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Bushwalking and Mountaincraft Training Advisory Board
Author: Rod Lingard, April 2004
Several years ago there were occasional outbreaks of loose talk suggesting that a history of the BMLC should be written. At the time, no one imagined that the Course would cease to exist after a few more years. That misguided belief led to the thought that any attempt at a history of the Course would necessarily remain open-ended because the Course would go on for ever. Over the last couple of years an outbreak of realism has killed off the earlier belief and given rise to a couple of firm suggestions – from John Rawlings and from Steven Lake – that something should be written down before the whole thing fades into the mist.
I still hold the belief that very few people would bother to read it (and even less would want to buy it). However, I have lately been persuaded that, readers or no readers, an effort should be made to record for posterity at least a brief description of what happened in the 35 years of its existence. Perhaps some time in the next century some bright-eyed student of human endeavours may stumble upon this simple little record and be inspired by this example of what can be achieved by a group of people with intelligence, enthusiasm and the desire to do some good for their community.
I make no claim of factual certainty for this account. It is an attempt to put it down as I saw and/or remember the events. Time constraints and the fact that most of the documentary records have been put into storage have limited my ability to give the whole story. The period after I retired from the Department in January 1995 is notably thinly covered because I deliberately withdrew from the scene for a few years. I was persuaded to rejoin the Board for two years from March 1999, and have had limited contact with the action since that appointment ended.
Rod Lingard, April 2004
I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Bill Ellemor, who provided information and suggestions in a number of areas; Robin Hunt, who provided a quantity of very helpful information about the events leading to the establishment of the Board; Peter Millington who supplied much of the detail for the lists in the Appendices; and Elaine Murphy who arranged for proof-reading of the whole document and provided a number of constructive comments.
The Early Years
How the Board was established
In the 1960s there were several major searches for missing bushwalkers and a number of deaths, notably of students in school bushwalking and canoeing parties. Naturally, these attracted a lot of publicity. The best known of these unfortunate incidents was the Footscray Technical School trip to the Cradle Mountain National Park in Tasmania, which resulted in the death of a student.
At the time of this incident, the Outward Bound organisation was running programs on the Bogong High Plains. At different times through the 60s these programs were Directed by either Bill Bewsher or Ted Lovegrove. Ted made a close study of the Footscray Tech. tragedy and produced a long and highly critical report detailing the numerous deficiencies, mistakes and errors of judgement which culminated in the death of the student. This report was influential in persuading the National Fitness Council of Victoria (NFC) to appoint, in 1968, a panel of experienced outdoor recreation people to examine the problem.
It was clear that, in most of the incidents examined, serious mistakes had been made which might not have been made if the leaders were better trained and experienced.
This panel recommended the establishment of a course to train bushwalking leaders.
A working party was set up to recommend a structure and process for developing a suitable course. The working party consisted of Rob Taylor (Chair), Bryan Scott, Bill Bewsher, Eric Quinlan, David Hogg, Ian Whitford, Ken Readwin, Charles McCubbin and Robin Hunt. The working party proposed that a “Bushwalking and Mountaincraft Leadership Board” be set up under the National Fitness Council. Initially, the Board comprised –
- An independent Chairman – to be appointed by the National Fitness Council,
- A field officer of the National Fitness Council,
- A representative of Victorian Outward Bound,
- A representative of the Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs (FVWC),
- A representative of the Victorian Education Department,
- A representative of the Police Search and Rescue Squad, and
- Four independent members.
In March 1969, Bill Bewsher was appointed as the foundation Chairman, and held that position until 1982. Initially, Bryan Scott represented the N.F.C. and the independent members were David Hogg, Ken Readwin, Charles McCubbin and Robin Hunt. The Police representative was Bill Brand and the F.V.W.C. representative was Eric Quinlan. Stuart Brookes took over as Federation representative after a few months.
Ted Lovegrove moved to Adelaide at about this time and soon set about founding a similar Course in South Australia. It was then nearly 10 years before another course was established in Tasmania.
In the first few years the overwhelming majority of applicants for our Course were teachers or trainee teachers. The founders had recognised this demand but were determined that the Board should be kept separate from the Education Department, hence the alignment with the National Fitness Council, which was an independent statutory body. As the Course progressed, more walking club people, Scout leaders, and later, professional outdoor leaders applied to join the Course. This was facilitated by the independent posture of the Board and confirmed the wisdom of the earlier decision.
The first few Courses
In May 1969, the first 12 applicants attended the Initial Training week at the Howmans Gap National Fitness Camp. By early 1970, just one of those, Stewart Taplin, had completed all the Course requirements and was awarded Certificate No.1. In 1971, another four of the originals graduated, including the first woman, Jenny Robinson. Two other women (from the 2nd intake) who also graduated in 1971 were Carla Miller (Van Driel) and Mary Trayes. There were 16 people in the second intake and 21 in V3. From 1972 (V4) to 1975 (V7) the numbers attending Initial Training were in the range of 34 to 49 each year. From V8 to V17 the numbers were mostly in the 50s or 60s, with two years at 71 and just two at 47.
The numbers of people who completed all requirements and were awarded the Certificate were quite low in the first four years (averaging 35.8% of starters) but in the next 12 years reached an average of 52.3%. By the middle of 1985, a total of 377 people had been awarded the Bushwalking and Mountaincraft Leadership Certificate.
Original aims of the Course
The founders sought to produce bushwalking leaders who could –
- Plan and conduct a trip safely and successfully;
- Cope satisfactorily with any emergencies which might arise;
- Ensure that participants enjoy themselves, without damaging the environment;
- Pass on basic knowledge and skills to beginners.
In later years these aims were revised to specify the target skills in greater detail.
See ‘The End Product of the BMLCC’ on page 13.
Structure and content of the Course
Applicants for the first few Courses had to submit a reference from their school or other organisation and supply a list of the main bushwalking trips they had done in the last 10 years. They then had to undergo a medical test organised by the Board’s own doctor, Hugo McKay, and attend a pre-Course meeting in the city.
From the second Course onwards, they were required to attend a familiarisation weekend before being accepted to go to the Initial Training Week at Howmans Gap Camp. The content of that week was partly based on the British Mountain Leadership Course which had been developed several years earlier. There were lectures on various skills topics and a few field activities.
In the British Course, the participants then went off to gain experience by their own initiative for as many years as they liked before applying to do an assessment course. We introduced the idea of guided experience via the Advisor System, and we set quite strict time limits on the experience-gaining phase. We also required our people to undergo field assessment for four days before they were accepted for our Final Assessment Week. To graduate, they had to have a current, recognised First-Aid qualification.
Between Initial Training and Final Assessment our people had to log at least 16 days of approved standard bushwalking experience if they finished the Course in one year, or 24 days if they took two years to complete . It was expected that this experience should cover a wide range of areas and circumstances and must also include a trip in snow conditions.
I think that the additional requirement to do a Hot, Dry Walk did not come in until a few years later.
For the first few years, people submitting for Final Assessment shared the Howmans Gap Camp with the candidates coming in for Initial Training. The Assessment group sat for a few written examinations and were required to take a staff person on a day walk on the Bogong High Plains, following a specified route, to demonstrate their navigation skills.
Towards the end of the week each of the Assessment people was given a walking group of Initial Trainees for a three-day walk on the High Plains. A staff member went with each group and assessed the leadership performance of the aspiring graduate. This system worked quite well while there were only a few people seeking final assessment, but 1975 was the last year in which that process applied.
Staff on the first couple of Courses were concerned that applicants did not appear to be sufficiently skilled in navigation and some were judged to be not fit enough to cope with a demanding bushwalk, particularly if they were in a leadership role. The Board therefore introduced at first one, and then two, preliminary weekends in which applicants were tested and trained in basic navigation, and a general assessment of their fitness was made.
A few different areas were tried for these weekends. Cathedral Peak, Mt Donna Buang and Berringa (south of Ballarat) were tried but all were found wanting. Finally, the Board settled on the Kinglake West Forest Camp for the First Appraisal Weekend and the Whroo area (near Nagambie) for Second Appraisal. At first the Kinglake site was used for a very tightly structured series of individual tests which every applicant had to go through. The Whroo weekends were almost totally devoted to navigation testing – in small groups on the Saturday and individually on the Sunday. See page 26 in the ‘Memorable Moments’ chapter for a couple of stories about Whroo.
For the first few years, the Initial Training Week at Howmans Gap concentrated fairly heavily on technical skills – navigation, first aid, movement over difficult ground or in very poor visibility, selection and maintenance of gear, etc. To some extent we were learning as we went along. After a couple of years, a river crossing exercise and a night navigation exercise were included in the week.
In 1974 (V6), the Course moved up a notch with the appointment of Stuart Brookes as Director of Initial Training. Stuart is a master organiser and he took a week of leave in the week prior to the Course to attend to every detail of the preparations. One facet of his planning is revealed in the fact that this was the first year in which a photograph was taken of every group before they set out on their three-day walk. The whole week ran pretty smoothly despite such distractions as one staff member taking sick and the weather turning quite nasty for the walks. Stuart set the standard for others to follow.
In 1976 the staff were very pleased to see a major improvement in facilities at the Howmans Gap Camp. The new buildings were opened at last. Prior to that we were housed in the old huts left behind after the construction of the Kiewa Hydro-Electric Scheme. These huts were very basic. The walls were thin and had very little insulation. The rooms were cramped and draughty. The bathrooms and laundry were absolutely primitive. The new building seemed like a luxury hotel by comparison – except that in this first year the heating did not work, and we were there in May !
Two refinements were introduced to the Interim Training Period. People were required to do a ‘Hot, Dry Walk’. They were encouraged to do one organised for the purpose by the Board, or they might satisfy the rule if one of their own trips could be shown to have been very hot and dry. The other new regulation was introduced in 1976. In August of that year, a Course Member who was better known as a footballer than as a walker, took a quite large group of 14 and 15-year-old boys on a snow walk to Johnsons Hut. Several colourful reports reached the Board about the incident. As a result they decreed that all Interim Training experience walks had to be approved in advance by the Advisor or they could not be counted as approved experience.
