NA day passes when one of us experiences the effects of a disaster—death, financial loss, marriage failure, job loss, house fire, car accident, to name a few—that is emotionally draining. And will physically put people in hell. .
It’s only home, so what happens when the trusty Forby Simpson decides to toss in a cylinder in the middle of the desert? Or do you run from Cahill’s Crossing because you misjudged the force of the water and the crocs are coming at you? The bushfires and floods on the East Coast are perfect examples of what can go wrong when a benevolent Mother Nature attacks man and beast.
Like many of you, I have been somewhat stressed, my earliest memories being of artillery barrages sending deadly missiles across the Dutch border into German lines a few kilometers from our farm. I was just over two years old, but I remember sitting on my mother’s knee, my younger sister sitting on top of each other, both of us bawling our eyes out whenever the English artillery fired. And the tumults shook our hut.
A few years ago, a mate and I were fishing at Turkey Dreaming, 40 kilometers downstream from the famous Cahills Crossing on the East Alligator River on the border of Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land. In our memory there was a fatal crocodile attack a week ago when old mate, Kerry McLoughlin was killed while fishing for barramundi at the crossing.
It was hot and humid as is the run-off season, when rivers and floodplains are drained when the wet ends. A couple of beers for lunch and a wait for the turn to take the 3.7m tinny across a rock bar to a landing near the crossing. We enjoyed a good session on barramundi, with a couple on ice and a large release.
A 3.5m crocodile, possibly the mother of the cubs nearby on the bank, shadowed us for most of the morning. This is top-end fishing and part of the jungle experience, so you get used to it. It was hot, very hot, and the old fellow fell asleep leaning on the bow rail, as I did leaning against the outboard.
I woke up – suddenly – with hair on the back of my neck. Without hesitation I threw myself onto the deck as the boat shuddered from the impact of it and the large crocodile hitting the engine. I stood up, an oar in my hand, and saw its ugly head a meter behind Tenny. He looked at me, dived and swam under deep water only 30 meters away. The old fellow thought he hit my shoulders, but it was a near miss and aptly shows that when you lose your guard in the woods, you risk being eaten.
There have been other times, like when nature called near Borrola, the result of a boozy night out with some mates. Armed with toilet roll, I sat down in a bushy alley and looked directly into the eyes of a three-metre king brown snake – hell they looked so close. I threw the roll on it, got out of my stubby shorts and carried the bank to the Land Rover, much to the surprise of my wife and our two children. Armed with my shotgun, I went back to the street to finish my business and retrieve my sticks. There was no sign of the snake.
Things like this happen all the time in the bush, like when my horse flinches when a big buck lifts his leg. I unsaddled and watched in dismay as my horse galloped 12 kilometers to the gate of the homestead, Goanna in the saddle. It was a long ride home in riding boots, no water.
The bush is full of dead vehicles that are not worth the cost of maintenance.
Over the years I’ve been broken down, swept up in thick Briglow bush, injured, stuck with my arm under a Land Rover when the jack slipped, flooded in the back of a Volkswagen bug in the middle of the night. I was carried away, and the whole pile was. of other accidents. Some were avoidable, but teenagers are indestructible – others not so much.
During this time I have been hardened by misadventures, car and horse accidents, breakdowns, swamps and more, all of which help develop my mental instincts for survival. I know others who have faced similar dangers and survived. This is called character building.
Every year there are horror stories of people ‘being killed’ by car breakdowns, and others who disappear and are never seen again. There are stories and legends about alien abductions, murders, robberies and more, and some have substantial evidence to be true.
I know a guy who lives alone in the bushes in the ruins of an old pub. He ‘sees’ things moving in the heavens and, while it has not yet been ‘investigated’, he fears it will be soon. However, when people disappear into the wilderness it is because nature is a good cleaner.
Decades ago, I was involved in the search for a servant who had gone into the bush near Kajabi, north of Mount Isa. He was full of good spirits – some say it was Bundy Rum. We searched for days, circling whistling kites, hawks and crows. About 200 meters away from the bones were only a few bones and a skull. The birds, dingoes and pigs had done well, and if it had been a day later the said birds would not have been there because the bones would have been cleaned.
On a separate occasion, a couple from the station on a large property on the Georgina River, south of Camoville, went out to do a bore check earlier in the day. The car broke down 15 km from home. Without water or a radio, they walked home in 45°C heat and never made it, the unforgiving outback taking its toll. The lesson here is to carry water and communications equipment, and stick with a vehicle because it’s much easier to find than a person.
