Family Holidays

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by Fiona Russo

Our family recently went on our annual winter holiday. 

We rent a lovely old wooden house in a very cold country town (by Queensland standards) and spend a week in close quarters, playing board games and cooking in the tiny old kitchen, eating around the cramped table and enjoying the fireplace. 

We take day trips sometimes but it’s really a very relaxed week, and sorely needed.

This year, we trekked out as usual during the second week of the school holiday. 

Emily (16) is in her final year of school and was post-exams; Michael had just completed an enormous project at work that saw him put in some ridiculous hours; and I had just submitted a paper for publication, so we were collectively exhausted. 

Emily and I went shopping for grocery staples and Michael took everyone else straight to the house (we had travelled in separate cars so that Emily could get some practise driving hours). 

When we arrived, the lovely owners had already been along to light the fire for us and the house was a warm and inviting oasis in the crisp late afternoon. 

Michael had unpacked the car and the children were settled in their chosen rooms.  We were ready to relax. 

... Relaxation wouldn’t come.

We were having a lovely time, but everything still felt… fast.  

The delicious feeling of having nowhere to be and nothing to do was missing.

I can’t imagine why, because we were perfectly happy and in fact had no commitments beyond feeding ourselves.

I think the holiday had come so hot on the heels of a particularly frenzied and stressful period of activity, we were all having trouble winding down. 

On the third day of our trip, the weather reporters started to predict an especially cold morning with the potential for snow at altitude. 

This was exciting, as none of the children have yet seen snow and we had missed a rare snow event the previous year by a single day! 

We decided we weren’t going to take any chances this time, and agreed to wake before dawn and head up to a higher altitude for a bit of a snow chase the following day.

The excitement level was high, even at 4am when I was shaking the children awake and dressing them in every item of clothing they had in their bags. 

A quick cup of tea and we were off.

It was a long two-and-a-half hour drive to Ben Lomond, NSW – the closest likely snowy peak at 1,400mtrs above sea level. 

We stopped at a petrol station just before we crossed the state border, and stepping out of the car was an awakening! The air was cold but the winds were wicked! 

The sense of expectation was building, especially when the attendant said “there’ll be snow up there this morning, I bet”, nodding his head in the direction we were headed. 

We started the ascent with the warnings of the radio weather reporters about black ice forming on the range ringing in our ears. 

The average Australian car (and driver!) is ill-prepared for the conditions of a rare winter snap. 

We intrepid explorers pushed on.

As the sun came up on the other side of the peak, the cloudy, frozen landscape and black treetops in the distance looked bleak. Perfect for snow! 

The poor cows were huddled together in fields and byres in the farmland on both sides of the road, and the only other cars seemed to be heading in the same direction as us - we weren’t the only crazy early morning travellers! 

A few patches of the afore-mentioned black ice made the journey interesting (Michael might have chosen a different word).

Finally, we were rewarded when the craggy Australian bush started to appear frosty and white through our rapidly-fogging windows. 

A light dusting of fresh powder was visible on the ground and the children were glued to the patches they’d cleared in the panes. 

As an English ex-pat, the white stuff isn’t new to me, but there was something surreal about eucalypts and bush grasses covered in snow. 

We reached the peak of Ben Lomond at last, and found a place to stop the car. 

We weren’t the only family chasing a winter postcard picture, and there were cars parked all along the roads leading in and out of the tiny town. 

Finally, we got out of the car and stepped into a temperature of 0.3 degrees Celsius with a wind chill making it feel like minus 8. It was bitter and bracing, and took our breath away. Any discomfort was quickly overshadowed by the presence of SNOW!

We managed to scrape up just enough for a snowball or two. Dylan (12) and Susannah (6) built the world’s smallest Olaf. Dylan threw a few snowballs at us and Michael chased him around, returning fire. 

Susannah couldn’t believe that snow was made of “tiny bits of ice”, and kept showing everyone in the vicinity her icy black gloves. 

Another family had their beautiful African ring-necked parrot on holidays with them, and he was scratching and pecking in confusion at this strange fluff before they put him safely back in the warmth of their caravan. 

Charlie (5) ate a few mouthfuls and seemed to enjoy it, but her little nose was bright red and her lips were turning purple when we decided to get back into the van. 

Australians are just not built for that sort of weather, and neither are our clothes! Despite the layers, the wind whipped right through our jeans and jumpers and light scarves.

The return journey saw us sipping hot chocolates in the Glen Innes McCafe with many of the families we’d seen on our trip. We were all rosy cheeked, red-nosed and full of tired excitement.

Somehow, that busy trek was the catalyst we needed to truly relax, and it’s just a shame that we only had two nights left to enjoy it. 

Next time, two weeks!

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