Seeing Australia: Defence family style

Ally and Willow with their children

How did you and your partner meet?

We first met in a bar in Brisbane way back in 2004. Stephen (Willow) was heading off the subsequent day for a course so we spoke on the phone and texted for the next couple of weeks before our first official date was me picking him up at the airport.

Do you have children?

Yes, we have two kids. They are eight and ten.

How many postings have you had and where have you lived?

After meeting in Brisbane, our first move was to Sydney where towards the end of that posting we welcomed our daughter about a month before relocating to Townsville. Our son came along two years later whilst still in FNQ, then it was off to the Top End. We spent three years in Darwin, before a return to Brisbane.

Where do you live now?

After a half-lap road trip across Australia, we are now settled and living in Perth. Willow started at his new unit whilst I have commenced full time work as an Analyst with the State Government. We both work full time, the kids go to a local school and we attempt to explore as much as possible on the weekends, holidays and any spare moment we get.

Where are you both from originally? 

I grew up in Innisfail, Far North Queensland whilst Willow grew up in Western Sydney. Thanks to our postings, and the kids being born in different states, State of Origin footy can be quite interesting as we are split 50/50!

What is your favourite place in Australia?

Maheno Wreck, Fraser Island, QLD

That’s a really tough question when we’ve been fortunate enough to see so many amazing places. We are avid campers and Willow loves 4WDing so we are taking advantage of our posting locations to see as much of Australia as we can. Whilst in Brisbane we did a big trip to Cape York in our camper trailer as well as visiting all the SEQ islands on a regular basis – Fraser, Moreton, Straddie. Whilst in Darwin we took the opportunity to tackle the Gibb River Road through the Kimberley and across to Broome. Now in WA, we’ve already done a trip up north to Shark Bay and have just spent the school holidays exploring the Goldfields and Wheatbelt regions.

If we absolutely had to pick a favourite, personally I’d say Fraser Island is my happy place, closely followed by Kakadu whilst Willow’s choice would be Litchfield National Park for all the fab weekenders we spent there. The kids absolutely loved Kangaroo Island and all the wildlife so that would probably top the list for them.

What do you like about camping?

Moore River, WA

We love being able to get away from the hustle and bustle, escape work and just relax in the outdoors. We tend to prefer visiting places away from the tourist hotspots and the crowds. Often you can even be lucky enough to have a beautiful spot all to yourselves. It’s also a great holiday opportunity if you’re on a budget because there’s no way we’d ever be able to afford paying for hotel/resort accommodation as often as we head off camping in our van.

We also find camping is a fantastic way to meet new people. You have to put yourself out there sometimes in a new posting but we’ve tagged along with groups or simply met people out on the tracks or at campsites and made some fantastic friends in the process. It probably helps that Willow loves having a yarn with just about anyone who’ll listen and we both enjoy having a beer with mates around the campfire at the end of the day.

The other advantage of course is that the kids are having the type of childhood I fondly remember; swimming in creeks, climbing trees, chasing lizards and skinning their knees. There’s plenty to be said for allowing them some level of freedom and teaching them about the outdoors.

What do you do about kids’ schooling when you are away?

Although lots of people assume we are “away all the time” it’s just a matter of careful planning and a good use of weekends and holidays. The kids go to a regular school. We always place priority on their schooling and attempt to organise travel so that they don’t miss any important dates. I think they missed the last week of term when we did the Cape and even though there’s not much happening in the last week, we checked in with their teachers beforehand and took some reading with us.

What are the challenges with life on the road?

Despite all the kilometres we’ve travelled our daughter sometimes suffers car sickness so we are always prepared for that. The other challenge can be our pets. We have a beautiful staffy who loves to come on our adventures but sometimes it’s not possible to take her if we’re visiting National Parks or staying somewhere that doesn’t allow dogs so finding someone to look after her and our cat are also considerations. I’m sure many can relate, being a Defence family you don’t necessarily always have family in the posting location or other friends you could call on but we’ve been lucky to have some great neighbours whose kids have helped out looking after the furkids when we do head away.  

How do you make long car trips interesting with kids?

Nature’s window, Kalbarri – WA

Even though our kids are used to long road trips we still recommend regular stops to break up the journey and try to avoid huge days of driving when possible. It’s also essentially to pack plenty of snacks. Generally I pack a separate lunchbox for both the kids which not only allows us to avoid greasy servo food but saves us plenty of money as well.

My tips are to pack a lot more food than what they would eat on a normal school day! The kids also have iPads which we don’t mind them using in the car when we do longer trips. We figure they’ll burn off plenty of energy wherever we pull up anyway. And lastly of course, a great play list is essential. We get the kids involved with that as well and if heading somewhere remote or out of reception we ensure we’ve downloaded the playlist to keep everyone happy. 

Where is your next adventure? How can people follow you?

We haven’t yet decided what we’re doing for Christmas this year but we do hope to explore a bit more of southern Western Australia as that’s an area we haven’t seen much of so far. Having lapped up the tropical weather over our last few postings, winter here was a bit cold for us! So now that it’s warmer we are brave enough to head south to explore. I’m picturing some beautiful Margaret River wineries and great food!

During this posting we also definitely hope to get to Karijini National Park, up to Exmouth and we’d love to revisit Broome as well. Not to mention we’ll fit in as many weekend 4WDing and camping trips as possible. We’ll continue sharing all our adventures on our Facebook page and we’ve also just developed a website as it’s much easier for people to use the index to find information about our prior trips. See ya round the trax!

Thanks Ally for sharing your adventures with us Ally and Willow!

Facebook: www.facebook.com/offthetraxaus

Website: www.offthetrax.com.au

South West Rocks, NSW

Published by

Defence Families of Australia

National Advocacy body for current ADF families. We are all partners of current serving members.

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