Camels Hump and Pierce Trig




Rain thrashed the windscreen and unsettled me as we drove home from the pickup point on the other side of town. Our three passengers must have thought Canberra was a place of wild weather.

Ali, Mohsin and Basir had arrived in Australia 3 years previously. They had left Afghanistan and Pakistan and journeyed via Singapore and lastly by boat from Indonesia to end up on Christmas Island as asylum seekers.  A month later they were transferred to detention centres on the mainland and later allowed to live in a large city within the Australian community. We were reluctant to ask too much about their journeys and experiences for fear of raising painful and disturbing memories and emotions. They were on a familiarisation trip to rural Australia and to search for work. Until a month ago they had not been allowed to work. For three years they have been waiting, living in limbo, wondering what Immigration will decide for them, unable to see the future.

We offered them what we could. Food. A free place to stay on their trip north. Chat about cricket. A friendly welcome to Canberra. A look at Parliament House and the Lake. Then they were off in the morning and returned a few days later for another night on their way back south. We drove up Mt. Ainslie for the view of the city. The use of our wifi. Small things indeed from the huge wealth of our average Australian lives. In the where-to-be-born index (QLI) we rank 2nd in the world with Pakistan a lowly 75th and Afghanistan not even rated (this measures a country’s ability to provide opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life).

As Hazaras Ali, Mohsin and Basir had left their homelands, leaving behind massacres under the Taliban, a long history of discrimination, decades of war in Afghanistan and sectarian violence in Pakistan. Hazaras are targeted by militant groups and Human Rights Watch estimates that more than one hundred have been murdered in Quetta this year. Many Hazaras have drowned from boats trying to reach Australia and the MV Tampa rescued a boatload of mainly Hazaras that were sent to Nauru.

In the morning we drank tea and ate toast before leaving early to take our three guests back over to the other side of town where they were to meet their transport. During an awkward quiet moment in the car we switched on the radio at the exact same time as the start of a news story about the death of an asylum seeker on Christmas Island who had taken his own life in despair. This had sparked riots in the detention centre where convicted criminals are housed with asylum seekers. The quiet in the car seemed to deepen. Outside the day was grey and overcast.

Cath and I dropped them off, wished them well and then drove to the mountains for our walk.

Raincoats. Drizzle. Up the steep fire trail through forest. My head was fuddled and conflicted. I found it hard to focus on the present. Thought patterns and emotional responses clouded me in. When I started conversations to make contact with some others in the group by showing courteous interest in them I ended up being harangued by a couple of insensitive older bores. Higher up we reached the cloud level and entered thick mist. Eerie. Quiet. Still. No views.IMG_0174I walked on my own for a while trying to clear my head and get above the clouds. Large eucalypts stood like guardians on either side of the track. The peak was deemed too dangerous to push on for in the slippery conditions. We lunched forlornly sitting and resting on the damp earth. On one side the bush was pristine and had its own dripping beauty. On the other were black stumps and dead bushes of a recent fire – occasionally new green shoots appeared. At a high point a cliff dropped away into thick grey murkiness.

The pace slowed on the long way down. Tired legs. Only the foreground to see. Head still in the clouds. Eventually I left the three somewhere up there – enveloped in their own fog, unable to see a way out or take any control, bewildered by the inhumanity of it all, the unfairness. Lower down, for me, it cleared. I could see across the valley to the ridges opposite, the green fields, a house in the distance.20151111_144414

Later that evening I listened to a local nun, Sister Jane, talk about her despair at our (Australia’s) treatment of asylum seekers and refugees and her plan to bear witness for the month of lent on the steps of Parliament House. The story of an African fellow who was now working in Canberra as a social worker having escaped beatings, political oppression and death threats in Zimbabwe to become a refugee here. Jon Stanhope’s scathing criticism of his beloved Labour Party and their stance on the “indefinite, mandatory, offshore detention” of asylum seekers, the lifelong trauma caused by the detention of children and a UN report detailing our torture of detainees at Mannus. And George Browning questioning whether Australia (we) was actually contributing to conditions that produce refugees (foreign aid at its lowest level, refusal to engage with the wrongs in the world like East Timor, our interference across the world like the invasion of Iraq and the resultant growth of ISIS and our refusal to join the responsible world in properly addressing climate change).

