echuca

On the river

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"Almost the still reflections quiver, the tranquil Evening reach of the silver-dreaming river Stirs with expectant life. Now sound swells louder, Fills all the hollows of silence and overflows As the steamer rounds a bend and churns upchannel."

From the poem Paddle Steamer by Nancy Cato (1957)

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Unplugged (again)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The day was bookended by the feeding of the ducks. Those ducks really love that we have come to stay in this cabin. All seven gazillion of them. My favourite is Stumpy. She was the first to find us, and appears, from the limp, as though she could do with a bit of Cornflake lovin'. My kids give her plenty.

"Over here Mrs Duck!" the children call. "Mrs Duck" is any duck and every duck, except Stumpy. My children do not like to discriminate.

A sunrise walk, a visit to the petting farm, a bumpy hay-bale ride behind a tractor… When we do tourist, we really do Tourist.

Mid-morning, Mr B drives back to Melbourne for a work event he can't escape, while we stay and holiday. And so when the children nap after lunch, the reality of "unplugged" truly sinks in, and I am confronted with… me.

All me.

No Internet, no 'phone, no book to read, no magazine, just me. I can't go for a walk, because my children are sleeping in the room behind me. There is no work to do, no garden to tend, no housework to tackle, no meals to prepare. (We are eating mac 'n cheese out of the box tonight).

I sit, I stand, I gaze outside, I make a cup of tea. This would be a perfect time to write letters, I think to myself, and that's when I realise that in addition to failing to bring a book, I also failed to bring any writing paper. The backs of all our maps and tourist brochures are covered with 'terms and conditions' and, just as I am about to give up, I clap eyes on the cereal boxes.

First, I tear apart the box of Cornflakes we had bought for the ducks. Take my tea outside to the balcony, and start to write. When the Cornflakes box is completely covered, it is time to bust apart the holiday Coco Pops. I am just eyeing the mac 'n cheese box when the kids wake up.

We spend the next three hours playing. I mean, really playing. I have nothing else to do, worry about, look at, think about, but my kids. I had thought that quitting Facebook and Twitter and a life generally free from social media (apart from the odd Instagram photograph) helped me be more present while my kids were playing. But the absence of housework or paid work or emails or text messages or phone calls or book-notes to make or letters to write or books or blogs or magazines or letters to read takes things to a whole other level.

Today, I am Fun Mum. We are explorers, seeking ancient ruins in the sand pit. We are all manner of emergency services, putting out fires and rescuing the injured and attending accidents. I am a burglar, being chased by tiny police in those tiny toddler-cars that you pedal with your feet, like the Flintstones. I am a baby, who simply refuses to behave.

At the end of our games, as we wander hand in hand back to our cabin, Ralph announces "I'm tired Mummy, I want to go to sleep." This is unprecedented. The poor kid is barely upright. At the cabin, he rallies long enough to feed the ducks and consume a barely mouthful of his dinner, and then it is time for bed. Scout is right behind him.

It is 6pm and all's quiet. I am alone with my thoughts again. I turn to the empty mac 'n cheese box and pick up a pen…

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scoot

swing

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Unplugged

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA There is no Internet here, nor does my phone work.

"This is so peaceful!" says Scout, crouching on her knees eating ramen noodles at the coffee table. Outside, pretty brown ducks leave the river and waddle up to our balcony, hopeful.

In the afternoon, we walk on sandy riverbanks and collect driftwood treasure. "Can you hold this stick please, Explorer Mummy?" asks Ralph. He needs both hands free to clamber up a sandy staircase that leads to unknown lands.

City kids, I have to keep warning them: "Don't put your hand inside that hollow log!" and "Don't go into that scrub!" and, about every five minutes, or more, "Ralph, don't jump into the river!" My caution doesn't stop their fun, as they race from one new discovery to another.

Shadows lengthen, kangaroos begin to appear. Scout follows a mother and joey, who lead her around and about, through trees and over grassy fields, stopping to watch her with intelligent eyes, then hopping away just as she gets too close.

I didn't think to pack pantry staples so, as the sun sets, we eat Chinese takeout and grapes for dinner, washed down with cheap prosecco from the supermarket.

("I have a good idea," said Ralph earlier, while we were still in the car. "What's that buddy?" I asked. "Coco Pops!" announced Ralph, triumphantly.)

So we also buy Coco Pops to have for breakfast in the morning. And Cornflakes to feed to the ducks.

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