Major Changes and Refinements
Final Assessment to Shelley
1975 was a significant year in the development of the Course. It was the last year of the old system where both the new intake and the graduate group shared the use of the Howmans Gap Camp. There was also a huge jump in the number of people presenting for Final Assessment. In the previous year there were 14 people in the graduate group – in 1975 there were 29. Since the new intake numbered just 49 it was clear that there were not enough “Indians” to make up 29 little walking groups.
John Holman had just been appointed Director of Final Assessment and he decided to abandon the three-day walk for this group. The new intake went out on a three-day walk with staff as their group leaders. The graduate group were put through a number of extra field exercises including a search and rescue practice and a more difficult orienteering test without compass. For the first time, some of the walking groups on the three-day walk were issued with a UHF radio loaned to us by the Police Search and Rescue Squad. This gave the base staff a much greater opportunity to react quickly to any difficulties which might have arisen out on the High Plains.
By the end of the week the decision had been made that Final Assessment had to move to another location. Before long the choice had been made in favour of the Shelley Forest Camp in far north-east Victoria. There followed a period of intense research and planning in readiness for a new graduate group in May 1976. A few new activities were introduced to the week. A half-day test of navigation without compass was held in an area of native bush, and at the end of the week, a very different two-day field exercise was held. This started with a half day of navigation testing in a pine forest followed by a solo overnight bivouac with just the gear they took on the day walk.
The next morning everyone proceeded to a rendezvous point where they were served a hot breakfast and then immediately organised into groups to begin a structured search and rescue exercise. Earlier in the week, two new discussion sessions were introduced. The first was a group review of a number of case studies of mishaps which had occurred to individual members of the group at some time in the past.
The second was a general discussion about gear and other matters about which a leader might talk to beginners. The new format were generally judged to be a success and has been followed fairly faithfully ever since. John Holman stayed for one more year as Director, before handing over to John Retchford.
A full-time Executive Officer
In 1977 the board appointed a subcommittee with the task of developing a five-year plan. We had gleaned the information that the then Minister for Youth, Sport and Recreation had expressed some enthusiasm for the idea of a Mountain Training School similar to something which he had seen during a trip to England and Europe. Accordingly, we included that concept (as a minor suggestion) along with our major request which was for funding to enable the appointment of a full-time Executive Officer to assist the Board. He took the bait. He expressed considerable enthusiasm for our brilliant suggestion of a Mountain Training School and he went on to approve our total submission. In November advertisements were placed seeking applications for the position of Executive Officer.
To my surprise, it did not demand a university degree or equivalent qualification but simply sought extensive bushwalking experience and administrative abilities. At the time, I had been working with advertising agencies for about 20 years and felt a “midlife crisis” coming on ! I decided that I would probably live longer, and happier, out of advertising so I submitted an application. The rest, as they say, is history. The NFC staff who had provided part-time support in the past had been generally good people, but the Board felt a lot happier with a really committed bushwalker as their full-time employee.
The major overhaul of Appraisals
By 1980, the First Appraisal at Kinglake West Forest Camp had become extremely tightly structured. The timetabling needed a main-frame computer but we did not even have a PC !
There was a growing realisation that we were testing applicants skills but did not know if they were any use as members of a bushwalking party. The then Director of Appraisals, Kathy Liley, began a process of reviewing and modifying the format of the weekend. At first she simply introduced a half-day walk on the Sunday afternoon, but she went on to plan a complete change in the process. It happened in 1985, when Mike Scowen took over as Director of Appraisals, but it was largely the work of Kathy, assisted by John Hutchison.
The First Appraisal became a weekend bushwalk in parties of seven or eight applicants with two staff. Over the course of the weekend, the staff observed and noted the abilities of the applicants by applying realistic field testing, and through lightly structured discussion sessions. A detailed report card was produced for each person. These cards were then used at the Second Appraisal weekend which took the form of an intensive navigation testing and training camp-out near Daylesford. This format proved highly successful. It was particularly good for identifying lack of skills and quite good for teaching skills to those who needed help. I believe that the standard of navigation skills revealed at Howmans Gap and later stages of the Course was improved after this new process was introduced.
The change of focus from technical skills to people skills
In 1978 Alan Tickell was Director of Initial Training. He had David Green on his planning sub-committee. David was the prime mover in changing the emphasis of the Howmans Gap Week away from chiefly technical skills. He introduced a series of sessions which focussed attention on what behaviour was most appropriate for a leader when faced with a variety of circumstances. Course members were encouraged to think about the issues and express their opinions in discussion groups. These covered conflict management, crisis management, team building, and encouragement of inexperienced walkers. David introduced the concept of “hot-house team building”.
At the start of the Howmans week six or seven trainees and two staff were placed in a team which then engaged in every aspect of the week as a team. Lectures, field activities, discussion sessions, even duties, were all performed within that team. The teams had to plan their own trip for the three-day walk, organise the rations to suit their team, and review the performance of the team internally. They had the opportunity to learn by experience the way in which a group of people may develop in just a week. Many of these teams organised reunions and arranged to do trips together later in the Course. A few teams learned a fair bit about what factors can inhibit team building in a bushwalking group. This was often because one member could not, or would not, engage fully in the work of the group.
For many people, both staff and students, the Howmans Gap week was the heart and soul of the Course. Most Course Members seemed to depart from that week feeling uplifted by the experience. Quite a large number did not go on to complete the rest of the Course but some of these apparently did so because they felt that they had gained most of what they had sought when they applied for the Course. A number of people who have worked on various phases of the Course have commented on the spectacular increase in self-confidence displayed by many Course Members from our first contact with them through to the Final Assessment Week. All phases of the Course made a contribution to this but the Howmans week was surely the “great leap forward” and the base for the personal development which occurred in the later stages.
The Ski Tour Leaders Course
In 1982 the Board received a letter from the Nordic Touring Committee of the Australian Ski Federation asking that we examine the possibility of developing a Ski Tour Leaders Certificate.
Land management authorities, particularly the NSW National Parks Authority, were concerned about the growth of commercial ski touring operations using the Kosciusko National Park, and were keen to have some yardstick with which to assess the capabilities of the people seeking permits to conduct commercial ski touring activities in the park.
The Board appointed a subcommittee to consider the proposition. The subcommittee recommended that we develop a course along similar lines to the BMLC, in fact utilising the early phases of the Course with almost no change. After considerable debate, it was decided to adopt this idea despite the obvious difficulty of relating it to the ski season. After a lot of thought and planning the first STLC course was launched in 1983/4, in tandem with the V16 intake for the BMLC.
In my opinion, the greatest contributor to the setting up of the STLC and the development of the format and content of the Course was Graeme Young. He persuaded the ASF to send the original letter proposing the Course and he wrote much of the material which was eventually adopted by the Board. In the winter before the Course was launched, Graeme and I spent a week in a lodge at Falls Creek, discussing various options and putting recommendations to paper. We also had a pretty good week of skiing with our families.
The first intake included quite a large contingent from NSW, so we had to make provision for the people to undergo initial appraisal in that State. A small group of us went up to Sydney and met with representatives of the NSW Nordic Ski Council, who took us out to a remote area in the Blue Mountains which they proposed as a suitable place for the Initial Appraisal (of bushwalking skills, as a guide to their general outdoor capabilities). The local expert took us down a long ridge into a large creek, at a point just above where it dropped sharply into a sandstone canyon. He then announced that he had a commitment for the night back in Sydney and that he must leave us at this point. He assured us that we would have no trouble getting down into the canyon at a certain point a few kilometres downstream and that we could climb back up a different ridge back to the cars the next day. We did not quite live up to his expectations.
We could NOT get down into the canyon at any point and were forced to make camp on rock ledges high above the creek. We considered tossing a billy on a long cord down into the creek for water but this was not practicable. It started to rain and we desperately tried to harvest some of the rain but again with little effect. Right on nightfall, one of our group managed to find a small creek which we could access from the ledges so we were spared the discomfort of a dry camp. The next day we managed rather better and returned safely to the cars. It was a sharp lesson in the difficulty of walking in parts of the Blue Mountains.
The Initial On-snow Training for the first Course was done as a Campout on the ridge south of Watchbed Creek, between the Cope Fire Trail and the old route of the Snow Pole Line. The next year it was moved to a more challenging location in the Rocky Knobs area. On that occasion the intake included a very skilful skier who displayed a level of self-confidence which some people felt was bordering on arrogance. Our return to Falls Creek involved skiing down the rather steep drop into Rocky Valley Creek near the small bridge. Our hero was towing a pulk containing all his gear. He chose a course which involved sidling across a slope which proved too steep for the pulk. It spun down the slope taking him with it. The several observers at the bottom of the hill broke into spontaneous cheering.
Organisationally, the STLC was originally managed by the Course Committee, but that body soon became overloaded and was split into two committees – BMLC and STLC. Unfortunately, this eventually led to some tensions and almost a rivalry between the two. At the very least, there were problems maintaining good communications between them and a few misunderstandings arose at times.
The Course also had some problems with staffing of the On-snow Training Week when it was held in the Kosciusko National Park. Some of the specialist staff engaged from the area seemed to be less devoted to the task than the people we sent up from Victoria. A few Course participants complained of being left to their own devices on a couple of occasions. Despite these minor difficulties, the STLC was generally well run and it built a very good reputation in most of the Ski Touring community. It has produced 111 graduates in the 18 years of its operation.