Later again as I read Tim Winton’s “Palm Sunday Plea: Start the soul searching Australia” everything cleared a little more and my perspective became less conflicted.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s where-to-be-born index (previously called the quality-of-life index, abbreviated QLI) attempts to measure which country will provide the best opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life in the years ahead.

Insight: Pakistani death squads spur desperate journey to Australia

Names have been changed to protect the identities of the guests.

Fields of flowers


Fields of flowers


Short Wednesday walk – Tuggeranong Hill. 8km. 2 ¼ hours.

What do retired people do? People who are lucky – healthy, active, sociable? Folk who want to get some exercise, enjoy being in nature or in the outdoors? People who are time rich? Some walk once or twice or three times a week. Some hike with clubs and some with their own networks of buddies.IMG_0128Tuggeranong Hill, almost our back yard, was abloom. Fields of spring flowers coloured our short trek with white, yellow, mauve, pink, purple, blue. Some were weeds but still beautiful and colourful. Some were clustered in isolated groups and others cascaded across the grasslands or lit up the woodland floor. Tiny daisies sprinkled themselves in clumps of lichened rocks. Vanilla lilies danced in the breeze. On the north western sunny side of the hill the wattles brought a pale yellow blush to the greens of the grasses and tree foliage. Yellow everlastings seemed to shine with their own brightness against the overcast, darker blue of the distant Brindabella Ranges. I enjoyed the job of “tail-end-Charlie”, keeping an eye on the slower members of the group, supporting the uphill strugglers and dashing round taking as many flower photos as I could during the walk. Ah. Pleasure indeed.

Cath had planned a varied route that wove around and up and over one part of “our” hill. She had walked it half a dozen times to get it just right. The views through the flower fields across to the mountains going down the far side were wonderful. A brief morning tea on a bike path beside some delightfully flowered feral species then the uphill return. This brought out the puff and some complaints that maybe it was too hard. One fellow, almost 80 with knees and hips that show the wear of marathons and epic walks from younger days, never blanched as we chatted our way slowly upwards. Inspiration. I noticed some at the back of the group who were taking time to appreciate the views and “smell the flowers” while they caught their breath back.This was Cath’s first contribution as walk leader to this community group.IMG_0149Back down on the flat near the back of our house I photographed some of the walkers foregrounded by a large spray of small white everlastings. The gum tree above had been home to a pair of tawny frogmouths who had now gone.IMG_0108


Abseil Guiding


Abseil Guiding


Jindabyne Rock



The girls piled off the coach, chatty and ready to go. Harnesses, biners and helmets were distributed and fitted and checked. There were two other young guides, internationals, climbers, adventurers and Lyndsay who took the lead. The atmosphere was vibrant and colourful as we snaked our way across the hillside in a long line to the crag. Jindabyne Rock sits high above the Snowy River opposite the dam where water release for the river fountained in a dull roar below. No clouds – a perfect day. It’s a great venue for an intro group with a good variety of abseiling and climbing possible with safe access routes up and down and a large view spot set back from the cliff edge at the top.

I set up the ropes for my abseil while Lyndsay did a safety talk and outlined the session for the group and their teachers. This was mainstream work for K7 Adventures who were providing the staff, equipment and the overall structure for adventurous activities this group were doing across the Snowy Mountains. They are the industry leaders in the region for roping and backcountry activities for schools, groups and individuals in summer and winter. Their activities range from guiding Mount Kosciuszko for “seven summits of the world” mountaineers to family bushwalks in the alpine areas. The company is run by Peter Cocker, a renowned climber who pioneered some of the Canberra region’s best rockclimbs (eg, Jetts Sett, Equilibrium, Integral Crack) in the earliest days of climbing locally. Together with his partner Acacia, they have built a network of very skilled and experienced guides. I was just helping out as backup while Peter and Acacia were tied up elsewhere. My introductory abseil went well. The girls psyched themselves up, pushed themselves to get over the edge and then felt the exhilaration of success as they descended.

