or Never Let The Facts Get In The Way Of A Good Story
I looked to my left. Dirk was snoring quietly and occasionally smiling. I was happy for Dirk and his nice dream, but an extra pair of eyes would have been useful as I peered into the night grimly trying to protect his car from wallabies. It was 11:15 p.m., and we were on the notorious Imlay Rd closing in on Disaster Bay.
I should have been excited, heading as we were for yet another foray into the Nadgee wilderness, but instead I was tense and strangely uneasy. Uneasy at the behaviour I had witnessed at the Meroo paddle back in January. Behaviour of the type I had not witnessed before. OK, some would say I was overreacting, that it was hot, that it was all just innocent high spirits; just four blokes frolicking buck-naked in a balmy lake and having a good time; merely men in their unclothed splendour enjoying the freedom of the great outdoors. But was it?
At trip’s end I had rushed home to consult a dictionary to find a word to describe what had happened. And I stumbled on a scary word, under H, that confirmed my worst fears. Could I have witnessed the emergence of a form of HomoEroticism on a NSWSKC paddle?
Anyway, I was trying to put the Meroo Lake aberration behind me….all I wanted for Nadgee ’99 was a journey of adventure, rewarding paddling, thrills and spills in the surf and some good old-fashioned repartee around the campfire. For this one was a men-only affair yet again, although with some new faces.
Of the guys doing their first ‘Nadgee’ there was David Whyte, who was raring to go now he was temporarily free of editorial duties. As was Geoff Luck, who was lucky enough to be doing his first ‘paddle/camp’ on one of the best sections of the entire NSW coast. And then there was Mike Snoad, an ‘old salt’ yachtee new to sea kayaking, but one of the fittest paddlers in the group with many recent kilometres under his belt in his newly purchased TLC. Mike also boasted a monstrous, ‘in your face’ beard that quickly established itself as an object of fear and loathing in the minds of the rest of the group.
And then there was Nick Gill, a Nadgee regular until 1996, who was making yet another comeback from chronic shoulder injuries. But this comeback was different. Following a period of deep depression, Nick had taken the radical step of spending 2 years living in a cave with an aboriginal hermit and faith healer somewhere west of Alice Springs. He had returned fortified with secret and ancient techniques to control his pain.
But the changes were not just to his inner self. Our Nick had departed as a young urbane professional with a smooth complexion and a plummy ‘Adelaide academic’ accent. He had returned bigger and tougher, his skin leathery and deeply lined, and complete with an outback drawl that would make the Bush Tucker blush. But the greatest transformation was to Nick’s eating habits Shockingly, the once mild-mannered vegetarian now relished eating fresh meat in vast quantities. The lentil burger was out … Nick’s preference now was scorched lizard and, when he could get ’em, the rear end of live honey ants!
So this was the new Nick Gill .. a man who had taken the radical step of reinventing himself in a desperate quest to paddle again. But his closest friends knew that this was surely his last chance for physical redemption.
And of course Dirk. I had not invited Dirk on this trip (such a short paddle being way beneath his station) but he had actually phoned me and asked if he could come. That call was undoubtedly the proudest moment in my sea-kayaking career to date. With Dirk around it was guaranteed that the standard of campfire repartee would be world class. Also, the mere presence of a Sea Instructor gave the trip some sort of credibility in the eyes of diehard club paddlers. I was happy to have him around if things got tough.
This then was the group, a callused, rough looking, no nonsense bunch that I was sure wouldn’t easily stray into the lurid world of homocentricity. But after Meroo Lake I was taking nothing for granted…. I decided to do everything I could to ensure that this particular group stayed within the bounds of conventional paddlers’ behaviour.
We arrived at Greenglades and settled down for a sleep in the open, only to be disturbed by Mike and David’s very late arrival. Geoff and Nick were arriving the next day and would meet us at Nadgee River.
Thursday revealed a glorious morning with a slight southerly breeze. We loaded the kayaks. Mike proceeded to strap his huge swag onto his rear deck, saying it was all he had to sleep on. Mike being a bit of an unknown quantity, Dirk and I were unsure what to believe. We gently suggested he might sink when it became waterlogged, but he would have none of it. Twenty minutes later the chuckling Mike produced a Thermarest and unhitched the swag. Dirk and I made a mental note that this Mr Snoad might be a bit of a clever bottom.
