When I get asked why I do things crazy things I do, I always try to think of something profound to say, everyone likes to hear the philosophical quotes like the famous “because it’s there” spoken by George Mallory in 1924 as he laid siege to Everest, but the truth is I come from humble beginnings and hopefully after understanding the making of the man you won’t need to know why.
My upbringing I guess you could say was a little away from the normal. Two babies in the back of a beat up old V8 Kingswood, mum and dad in the front and nothing but the shimmering red centre of Australia through the windscreen. My sister and I grew up on the road as our parents moved from place to place throughout the remote regions of Australia, searching for their little niche in this big open country. From coast to coast to the beautiful dessert I think I have lived just about everywhere. The Northern Territory was a definite favourite of my fathers. The wide open spaces, beautiful landscapes and that unforgettable monsoon smell as the rains made their way across the dessert is why he called the place god’s country. They sought out the most remote cattle stations in the Territory and called them home. Some stations would take a week of driving simply to cover half the boundary fence, filled with kangaroos up to seven feet tall, snakes, crocs and hundreds of thousands of cattle. I loved the bush as a boy, running off with the twenty two under one arm and the fishing rod in the other with mum yelling, “Be home for dinner”; in the background is the way every young lad should grow up. I learnt the dangers of the bush early with dogs getting taken by crocs and mum shooting snakes every day with the shotgun, it was hard not to pay attention.
My sister and I had to attend school via the radio. We were the only two kids on most properties so the radio was needed to contact the teacher once a day for about an hour each day. The study books were sent out from the closest city, usually Mount Isa the most western city in Queensland, and then once a day we would tune in to the correct frequency and go through our daily work. The radio would crackle on and the teacher in Mount Isa would come on and find out who is here today and we would all say our names. She would then ask us to all say something, a story of what is happening in our area in regards to the cattle is a common response and then we would open our books. By the end of the hour we would have completed a few questions each and then it was time to sign off with each kid saying goodbye in turn. For me as soon as the radio was placed back on its hook I was out the door and heading towards the cattle yards to help with the processing of the cattle. Mum would sometimes bail me up long enough to make me put my boots on to protect my feet, but most of the time I would be running over the hot rocks and prickles bare foot. The cattle yards are where they removed horns, branded, and de-nutted all the cattle and it was a rough place to be. The ringers were all hard men and I knew to stay out of there way at all times otherwise id cop a smack. So id stand on the top run of the fence and watch the men at work, occasionally joining in with a cattle prod or two when needed. The aboriginal ringers would gather up the cut out testes of the cattle and cook them over a fire right there in the yards. A delicacy to them but not one I never took part in.
Once my sister and I were around the age of 12 our parents decided we were in need of an education that the radio couldn’t provide. So a little road trip of about 1700km to a little town called Ingham in North East Queensland was in order. Being from the bush where it was just my sister and I, to school that had a few hundred students came as a bit of a shock. A then again once I started high school at thirteen it was even worse. I was bullied for being a tubby kid for the next two years but still managed to gain a close group of friends during the whole ordeal. When I was fifteen a growth spurt and a new found love for running and weight lifting put a stop to the bullying and placed me as captain of the football team and sports captain for the school. It was around this time that an interest in the army came to the surface. My great grandfather served in WW1 and my grandfather was involved in WW2 so there was a history of service in my family and I had it in my mind to serve as soon as I finished school. That thought marinated for the next few years while I was playing lots of rugby league, fishing every weekend and generally doing what teenage boys do. Then after graduation my feelings towards the military were just as strong as they always were so at seventeen I was shipped off to begin training as an infantry soldier in the Australian army.