After overseeing establishment of the other ropes Lyndsay worked the arête adjacent to my wall. He top belayed from a small ledge as his climbers worked their way up the most difficult climb. He supported, coached and challenged them then shared in their achievement while he anchored them to the belay. He then instructed them patiently as they abseiled off and down to their friends below. He’s a very capable and mature leader. As the morning progressed he kept a watchful eye on the other ropes and checked in on the abseiling groups higher up.

As we derigged and rolled ropes at the end of the day Lyndsay told me a little about his climbing in Yosemite, France, England and Wales and of his love of steep Spanish limestone. He articulated his dream to work towards his own absolute peak performance at the cutting edge of climbing. It struck me that he was at one extreme of roping and our school clients were at the other. And that Peter had provided the structure and mentoring within his business, tradition, history and experience to bring these together beautifully for the benefit of both.IMG_0709

Vertical Rescue


29/10 – 1/11/15

White Rocks, Snake Rock, artificial environment, Legoland

Four days on the rock. Instructing vertical rescue. Outdoor education teachers and uni students in training to be teachers.

Day 1 was an intro – go back to first principals and basic skills – to make sure we were all on the same page and doing the basics in best practice – climbing, belaying, setting up ropes, cliff edge safety, top belaying, locking off, releasable systems.

Day 2 things got more serious as we reshuffled the progression to fit in with the weather forecast – top belay off the harness to “know” what is not ideal, more complex anchoring, assisted abseil with an injured client, retrievable abseil, assisted hoist, z drag on the cliff.

Day 3 up and down from the balcony, prussicing, getting past a knot, more assisted abseils, escaping the system from top and bottom belay, more z drags and then with a compound pulley system, self belays.

It was all highly structured. Very complex processes had been broken down into component parts and the training was sequenced carefully so each simple part built on the previous one until the whole is completed and the objective achieved. The team was a dream. Motivated. Skilled. Focussed. On rock you have a big bag of tricks (skills and knowledge) that can be pulled out and combined to address each emergency situation. Emergencies are usually obvious but can sometimes require complex solutions. 80% of what we do is learning how to manage situations to prevent the necessity for a rescue.

IMG_0079Day 4 was assessment day – abseil guiding setup with a client who had a hair jam, hauling up an injured person, cutaway when all else is not possible, group exercise rescuing an unconscious person, up and down, anchors and more. In the midst of the most intense action a squall hit the exposed outcrop we were working on. Rain and sleet lashed exposed skin. Wind blew up out of nowhere. We continued on. “This is when recues often happen in the field. When you’re tired and cold, at the end of the day, when the weather is at its worst.” After a while it cleared. The sun almost came out. The temperature went back up. Everyone passed.

If only it was as straightforward for us to rescue each other when things get extra tough, when we slip and fall in life and we feel like shit. If only we could just set up a safety for ourselves, put in place a backup system in case it all turns to crap, use a set of basic skills, and then go to each other’s aid with confidence after our safety checks are all done.

As we tidied up the final admin at the coffee shop and reviewed the course one participant said, “Wow. That was intense but it felt authentic”.


Heroes At The Seaside


Heroes At The Seaside

16 – 19/10/15

Cycling and bodysurfing – Illawarra coast

The first afternoon we cycled up the coast. Past beaches, round bays and over headlands. From our camp at Bulli to Thirroul, Austinmer and Coledale. A beautiful cycle path. And later a swim in the still wintery cold sea. The caravan park was nestled between the ocean beach and the cemetery which commanded a wonderful view. Fullish of grey nomads with caravans and a few families. Even a hipster couple towing a vintage caravan beautifully restored.

