They have to be the most amazing holidaymakers this side of the Black Stump Holiday Inn. Jocelyn Day, a spritely 80-year-old, is set to stay at the Port Elliot Caravan Park for the 64th consecutive year.
Her friends, Graham Kaesler and Barry Childs, haven’t missed staying here for 58 years having met as five-year-old kids playing cowboys and Indians amongst the Horseshoe Bay rocks, and now, with their wives Julie-Ann and Di respectively, are bringing their grandchildren to this summer haven.
And their many friends – the Duffield, Carlson, Walsh, Pomfret and McKenzie families, who are also all from either Hahndorf or Mount Barker in the Adelaide Hills – have been coming here for more years than they like to remember, usually rotating at each other’s caravan park site for dinner.
The longevity is put into perspective with Graham and Barry holidaying at the Port Elliot Caravan Park every year since 1955 – a few years before South Australia had television, before The Quarrymen band was formed and later changed its name to The Beatles, and Dame Edna Everage was just your average bloke.
Graham, who retired from his engineering business at Hahndorf a few years ago, said the longevity went well beyond the park rule: miss a year and risk losing your spot. “It’s tradition,” he said. “We come here because all of our friends do, and you couldn’t meet nicer people in the park office.”
Julie-Ann was three when she had her first Horseshoe Bay holiday with her family, staying in Mr Mudge’s little caravan around the corner every May. “It was the only time Dad could get holidays,” she said. “We were the only ones swimming here then, but it was still great fun.
“Now, because our friends and their families come here at the same time, Graham and the boys have someone to drink with at the hotel, the girls have someone to have coffee with, and the kids are able to play and grow up together.”
Adding to the quirkiness, Graham and Julie-Ann stay for a week after Christmas, go home for a week, and return to stay for another three. Why the break? “So I can go home and pick up all the things I forgot to bring,” she explained.
Graham can remember his dad, Lance, making a 12ft caravan that accommodated the family of four, and when he built a 16-footer they thought they were “just it”, rolling into the old park on the foreshore by the Port Elliot Surf Lifesaving Club before the park was relocated up the road in 1980.
“In those days if you got to the park last you had to reverse your van through the three narrow rows,” Graham said. Julie-Ann recalled it was a time when the caretaker’s office was in the middle of the park and the wife liked using the loud speaker. “She would say things like: George Day, you can go back to the van now your coffee is ready,” she said.
“Other times it would be: Everyone, I just want to warn you there is a towel thief in the park, or: There is a fire ban; there will be no barbeques whatsoever.
“In those days no one went interstate because you could not afford to, and besides, we have always believed Horseshoe Bay is the best place to go. It’s just an hour’s drive from the city.
“Some of our friends have bought a shack down here and at Middleton, but they always come over to see us at the park. You can’t do the social rounds in a shack.”
When we caught up with these holidaymakers Jocelyn and Barry were not due at the park for several weeks, but Jocelyn’s grandsons, Thomas, 12, and Ben, nine, were already there having a great time. With Jocelyn first coming here as a 16-year-old with her parents, incredibly, it means the lads are fourth generation campers at the park.
Graham said he first picked up Julie-Ann in his navy blue Ford Prefect to go stay at the park when she was 16, and with Barry would go “cruising” down Ocean Street in Victor Harbor.
“In those days – and they probably still do – blokes used to have their surfboards tied to the roof racks, and because we didn’t have one, for a stir we’d put our racks close together and show off by tying our skate board on,” Graham said.
It wasn’t a summer without watching that 1955 English comedy Genevieve at the drive-in that’s not here anymore, but these days the entertainment is set around Graham, the catering co-ordinator (we believe self-appointed) telling which family is the dinner host for the night. “Do you want chickens and if so who will bring the veggies?” he asks.
According to Julie-Ann, it’s not barbeque more than once a week, but meals like hamburgers and a feed at the local pub that are the go. Oh yes, the Elliot. It seems one Mr Haydn Duffield, a real character, started a “Cooper’s Sparkling Ale night” having worked at the brewery as an accountant before retiring.
The girls were concerned about the men walking home in darkness by the edge of a cliff, so the lads said they would borrow a rope from the publican to ensure they remained close together and safe. Of course, next day they would need to return the rope, and again they would stay as if there were no tomorrow. It was only years later that Julie-Ann discovered there was no rope. Now, there are no Sparkling Ale nights.
Hadyn was in deeper trouble in 2000 when his caravan was one of the few with a porta-potti. The problem was, there were no dump points at the time, meaning you had to carry the bucket full and empty it in the toilets. “I’m not doing that in daylight,” Haydn protested his darling wife Lorraine. So off Haydn set at three o’clock in the morning with porta-potti in hand, only to get the lid caught in the tent gyrope, and you guessed right; it all came out.
The reason this amazing group of family and friends stay here every year was perhaps best summed up by Haydn when he recalled how his former boss Maxwell Cooper, of the Cooper’s Brewery family, asked what he did at the Port Elliot Caravan Park.
With a wry grin, Haydn told Maxwell: “Actually, nothing at all, Maxwell. You get up in the morning, and by the time you get the paper, have some breakfast and read the paper, it’s 11 o’clock.
“Then you sit around, have a look around, and it’s time for a pie from the bakery. You feel tired from the walk so you have a snooze. At three, you wander down the beach for half an hour, and then get ready for the 4.30 cracking open of a beer. At five you’re at someone’s place for tea and settled in for the night. And guess what?…”
Maxwell interrupted: “I know, you get up and do it all over again.” And Haydn responded: “Yes, with the only exception that it’s not always a pie.”
There have been countless explosions of laughter from these scattered tents and vans across this park, but also moments of serious concern like when Graham and Haydn saved a man’s life in rough seas after he had injured his back. Their bravery offers a clue as to how they have survived the wrath from their wives following some memorable all-night campaigns.
This wonderful group of family and friends celebrated when Graham and Barry reached their 50-year milestone at this park with a party where everyone had to dress in gold, and for their 55 years they dressed in emerald green.
No one is sure what they will do for their 60th anniversary, but there were murmurings of inviting the local mayor or even the governor to make an official presentation. At that point Graham suggested: “Why don’t we have a beer and talk about this.”
And so the tough decision-making process men need to make whilst staying at the Port Elliot Caravan Park went on into the wee hours of the morn. Life can be tough at this place, and you guessed right once more: they need to think more about the 60th celebrations tonight.