Final Assessment to Too Rour
1984 was the 9th year in which Final Assessment was held at the Shelley Forest and in that time the Board had invested a great deal in effort into developing and refining the activities which made up the week. In that year we actually had a large number of special maps of the area printed without the road system being shown. This was for the Navigation Testing in the pine forest, where the candidates were supposed to use only natural features to guide them. Unfortunately, I did not get around to booking the Camp for the next year until late November. To my great shock, they had fully booked the Camp to other groups for the whole of the May school holiday period. We had to find another venue, and fast. Garry McIntosh and I had a look at the Too Rour Forest Camp in the Strathbogie Ranges and decided that it could fit the bill. It took a huge effort by a lot of our people to adapt all our planning from Shelley to Too Rour but we did it. Unfortunately, our Chairman, Stuart Brookes, was so troubled by my stupid error that he felt moved to resign from the Chair and the Course. This was a considerable loss to us, but he felt isolated in his position on the matter and decided to quit the scene.
Garry and I tried to make the best of the situation. Shelley was a long way from Melbourne and transport costs to get there were quite high. Too Rour was much closer, and the facilities at the relatively new camp were very much better than Shelley. The surrounding country was in some ways not as good for our purposes but we adapted to it. We continued to use it for thirteen years, although towards the end the clearing of additional areas of it had become a bit of a problem for us.
Mike Scowen and Theo Read each served three years as Director at Too Rour and Heather Jackson was Director for two years. Ken Judd did one year and John Kerby the last three. I always felt that they all managed to generate a good atmosphere in the Final Assessment Weeks at Too Rour. Most of the people who completed the BMLC at that time seemed to leave us with generally positive feelings about the value of the Course as a whole. Elaine Murphy did the last couple of Leadership lectures there nearly every year and her sessions were always very much appreciated by the Course Members.
The Day Walk Leaders Course
For many years the Board was concerned that the BMLC was a “full strength” leadership course for experienced bushwalkers, and there was no readily available training for inexperienced people who aspired to lead groups in the bush. In 1980, Bryan Scott proposed a ‘Proficiency Certificate Course’ and this was advertised but only 10 applications were received. This was not considered a viable number so the idea was dropped. During the 1970s and 80s the Education Department ran a few “Intermediate Bushwalking Courses for Teachers”. Most of these were quite popular. Most were staffed by people associated with the BMLC.
In the summer of 1986/87 the Board ran a ‘Bushwalking Skills Improvement Course’. Kathy Liley and Bob Wood were the primary organisers and several others helped with staffing. The first course had 27 applications, 25 of them female. The same team of Kathy and Bob ran two more courses over the next two summers. All were quite popular but for some reason it was dropped after 1988/89.
In December 1995, the Board decided to promote a trial run of a Day Walk Leaders Certificate Course. Bill Ellemor and Roy Graham were appointed to organise it. They sought to provide generally similar training and assessment to that of the BMLC, modified to fit the day-walking context. During the Interim Training phase the Course Members were required to gain experience of both circuit walks and those which required a car shuffle or use of public transport. The Course was judged a success and continued for the next few years. Unfortunately, applications dropped away and in recent years it did not run. The cost and the time commitment probably discouraged potential applicants. At this point, only 10 people have been awarded the Certificate.
The Declining Years
The National Training Agenda
I first became aware of the significance of the National Training Agenda (NTA)for Outdoor Recreation when I attended the National Outdoor Education Conference at Port Sorell in Northern Tasmania in 1992. There were a number of sessions in which it was discussed. At the final session of the Conference we were urged to start preparing for it, although no one seemed to be quite clear about how, or if, it would affect us. I did not at first see it as a threat. We felt so confident of our role in the field that we willingly set to work helping to define the ‘competencies’ needed by good leaders of bushwalking groups – either recreational or educational. Neville Byrne was the Victorian representative on the National steering committee. It was only much later, when they started to reduce everything to the broadest generic terms that I began to see it as a dreadful aberration.
Many of the skills needed by a bushwalking leader were broken down into words which were supposed to be the same as those needed by a person working in the Racing Industry or the Arts. Outdoor Recreation, Outdoor Education and Tourism were too small to have separate National Training schemes. We had to be lumped in with Racing and Arts to produce a big enough economic grouping. And the ‘competency’ principle could not accommodate such concepts as “field experience in a variety of environments” or “sound judgement under stressful conditions”.
However, the scheme rolled along and the opportunists soon saw it as a chance to offer ‘quickie’ leadership training programs (“Nationally recognised under the NTA”) and they were soon followed by the Technical Colleges and Universities who were keen to get into any new area where they might offer training. It became very confusing for young people who wanted to work in the Outdoor Recreation scene. They were not sure where to obtain their training, but it did not look as if the two-year BMLC was their best option.
I do not believe that the Competency-based scheme will ever produce leaders of the quality which the BMTAB has produced. It lacks the amount of field experience and it lacks the element of expert guidance which our Advisor system generally provided. It also lacks the provision of time for personal maturation and confidence-building which the BMLC process provided.
Another influence in the declining demand for our Courses was the push for greater productivity throughout the whole community in a period of continuing high levels of unemployment. People who might, in better times, have undertaken a Course such as ours were worried about both the cost and the long-term time commitment. Widespread perceptions of job insecurity also resulted in a noticeable reduction in the availability of volunteer helpers who were still in the workforce. The Board experienced some difficulties in recruiting skilled and experienced volunteers in the numbers which were readily available to us in the past.
There also seemed to be some reduction in the total participation rate for overnight pack carrying adventure activities. Certainly the established clubs experienced loss of demand for overnight activities – and growth in day-trip participation, possibly related to an ageing membership profile.
Changes within the Department
After 15 years of stable administration of the BMTAB within the Department, from 1993 to 1997 we had four different Administrative Officers, most of whom were not widely experienced in working with volunteer organisations and not previously involved in the outdoor recreation field. In this period a number of tensions arose between the Board and elements of the management structure of the Department. In some cases members of the Board made contributions to the tensions or misunderstandings. In other cases the problems seemed to come from the Sport and Recreation Victoria (SRV) side, in some instances possibly deriving from a notable lack of in-house understanding of the outdoor recreation field. One officer of the Department seemed determined to prove to her superiors that she was capable of ridding them of this old and unfashionable program. We were put under great pressure to move out – preferably to TAFE, because that was considered the most appropriate location for a training course. In March 1999, we were given an ultimatum to vacate the space which we had occupied at SRV. At that stage we became aware of the availability of space on the same floor as VicFit, at 232 Victoria Parade, so we were hastily moved there. By July 1999 the decision was made to move in ‘under the wing’ of VicFit. This seemed to be the best option at the time, but after two years it became clear that we had to make a move and we took up space at the Outdoor Recreation Centre at Heidelberg.
Changes in the Board and Course Committee
During this turbulent period in our history there were changes in the membership of the Board and Committee and a noticeable change in the way the Courses were run. I attended an Advisors Meeting in 1998 and was surprised to hear one of the organisers tell us that there had been quite a few faults in the way the Courses were run in the past, but the new team would be making it all work much better. One change was the adoption of a much harder line with Applicants who were late with their paperwork or had transgressed in any other way. When I assisted with the staffing of the Howmans Gap Week in 2000, we held a feedback session at the end of the week. The Course Members said mostly nice things about the week but absolutely savaged us about the treatment they had received during the earlier stages of the Course. They were furious about late paperwork from our side and about the harsh treatment of some other Applicants who had been late with theirs.
Strengths and Achievements
The ‘end product’ of the Course
On page 2 of this book I quoted the original aims of the BMLC. It was a fairly simple statement of what the founders hoped that the graduates would be able to do. In later years a much more detailed, and ambitious, goal was set down and an effort was made to ensure that the training offered should be capable of producing the desired result. I reproduce the document below.
I think that this was a significant document. It sets down all of the most desirable skills for a competent outdoor recreation leader. I also think that, in our best years at least, we were successful in making it possible for our Course Members to acquire all those skills. There were some people in the wider community (and even a few among our staff) who seemed to think that every person who undertook to do the Course should pass the requirements and obtain the certificate. This idea seems very unrealistic to me. We achieved a pass rate of between 36% and 54% in different years, and of those, a majority would probably meet all the criteria listed above. Compared with leadership courses overseas, that is a very good result. You cannot expect everyone to become a first class outdoor leader.
The volunteers – in general
Quite obviously, the great strength of the Courses was the volunteer staff who ran them. It was nearly all volunteers who set up the Board. It was wholly volunteers who developed and continually refined the activities which provided the training. Volunteer Advisors guided the Course Members through the requirements of the Courses and reinforced the lessons that were learned. It was the fact that volunteers were appointed to direct each of the phases of the Courses which ensured that fresh ideas were constantly being put forward, and enthusiasm for the tasks was maintained. Outdoor training centres in the United Kingdom are continually searching for ways to sustain the enthusiasm of their full-time professional instructors. When our staff grew weary of the task, they moved on. We had a firm policy of introducing a percentage of new staff to every residential training or assessment week.
I always felt that my most important task, when I was Executive Officer, was to assist the volunteers with their paperwork and other routine matters, and to strive to keep them happy in their jobs. A few times I failed spectacularly in this role, but I tried, and generally I felt that I succeeded. The willing support that I received seemed to imply that most of our volunteers were happy to be involved.
In the early years, the volunteers were found mainly among the walking clubs. These clubs continued to support us by allowing our Course Members to gain practical experience through attending their club trips. Bill Bewsher had a great talent for identifying and recruiting talented people from his own club, the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club (MUMC). Many excellent staff came from that source. Capable people from other clubs were also found and persuaded to assist. Later, we were able to recruit most of the staff from the ranks of graduates of the Courses. They knew the program from personal experience and were able to bring constructive ideas for better ways to do things. In our best years we had an ‘embarrassment of riches’. So many capable people were keen to help that we could not always use them. Sadly, that changed in the years of our decline, as mentioned above.
With a couple of hundred volunteers assisting in various capacities, it is natural that there were some differences in interpretation and in expected standards. The Board was very conscious of the need to treat every Course Member fairly and as close as possible to equally in our judgement of their standards of performance. Roughly every two years the Board presented a staff training seminar, mostly of two days. Through these we hoped to bring our Advisors and Assessors to common understandings of the rules for the Courses and the desired standards of performance. Only a percentage of our volunteers were able to attend these, but those who did got a lot of help from them. In 1986 and ‘88 at Too Rour and 1990 at Footscray, we employed Mike Harrington from the Augustine Centre to guide and inspire us and he did this with great flair. Other years we used mainly our own people to conduct the sessions and they were also generally very effective.
