side of which I feel so sad for, as well as a good dose of shame.

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Camped on the Murray River west of Mildura, we had found a spot you could only dream about. An hour and a half of hot dirt track through scrub, wildflowers and huge Mallee gums, and we'd found a bit of paradise. A long stretch of river beach, gum trees and the perfect spot to watch moon rise and sun rise whilst sipping a beer and cooking dinner on the open fire. It's a kinda wildness you long for, a chance to walk barefoot and watch the stars swirl their orbit across the sky.

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Until the rednecks arrive.

I say rednecks because that's the derogatory term people use here for people with little consideration for others. As much as I hate to generalise, we believe them ignorant assholes with little interest with anything but their own small world. And that's certainly what rocked up to camp Friday night.

We should have known better.

I mean, all the signs were there - literally. The track in was called 'Deadman's Track'. On the river was a grave with a cross of sticks - a silly kid's joke, we thought, although in retrospect it was clearly a warning. The weekend was approaching, and regional Victoria had been let out - with none of the usual festivals or gatherings that would normally happen at this time of year, a month or two off summer and warm weather for a welcome change.

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Even the family camped there, who were rather nice, were packing up camp. They didn't say why, but in retrospect, they'd mentioned something about parties on the beach.

But the place was far too pretty to pass up.

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Friday was hot - windy, and around 32 degrees celsius. We'd winnowed away the afternoon, reading and sleeping, taking photographs, cleaning up the Landrover, talking. At 5 pm, three utes rocked up, three adults and around 10 teenage boys tumbling out, all football jersey'd and full of bravado. Still, we didn't listen - we didn't want to leave so late in the day, and the spot was so beautiful.

By 8 pm, we were looking at each other, wondering why the hell we hadn't left. The boys were drinking, and the adults didn't tell them to quiet down or stop swearing, anything else any parent would have done in the presence of strangers, or even out of courtesy for your fellow camper. By 10 pm, we were up in the rooftop tent whispering about what we should do. Should we pack up? Wait for them to go to sleep? Play dead?

At one point, a boy said 'I feel kinda sorry for them', but that simply resulted in the others running up right beside the car and screaming and hooting. Jamie leapt down and shouted - 'oy! are you in charge of these lot?' at the adult men who sat drinking - and supplying booze - to their charges. Coming back in, armed with a knife (just in case), he heard one of them say 'We'll see what he says with two broken arms when we send him back to the city'.

That's right.

We had our own Wolf Creek. And it was scary. At one point, Jamie thought he'd chat to them nicely - but I didn't want him to go over. What if they attacked him and I was there on my own? We couldn't drive off, because what if they chased us? They knew this area more than us.

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And so we quietly, in the dark, packed up the camp as best could, throwing the water butts, solar panel, table and chairs willy nilly in the back. We worked as a team, efficent, knowing exactly what we needed to do. Jamie started Buttercup and we slowly drove to the other end of the beach under some trees, the rooftop tent still set up. That made us feel vulnerable too - if they decided to keep attacking the Landrover, we were up top. Jamie brought the shovel and I brought the knife. I was likely to sever my own arteries with it, but I could at least hope to pierce a ball or two.

Then the other campers started heckling.

For about an hour, there would be bouts of drunken shouting. Sentences like this razored through the thick night heat:

'Go back to where you came from, city fuckers'
'Get off our beach'
'Going to bed at 11 pm, are ya, pussies?'

And so on.

Keep in mind that this camp hadn't been privy to the stuff going on at the other end of the beach and appeared not to know each other. Somehow we'd camped in a place full of toxic localism and toxic maleness, pathetic men drinking and big noting each other and attacking the 'tourist' for a laugh. Like it was some Murray River pasttime, a way of pissing territory in a world increasingly smaller and less wild. Sure, it may have been 'their' territory, but wasn't this 'our' land? It was a national park, advertised in tourist brochures. Sunsets and wine at all that.

What saved us was a baby crying in the next camp. Thank goodness they had the decency to realise they were waking one of their own, and stopped. We sat there with beating hearts, unable to sleep, especially as the wind picked up and the tent began to flap and shake. At first light, we quietly packed and left.

It was hard to shake it off, as we left. I practiced compassion, knowing those men were raised exactly how they're raising their own boys, poor role models. Poor examples of what it means to be a decent human being. Afraid they'll lose what little they have - a small stretch of beach on the Murray under starry skies, a beer with mates. We rattled off the beautiful things we were seeing as we left - a flight of galahs, the sun rising behind the trees, the river all golden with dawn, the huge kangaroos bounding through saltbush. All to move our minds away from the appalling, frightening and intimidating behavior exhibited by people who were our country men.

But we felt ill, and a little naive, and a little daft we hadn't seen all the signs. As well as fucking angry that people like that existed, and we lived in a bubble that forgot to look out for them.

We weren't the only ones - relating this on Instagram, where we connect with like minded Landrover fans and overland travellers, we recieved a stream of messages telling similiar stories - the shooters firing guns round children until threatened by phonecalls to the police, the loud parties til dawn in family camps, the heckling of woman who were scared to travel into wild places on their own.

What kind of country are we, Australia? How are we raising our boys?

What accountability is there for this kind of behaviour?

Because most people I know just are damn relieved when the nightmare ends. They camp with an ear to the wind, the driver's seat empty ready to go if there is trouble, or they camp in the safety of caravan parks. We tell stories of redneck men in bush camps and shiver.

Meanwhile, men like this still terrorise their territory - and get away with it.

What are your experiences of camping with people like this? How do you deal with it? What advice would you give?

With Love,

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