Way Off Track

A story from Morgan Laudine about a Search and Rescue Exercise in the Barringtons.

14th to the 16th of September 2018.

In 2017 my life changed for the better when I joined the State Emergency Services, City of Newcastle Unit. In 2018 I joined the Bush Search & Rescue Unit as well. BSAR specialises in locating missing persons and forensic evidence in remote areas statewide. Later that same year I also joined Fire & Rescue NSW. Warning emergency services can take over your life!

In September last year I signed myself up for a search and rescue training weekend with Bush Search & Rescue and off I went in the Barrington Tops National Park for three days of searching in steep and heavily forested terrain a long way from the nearest track.  

Our search area was off the side of the Gloucester Tops plateau, above the Chichester River. The exercise was designed to test our remote area skills and equipment and also to continue the search for missing aircraft VH-MDX that disappeared in the area in 1981.

On the first day our search team of four was driven down a bumpy seldom-used fire trail and dropped at our starting point. We immediately left the trail and made our way into the world heritage listed Antarctic Beech forest a silent, dark and ancient place full of plants dating back to the time of the dinosaurs.

Our day was spent clambering over logs and brushing past tree fern after tree fern. We went further and further into the forest listing to the calls of lyrebirds and yellow tailed black cockatoos along the way. When the light started to fade we set up camp and fell asleep under a canopy of mighty Antarctic Beech trees.

On day two, things got more challenging. The terrain got steeper and the vegetation got thicker. We found ourselves neck deep in vines, negotiating scree slopes, crossing multiple gullies and hitting sheer cliffs. At one point it was taking an hour just to move 1km and I was introduced to a hiking technique known as ‘wombatting’.

Progress was slow and we were running out of daylight, so we camped on the flattest bit of ground we had seen for hours… a 45-degree slope. The map said it was flat!

I dug a bed and tied my pack to a nearby tree for the night. A couple of runaway packs had already tried to escape down the slope once. I can’t say it was the best night’s sleep I have ever had. I woke up many times as my feet started to slide away from my head . The large lump of dirt that fell into my mouth at 3am was a rather unpleasant. It was certainly an interesting place to spend to spend a night.

On the third day the going started to get easier again after a few hours we started heading up. Once we got back on to the plateau, we left the Antarctic Beech forest behind and made our way through sub-alpine woodlands full of snow gums and wombat holes. Then we crossed the Gloucester River and join the land of the path once again. We made our way along the path (a strange thing not covered in vines that could be walked along with great ease) and popped out just in time to meet our ride out and head for home. 

Despite the many search efforts conducted over the years in this remote and rugged part of NSW the aircraft VH-MDX and the five people on board remain unaccounted for.

The search continues.

Always pack your headtorch

Here’s a tall tale from a couple of #haowomen who went chasing waterfalls along the Paterson River in the Barrington Tops:


I started drawing this “map” while I was bouncing around in the back of Johannes’ ute. The ute was zooming along Paterson Forest Road, towards Mount Allyn Lookout.


Johannes had heard reports of a spectacular waterfall and gorge on the Paterson River.  He wasn’t sure exactly where the gorge would be – so he hatched a plan to hike in somewhere above the gorge, then follow the river downstream until we found it.  We would abseil down the waterfall if we needed to. We’d take some happy snaps, then pop out of the river and hike back to our car.

Johannes knew it was going to be a big day.  He tried to warn me. But for some reason, I was convinced that we were going on pleasant little wander that would keep us entertained before lunch.  Alarm bells should have started ringing when he asked Jens and…

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