I was the youngest recruit there by a few years but I was handling the orders and rules fairly well. I guess it was because I only just completed school and left home where there was plenty of rules and restriction already. Some of the other guys cracked fairly early on in the training, by the second week we had lost four and one guy tried to kill himself by repeatedly running at full speed into his metal locker. The physical side of the training was what I was enjoying the most. The sessions were the hardest I have ever done by far and I was loving it. We would do weights circuits, running training, pool sessions, pack marches and sometimes a smash program of everything was thrown in. To build up our endurance to carrying lots of weight on our backs we started doing short pack marches of around 5km with only 10kg. The week after it would be 8km with 12kg, until by the end of the initial 6 weeks, marching 20km carrying 25kg was a breeze. By the time I was a qualified infantry soldier we were marching up to distances of 40km carrying up to 45kg of equipment. The trick that I found to work the best when carrying a pack was to never take it off. Any time we would stop for a break the others would take their packs off and sit down, I would just sit straight down with the pack still on my back and just lean against it. This ensured that the pack remained in a comfortable position as soon as we set off again with no adjustment needed.
A big motivation for joining the Army was to travel, and talk started to float around between the men about a little place called East Timor. East Timor is part of a small country that wanted to become a republic and get out from under Indonesian rule. West Timor however wanted to remain the way it is was. This caused massive tensions between the two, so with the help of Indonesia the West Timorese militia invaded the East and slaughtered thousands of Innocents. The Australian army as a part of the United Nations was asked to go in and stop the killing. To a trained infantry soldier this was music to our ears. When people ask me why you would want to go to war, I can only say that it is like a fireman training for years and never fighting a fire. We have trained for a long hard time to do a job, so we want to go and do it. Orders came down from the commander of the Army for my battalion to be ready to go to East Timor on short notice. I started to get excited, this will be my first international trip and it was to go and hunt down militia in the jungles of Timor, what a dream come true.
I had my 19th birthday while I was in East Timor and it was different to most of my birthdays before or since. We were out on patrol when we received reports that there was going to be some smugglers coming in at a local boat ramp fully loaded with cargo. Cargo of what nature we weren’t sure but we thought we should check it out. We made position close to the ramp, back in the thick jungle out of the way of locals, and positioned two men in a forward position under a log at the edge of the clearing with eyes on the boat ramp. I had my turn up the front at 2330. My birthday ticked over as it was drizzling rain, the mozzies were thick and I was lying under a log in the mud. The song by Red Gum “I was only 19” about the Vietnam War started playing in my head and I managed a smile. It was only about half an hour after midnight when we noticed a boat starting to make its way towards the shore. We got on the radio to wake up the rest of the guys and get them ready for action. I got up to my knees and clicked my safety catch off. As soon as the boat touches the bank we were going to advance and take them down. My heart rate was jacked and the adrenalin was pumping. The boat was three meters form touching when shouts from a local villager hidden on the other side of the clearing rang out. The boat spun around and hit full power as it sped away into the night. We didn’t move. There was no point trying to catch the local, he would be back in the village and gone by now. A little pissed off I settled back down into the mud. Even though we didn’t apprehend the smugglers it made an exciting night and a memorable 19th birthday.
My time in the Army was the perfect start to life, I joined young and was released young at the age of 21. With the level of excitement and adrenalin I had felt in my years in the Army I couldn’t simply settle into a life of mediocrity in Australia, I hit the road with vengeance and have had some of the most extreme adventures and near misses. Here is a list of some of the things I’m talking about.
• Hand feeding wild hyenas in South Africa
• Diving with great whites three times
• Test of manhood-holding onto an elephant electric fence
• Wearing nothing but pink Speedos through the streets of Istanbul
• Climbing peaks in Scotland
• Witnessing tribal wars in Uganda
• Rafting the Nile, and the Zambezi
• Sitting next to a 220kg wild silverback gorilla
• Quad racing and sand boarding in the dunes of Namibia
• Vomiting into my mouthpiece 40m below while scuba diving in Zanzibar
• Ice climbing in Scotland
• Rock climbing in Wales
• Bog snorkelling championships in Wales
• Riding on the roof of a bus into the Himalayas
• Trekking to Everest Base Camp
• Watching the burning of the bodies in India
• Crossing the Buchistan dessert in Iran
• Surviving a rollover in Pakistan
• Getting mugged Krygstan
• Climbing in Kazakhstan
• Running of the bulls in Spain
• Surviving bear encounters in Alaska
I’m 26 yrs old now and am still looking for the next challenge and the next summit. People ask me when will I grow up, stop taking risks and settle down. I say to them, when are you going to start living?