The great wilderness of childhood


We’re walking the Dove Lake Circuit, one of Cradle Mountain’s short walks. Our party of five includes my husband and I, and our three boys – aged 4, 2 and 9 months old. The walk doesn’t have pram access, so we’re attempting the trail on foot, with baby Ruben in a carrier on my husband’s back. We’re feeling game; the sun is shining, the sky is clear and Cradle Mountain’s alpine shrubs are magnificent in the crisp Autumn air. We don’t know how the kids will fare, but we’re prepared to give it a go.

It’s funny. Some parents – me included – worry about taking their children shopping. You’d think bushwalking would present a greater opportunity for disaster. And yet, we could not be more surprised. All five of us are swallowed up by the wonder of the world, a playground so much bigger than all of us.

My husband and I exchange glances as Mr 4 strides ahead of us. Who is this kid leading us through the bush? He maintains a confident, steady pace, staying three or four metres ahead of us. This can’t be the same boy that whines and ka-flumps himself around every time we make the seven minute walk to the village shops. This can’t be the same boy who won’t play outside unless someone ‘keeps him company’.

“Hey, look at this!” Mr 4 exclaims, darting off the track to point out a hole in a tree.

“I wonder who lives here? It looks like a snake burrow,” he wonders out loud. His dad and I catch up and look on, nodding and speculating who might call the tree home. Before reaching a conclusion, Mr 4 is off, again at a brisk pace, keeping a distance between himself and the rest of the family.

It takes around 30 minutes to get to a stream, a little longer than the 20 minutes quoted by the signage. This comes as no surprise; everything we do with our young kids takes a little longer than most people. We reach a trickling waterfall, and everyone has a refreshing drink, feeling the icy mountain water as it runs through our fingers, over the rocks and downstream. We take off our thermal jumpers, our packs, and take a break to absorb our surrounds. It’s nature at her finest. We are so removed from the world, from the familiarity of home, we may as well be on a different planet.

I think about how I’ve often felt lost as a parent. Each new challenge emerges out of a fog, posing another unexpected fork in the road. I find myself temporarily paralysed and indecisive about which path is ‘the right one’.

Lately in our journey, we’ve been stuck in the same spot, unable to traverse that tricky pass of boyhood: “Why won’t this child listen? Why won’t he do as he’s told? Why is he so grumpy?” Yet, here we find ourselves in the Tasmanian wilderness, and the boy is showing us the way. The world is unfolding before him, and he is traversing it with confidence and natural curiosity, and as his parents, we’re mere passengers on his journey, following in his size 12 footsteps.

We went to Tasmania for a break from the hum of our domestic life in Melbourne. I never imagined we would get such a glimpse into our boy and the person he may one day become. To see him take on the world with such inquisitiveness and imagination, I am so clouded by pride and love that I can’t even see the path ahead.