After Mike and Dirk dropped Dirk’s car back at Womboyn we were ready. Prior to departing I had the guys sign a new waiver I had developed myself – this was nothing to do with accident liability, but to cover me as official Trip Report writer (particularly with this new group, certain members of which I suspected might have litigious tendencies). Anyway, in the highly unlikely event of me getting some minor detail wrong, or upsetting a fragile ego, I wanted to ensure that I had Full Legal Protection.
The four of us set off at about 9.20am. At 9.50am we rounded Winky Point to find that the southerly we had feared was diminishing rapidly, leaving almost ideal paddling conditions. An hour or so later we landed at Newtons Beach for no real reason other than Dirk wanted to. We all took a piss anyway (a traditional sea paddler ritual at each landfall) and set off again from the tricky steep-sloped beach.
Mike, Dirk and Mark at Newtons Beach
Slowly but surely Nadgee River beach came into view beyond the red cliffs. Not having paddled any distance for three months, I tired in the last hour and Dirk encouraged me to do interval training (twenty hard strokes, 10 normal, 20 hard etc) to take my mind off the pain by giving me more pain. It sort of worked. We completed the 20 kms in 3 hours.
The entrance to Nadgee River
But the wilderness experience was shattered as soon as we rounded Black Head – further up the beach were two largish aluminium boats parked in front of the southern camping area (the ‘Nadgee Hilton’). We then landed to discover two tents at the northern end campsite, shock horror …. with St George socks hanging up to dry!
Dirk was immediately elected Chief Negotiator, for if the Hilton was also taken (and at that stage we knew of no other places to camp), we were going to have to talk to these people. Dirk immediately asked to what extent were we prepared to go (eg physical violence) to ensure our right to a campsite. I was ready to spill blood, but David was less so, and Mike professed to be a pacifist, which was a shame, as I suspected the beard might be a useful ally in a stoush. We strode purposefully down to the boats (which bore Abalone licence numbers), noting that there were huge footprints leading from the northern campsite to them. A brief check of the camping area behind the boats was inconclusive as to whether it was ‘taken’. I was really pissed off – when I had booked the NPWS had said there only a couple of groups in the entire park – these people just had to be usurpers! Theories abounded – my favourite was that hordes of drunken footy thugs/abalone hunters had descended on ‘our’ Nadgee and claimed every available camp spot.
So I came up with the bright suggestion to wreck the boats, burn the tents and then paddle to Little River 3 kms to the north to set up camp. Luckily Dirk, showing maturity beyond his years, was able to restrain me. We returned to sit on the sand by the river in a coolish wind and, given our inability to properly unpack the boats, had a very disorganised lunch. Some time later the ‘abalone hunters’ appeared from the scrub at the southern end of the beach. Through my binoculars I could make out a mixture of young adults and kids .. not what we had expected. Mike walked up the beach to say g’day and reached them just as they pushed off. They seem in a hurry to leave, even more so after they spotted Mike’s beard coming at them.
As we sat around, a lone female bushwalker suddenly appeared. We chatted politely and I told her about our confusion about where to camp. She said she preferred to camp at the back of the beach anyway and, after slowly and sensuously removing her jeans (we all tried not to look), waded across the river mouth. As she walked away I hoped that she would hang around for a while – this young lady might be just the thing to help us avoid the Meroo Lake syndrome.
Mike returned saying they had been a group from Womboyn who had been fishing at Nadgee Lake. We then voted on where to camp – I preferred to go back to the Hilton but the others fancied a sandy but flat spot on the southern side of the inlet. I was treacherously outvoted. As we set up camp the campers from the northern end returned – this group turned out to be a couple of men with some young kids. They had walked in and seemed like good people. There was much mirth about how our theories (or more particularly, my theory) had been so wrong!
David then found he had forgotten his tent poles yet again, thereby becoming a Tent Pole Forgetting Legend. Me being a nice guy, I lent him my lower hoop to give him enough elevation to get in and out of his tent, the final result looking like an untidy bivvy bag. With the new campsite turning to be quite OK we established ourselves and enjoyed our first evening in the wilderness.
Friday morning was again glorious. Thinking that Nadgee had a supply, David had not brought much water. He set about finding some, and in a skilful bit of reconnaissance work, found out from the campers that there were some small fresh water pools up on the rocks. This water was drinkable if a bit ‘flat’.
