With Australia facing a long, hot summer, the great grey nomad tradition of a Happy Hour gathering around a campfire is likely to face more limitations than usual.
Several districts in South Australia have already declared an early start to the fire danger season, and travellers are being urged to pay close attention to total fire ban days. With so many devastating bushfires having caused to much damage and loss of life in recent years, it is no surprise that increasing numbers of national parks are discouraging travellers from lighting campfires.
Yet, for many grey nomads, the campfire will always be an integral part of their travelling experience. And they are not alone.
Research just published by the University of Utah has revealed how important campfires are to the way humans interact socially. Dr Polly Wiessner, a professor of anthropology, spent months with the Bushmen of the Kalahari and found that sitting around a campfire at night enabled conversations, storytelling, and social bonding that rarely happened during daylight.
She found that while daytime talk tended to focus on economic matters, conversation around the campfire focused less on day-to-day tensions, and there was more chat about common acquaintances, more storytelling, and more singing and dancing.
“I found this really fascinating difference between conversations by firelight and conversations in the day,” said Dr Wiessner. “The day is harsh, you see the realities, you see the facial expressions, there’s work to be done, and there’s social regulation … and, at night, people kind of mellow out.”
While her daytimes are not as challenging as the Bushmen of the Kalahari, grey nomad Cynthia K still feels that social gatherings are always more lively around the campfire in the evenings.
“I enjoy sitting down for a chat at any time of the day but there is something almost magical about those campfire nights,” she told the GNT. “If I had to list my top 10 most enjoyable Happy Hours, I reckon nine of them would have been around a campfire.”
But does she find the topics of conversations are noticeably different?
“I do think that, around the fire, people are less likely to talk about fuel prices and the state of the roads and more likely to share funny stories and talk about family at home,” she said. “I guess it might be that sometimes alcohol is in play, but there is always a different vibe around the campfire.”