The four-phase format
It is easy to take for granted the basic structure of the course. In my opinion, the four-phase format was an important element in the training process. Self-confidence is critical to good leadership and each of the four steps in our process provided the course members with a ‘tick of approval’. Many people who applied and were accepted for the first Appraisal Weekend were quite nervous at first and were pleased to be accepted for the second weekend. After that they were told, in effect, that we considered them good enough to be admitted to the residential training week. At Howmans Gap their peers and the staff all gave them feedback on their own strengths and weaknesses. Most people left the Howmans week feeling inspired and ready to build on the knowledge they had acquired. Towards the end of the Interim Training period they did their field assessments, and were again told that we considered them good enough to proceed to the final stage. The Final Assessment week provided several opportunities for them to demonstrate their ability to cope with a challenge. Importantly, there was also generally an atmosphere of mutual respect among the Course Members presenting for Final Assessment. The piece of paper in their hands was the final endorsement of our judgment that they were capable outdoor recreation leaders.
The other great virtue of the four-phase format was that it conveniently broke the task into manageable elements, and provided the opportunity for four different volunteers to take a management role in a definable portion of the total task. I cannot remember any phase director who did not do a pretty good job in the role. Many of them did outstanding jobs applying huge amounts of energy and skill to the task. A few of these have been mentioned in the other parts of this Short History, and I should mention a few others at this stage. The Directors of the residential weeks are all listed in Appendix D. Carla Miller gets my vote as the best-ever Director of Appraisals, but there have been a number of other very good occupants of that chair. Kathy Liley and Mike Scowen are mentioned elsewhere. Phil Waring, Lorraine Smith, Frank Davin, Roy Graham and Terry Cerini all served in this role at some time. I may have missed others.
Graeme Young did a very professional job in the role of Director of Interim Training. He revised most of the paperwork, ran an active supporting panel and improved the efficiency of the operation in various ways. Mike Scowen and Steve Manders also did good work in this area. Other Directors included Dave Burnett, Dave Caddy, Bob Peterson and Thais Bassett.
It is also appropriate to mention a few people who served as leaders of the Course-organised Snow Walks. Alan Tickell, Bill Bewsher, Dave Burnett, Peter Hicks, Tony Kerr, Tom Kneen, Ken McInnes, Bill Ellemor, Rob Kovacs, Jeff Swan and Bob Manks all ran Snow Walks a number of times. Similarly, our Hot, Dry Walks were led on several occasions by either Jim Moore or Alan Hassell, both of whom lived in the Mildura district so knew a bit about it. Other regulars included Bob Peterson, Paul Gallant, Mike Tegg, Ken Judd, Glenn Warren and Steve Manders.
Great contributors to the BMLC
Back in 1990 I wrote a series of items for ‘Groundsheet’ under this title. It attracted some interest at the time and it seems to be a subject apposite to the purpose of this little book so I shall include an edited version here. It was limited to 12 names previously but I shall add a few more now.
I regard Bill as the greatest contributor of all. He was the most influential of the founders and effectively carried the organisation on his own shoulders for its first few years. In those days the National Fitness Council provided some secretarial support but not much more. Bill did much of the detail work from his own home or school. Because of his unique knowledge of the Who’s Who of bushwalking in Victoria in the 60s, he was able to recruit the best available talent to run the course and staff the training phrases. He was on the staff of the Initial Training Week for more than 10 years. His final night rendition of ‘The Ballad of Idwal Slabs’ was always the star attraction of the night – although it was best not to sit in the first three rows of the audience. He retired from the Board in 1984 having served as Chairman since 1968. He remained actively interested in the activities of the Board and on a couple of occasions presented certificates to graduates. His health has deteriorated in recent years and he now lives with his younger daughter in northern Tasmania.
Bill could spend some time wandering around the point of a debate and he had a tendency to harp on the shortcomings of the Education Department. But I came to marvel at his ability to maintain an environment of openness, fairness and objectivity in the meetings in which he served as Chairman The other amazing thing about the man is that he gave so much of his time to the BMLC while also contributing hugely to the FVWC S&R section and the Primary Principals Association. He deserves much wider community recognition for all the work that he did for the betterment of our society.
Bill Brand joined the Board as the representative of the Police Department in the very early years of the Course and continued in that capacity until 1988. That puts him near the top in terms of length of service. In the early years he was effectively Director of Interim Training for a long period. He looked after all Assessments – from requests through to studying the Assessors’ reports. He was influential in the early years at Shelley, helping to develop the process of Final Assessment that has been followed in principle ever since. In Board meetings he was a confirmed ‘hard-liner’. I can’t remember him supporting any request for any concession from the standard demands of the Course.
Bill’s greatest contribution to the Course was probably in the area of building our strong ties with the Police S & R Squad. This relationship has given us ready access to radio equipment, ropes and other gear for many of our activities, plus staff for many training fixtures. He established the tradition of putting members of the S & R Squad through the Course. Many years into his retirement he still has great respect and influence in that Squad. Apart from his work with BMLC, Bill also served for many years on the Expedition Advisory Panel for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.
Because he was such a well-known figure in the bushwalking movement, Stuart was one of the first people recruited by Bill Bewsher to work on the BMLC. He in turn recruited the best people from the Victorian Mountain Tramping Club (VMTC). For the first 10 years of the Course, some people said that if the MUMC and the VMTC withdrew their members from the staffing, then the whole Course would collapse. Stuart was a member of the Board almost from the start and was Director of Initial Training from 1973 to 1977 inclusive. He then served for many years on the staff at Shelley.
His attention to detail in planning was legendary. He set a standard of organisation that lifted the Course close to professionalism. He was the main driving force in the production of the first Course Handbook, and that was a Herculean labour.
Stuart did a trip to the U.K. in 1975, visiting many outdoor training centres and making contact with several of the notables in the British Mountain Leadership Certificate. He was the founding Chairman of the Course Committee and served in that capacity for three years. He was Chairman of the Board from 1983 to 1985. As Chairman he could not contain his own views on the matters under discussion. This sometimes stimulated quite heated arguments in the Course Committee. It is a matter of regret for me that he was moved to resign over the consequences of my failure to book the Shelley Camp for the 1985 season.
Since then he has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in recognition of his services to bushwalking in general. This was well-deserved recognition for his huge contribution to the mapping of bushwalking areas when no other maps were available, his great service to the Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs and his great contribution to the BMTAB.
John was, to a large extent, my mentor in my early years of involvement with the Course. My first year on the staff of the Howmans Gap Week was 1972 and my job there was to assist John with the management of the Final Assessment group (which included John Holman and Mike Tegg). John Cole did a great deal of work developing the Examination Papers and other devices used to provide realistic measures of the abilities of the candidates.
He then took on the task of developing a more effective way of appraising applicants for the Course. He was largely responsible for the development of the Appraisal Weekend model used at the Kinglake West Camp for many years. I also assisted him in this area and took over the running of Appraisals when he retired from the task. John was a very good organiser and extremely conscientious about any task that he took on. He set very high standards for himself and was inclined to be a worrier, so he rather burned himself out. In a period of great pressure in his teaching career he resigned from the Board and never returned. John had made a very significant contribution to the BMLC in its formative years.
Alan was quite influential in the process leading to the establishment of the Board. He was in charge of the Police Search and Rescue Squad before Bill Brand took over, just as the Board was formed. He was Director of Initial Training in 1978 – my first year of full-time work on the Course. At that time he was working at a very high level at the police headquarters in William Street and I often went around to consult with him in his office. I was impressed by his ability to foster constructive change in our methods. He encouraged and supported David Green on the issue of changing the emphasis of the Howmans Gap week (see page 6).
Alan was always a very good judge of people – perhaps his work had trained him in that. I well remember one rather brash young man who ‘swept’ back to Australia after a few years of working in UK centres. This fellow offered to solve all our problems in a few days! Alan invited him around for a drink, listened to his story, then politely cut him down to size. He never bothered us again. Alan gave many years of valuable service on the Course Manual subcommittee and he had a very high success rate as an Advisor for people doing the Course.
Vic was on the Board for several of the early years of the Course. He was a member of the Melbourne Walking Club and was a chain-smoker. I well remember travelling up to Whroo in the back seat of his car when we were developing the navigation courses used in that area. As he drove, he frequently flicked the ash from his cigarette out the open window. I became quite skilled at closing my eyes and ducking my head as I saw his hand move towards the window.
He was a genius at the detail of organising complex events. For many years, he had the job of scheduling the extraordinarily complex program that we used at Kinglake. This involved putting about 12 groups of people through 10 different activities of different durations, some of which had to be done before others. He was the Director of Appraisals when we had our famous bushfire at Berringa (see ‘Tense Times’ on page 28).
Apart from his smoking, Vic’s biggest problem was that he had a very short fuse. He suddenly quit the Course in anger over a clerical error made by the National Fitness Council field officer assisting the Board at the time. Sadly, he also quit his walking club over some other relatively minor tiff and neither they nor we have ever sighted him since.
John was the first graduate of the Course to serve on the Board. He joined with V2 and graduated in 1972 with Certificate No 10. John was the founder of the Geelong Bushwalking Club and remains active to this day. He encouraged several members of that Club to do the BMLC and at one time they had more Certificate holders than any other walking club.
John took on the massive task of moving the Final Assessment phase of the Course away from Howmans Gap. He selected the Shelley Forest Camp and was largely responsible for the development of the whole process used there for several years. Virtually the same format was used for many more years at Too Rour. In the late 1970s he resigned from the board but remained as an adviser, virtually until the course finished. In the early 1990s he returned to more active service, again with the Final Assessment week. He brought with him a whole series of new initiative tests, for which he had constructed a trailer load of props. These were integrated into the program for the week and seemed to be enjoyed by most candidates. They certainly gave us some new tools for assessing the capabilities of the candidates.
