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It’s a sad day when Aussie kids can’t climb trees

Richard O'Leary says children should be able to climb trees


It’s a sad day when Aussie kids can’t climb trees

On an outback adventure, Richard O’Leary has a close encounter with a stick-in-the-mud.

You’ll have to get those ropes down from the tree… and the boys.”

My sons, who are six and eight, had been blissfully playing, keeping themselves occupied in a place with no swings, no toys, no internet.

We’d arrived at the caravan park in the middle of nowhere the day before, halfway between Darwin and Alice Springs, to have a rest from driving and a sample of a more simple life.

So I was quietly enjoying my two boys hanging out in the tree and creating their own fun.

The eldest had commandeered a bucket and a rope from our camping gear to improvise a primitive pulley system to draw up water, rocks or gold – whatever his imagination could conjure.

Together they hauled buckets, moved from branch to branch, totally absorbed in what they were doing, until the most dangerous of human specimens approached – someone with the inability to handle a little bit of power.

He took one look and told the boys to get down. I paused, determined not to overreact.

“It’s sad isn’t it?” I said. “Here we are in the middle of Australia to try and give our kids an outback experience and they can’t climb a tree.”

“If you don’t like it,” he motioned towards the road.

“I’m not trying to have a disagreement; I just think it’s a sad situation.”

“Public liability mate, you can go across the road [the Stuart Highway] and climb trees over there.”

I didn’t mention the irony of being advised to cross a national highway to go and play in the bush with a bunch of brown snakes when my boys had just been told to get out of a tree because it was too dangerous.

I asked the boys to get down so we could have a family meeting on whether we should stay or go.

We decided leaving would be more trouble than it was worth and took the caretaker’s advice and crossed the road for an adventure a world away from the confines of the caravan park.

We climbed an old windmill, the highest point for a hundred kilometres and enjoyed the 360-degree view of the rugged landscape.

We scaled barbed wire fences to walk with Brahmins and stomped our feet to scare off the snakes. We’d broken through the limitations of people with no sense of adventure.

And then I was charged by a water buffalo. But I’ll save that story for another day.


Richard O’Leary is a journalist, a political advisor and a father who knows there’s a deeper meaning to life but struggles to find it.

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