The Camel in my Living Room...a true story

The Camel in my Living Room...a true story




It could have been the opening scene of a movie.  The whole world was grey.  The sky, water, the thick fog veiling the dock and blanketing the biggest ’building’ I had ever seen.  At least I thought it was a building … this giant grey structure menacingly loomed so close I could have touched it.  I was terrified.  Everyone around me, hundreds of people, swirled around like the fog laughing, crying, hugging, waiting ….. and then I knew.  I was waiting too, to board this ship with all the others and voyage away from Hamburg to where I did not know.

I was 5yo when we migrated from Germany.  My young parents possessed a spirit of adventure truly embracing this wide brown land and the people in it. They embraced so much more than that and it changed us forever.

We lived in 35 houses in as many towns and cities combined.  Our homes were Kombies, caravans, farmhouses, apartments, mining towns, travelling almost to every part of Australia from coastal to outback regions and everywhere in between.

As our geographical locations changed so did our philosophies on living. 

Our attitude about sustaining our health and wellbeing came first and when I was 6yo we became vegetarians. My father told my sister and I that we would no longer eat anything that ever had a face!  It was the 70’s, a radical concept then.

Some would say my childhood was deprived. It was. Of all processed food, no cooking allowed in aluminium pots, no additives of any description, no tap water, no white bread and certainly nothing that included an artificial colour!

I actually never ate a lolly and when my sister yearned for a white bread and vegemite sandwich, like the Aussie kids, my father demonstrated its lack of nutritional value by taking off the crust and squeezing the slice into the size of a pea.  Pumpernickel and edam remained the staple.

We grew sprouts, bottled spring water in North Queensland ourselves and grew organic vegetables (you couldn’t buy any then).

Our family’s ethos was to eat simply and purely … and that by doing so we impacted our own health and that of the planet positively. 

This philosophy expanded to include issues of consumerism and materialism.  In the 70’s we became The (original) Minimalists!

One ordinary day when my sister and I arrived home from school our father said “Give away your things, only pack what you need, whatever doesn’t fit in the Kombie, stays here.  We’re leaving tomorrow morning.”  I asked “where are we going?” and he answered “South”.

The circle of life of accumulating things then contributing them back into the community was perpetual for us.  Every 6 months or so, we’d give away all of our excess belongings.

The lesson in a nutshell was this … “we don’t need these things anymore so we’re contributing them back to somebody who might.  Our happiness is not linked to having an emotional attachment to an inanimate object.”

My mother sure had some happiness linked to a huge and beautiful amber glass vase that she managed to stash into the kombie, my sister clung to a doll and I to my horse books and colour pencils. 

And the conclusion and ultimate lesson from our non-materialistic decade-long lifestyle was …

…… that it is our relationships with living things that brings happiness and gives you a real sense of connection.

The geographical diversity of Australia was a gobsmacking, exciting, fascination with us.  Having come from the lush, rural landscape in North West Germany directly to a migrant hostel in “the sticks” in Bonegilla (Northern Victoria) was a shock. 


The heat, the dust, the arid landscape was the complete juxtaposition to what we’d known.  We then headed to Central Coast NSW to see magnificent coastlines and forests, and then onto Queensland.  After a short stay in Brisbane my parents bought their first caravan and we headed to Cairns on a single lane highway.  The rainforests and coastline were postcard perfect … we had found paradise.

Within months a work opportunity saw us drive 1,110kms of desert road to Mount Isa.  Our car overheated, we were caught in an apocalyptic dust storm and vague signage on vast stretches of dirt roads had us believing we were potentially on another planet.

I was only 6yo in Mount Isa, trying to master a new language and told to ride to school on a little blue bike. It was the first day and I rode, confidently at first, from the caravan park to the highway which would lead to my new school.  Pedalling quickly now, I felt anxious.  Alone with a road stretching endlessly before me.  How could I possibly ride that far?  Was there really a school at the end of it? Where were all the people? Why were there no houses anywhere?  Oh hang on, I could just make out a house in the distance.  If I could get that far I’d be ok, so I pedalled on. 