Carla was part of the V2 intake to the BMLC and she graduated the next year, 1971 (as Carla Van Driel) . She and Mary Trayes were the very first editors of “Groundsheet”. Unfortunately, the two editions which they produced in 1971, have been lost. There was no newsletter again until 1975.
She served as an Assessor, Advisor, Staff at Initial Training, and Member of the original Course Committee. She was the best Director of Appraisals that I ever worked with. She did all the planning and paperwork, organised the staffing and ran both weekends most efficiently. Towards the end of her four years on the Course Committee, she went back through all the minutes and other documents and compiled a full listing of all policy decisions made up to that time. One of her Advisees, Heather Jackson, went on to be a very significant contributor to the Course herself.
Carla’s work and family commitments took her away from active involvement in the Course but she has remained interested and is still an active walker and skier.
David joined the V4 intake to the BMLC and graduated in 1974. Under the old Howmans Gap Final Assessment process, I was his appointed Assessor for the three-day walk and for the Navigation Without Compass. He was the most skilful candidate I had seen to that stage of my career and right up with the best three or four that I ever saw. He had a profound influence on the evolution of the BMLC from a largely technical skills and safety orientation to a people-management orientation. He introduced completely new ways of teaching it and encouraging people to think about it. He joined Alan Tickell’s Howmans Gap sub-committee and began the process of change. It culminated in his own period as Director of Initial Training in 1983 and 1984.
He had one spectacular failure. He asked the Media Unit at Rusden College to produce a film to illustrate common faults of bushwalking leaders. They developed a script and storyboards and we assembled a large group of hopeless actors with packs (our staff and families) and all went up to Lake Mountain one weekend to shoot the epics. The storylines were feeble and the 8mm picture quality was appalling. One of the four ‘stories’ was lost by the Rusden people – we never saw it! I always felt that was some sort of blessing!
David went on to a successful career in corporate team-building and management training. He returned to us once in later years to assist with a Staff Training weekend.
Garry first came onto the BMTAB as the representative of the National Fitness Council in 1977. He soon established a reputation for clear thinking and constructive comments in the committee environment. He was very influential on the subcommittee which prepared our first Five-Year Plan and was involved in the actual presentation of that plan to the Minister of the day. He single-handedly drew up the Policy Guidelines document which spelt out the operations of the Board and its committees and subcommittees. This document was adopted by the Board with only minor amendments. He had a profound influence in liberalising the Board’s attitude towards delegating authority for the conduct of the Course. He negotiated our first arrangement with the Bendigo CAE, under which we agreed to accept some of their students directly into our Initial Training Week upon the recommendation of certain members of the staff of the Bendigo College.
He strongly supported the establishment of the Course Committee and the transfer of full responsibility for the running of the BMLC to that body. He was an excellent Chairman of the BMLC committee (from 1982 to 1985). When Stuart Brookes resigned, Garry took over as Chairman of the Board and did an excellent job, particularly in establishing the new venue for the Final Assessment Week at Too Rour. He was Course Director for our first week there in 1985. It was a very great loss to us when his employer decided that their Sydney office needed him more than we did. For some years he continued to serve as an Advisor to some of our Sydney-based Course Members, particularly in the STLC.
I am not sure how we managed to recruit Graeme to our cause. He was the only staff member I know of who came from the RMIT Bushwalking Club and the Winter Group. Someone must have recommended him to us because he was appointed as an Advisor to members of the V8 intake in 1976. He was then co-opted to assist the Board subcommittee which developed and presented the Five-Year Plan. He made a valuable contribution to the work of that group, and he served on the BML Course Committee from 1979 to 1986. He was outstanding in the role of Director of Interim Training for two years and was also effectively the founder of the STLC. Several others made valuable contributions but he was the major influence. He was a very good planner and efficient organiser and did some excellent work on a couple of other projects. It was typical of him that he gave nine months notice of his intention to resign from the Committee to give us plenty of time to find a replacement. It was most surprising when he changed his mind at the last minute and renominated. This put a few people off-side and in the ensuing election Graeme was not successful. It was an unfortunate end to a most valuable period of service in the management of the two Courses. He continued to assist with skills instruction for the STLC and as an Advisor for people doing the Course.
I think John holds the record for length of service as a member of the BMTAB. I have not been able to track down the exact dates but it was a long time and he worked on many different projects. The one in which I worked most closely with him was the Steering Committee for the proposed Mountain Training School (see “Ministerial Delegation” on page 30). John was the chair of that steering committee and did an excellent job despite the rather negative end to the project. He also did a great job as Director of Final Assessment from 1978 to 1980. In this period he set much of the “tone” of the Final Assessment Week. That “tone” became an integral part of the culture of the Course and was frequently commented upon by graduates at the end of the week. John sought to ease the natural tension of the candidates by cultivating an attitude of equality. He emphasised that people who have worked their way to that point and been accepted for the Final Week are worthy of our respect. He set the style of friendly, open dealing that has been the model for staff ever since. Paperwork was never his great strength – a written timetable for the week has never been found! I think that most of his program was handed on to later Directors in the manner of oral history! In the early years of the STLC, John ran an annual weekend teaching Course Members techniques for dealing with steep slopes – including self-arrest after a fall.
There have been at least 50 great contributors to the work of the BMTAB and this chapter has covered only 12 of them. They are the 12 who, in 1991, seemed to me to have been the most outstanding. In the year 2004, I am moved to name another 12 who have done great work for the cause in the later years. I shall only very briefly mention the areas in which they made the greatest contributions. They are listed in alphabetical order.
Monica Chapman Made a huge contribution to the production of the latest Course Handbook.
Bill Ellemor For thoughtful, positive contributions to nearly every phase of the work of the Course Committee over many years.
Ron Frederick He delivered the Legal Liabilities lecture at Final Assessment for as long as I can remember, and while there, he nearly always helped with the Field Navigation testing.
John Hutchison An outstanding thinker on the Course Committee, deeply involved in many areas of improvement to the Courses.
John Kerby For long and steady service on Final Assessment and on the Board, through the most difficult time of our existence.
Tony Kerr Excellent editor of “Groundsheet” for many years, and valuable contributor on the topic of Weather at Initial Training and in the Handbook.
Kathy Liley Very valuable member of the Course Committee; Director of Appraisals and Director of Initial Training.
Steve Manders A leading figure on the Course Committee for many years, and also a huge contributor to the new Course Handbook.
Elaine Murphy Superb lecturer on Leadership at Final Assessment for many years, and Chair of the Board in two of our most turbulent years.
Vanessa Reynolds Actively involved in many areas of the Course over many years – most especially as Director of Initial Training, and Convenor of the Handbook sub-committee.
Mike Scowen A tireless worker for many years; outstanding as Director of Appraisals and Director of Final Assessment.
Phil Waring Second only to Bill Bewsher for long and distinguished service as Chairman of the Board, and Director of Final Assessment for two years.
Search & Rescue connections
There are a number of references to the Victoria Police Search and Rescue Squad scattered through this document. The BMTAB has enjoyed a very close relationship with the Squad right from the beginning. Alan Tickell and Bill Brand were both very influential at that time (and ever since). The Police have generously supported us with manpower, vehicles, radio equipment and ropes.
I like to think that they have also benefited from the association. Most members of the Squad have done one or more of our Courses and gained considerable benefit from that experience. They have gained a close appreciation of the abilities of a large number of the bushwalkers and ski tourers who are members of the Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs Search and Rescue Section. This must have been useful for the Police organising serious searches over the years. I know that a number of our people have been in the “frontline” in some of the major searches. Our Search and Rescue practice day at the end of Final Assessment has been valuable for both bodies and been a useful recruiting device for the FVWC Search and Rescue Section. The mutual understanding and many friendships which have grown out of this long relationship will have value for many years.
One of the most widely known, respected and useful elements of the work of the BMTAB has been the Course Handbook. The Handbook has always been highly valued as the best reference work on outdoor recreation leadership in Australia. In his endorsement of the latest edition, the chair of the Outdoor Recreation Council of Australia said: “It is regarded as the definitive text for leading others in outdoor pursuits …..” Schools, universities and other groups throughout Australia have bought the book in impressive numbers. More than 30,000 copies have been sold.
Of course, the original purpose of the book was for use as the primary text for people doing the BMLC. It has certainly fulfilled that function. I have seen many well-thumbed copies and heard it quoted in many conversations on the track and in camp.
Each edition has been the result of a lot of work by a good many people. The various editorial subcommittees have always managed to find people with appropriate expertise to contribute chapters on the various technical topics. They have also been able to present the whole work in an interesting and readable fashion.
The very first appearance of the Handbook was a rather dull grey provisional edition produced in 1977. This was soon followed by the official First Edition (with green cover) in 1978. That was reprinted with corrections in 1981. In 1986, the Second Edition (with colour cover of bushwalkers climbing the Bon Accord Spur) was published. For both the First and Second Editions, the subcommittee was chaired by Stuart Brookes. The Second Edition was reprinted with corrections in 1994. These corrections were mainly the work of John Retchford and myself.
The current edition is the result of nearly four years work by the subcommittee led by Vanessa Reynolds, with a great deal of support from Monica Chapman and Steve Manders. It involved a complete rewrite and the addition of a volume of new material to cover ski touring as well as bushwalking. It has maintained, and even extended the value and reputation of the BMTAB Handbook and is expected to continue to serve the Australian outdoor recreation community well into the future.
The Course newsletter has had a few ups and downs over the years but has always served a useful function. At its best, it was an excellent vehicle for information about the Victorian outdoor scene and had a circulation of a few hundred copies quarterly. Occasionally, it disappeared for many months, and a few of the later issues contained only reproduced notices about events.