Bellambi Point
Bellambi Point

Then down the coast next day. This was training for a big cycle trip next year down the Danube – beside the river from it’s source in Germany through Vienna and on to Budapest in Hungary – 1240 km. Past more beaches. Flatter heading south. Saturday morning buzzed in Wollongong. Great views from the headland off to the heavy industry of Port Kembla visible beside smokestacks and belching flames at the steelworks. Skydivers parachuted onto a park behind the beach. The whole place was going off – surfers, joggers, skateboarders, swimmers, walkers, paddleboarders, sailors, fishermen. I took a tumble trying to mtb jump up a too tall gutter on the way back and lost some skin and self-respect. We watched the surfers at Bellambi Point on a slow long board wave. Another cold swim. In the evening we wined at the restaurant on the nearby headland and explored the rock shelf below.

Sunday. Another lap back down to Wollongong. We met up with Rita, a friend of Cath’s, for lunch looking out over the main beach. I have four heroes. She’s one of them. Just as described by Joseph Campbell in his studies of the hero myth she has undertaken the hero’s journey. Without knowing all her personal details I surmise that she grew up in an ordinary family. Some time early on she perceived a call to service, a challenge to serve and joined the Good Samaritan order of nuns.  In her communities she has dedicated her life to helping others and serving her God. She saved my neighbour’s marriage and family in times of distress and reaches out to countless people who struggle day to day. I can only guess at the number of lives she has made a difference in.

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself”. Joseph Campbell

I’m no Christian but I strongly believe that “there are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Shakespeare). Myself and others in my family have experienced important premonitions. I have seen, unaffected by drugs, a person’s aura at a time of heightened perceptivity. I try to tune into intuition when it surfaces. Jung’s idea of a collective unconscious or Bucke’s cosmic consciousness is deeply attractive. ”Mysticism, then, is the perception of the universe and all of its seemingly disparate entities existing in a unified whole bound together by love.” (Moores) I love the science of the universe and the big bang but struggle with the question of what existed prior. My mind bends in its attempt to wrestle with quantum physics and systems theory and it seems that at the cutting edge of understanding there are may be endless possibilities. So while not quite an atheist I keep an open mind on the existence of some unifying spirit in the world. For me this is closely tied to landscape and the natural world. I feel a strong empathy with Aboriginal relation to the land. I was deeply moved in witnessing the strength of belief of hindus at Varanasi as they burnt the bodies of their kin to release their immortal souls. I would love to believe in angels like Muslims and Christians. I find the notion of a compassionate God too difficult in a world of much distress. I see religion and “churches” as the source of much war in the world based on conflicting belief systems much like patriotism and the arbitrary nature of borders between countries.

Rita is over 70 now and it was a privilege to spend a lunch time with her, go for a short walk and have a coffee. In a less chauvinistic religion she would be a spiritual high priest or bishop as well as a living treasure.

On the return ride we stopped at a small outlook. As I watched the swells sweep over the rocks I thought of my Mum lying small and broken in her bed in her last days. She’s another of the 4.

“When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.” Tecumseh

What makes a hero? – Matthew Winkler  (TED Ed)

Snakes and Lizards


Snakes and Lizards


Western Foreshores Walk – Googong Dam carpark to Tin Hut return – 21 km



Like a reptile on a cold morning I awoke stiff and slow. Hands took time to loosen up and feet were still sore from a walk the day before round the lake. Motivation lacked for the day’s walk. Fire trail, mostly flat with the occasional drop into and climb out of creek gullies. Walked and talked like the day before when I had been out with retired work buddies – round Lake Burleigh Griffin – past the High Court and Kingston Foreshores. Then we had lunched like never before while we had been too busy working. Now time rich we had time to walk, to exercise properly, to chat, to be buddies.

Walk and talk. Mostly I’m a “bushwalker”. It takes me time to ease into this slightly more mundane style of walking. Talk. With a fellow who had actively walked many of the classic long trails in Europe with his wife until she had been injured in a cycling accident. Now he’s the full time carer as she is wheelchair bound. His walk today is a fortnightly treasure.

Black snake beside the path sunned itself, alert to our passing, head raised.