Suddenly, close now to the house I’d seen, my senses overwhelmed me and I stopped riding. I took in my incredible and bewildering surroundings.   The landscape was vast, far reaching and the colour of red.  Jagged rocks littered the flat earth, also red. Red seemed a strange colour for the earth I thought.  The vivid blue sky had an expanse I’d never experienced before nor the colour.  Funny green bushes had no uniformity or purpose. The wind blew and filled my nostrils and eyes with red dust.  Was I on the moon I wondered? And what were those huge beasts I didn’t recognise staring at me from behind a fence?  I would find out later that they were camels. Too terrified to go on, I allowed the impressions of the desert landscape to infuse themselves into my being.  Then a woman appeared from the house waving her arms and shouted at me to ride on … not to be afraid of the camels and continue my bicycle pilgrimage to school.

I would experience that scene every day, morning and afternoon.  And every day, like Groundhog day, I would stop, take in the incredible colours and terrain of this bizarre landscape, tremble in fear of the camels and wait for the reassuring shouting woman to appear and wave me on.

Now I have clients who want to create rooms that embody a desert themed aesthetic to their interior design. I don’t go to Pinterest for inspo.  Instead I revisit my inner 6yo and my work becomes not just a reflection of a personal and profound experience but is imbued with the spirit of it.  And for my Clients, the results feel real, authentic and alive … and that’s because they are.

I apply the same level of intensity to all interior projects.  And it’s not about creating themes in spaces.

When the correlation between the natural world and our inside-the-home world are recognised and applied, we create for ourselves a home environment that transgresses those boundaries and results in authentic interiors steeped in meaning and harmony.

Often, it’s not a complete renovation needed to achieve this, it can be as simple as a cushion mindfully placed.  I recently popped a slightly metallic cushion as a final touch onto a new bedroom styling which overlooked the ocean. For Irene it was the ocean that she related to in nature.  I mentioned to her that the cushion was more than decorative … it was a representation of the moonlight reflecting on the water as she goes to bed. It turns out, this tiny symbolic gesture had a huge impact – not only as a style statement – but on relieving Irene’s symptoms of anxiety. The cushion reminded her of feeling connected to a source that gave her great strength.

Elements, colours and textures of the natural world are the purist forms of interpretation for me with interiors.  I experienced the same wonder and excitement as a child in rainforests, sandy and rocky beaches, the outback, underground caves, redwood forests, The Great Barrier Reef, wildflowers, tropical flowers, admired manicured green grasses and felt the brittle texture of wild grasses.  Mother Nature is my only source of inspiration for colour combinations too.  When an expert tells you that blue and green don’t work together, look up at treetops with a blue sky backdrop and ask “what was she thinking?

When I was a kid though our relationship with the environment was not an issue of interior design.

The more we seemed to experience the diversity of Australia’s environment and landscapes, the deeper our commitment grew to respect and honour it.

And we did this by never using chemicals in our home or garden, composting, and reducing waste, recycling, being endlessly resourceful ….. and never walking on grass.

This is mainstream awareness thinking now, but in 1971, to be taught by your parents that one family choosing not to use dishwashing liquid making a difference to the health of the planet is nothing short of revolutionary.

And rather than this being the end of the story, it’s the beginning of another chapter.  One that’s not so revolutionary but one that’s nonetheless dedicated to the premise of what my story is based upon, and the foundations of which were built by my parents and my life-time journey with them.

Our products are sourced with the values I’ve upheld all of my life and my own joy now comes from sharing with you not only my stories and experiences, but beautiful products that may allow you to impart these values into your life and your home for the health and wellbeing of yourself and family.

Thank you for reading and giving me the blessing of your time. I hope you revisit our page soon so we can grow, learn and evolve together.

















Posted by Gretchen

4 Comments To "The Camel in my Living Room...a true story"

Jen On 15.08.2020
Loved reading your story Gretchen Reply to this comment
Annette On 15.08.2020
Loved it Gretchen, thanks for the inspo Reply to this comment
Elisabeth On 15.08.2020
Thanks for sharing your fabulous story Reply to this comment
Irene On 01.08.2020
Oh my god Gretchen, you are brilliant!!! You are a writer, I wanted more, I wanted to hear and see what else happened. You have a gift, a truely remarkable one. What a childhood! Love, love, loved it. I thought what a wonderful childhood, you really managed to capture essence of Mother Nature in your story telling. You have what it takes to see pure beauty which others may have missed. You see in others what they don't. My heart just filled up with emotions reading and soaking up your story. The photos were brilliant, I was captured with the story and the photos created the visual. Can't wait to see what else Decorate Your Room has in Installed!! Thank you for sharing. Irene Reply to this comment
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