As mentioned elsewhere the founders were Carla Miller and Mary Trayes, but their infant publication (in 1971) only lasted two issues. It was not until 1975 that it reappeared under the editorial guidance of Tony Kerr. Tony then produced almost every issue for the next 10 years. Robin Hunt was editor for the next two years and then an editorial group (“the gang of four”) took over for several years. The constant member of this group was Bill Ellemor who produced many issues, supported by Neville Byrne, Vanessa Reynolds and Ellen Finlay; with Ian Nicholson, Sally Arneil and David Jones each producing one or two issues as members of this group. This system seemed to work quite well.
In later years, the task seems to have fallen upon the Executive Officer of the day and some of those issues were a bit below the usual standard. Most recently, Margaret Leigh has capably carried the task for the last several issues. Cost constraints forced the board to cut the circulation to just current Course Members, staff and subscribing members of the association.
Not a lot of newsletters last for 30 years. This one did so by remaining generally relevant and informative. I think it was another of our successes.
Some Memorable Moments
A selection of favourite old stories
An old bushwalker friend of mine used to say that ‘bushwalkers are the most anecdotal of people’. We love to relate the little stories about our experiences in the bush and elsewhere. In the days when campfires were fashionable, the yarns would go on far into the night. The BMLC had a good store of favourite stories and it would be a great shame if these were all lost in the mists of time. So I shall attempt to record a few of them for posterity.
❖Applicants for the Course have always been required to list their previous bushwalking experience on the Application Form. For many years, it was the custom for a few of the staff to gather at Bill Bewsher’s home in Glen Iris on Melbourne Cup Day, for the purpose of reviewing the application forms for the new intake. One of the applications I read listed the TOTAL experience of the applicant as : “A 20 mile walk near Lilydale; completed 6 miles of it.”
That application was rejected.
❖In the very early years of the Course, the Howmans Gap Camp was not fully staffed on a permanent basis. There was a permanent resident caretaker named Harry, and when a group was booked into the camp, a cook and basic kitchen staff were employed to provide meals for the group. For the first few years we had a cook known as Mrs G. She was a lady of German descent and of rather stern countenance. The meals were quite good but the rules of the kitchen were rigid. Our requests for late meals or anything out of the normal were always a problem. Until someone came up with the idea of presenting Mrs G. with a carton of beer on the first night. After that, nothing was a problem.
❖I think it was in V4 or V5 that we had a Course Member who was an expert tickler of trout. While walking in Rocky Valley he would lean down into a creek and quickly bring out a fine trout. Several other Course Members, and a few members of staff, were quick learners and quite soon there were many strange packages to be found in Mrs G.’s refrigerators in the kitchen. In much later years, there were stories about a staff member (resident in Mt. Beauty) who may or may not have tickled trout in the West Kiewa aqueduct and may or may not have been caught in the act!
❖One year a Course Member who lived in Gippsland decided to drive his large four-wheel-drive vehicle over the High Plains from Shannonvale, despite there being a pretty good cover of snow on the road. He had no trouble with the snowdrifts but when he got over the wall of the Rocky Valley Dam he found a big steel barrier closing the road for the winter. He had no trouble with that either. He just winched it out of the rain-softened ground. Someone from the Falls Creek Committee of Management came down to inquire who it might have been but nobody knew. The senior police officer who was on the Board and on the Staff of Howmans that week knew least of all. I can still remember him insisting “Don’t tell me anything – I don’t want to know anything about it!”
❖About the same period, we had a General Practitioner Doctor (who had done a fair bit of bushwalking) who used to come up to Howmans to deliver a lecture on ‘First Aid in the Bush’. A few qualified First Aid people have told me that doctors generally don’t know much about First Aid, but this bloke certainly managed to hold the interest of his audience. I can vividly remember him describing the utilisation of a spoon in the treatment of severe constipation. Happily, I have never had to confront the problem in my own first-aid experience. For one thing I only carry one spoon and that’s in my cutlery set.
❖In another of the early years at Howmans Gap we contracted a motivational speaker whose name was Ian W. Peterson. I have never forgotten that name, and I doubt that I ever will. I don’t remember much of what he spoke about – except one thing. He ran a session on how leaders might deal with a major crisis….when the weather is appalling and everything else is going bad, what should you do ? He suggested that we should remember his initials – I. W. P. “Use those letters to remind you that, no matter how bad things may seem, It Will Pass.” I have used this little device a few times since then and it has helped me to remember that most of these problems are transient. It has also seemed to cheer up members of my party who were beginning to wonder if the Gods had turned against us.
❖In 1976 the Course attracted rather more media interest than at any other time. The Melbourne Sun sent a reporter and a photographer to Howmans Gap for the Initial Training Week and published a double page spread of pictures. The reason for all this was that we had three Course Members who were VFL footballers. Two of them played for Essendon and one for St Kilda. Only one of them actually completed the Course, and not until 1981, so we did not get any publicity for the Final Assessment Week in the following years. The main reason why Neil Roberts of St Kilda took so long to finish was that he was injured in a car accident with Ron Barassi and was unable to do Interim Training walks for about a year.
❖In 1985, I had in my Howmans group a Course Member who was a Major in the Army Reserve. He was a capable walker and a good skier but he was inclined towards the military style of leadership. On the last day of the three-day walk we were coming down the spur from near Mt Fainter South, aiming to hit the road bridge over the West Kiewa, and our Major was the nominated leader for the section. As we started down the chosen spur he turned to one of the other Course Members and asked (?) him to count our steps (as a guide to distance travelled). After nearly an hour of occasionally scrubby descent and climbing over logs, we stopped for a rest. After the rest our leader again turned to the other fellow and said something like “Right, start counting steps again.” The reply was something like “Count ‘em yourself, I’ve had enough”.
❖Bruce Vine was a BMLC Graduate in 1975 and later served for many years as a staff member. He was noted (notorious?) for his consistent promotion of the famous “Vapour Trails Theory”. Jet aircraft flying over the Bogong High Plains sometimes leave little or no vapour trail and at other times leave a trail right across the sky. Sometimes these very long trails will be distorted by strong winds in the upper atmosphere. According to the theory, the “little or no trail” situation is an indication that the weather will be fine in the next 24 to 36 hours. A very long and broad trail tells us that rain can be expected within 24 hours. And if the trail is distorted by winds then we can expect strong winds with the rain. This theory is supported by many “old bushies” and is not wholly rejected by the more scientific students of mountain weather. However, Bruce copped a fair bit of “rubbishing” over it, largely because of the certainty with which he presented the information. “Groundsheet” has carried a number of references to it over the years.
❖Bruce also figured (or did not figure) in an amusing incident one year. At the end of the three-day walks at Howmans, a couple of groups were a bit late getting back to camp and consequently a bit late into the soup queue in the dining room. Bruce’s wife, Lorice, was staying at the camp and had not seen him come in with his group. She walked into the back of the dining room and, seeing a familiar figure with thinning fair hair ahead of her in the queue, she went up behind him and gave him a big hug. The only problem was, it was not Bruce. A Course Member from another group bore a pretty good resemblance when viewed from behindso he got the hug !
❖For several years we used to have a February training weekend in an area called Whroo in Central Victoria. Most people drove up on the Friday evening to an appointed meeting spot in the bush and camped there in readiness for the navigation activities on Saturday morning. On one dark and moonless night a Course Member who had partaken of a hasty meal of doubtful quality while on his way to Whroo, woke at about 2.00 am. with considerable discomfort in his abdomen. He quickly realised that he had to go. He grabbed his toilet paper and trowel and tore off into the bush. After he had achieved some degree of comfort he attempted to return to his tent. After about 10 minutes or more of stumbling around in the scrub he had not found the tent and in fact had no idea where it might be. He did have his trusty whistle on a cord around his neck so he decided that this was his only hope of salvation and commenced to blow it loud and long. After a few minutes a number of torches flashed in the darkness from the area of the camp and he was able to return and find his tent. He was asked a few polite questions in the morning.
❖The Sunday morning program at Whroo involved sending applicants out on their own to follow a given course through a number of checkpoints in the bush. One athletic applicant missed his first checkpoint (while heading in an easterly direction) and kept going out of the bush and into farmland for nearly 10 km until he reached the Goulburn River near Murchison. Fortunately, a resident of Murchison pointed him in the right direction back towards Whroo and we found him later in the day. He got an ‘A’ for persistence and a ‘E’ for map-reading !
❖A small number of unfortunate people suffer from what I call ‘mapping dyslexia’. One such person was an accountant in his 40’s who desperately wanted to undertake the BMLC course. For three years in a row he applied for the Course and failed the initial screening weekends. I particularly remember his final attempt at Whroo. We sent him out, with one of our best navigators, who asked him to lead the small group on a leg of about a kilometre to a nominated Grid Reference which was the summit of a small but distinct hill. The poor man carefully calculated the bearing to be followed and the distance to the point. He then set off, grimly counting his steps as he walked. Half-way up the small hill he stopped and announced that this was the spot. He seemed to be unable to grasp that the group of concentric circles on the map represented a hill and the middle of the smallest circle was the top.
❖During the 1980s we regularly used the Mt Samaria National Park as one of the venues for the First Assessment weekend. On one such weekend I had in my group an applicant who was a scientific officer with the national parks service. His name was Malcolm. On the Saturday night we were camped at the ‘White Gums’ campsite on the plateau. As we sat around after dinner Malcolm suddenly announced that there were Pygmy Possums nearby – he could hear them and he could smell them. One or two people were a bit dubious, but a torch was produced and Malcolm promptly showed us the pygmy possums. The following year he attended the Final Assessment week at Too Rour and during the day of navigation testing he mentioned that he could smell koalas. He pointed to some droppings on the ground but the sceptics were not wholly convinced. On the final day of the week we had the usual Search and Rescue Practice. On this occasion, a staff member who happened to be a pipe smoker was chosen to act as the lost person for whom the searchers were looking. He hid himself carefully in quite thick bush but when Malcolm’s group was about 100 metres away, Malcolm said “He’s over that way, I can smell him!”. The sceptics were soon confounded.