There was not a house in sight. 40 minutes from Canberra. Pleasant ex-farming land now water catchment for the water supply dam.

Talk and walk. A bioscience man who had worked for CSIRO for most of his working life then worked voluntarily with them for another decade after retiring. Another guy who had led more than 100 walks for the group.

Spiky dragon lizard on a post watches on as we slowly edge by.

Walk. And talk. The “marathon lady” related how she was training for the London Marathon. She had completed countless marathons around the world – walking! Apparently overseas it is popular for people to walk in the events. She does around 7 hours. This opened anew my desire to complete my number 9 and 10 Canberra Marathons – perhaps with some walking as required. Inspiring talk.

I finish enlivened by the stories.




Sept 2015

Point Hut to Pine Island – Murrumbidgee River

Whitewater kayaking

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Watch the video           

Caleb paddled hard up-stream from the river’s edge, then forced his way onto the stopper wave. Surfing back and forth, sometimes spinning his paddle above his head. Turning round and back-surfing in the hole. A thumbs up and smile in my direction. Not showing off. Just in the zone. In his element. Almost on the edge but somehow in control. Delight writ large on his face and in his fluid movements. Action packed. At this level the river is strong and his reactions sharp. In tune with the power and force of nature. Riding and playing in the flow. He drives the nose deep then pops back onto a rail and flips over. Eskimo roll. Paddle back up for another go.

“Be back home by 5.00”, Mum would say when I was a primary school little fellow in the afternoons after school. A friend and I would launch into games of cricket, touch footy. Around athletics carnival we’d dig out a long jump pit or make a high jump in the back yard. Or alone I’d tear around a track on my bike. Grass never had much of a chance. Climb a tree. Make a new tree house and sit up there spying on the neighbours or look out across the valley. Later I’d explore the bush, making cubby houses with branches and rocks, wander along the creek, climb in the small sandstone cutting looking for quartz pebbles, make tin boats to paddle across a pond, venture through the drains underneath the suburb. We had fun. We pushed our limits. We developed skills and awareness of what we could do. I grew to love the bush and feel at home in it. I shared time with best mates and in solitude. Burned off energy.

“Play is considered so important to child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. Play — or free, unstructured time in the case of older children and adolescents — is essential to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” Marie Hartwell – Walker. 

When we play and flow in the zone where our skills and experience are challenged at just the right level time and the rest of the world are left behind. Our best play is where our mind, body and senses are totally focussed. As our skills and experience develop we seek out higher level challenges that are necessary to take us into this zone. We are challenged at whatever level is right for us. Edgework is play at our threshold.

My skills are nowhere near those of Caleb. I surf in smaller waves, practice skills, easier tricks and enjoy the exhilaration. Refreshed. The cobwebs are blown away, washed away. I feel energised. Together we share the journey, watching out for each other, chatting down the slow pools between rapids. Appreciate patterns of ripples, the trees, the weather, the water.

The benefits of play for adults are evidenced in research. The overall effect on our wellbeing (depression, hurt, worries, feeling foggy, sadness, anger, insecurities, anxiety – can be left behind for a time and our perspectives on them changed) is huge.  All of this is multiplied if our play combines the health benefits of physical exercise and being in the natural world.

For me adventure is my primary form of adult play. Now I call up my friends and ask if they want to go climbing for a day or skiing up on the main range, or for a paddle on the river or to hike in the desert for 10 days or cycle down the Danube in Germany or do some via ferrata in Italy. Am I not just saying as I used to when I was a child, “do you want to come out and play”? The playground is bigger now and the games are more challenging.

“How about a second run down?”  Caleb asked.

As we paddled down and played just for the pure joy of it I wondered as an outdoor ed. teacher how many students he’d shown how to do this, how many had learned wholesome adult play ways – climbing, paddling, diving, hiking, caving.

“You can reclaim your inner child by setting aside regular, quality playtime. The more you play, joke, and laugh—the easier it becomes.

By giving yourself permission to play with the joyful abandon of childhood, you can reap the myriad of health benefits throughout life.”

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