A few years ago the same thing happened to German tourists west of Alice Springs. If they had stayed with their car, they would have escaped the jungles. More recently, a family of Aborigines did just that and were found alive and well when they were found days after they were reported missing.
Therefore, always inform someone of your intentions and expected return when heading to the bush.
Brain fog is a term used to identify soldiers who become shell-shocked and unconscious from the stress of battle. When not identified by a soldier, it can result in his death. ‘Brain fog’ also affects ordinary citizens when they are caught in mental or physical stress or both. It affects our mindset to make a wise decision and, unless you are close to death, you never experience it.
During the 1960s and 70s, I was involved in several search parties around the Mount Isa region, one of the most rugged and extreme landscapes imaginable. Once we found a servant who was missing for eight days. He kept himself alive by drinking water and eating lizards. You’d think he’d be happy to see his rescuers, but he ran away and I had to do something to chase him down. He fought us, but we grabbed him and held him until he calmed down.
I have read similar reports of missing people running or hiding and, while a medical professional may have an answer to such behavior, it is troubling for rescuers who Are there to help.
I worked for eight years in the emergency services department of Ranger Uranium Mine in Kakadu – security, safety and professional first aid. One night I was a first responder to a vehicle rollover in a mine ambulance. Two people were stumbling around in a drunken/drugged stupor, and another was lying on the road near a car. As I sat down to check it out, I received a sharp blow to my cheek, hard enough to dislodge it. It was more of a reaction than anger, but I stood up and kicked him hard in the ribs and that kept him quiet until the police and town ambulance arrived. The lesson here is to make sure the saver is safe.
The modern seeker
The digital age we live in has resulted in a society that relies heavily on technology. This is very evident on Facebook pages, where the ignorance of all things bush and wilderness is mind-boggling.
Compared to the Land Rovers and short-wheelbase Toyotas used by filmmakers such as the Leyland brothers and Norm Needham, city wannabes are venturing into the wild in vehicles that depend on technology. While it’s nice to have reliable vehicles, we shouldn’t lose our sanity and ignore the risk about us, a risk that doesn’t matter to technology.
It is best to carry two spare tires in the bush.
I have met people who did not know how to change a tire. A man in a Land Cruiser had taken most of the rear apart in an attempt to find a spare. The look on his face when I pointed it out was priceless. Last year I saw a rollover on Purampurao Road: a Nissan Patrol pulling a trailer loaded with a quad. Luckily he had a sat phone and help was already on the way. They won’t let me take a picture of the wreckage, because “it will make us look stupid on Facebook”.
It could have been worse, but it aptly shows that bad things can happen in the bush. And if you’re not mentally prepared for such a disaster, you’re on a much safer holiday on the Gold Coast.
It is common for spare tires to end up on many outdoor roads, especially in local communities. Locals usually sit down to wait for another vehicle – very easy, really, when most community vehicles are Toyotas, so spares aren’t an issue.
This is the mindset to follow when you are unlucky enough to experience the magnitude of an accident or major disaster. The problem is that once you panic, everyone else catches on and it spreads through the group like wildfire.
Victims of the Cahills Crossing on the East Alligator River
If something happens, sit down and think. Accept the harsh reality of the situation and think of a positive way out, as it will save your life and the lives of others with you.
Before you hit the remote bush tracks, make sure you’ve developed a level of awareness that crap happens. Disasters are not planned. They happen and in most cases are avoidable. It can be as simple as turning back when the track becomes impassable or progress is halted by a flooded stream, or, as I have done many times, when a bushfire blocks your path.
While most of us will never achieve the level of mental health that first responders and soldiers are trained for, we can fall back on something that is rarely used these days. : Intellect.
Always remember that even the best equipped vehicles and plans are subject to Murphy’s Law. Unless you take a holistic approach and are mentally and physically prepared for bad things to happen, you have no right to be out there – so sit back and ride it out when disaster strikes. Think the way.
1. Always tell someone your destination and expected time of return when heading out to the bush.
2. Always remember to carry plenty of food and water.
3. Carry the radiator hoses. fan belt; bearing shock absorbing bushings; bolts, nuts and tools; two spare tires; tire pump; tire repair kit; spare jack; and additional fuel.
4. Carry a survival kit with you. compass; communication; GPS; PLB; signal mirror; and a first aid kit.
5. Stay with the vehicle if lost or broken, shelter from the elements if you have a fly, and make sure water and food are stored in a cool place such as under the vehicle.
6. Do not exert yourself in the heat of the day and stay in the shade.
7. Avoid snakes, spiders, scorpions and crocodiles near water in the tropics.
8. Stay calm and above all, don’t panic.