Dirk and I introduced ourselves formally to Jocelyn the bushwalker, who was sitting on the beach. Jocelyn was Canadian, a vegetarian and a ‘super Greenie’, having just returned from the protests at Jabaluka. She was nearing the end of a year in Australia and was walking through the entire Nadgee – Croajingalong wilderness. As we chatted dolphins appeared heading south along the beach. Two of them broke away and casually surfed a wave in that effortless way that dolphins do. Thrilled by the scene, Jocelyn let out a cry of joy and ran towards the water to be closer to these special creatures.
Somehow the conversation got onto ticks, at which point Jocelyn remarked that she could feel something on her head … it was a large one. Dirk immediately took control, leading Jocelyn gently back to our camp where, his nursing training evident, he performed an extraction of the nasty creature with tweezers and an expert, confident hand … the sort of hand women invariably like.
Nurse Dirk extracts the tick, closely supervised by Mark
Jocelyn was thankful and offered to share some mussels with us she had been given by the kids in the other camp. Thinking this was a good idea we headed off to collect some more off the rocks. This gave Dirk just the excuse he needed to strip down to his black Gucci G-string bathers.
Dirk at one with the patient
We cooked up the shellfish and had a lively discussion about the environment, which somehow moved on rapidly to encompass human sexual interaction. I was out of my depth here and knew it. Sensing the development of a special bond between ‘doctor’ and ‘patient’ I quietly extricated myself from the conversation.
Meanwhile David headed up Nadgee River. He returned with the news that he had missed the turn up the main river, and ended up paddling as far as he could up the secondary arm, this one not blocked by fallen timber. He eventually alighted and proceeded up the creek. Holding his two-piece paddle in front of him in a V, it started to twitch uncontrollably as he closed in on running fresh water after a 100-metre walk. After 5 years of bringing our own water to Nadgee, David’s latest discovery earned him the new status of a Water-Divining Legend.
The path to fresh water
Jocelyn then borrowed David’s boat and went for a short paddle up the river with Mike. On their return we all knew it was time to turn our attention again to the sea. We bade farewell to Jocelyn, who had to leave that day if she was to rendezvous with the Mallacouta ferryman on Sunday. It was a beautiful day with blue sky, light breezes and a small swell – little danger in these sea conditions so the guys were free to choose what they wanted to do.
Mike and his beard decided to head south to have a look at Cape Howe. Dirk, David and I headed north. As we rounded the point we ran into Nick and Geoff, who were fatigued and grumpy and complained loudly that we had not been at Little River Beach to meet them as I had originally planned before being delayed by Jocelyn’s tick.
Quickly tiring of their whingeing, we paddled on. Dirk then exited his kayak for some hand-spear fishing, while I stayed close to net any fish he caught. Dirk spent almost an hour shooting his rusty spear at anything too frightened to move – typically at hapless, gentle Red Morwong, a rare fish species in that it cannot swim. This was to be one of the most boring and tedious hour’s David or I had ever spent afloat, bobbing around watching the Sea Instructor’s musclebound backside aimlessly moving around the rocks, the monotony only broken with the occasional cacophonous ‘breeching’ when he sighted his quarry. After slaughtering two of the poor creatures he thankfully tired, remounted his Seayak, and headed back to camp.
David patiently holds Dirk’s kayak while he goes spear-fishing
Having got rid of Dirk, David and I were in high spirits as we pushed on for a mini adventure to Little River lagoon 3km to the north, a place I had passed by several times. Very few sea kayakers would ever have landed here, but one who did was the great Paul Caffyn during his round-Australia epic in 1983.
The campsite at Little Arm Creek
We landed on the steep little beach and portaged onto the lagoon. It was surrounded by dense woodland but boasted a nice little camping area, complete with a couple of permanent frying pans. The lagoon was fairly full and more fresh than salt, with a classic tea-tree colour in the deep. Monster mullet cruised quietly in the shallows and heaps of small bream eyed our boats inquisitively. Leaving David to have his lunch, I paddled up the creek and caught a couple of bream for tea. Meanwhile David ruined the wilderness experience of a young bushwalking couple, who caught him urinating as they emerged from a concealed trail. They continued on, no doubt shocked and disgusted by their first ever contact with a sea piddler.
