The Old Girl is more than a van. She is our home, our office, our transport, our retreat. She’s a gallery (the smallest gallery on the road), a place to meet other creative people, lose ourselves in “kombisations” and play with new ideas.
The sun’s rays hit Mat’s pillow first. They sneak in through a gap in the curtains Mat’s mum made. They warm the van undetected, but Mat soon stirs. He’s a morning person, rising almost immediately, while I slumber. The coffee we grinded the night before has been brewing outside in the cool night air and Mat tries to go outside quietly to retrieve it, but with a ’73 kombi there’s no such thing as “quietly”. The door opens with a groan and a clank. And I’m awake.
Daylight hours are like gold dust in Australia at the moment. It’s winter, so we need to squeeze everything out of the day before 5pm. We dress quickly, throwing on the same running outfit as the day before (and maybe the day before that). Grab a few Clif Bars, fill the water bladders, then it’s off to explore the trails for a few hours.
Sweaty and happy, we return to the Old Girl, who looks more and more orange as the day goes on. I fold up the bed, pop up the table, connect my laptop to the solar battery, and settle into my office. Mat boils some water and fills a thermos for my tea. Then, I write. On a hot day, the door is open with the mosquito net keeping the curious flies at bay. On a cold day, the door is shut and a red blanket keeps me snug.
Whether hot or cold, Mat works mostly outdoors, under a tarp connected to the Kombi for shade. The workbench is an almost-perfect space for printmaking and charcoal drawing. His only challenge is finding somewhere for the prints to dry. So, as they’re complete, he sets them on the Old Girl’s front seats or inside the designated drying room – our tent.
On market day, the Old Girl transforms into a gallery. People step inside, one by one, to view the installation. Sometimes they stay a while and tell us about their trip around the block, the Old Girl reminding them of their young freedom. Others say they are inspired by our story and leave wanting to do the same… (which always makes us feel a little bit smug!).
Dinner arrives in a flash. Mat flips over the top of the workbench to create a kitchen bench ready to prepare dinner. Will it be pizza cooked in the campfire? Gallo pinto? Or maybe corn and zucchini fritters? I’m the gopher - back and forth to the kombi opening the pantry and cupboards to find whatever the chef needs.
Darkness envelops the kombi, and we switch on our latest podcast series. We settle onto the sofa and pour a glass of wine to warm us. For the next hour, we get lost in the story.
The sofa flattens down into our bed, and Mat waits patiently while I tuck in the sheets and close the curtains. The nightlight keeps our tired eyes open for just long enough to read a chapter. But sleep comes fast.
The next morning, we pack up. Mat concentrates on the outside – packing the roof rack and securing the bikes. I concentrate on the jigsaw puzzle inside, trying to fit every piece into its designated spot before pulling the pop-top down. Then, with a final check, we slide the door shut and are on the road again.