My grandad served in the Light Horse between the wars. But when World War II broke out, he decided to enlist in the Royal Australian Air Force. I never quite understood why.
In the RAAF he was posted to the Maintenance and Repair workshops, where he soon found an outlet for his latent ability to create creature comforts from the most unlikely resources. Scrounging through the waste piles of our American Allies on operations in Papua New Guinea, he found a few 44 gallon drums, copper piping, some other bits of hardware and rigged-up hot water showers for our troops. If you’ve ever been, in the tropics you’ll know how much a hot shower can improve morale.
The trouble for grandad came when a US colonel saw what he’d done and told him to rip all the showers down. The US military didn’t have showers, so why should the Aussies enjoy them, particularly when they’d been constructed from their own discarded equipment? Well, grandad didn’t like the colonel’s attitude and when he told him so, he was demoted, removed from his mustering, and spent the rest of the war peeling spuds as a cook.
Thankfully, the pioneering spirit has not deserted the resourceful Australian, and it can be found alive and well among our camping compatriots. So we thought we’d revive Grandad’s legacy and share some thoughts on how to construct a do-it-yourself shower. After all, situations still arise when we may want to get back to basics when it comes to ‘field hygiene’.
- Not all campers and caravans are fitted with a shower and we don’t always want to be putting our hands in our pockets to buy more and more after-market kit like shower units and pumps, etc;
- Sometimes we simply forget to pack the things we mean to take away with us;
- Even when we take the gear we think we need, it doesn’t always work the way we want it to, when we want it to; and
- Worse still, sometimes we leave our kit behind at the last camp. It’s just the way things are
While a dip in a river or ocean can freshen us up, once we hop out again we can be left feeling greasy and smelly as the natural sediments and organic matter in the water dry on our skin. Sure, you can save water by using a spray bottle or a sports bottle to wash your hands, but what about actually removing the grot from the day’s travel, yesterday’s vehicle recovery or that fishy smell from the barra you caught?
At times like this, it’s worth turning to a US military catchphrase that Grandad would have heard a lot: ‘Adapt, Improvise and Overcome’. This involves looking around your campsite, camping and hardware stores with a new perspective.
This means using things for a new use or purpose. So, your first option for getting clean might be to use a bucket like a bird bath. But if you prefer a shower, perhaps the empty 2L soft drink bottle in your own garbage bag would fit the bill. Simply fill the container with water and puncture a few holes into the base of the bottle. Hold it over your head and… voila! a water-saving shower.
Alternatively, if you have a drill on board, you could drill 1-2mm holes into the lid of the same 2L container which will make it last twice as long. It will also be re-useable and re-sealable for the rest of the travelling party. If you don’t have a drill, heat up a fork on the fire and use that to create the punctures instead.
Once you’ve started thinking outside the square, it won’t take long to figure out how you could improve on your make-shift bottle shower. Think about what might be achieved if you retro-fitted a dark-coloured soft drink bottle inside a larger outer bottle.
The outer bottle will act as an insulator, trapping the sun’s heat on the inside. Leave it in the sun for a while, and the water will get warm. Better still, set-up the device in front of a screen made out of your windscreen’s sun visor. A hot shower won’t be far away on a sunny day.
Want a longer shower? Paint or buy a black 20L water jerry can. Carry a spare cap for it with pre-drilled holes for when you want to use the jerry as a shower. When you stop, place the jerry on your roof rack with the nozzle over the side of the vehicle and you’ll get a full-height shower for the whole family (or during emergency roadside stops for the backseat traveller who’s painted themselves like Pro Hart due to travel sickness)
If you want something more permanent, and for a better dispersal of water, other options exist for minimal cost. A quick trip to your favourite garden centre and you’ll find a $3 shower-rose from a watering can to fit onto your water canister. Or perhaps you might like to carry a 5L garden sprayer with its hand pump for pressure and adjustable spray pattern. You can rig up a very functional shower for under $15. Or step it up a notch and purchase a shower head, a hose and a sump pump. Then get imaginative.
The capacity to ‘overcome’ requires an innovative approach to life’s challenges. It means that we can take the unexpected in our stride and move on. Knocking together a shower from a few bottles and bits of pipe might seem like child’s play. So why bother? We say, do it because you can.
Think about it. If we can make a shower instead of relying on pre-packaged commercial options, we’ve shown ourselves that we can be self-sufficient when we want to be. And self-sufficiency is a great habit to form, particularly if we’re planning on heading into remote areas where access to modern conveniences may be limited. On any day, at any time, we may find ourselves up to our ears in problems after the gas runs out, batteries have gone flat and things have broken with no ready-made solution within a 500km radius.