We entered the surf again to punch into a rising sea and stiffening sou’Easter. Some minutes later we saw a kayak four hundred metres further offshore heading north. It was Mike. We waved and blew whistles but there was no response. We later found he had come back up the coast looking for us, but apparently his view was obscured by the beard, which was all over the place in the wind.
David landed at Nadgee River but I continued to the headland south of the Nadgee inlet, where I caught a nice tailor as a reward for some difficult and risky trolling in lumpy, bumpy conditions.
I arrived back at camp to a strange aroma – it turned out to be Nick applying a secret balm to his shoulders (the main ingredient apparently being ‘extract of Goanna spleen’). The balm was seemingly a parting gift from Nick’s faith healer.
Tensions then arose. Dirk and I, almost physically spent as we were following our ‘hunter gathering’ exploits, realised we were also expected to clean, prepare, cook and serve the fish to the others, who, like a brood of fat, ugly chicks, were sitting back with their mouths wide open waiting to be fed. We protested at the imbalance and eventually David and Nick lent a hand.
Geoff then revealed his brand new Trangia – a wondrous, gleaming shining thing – In fact as gleaming and shiny as the brand new Nissan 4WD he had driven down from Canberra. And, I suddenly realised, Geoff also sported a gleaming, shining brand new Greenlander. I was slowly developing a character profile of Mr Luck … this was a man who had a weakness for gleaming, shining things.
It had been a good day. The potent mix of red wine and port together with the heady stench of Nick’s balm soon had everybody relaxed and chatting. We recounted our individual adventures of the day. Dirk trumped everybody by casually mentioning how, on his return from spear fishing, he had met the departing Jocelyn as she was walking south along the beach. We sensed there was more so we pressed for more detail. Reluctantly, Dirk gave us the briefest possible account.
He had paddled alongside her … Jocelyn was unsure which way to go … he had pointed out the track leading to Cape Howe … he had landed … they had talked for a while … their eyes had met … somebody suggested that the water looked good …. they had disrobed and plunged into the waves …
Ever the gentleman, Dirk’s story ended right there, but our collective imagination’s worked overtime as we envisioned how the scene might have played out, with the attractive couple emulating their dolphin cousins in a sensuous sea-ballet amidst the surging, frothing, foaming surf … .
Mother Nature then stepped in with a timely cold shower, the rain becoming heavier until by 7.45 p.m. I was first the give up the battle (I was the only one without a Gore-Tex coat) and retired for the night. In between the showers, the wind was getting stronger all the time, and my poor now single-hoop tent found itself knocked around by the gusts. Geoff, with an even cheaper tent than mine and in a more exposed position, lost his fly at one stage. By the time he had it back in place his sleeping bag and everything else inside were damp.
I woke at 11 p.m. with wet feet. Thanks to the Tent Pole Forgetting Legend, water had pooled on my sagging fly and seeped into the bottom of my sleeping bag. I lay for a while with retracted legs thinking about the dinner conversation. Pleasingly, the group had been engrossed by Dirk’s healthy tale of man meets woman. Surely with the guys focussed on this, the temptations of the H word would be held at bay for the two remaining days until we returned to civilisation. Bored, I then wrote up some of the trip report to ensure an accurate recollection of the days events – after all I owed it to the guys to get things right! Finally at midnight I left the tent and built up the fire. I then spent a remarkably satisfying 2 hours tending the fire, listening to the wind whistling through the trees and enjoying my own company (in fact, such good company I wondered why I’d brought the others…). Finally, with the gear dried and warm, I retired at 2 am for a good second kip.
Saturday dawned and we packed casually for the trip back to Merica after drying our gear in the sun. It was near low tide and we all struggled to find enough water to push off from a large sandbar at the confluence of the river and beach. It was only a moderate swell for Nadgee but David managed to find a largish set of waves to get his adrenalin flowing on the way out. The group soon split into two – Nick David and myself out wide taking in the full panoramic view, and the others closer in. Dirk then led his team to Newtons where they landed again, this time to check out the caves at the back of the beach, and no doubt to take a piss or two.
Some time later I saw a dark lump in the water. It was a seal hanging on to a large piece of seaweed.
