Life in an Annexe

Tim Smith takes us back to a simpler time when children knew where they stood… in the annexe.

A modern annexe is enough to bring a tear to Tim's eye.

I have so many memories of caravanning as a kid, some good, others not so much. First up, as kids on a camping holiday, my two brothers and I were on pretty much the same level as the dog. We slept outside the van, we had our own bowls, we would drink out of a hose and if we didn’t come when we were called we would get a clip behind the ear. We were loud, muddy, fighty, destructive eating machines. As I think back now we really were annoying talking dogs but, unlike our basset hound, we did have our very own room, the annexe.


While Mum and Dad kicked back in the sumptuous luxury of the lavishly appointed Franklin, we found ourselves banished to the annexe. When it came to our accommodation, Dad had spared every expense. Our annexe was made of thick, faded, striped canvas, loosely attached to the few remaining hooks still stubbornly clinging to the side of the Franklin. It featured a drooping roof that would bulge under the weight of collected rain water and start leaking from any point that you touched on the inside. It came with a billowing door at one corner, held closed by a few remaining flimsy cloth ties.

There was an old rug floor that we got from Nanna, walls that in spots didn’t quite reach the ground, leaving a perfect snake-sized hole to the outside world. Nearly supporting it all was a ridiculous amount of guy ropes strategically positioned at every point of the flimsy structure so no matter what you were doing or where you were going, you would trip over one, or at least stand on a metal peg in bare feet. We had easy access to under the van, as most of the skirt clasps had been sheared off, so Dad had built a short wall of coolers.

This portable torcher chamber offered no protection from the elements. In the heat it was stiflingly hot, and in the cold it was freezing. If it was windy, the whole three sides and roof would catch a breeze and suddenly puff out and violently strain against the guy ropes. This was good in a thunderstorm because it would launch the pool of water collected on the roof at the caravan in the next lot. Dad would only dig trenches around the walls after it started to rain, so everything would get waterlogged.

My brothers and I had airbeds, affectionately named Leaky, Holey, and The Good One. Sadly they all looked exactly the same, so only after the first night did you know which was which. Leaky would let you down roughly twice a night, Holey (maybe because he had God on his side) would let you down once and The Good One… well it was the good one. So it wasn’t unusual to hear swearing and the foot pump puffing away at all hours of the night, and maybe a little chuckle from Dad in the van.

Talking about Dad in the van, he’d make a few trips a night to the toilet block, more if he had been playing up with Uncle Neil or Uncle Pete, and the annex was directly between Dad and the dunny, so it was odds-on he would stand on you while you were asleep, or he’d trip over and fall on you, especially if we moved an Esky into his path.

It was a sure bet he would trip over a guy rope, swear really loudly and fall into the annexe through the door or a wall, landing on one or all of us, or even the dog (though she was smart enough to sleep under the van). If he’d played up too much, that’s where he’d stay, sprawled on the ground, until he crawled his way onto our deflating airbeds, fighting for a bit of sleeping bag or blanket, almost instantly snoring. Well, he had no choice because Mum had got jack of him and snibbed the van door.

Now when I see a modern caravan annexe, it almost brings a tear to my eye. They are weatherproof and clean. They have windows, insect screens, doors, floors and furniture. They are well lit, neat, and organised. I remember my carefree childhood as a dog, playing all day and night, where every waking moment was an adventure, up late laughing with my brothers until we cried, but doing it ever so quietly so as Mum and Dad couldn’t hear us from the van.

I think maybe the crappier the annexe, the more fun you have. Then again, it would have been nice not to get rained on.