A few tense times in the field
The Berringa Bushfire
In 1972 the First Appraisal Weekend was planned to be held in an area of bush at Berringa, south-west of Ballarat. On the Friday evening (1st Dec.) I was driving up the Highway towards Ballarat when we noticed a huge column of smoke in the west. We learned from the radio that it was slap bang in the area which we had intended to use. The chief organiser of our weekend was a Board Member named Vic Moss. Vic had gone up to the area early but was stopped at a road block just past Ballarat. He managed to put up a sign to attract the attention of any of our staff or applicants who reached the road block. With a snap decision he directed them to the Lake Burrumbeet Camping Ground on the Western Highway just past Ballarat. He also got a message back to Melbourne to tell staff what was happening. Somehow he managed to contact all but three of the applicants and direct them to the new venue. By mid-morning he had redrawn the whole program of activities to fit the rather unsuitable terrain at Lake Burrumbeet and to account for the slight reduction in numbers. I have long regarded it as one of the great feats of organisation under quite intense pressure and against severe difficulties. From then on, we always nominated an alternative rendezvous point in the notes for our Appraisal Weekends.
The Great Flood/s
The River Crossing exercise at Howmans Gap has always been one of the psychological highlights of the Initial Training Week. It was never more so than in 1979. George Powell was the organiser of the activity and George was never a man to do things in a casual or half-hearted manner. He made sure that all bases were covered! But this year he (and everybody else) was taken by surprise. At the moment when one of the lightest Course Members in the group was half way across the river it suddenly became apparent that the water had changed colour dramatically and was rising at a frightening rate. George was on the bank and started screaming at the top of his very adequate voice: “GET HER OUT OF THERE!” The staff in a wetsuit in the middle managed to help the young woman to the shore safely, but George had nearly lost his voice from shouting over the raging torrent. Since that day, we have always had a lookout, with a police radio, up at the bridge over the West Kiewa River, and someone at the crossing site with another radio.
After 10 years of this arrangement, some were beginning to think that it was a token gesture. Then in 1990, the organiser at the crossing site (Bruce Vine) was surprised to hear a crackling voice on the radio (Kay Peterson) declare: “The river is rising !” After a few seconds of disbelief he ordered a quick evacuation from the river. Tony Kerr sensed an opportunity for some dramatic photos so he climbed up onto a very large rock just near the junction with the East Kiewa. The river rose so rapidly that he was quickly cut off from the bank and was forced to stand on the rock for about 40 minutes before he could get back to dry land. He was not alone, but that is another story!
The Real Shelley Search
In 1982, the Search & Rescue Practice session on the last day turned into a real search. As usual, the activity began on the previous day with the Navigation exercise in the pine forest, leading into the solo Bivouac overnight. The Bivouac area was across the old rail line from the pine forest and it was the practice to have a staff member at a key point on the rail line to check that people had reached the appropriate area. For many years it was staffed by Hazel Merlo, and the spot became known to us as ‘Hazel’s check point’. As usual, everyone was accounted for by Hazel, but next morning one Course Member failed to show for breakfast in the field. After the nominated deadline had passed we did some shouting and a quick scan of the Bivouac area without success. The Police representatives present took charge and the group set about a full-scale search of the immediate area and some roving patrols in adjacent areas. It was all called off at about 2.00pm when a radio message from the Shelley Camp told us that the Course Member had walked back into Camp, having been given a lift there on a timber truck! We never did get a satisfactory explanation of what had happened and that person did not obtain the Certificate.
The Broken Leg at Howmans
In 1992, the three-day walks started in poor weather but the last two days were not too bad and most of the groups were back in camp by the scheduled time on the last evening. Just one group did not arrive at their pick-up point near the McKay Power Station. They had been scheduled to come down the ridge from Mt Fainter South, cross the West Kiewa under Mt. McKay, and walk up to the Power Station. Some time after dark, a message reached the camp. A member of the group had sustained a broken leg and half of the group were camped on the spur with the victim while half had walked out to seek help. It was considered impossible to attempt a rescue that night but full preparations were made for the morning. The Police S & R members on staff were able to contact Melbourne and arrange for the Police helicopter to come in and search along the valley early next morning. Ground rescue teams were organised from our own people and were driven down to the river at first light. The forest was so thick that, despite reasonable weather, the helicopter crew was unable to locate the group in the first few runs up and down the valley. It was not until about 11.00am that the helicopter returned and found the group. The victim was winched out and the rest of the party was assisted by ground parties which reached them about this time. There was a bit of criticism of certain aspects of the affair from various interested individuals, but on balance it seemed to me that everyone did what seemed best to them at the time, and apart from the victim, no-one suffered injury or significant loss. It was a reasonably good outcome for all concerned.
Three memorable organisational events
The Ministerial Delegation
In August 1977, the Board arranged to see the then Minister to present a newly developed 5-year Plan for the work of the Board. The Plan covered the continued development of the BMLCC and made a case for the appointment of a full-time Executive Officer. It also proposed that Victoria should develop a Mountain Training Centre along the lines of the National Centres in the UK and USA. We had heard a whisper that the Minister had seen a couple of these on one of his trips overseas and was impressed by what he saw. Our delegation was led by Stuart Brookes, with Garry McIntosh, Graeme Young and myself as the support crew. The Minister was running two portfolios at the time and was a very busy man. We assembled at one of his offices in Swanston Street at about 6.00pm and were duly ushered in to see him. The presentation was only going fairly well until we got to the part about the Mountain Training School. He suddenly became much more interested, indeed animated, and informed us that he thought it was a very good idea. He would speak to his staff about finding funds to start planning for the Mountain School, and oh yes, you can have your full-time Executive Officer as well!
We went out into the evening, congratulating ourselves on our success. It was then that Stuart said: “Did you hear him fart in the middle of our presentation? And he didn’t even apologise !!” I must admit that I did not personally hear the offending flatulence. Perhaps Stuart was in a better (or worse) position in the room, or perhaps the Ministerial cushion was one of those leather ones which can make curious noises when moved under pressure. Or perhaps Stuart correctly identified the source of the pressure – we will never know. What we do know is that he found $30,000 for a study on the feasibility of the Mountain Training Centre idea. That study took about 18 months to come up with a plan which looked reasonably workable, but it got a very big ‘thumbs down’ from nearly every sector of the outdoor community so it went no further.
The First National Conference
In 1989, my associate in South Australia, Peter Kellett, managed to obtain a grant of $5,000 from the Commonwealth Government for the purpose of organising a national conference to attempt to find common ground in outdoor leadership training across the various States. He and I did a lot of work contacting interested groups in all States, finding a venue, planning a program and appointing leaders for the various sessions. I did most of the transport organising – most of the subsidy was spent on air fares to get the people to Adelaide. Our Board, being the oldest and biggest player in the field, played a major role. We had five people attend and most were involved in running sessions. The three States with no formal training programs were very keen to learn more about how we ran our Courses (STLC was operating by then). The Conference was judged to be a great success, with much goodwill, common interest and enthusiasm in evidence. We planned to have a follow-up gathering in a couple of years, but were overtaken by the new National Training Agenda, which was starting to move on Outdoor Recreation Training by then.
As they say in the classics, the rest is history. Over the next few years a vast amount of effort was invested in trying to develop the competency based model for Outdoor Recreation Training. As far as I can see, it still is not fully functioning and it seems to have fairly low acceptance by the community. I still believe that the practical training and assessment model which we talked about and were all enthusiastic about at the Adelaide conference in 1989 would have produced a far better outcome for a fraction of the cost. The National Training Agenda had us lumped in with the Racing Industry and the Arts and it all became so non-specific and generalised that it is difficult to find a tree among all the wood.
The ‘High Fliers’ at Shelley
In the ‘golden years’ of the BMLC we used to have roughly 30 people present for Final Assessment at Shelley each year. May 1980 was the big blip on the chart. That year we had 45 Course Members at Shelley. The field testing activities had to be modified to cope with this number, but the greatest tension seemed to be in the lecture sessions where a rather competitive atmosphere developed. People seemed to be competing for the attention of the staff.
During the time we were at the Shelley Camp, the Forests Commission were actively clearing some nearby hills ready for planting pines. They had pushed up great windrows of debris and were attempting to burn these. One day I was out in the field with Stuart Brookes, checking some aspect of the next day’s activities. As we drove back along the main road towards the Camp we reached a point where the Camp buildings were directly aligned with a burning windrow on the hill behind.
Stuart, only half joking, said: “Blimey, it looks like they have set fire to the Camp !”
The next day was bitterly cold and, as I dashed across the yard to grab a jacket from my room, I was grabbed by a Course Member who was a member of my walking club. “Rod” he said, “I’m leaving, I’ve had enough of these high fliers going for the big marks in there !” I tried to persuade him to stay, but no, he had made up his mind. I drew upon everything I could remember of Mike Harrington’s sessions on Conflict Resolution and after about 40 minutes I won him over. He stayed, but we had both missed lunch and I was nearly hypothermic from standing in the freezing wind all that time. He went on to obtain the Certificate.
Our worst disaster
Tom Kneen was a very experienced bushwalker and ski tourer. He had been an active member of the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club for many years. He served as an instructor on some of the Outward Bound courses, which preceded the foundation of the Board. He was among the most active of the group of MUMC members who built the hut on the NW Spur of Mt.Feathertop. He was also vitally interested in the Federation Hut on the Bungalow Spur. Few if any people knew Mt.Feathertop as intimately as he did. He occasionally offered to lead a BMLC Snow Walk on the mountain. In August 1985, he was the appointed leader of such a Snow Walk, with Peter Hicks as his co-leader. In the days before the walk, Peter contracted a bad dose of influenza and had to pull out of the trip. Tom undertook to take the trip without a co-leader. This seemed to be acceptable in view of his great experience on that mountain. The group camped near the Memorial Cross on the Saturday night, and at 8.30 am on Sunday, Tom and five Course Members set off to climb to the summit in strong wind and patchy visibility. From the final ridge they could see the edge of the cornice a long way over to their right. As they neared the summit visibility deteriorated to a virtual white-out. Tom took over the lead, with the stated intention of steering them further away from the cornice. A few moments later a huge block broke away, taking Tom with it. One other member dropped and slid about 40m down the slope, and two more dropped vertically about 3m landing on their feet. The remaining two were still on top. All were pretty shocked and took a long time to get themselves out of their precarious situation. The snow was very wet from rain and warm weather so was very heavy. A full-scale search and rescue operation was launched that night and continued for more than a week, but Tom’s body was not found until a couple of months later in the spring thaw. Searchers reported that the gully (some 500m below the summit) resembled a European avalanche dump, about 300m long, 10m wide and possibly 6m deep.