We arrived at Merica at midday to find no one there – just the way it should be. The shape of the lagoon shoreline had changed. Obviously Merica had seen a heavy flood some months before which had scoured out a deep channel. Ocean fish had obviously taken the chance to enter the lagoon, and there were many trevally to be seen in the shallows, and predators were driving at baitfish in the shallows.
The Merica River campsite
We set up camp on the edge of the lagoon and pigged out on a late lunch before heading up river for a wash in the famous freshwater rapids. Merica River was turning on its best face for the new guys, it being a magnificent calm sunny afternoon with hardly any of the wind that so often screams along the gorge. The others pressed on while I stopped along the way a few times for a quick bit of fishing.
At last I rounded the last bend to reach the freshwater pool. As my eyes struggled to take in what was before me, I went into instant shock. Clothes were strewn everywhere; nude blokes were frolicking lewdly on the bank and in the water, naked blokes were getting in and out of their kayaks, totally in the raw blokes were trying to overturn others in their kayaks. No, I didn’t need my dictionary this time.. this was HomoEroticism, warts an’ all!
Not a pretty site as members of the NSWSKC commune with nature (and each other)
Shattered, I quickly left the scene to seek solace in some innocent fishing in the large freshwater pool above the rapids. I caught and released three beautiful bass (which incidentally were also naked, but not in the least bit offensively). I then returned to the now deserted rapids to bathe and reflect on what had happened. Despite my best efforts over three long day’s things had got out of control yet again!
I returned to the camp with a bream and a trevally for the revellers, who were sitting around listlessly after their exertions. Dirk was massaging Mike’s shoulders. I shook my head in resignation.
Despite being a bit stressed about how I was going to honestly write the Merica pool scene up, our last evening meal was actually quite enjoyable, apart from one unpleasant moment when Nick offered around a large charred skink that he had caught and cooked on the hot coals.
I observed Mike that final night at Merica (well, I was actually observing the beard in the hope that Mike was in there somewhere.. ). We were all concerned at its rate of growth .. it seemed to have expanded three inches in every direction even since we left Greenglades. Mike’s vision was obviously badly impaired and we suspected he was also having trouble breathing. We feared that surely if left to it’s own the hairy thing would eventually kill it’s host! Given that Mike seemed oblivious to the danger, we raised the delicate issue on health grounds. Mike asserted that the growth was justified purely due its massive SPF factor, but to everyone’s relief he eventually agreed to take to the beast with a hedge trimmer on his return.
Sunday morning started with a couple of light showers but then fined up to allow us a relaxed pack up. The departure from Merica River was unusually exciting, with the swell from the north east and the occasional 2 metre wave rounding the point, the swift outflow from the river making it difficult to time your run. However, we all got out without mishap and 10 minutes later were nearing our starting point, the car park at Greenglades. Except for David and Geoff that is, who had got off the beach first and had forged ahead.
Amazingly, the rebellious twosome then made landfall without any communication whatsoever with the main group. We then witnessed jubilant scenes as David and Geoff celebrated with pride their brilliantly executed landing and proof of their newfound independence from the senior paddlers. However, their joy was short lived as it dawned on them they had landed some two hundred metres north of the car park! There followed one of the more embarrassing carries in recent times.
The remaining four then took turns to land. I watched in admiration as Nick surfed in majestically on a nice wave, showing that on his day he is still capable of some of the old magic. Nick had completed the trip, a feat in itself. But sadly, at 30, it has to be said that his glory days are well behind him.
I was last to come in, making a total hash of trying to pick a decent wave for David’s camera shot, and came in limply. It was over.
Mark on his final run in
In no time Mike had taken Dirk and Geoff back to Womboyn to pick up the cars and we were packed and ready to head back to the highway and normal life. We met up at Bombala to the news that Mike had hit a wallaby on the Imlay Rd .. hopefully the last victim of the beard.
The Nadgee coast turned on a benign face on this trip and the new guys probably didn’t appreciate fully the great run that we had. The trip was full of pleasant paddling conditions and therefore free of the fear and excitement that you get with the really big seas. This perhaps explains the focus of this report – all the action on this occasion (unfortunately much of it deplorable), seemed to take place ashore. One thing is for sure .. we need some women on our trips and badly. Or would the presence of the opposite sex just present a whole new range of problems?
And would I paddle with these guys again? Uhhmmmm … looking again at those awful photos … might have to get back to you on that one …