As a nomadic novelist touring this diverse land by caravan since 2014, I’m often told I must be living the dream. But that ‘carefree life on the road’ has its ups and downs. I’ve also had to compromise on some of life’s little luxuries and learn new things. For example:
- I’ve learned how to reverse Myrtle the Turtle, my home on wheels—all 25 feet of her—onto a concrete slab the size of a postage stamp.
- I’ve also learned every person in the caravan park will watch me try (with half of them offering to show me how to do it better).
- And I’ve learned when the bloke in the van next door sidles up to me (and my Ford Ranger) and asks, “How’s your torque?” he is not enquiring about the success of my latest library talk.
But best of all, I’ve learned there is one very special place in 99% of caravan parks that I can’t wait to visit.
It’s the unlikeliest location of literary bliss… The laundry.
Yes, you read that right.
Amid the muffled churning of coin-hungry Maytag washing machines and the drumming of dryers that seem to never dry, is an Aladdin’s cave for book-deprived bibliophiles.
Why book-deprived? Remember I mentioned having to compromise? With caravan load limits important for safe travel, and with the weight of two average-sized novels equivalent to a litre of clean drinking water in the tank, many caravanners (including me) are forced to rely on electronic readers. (Hard-copy books also take up valuable storage space and I’m already carrying book stock in Myrtle the Turtle to hand-sell at library events. Right now I’m touring Far North Queensland: Cairns, Cooktown, Port Douglas and the famous Yungaburra Book Fair on the Atherton Tablelands.)
Lauded by book-loving grey nomads, the laundry library is a hub for those who enjoy ‘real’ books. Some library set-ups are somewhat casual and a free-for-all. Some ask for a gold coin (usually a donation to the local SES or animal rescue service), while others require a book swap. Some caravan parks put a lot of effort into their laundry library, like this one in Bowen, Qld, and the recycled refrigerator seems to be the container of choice for many.
What I really love about laundry libraries is you never know what you’ll find (and all of them benefit from a handful of signed Jenn J McLeod bookmarks!).
When mentioning my parking prowess earlier (or the lack of it) I failed to mention my author name is splashed over the car and caravan, which means I’m pretty sure I often hear the words: “Hope she writes better than she reverses’. But the signage works a treat in other ways, especially when the caravan park manager invites me to hold a happy hour book club around the campfire. (Thanks for this welcome last year, Goondiwindi!)
Books and reading really do bring people together. Even those who don’t normally read come along to campfire chats. Some even buy a book because I have copies available.
The more books become a part of everyday life, the more book readers we will grow. The team behind Street Library know this and they can help you create your own little library of literary bliss to share with your neighbours. Maybe you’ve seen a curious container filled with books pop up in a park, a shopping mall, or outside the community centre. I came across this beauty in the small steam train town of Peterborough (South Australia) and, reader or not, there would be no walking by without opening that door. There are even instructions at the bottom for the uninitiated! LIFT, THEN PULL. (Which I did.)
Tempted to snaffle the top-shelf Good Pub Guide 2013 (or perhaps the copy of Not That Kind of Girl), I instead swapped my latest release for a hard cover Bryce Courtney. Although a weighty tome and against the rules of towing weight, I used the argument that it would make a sturdy wheel chock if needed.
I’m joking, of course. I treasured that novel until we hit the western end of The Nullarbor, where I left the book behind in—you guessed it—a laundry library.
While still on the subject of unlikely locations of literary bliss. Check out this library in Charters Towers—about 140 km west of Townsville, Qld. If you think this library looks a lot like a hotel, you’d be right. After the Excelsior Hotel was partially destroyed by fire in 1995, the Excelsior Library grew out of the ashes. Formally opened in 2003 and retaining many features and characteristics of the original building, I’m told you can get a drink there once a year during the annual country festival. Now that’s a library to love.
Whether your touring is real (on the road, like me) or you let stories transport you to places far and wide, every book really is a journey.
For fellow nomads reading this article.
The lovely Felicity at the Excelsior Library let me know about a travellers’ library service. The Rural Libraries Qld Tourist Membership is free and open to anyone residing or travelling within regional and outback Queensland. It can be joined online (http://www.plconnect.slq.qld.gov.au/services/rural-libraries-queensland/rlq-membership/rlq-tourist-membership) or by visiting any branch of the RLQ. My interet search failed to come up with similar schemes in other states, so it may be just rural Queensland, but the system is amazing. There’s no longer an excuse to not have a book on board.
About Jenn J. McLeod
When Jenn J. McLeod quit Sydney’s corporate communications chaos, she bought a little café in a small town and ran a unique, dog-friendly B&B in country NSW. Home now is a fifth wheeler caravan, her days spent writing heart-warming tales of Australian country life. Readers and reviewers alike enthusiastically received Jenn’s debut, House for all Seasons, placing it at #5 on the 2013 Nielsen’s Best Selling Debut Novel list. Check out her website for more about her nomadic lifestyle and bestselling books.