A memorial service for Tom Kneen was held on 10th September and was attended by over 400 people. They included many bushwalkers, ski tourers, and conservationists, and a strong representation from the National Parks Service and the Bureau of Meteorology (where he had worked as Victoria’s principal flood forecaster). It was an impressive tribute to a man who was both popular and highly esteemed by all who knew him.
A life saved
The Final Assessment Week at Shelley in May 1982 was notable for consistently cold, and frequently wet, weather. Near the end of the week we noticed a big Army truck stop on the road outside the Shelley Camp at about 5.00pm. It sat there for quite a while before an officer came into the camp and asked if he could use our phone. He tried a couple of times but was unable to get an answer from the number he called. He finally confided that he was trying to raise the medical officer at Puckapunyal Army Camp, because he had a sick soldier in the truck. The Army Reserve had been conducting a major exercise in the mountains of north-east Victoria for a whole week.
The mostly young Reservists had been required to survive under bush conditions and in poor weather, and one of them had collapsed earlier this day. We asked why he did not simply take the lad to Wodonga Base Hospital. His reply was that they had to keep it all within the Army organisation and he wanted to contact Puckapunyal for advice on what to do.
We invited him to bring the whole group into our lounge room to warm up while waiting for some contact with his superiors. About 40 young people trooped in, all wearing nylon jungle green uniforms and mostly looking rather cold and wet. The one who had collapsed was in a bad way and virtually had to be carried in. It was fortunate that we had Bev Trease staying in the camp for the week. She is a highly experienced nurse, and when she saw the young man she urged that we get him into a bed in a warm room. Within an hour we had six or eight of them in beds or on mattresses in the warmest room we could muster, and it looked like an Army field hospital. Almost all of our staff and many Course Members were kept busy looking after the sick or the wet and cold. During this time, reinforcements arrived from the field headquarters of the unit, including the Colonel in charge and a very large Army radio vehicle, which looked as if it had come from the siege of Tobruk. It had an aerial, which stuck up at least 3m above the vehicle, but it did not manage to make contact with Puckapunyal or anybody else. In our “field hospital” the seriously ill young man was having periodic fits in which four or five people were needed to hold him down. We began to insist that the officer contact Wodonga Base Hospital and finally he relented. I vividly remember seeing Jeff Frost step over to the Police vehicle, instantly get on to the Wodonga Police on the UHF radio and quickly arrange for an ambulance to be sent to us. The ambulance covered the 80km distance in record time. As soon as the ambulance driver heard Bev Trease’s crisp, professional summary of the situation, he snapped: “Get him in here quick!”. He returned to the hospital, again at high speed, and the young man’s life was saved. The rest of the group recovered quickly in our care, and our wonderful chef, Russell Jeavons, provided a hot roast dinner for the entire group. The Colonel was very grateful for this and assured us that we would be reimbursed for the cost of the meals, but somehow, when he got back to “Civvy Street”, he forgot about that. We never received any official thank you, and the Army managed to suppress almost all news of the event in the local media.
Some noteworthy Assessment trips
❖One of the first Assessments I did for the BMLC was in the area of The Crinoline, north of Licola. The Assessee was Evelyn Smith and she arranged to provide transport for me in her Mini-Minor. We left Melbourne after work on Friday night and by the time we reached Traralgon the Service Stations were all closed. We camped for the night near Glenmaggie, hoping to be able to get petrol at Licola. We could too, but unfortunately she ran out about three km short. Happily, this was in the section along the valley of the Macalister River where the road is pretty flat. I got the job of pushing the Mini while Evelyn steered. We met up with her group at Licola, and the rest of the trip went well so I did not deduct too many marks for bad organisation.
❖In the same area several years later I was the Assessor for Sally Johnson. We met at the old school camp near Breakfast Creek and left a couple of cars there, including mine. Sally gave me a lift up to the Tamboritha Saddle. As we stopped at the Saddle some people approached us seeking help – they were lost. I whipped out my map and spent some time explaining where they were and what to do. Meanwhile, Sally had organised her group and called to me that they were ready to go. I grabbed my pack and set off. About a hour later it started to rain and it was only then that I remembered that I had left my parka and water bottle on the back seat of the car. In my pack I had a piece of white plastic, which I often use to sit on at lunch. I pulled this over my shoulders and tried hard to look as if this was normal practice for lightweight bushwalkers. It was not very convincing.
Bev had her water bottle so I begged a drink from her at lunch, but it is a long day without water to reach the campsite overlooking The Crinoline. It was a pretty good trip really, except that Sally had in her group a very noisy character by the name of Roy Graham! You may know him? He went on to a long association with this Course.
❖Still in the same area (it must be jinxed!) Phil Waring often mentioned darkly an Assessment he did which crossed over from the Wellington River to the Barkly River. I can’t remember the details except that it was nearly 9.00pm and very dark when they reached camp on the river. Phil was not impressed and I don’t think the rest of the group would have enjoyed it much either.
❖John Hutchison did an Assessment, which went around the back of The Bluff. About lunchtime on the Saturday, the group visited a waterfall, and as they sidled around above the fall, the ground slipped away from under John and he dropped several feet into the bed of the creek. Very luckily, he had spun around so that his pack hit the rock first and took most of the shock of the impact. Nevertheless, he had fairly significant whiplash and general shock so the leader was very concerned about his welfare. The trip was aborted there and then, and the rest of the day was spent in getting John out of the area and into hospital in Mansfield for a medical examination. He recovered quite quickly and all agreed that the Assessee had done the right thing, so the Assessment was judged to be satisfactory.
❖Ian Bissett was the only Assessor who ‘failed’ a member of the Search & Rescue Squad. That does not imply that any others might have ‘failed’. It’s just that most of the members are quite experienced in the field and good at navigation. But this one, on this trip, had a bad day and paid the price. The route was down the spur from Mt Howitt into the Wonnangatta River under The Viking. As Ian reports it, the Assessee kept drifting off the crest of the ridge, down into more difficult terrain. Another member of the Squad urged him to keep up on the ridge but after briefly regaining, it he continued to slip off down one side. Ian felt that this was a cardinal fault and he was not satisfied with the explanation the Assessee gave for his actions so he marked it as a failed Assessment. Some people were not entirely happy with the decision, but the Board stood behind their Assessor and that was the end of the matter.
❖We have had some quite unusual Assessment Walks over the years. There was one trip with a group of visually-impaired people and at least one with people who had mild intellectual disability. (Some uncharitable people might claim that this is not unusual in bushwalking groups!)
Scott Chapman graduated in 1984. One of his assessment trips was in the Mt Samaria State Park with a group from the Bushwheelers Club. This club caters for people whose disabilities confine them to a wheelchair. They enjoy getting out into the bush as much as the rest of us, and this club helps them to achieve their goal. A few able-bodied walkers are necessary to help them, and need to be prepared to assist in many ways. The wheel chairs are limited to well-formed tracks. Short side trips are possible, but only if the chair people can be carried. Bill Ellemor did the Assessment and was impressed with the way Scott worked with the group. It was hard work at times but everybody enjoyed the experience.
The Legacy of the Courses
Was it all worthwhile ? It is sadly true that many Victorians who are not part of the outdoor recreation community might well ask that question. The impact of the Courses has not been widely understood or appreciated. We were too busy trying to do a good job. We did not have the time or skills for self-promotion. Anyone who checks the record will soon see that it was much more than just worthwhile, it was wonderful.
We saved lives. Apart from the incident described above, there can be little doubt that the training given to hundreds of Victorians (and some others) has enabled many of them to avoid, or escape from, potentially life-threatening situations. Back in the 1980’s, Bill Brand produced some statistics which showed that, in a period of 12 years when school bushwalking activities had increased tenfold, the number of calls upon the Search & Rescue Squad to rescue or search for school bushwalking parties remained at about the same number per annum. In New South Wales, where there is no equivalent leadership course, the number of mishaps in school parties increased disturbingly. Some will argue that all this is only inferential but I am convinced that our Courses played a very positive role in reducing misadventures in Victorian State School Outdoor Education groups. Apart from the obvious social value in reducing deaths or injuries, the lessened demand for costly search and rescue activities has saved the State large sums of money.
Better experiences. I am sure that thousands of young or inexperienced Victorians have enjoyed more satisfying and pleasurable experiences in the outdoors because their groups have been led by our graduates or trainees. For many of them a concurrent improvement in self-reliance and maturity will have had a lasting benefit upon their lives.
An example for others. The BMTAB were pioneers in their field. Other States looked at us with admiration and sought to follow our example. Even other disciplines such as canoeing saw value and drew upon our experience. Many bushwalkers and ski tourers who have had no direct contact with our Courses have benefited from the higher standard of performance which they have observed in our graduates. This is most notably true in the adventure tourism field where our graduates have effectively ‘raised the bar’.
For ourselves. One matter, which can easily be overlooked, is the satisfaction many of us gained from working in a pretty good outfit. And a lot of us have made many good friends along the way. I have made more close friends among BMTAB staff and Course Members than from any other area of my life.
Victoria, and Australia, should be grateful for the excellent work done by the BMTAB over the past 35 years. We can close the book with some pride in what we have achieved.