outward bound, the initiation
March. 1961. Fisherman’s Point, the Hawkesbury River.
41 degrees and a northwesterly looks like any other wind on the water up here, where the beaches are made of mud and mosquitoes know no sunset.
Scoresby, ferry bound with about forty others, gazes with the stupefaction of the kidnapped at his home for the next 40 nights.
Blackmud beach, winding goat tracks all wandering up to some unpainted timber shacks under the meagre shade of skinny-limbed eucalypts all monstered by the droning shrill of the world’s best cicada population.
Outward Bound Camp!
A knot of instructors wanders away from the jetty as the ferry disembarks the new intake, some stopping a little way off to observe the new boys as others disappear into the darker grottoes of the surrounding forest.
Most of them are barefoot, bare-chested. Skinny looking men.
Later we find out that these men have climbed every mountain and walked every glacier, they have crossed every polar continent and mapped all manner of wilderness swamp and ruin upon the earth.
Now they are here, as we are, at the behest of either an optimistic employer or a disappointed parent. Payback.
Chief Instructor Ed Reid had someone bust his nose more than once and this, together with a pair of massive forearms, unblinking eyes and quiet voice, was enough to have the newcomers stand to and listen in complete silence.
‘ You will dump your bags into your huts, ‘ he whispered, ‘ now,’
‘ You will then immediately regroup in front of the mess- hall in single file, ‘ he murmured.
‘ You will enter said hall and sit at the tables, four a side,’ he rumbled.
‘ And you will not talk to anyone for the duration of your meal, if you want something, you will wait until somebody else notices and offers it to you.’
Instructor Ed Reid, veteran of two twelve month sojourns to the Antarctic, wireless operator and haircutter for Bill Tillman on his Big Ben expedition
Bill Tillman ~ Eric Shipton ~ Giant men of the past.
Scoresby, small youth of the present, wishing that this were some kind of dream.
Try sitting at a table with seven others and wanting the salt, or the pepper, or the bread or butter, or impossibly, the jam. Seven other strangers who have already, by some kind of transcendental mental connection, decided to deny you any and all of the above items.
Strangers like David from Wahroonga, church educated and a foreigner to sport and drinking and the normal bastardry of acceptable Bondi behaviour.
Like Kevin from his grazier family’s property up Moree way, Joey’s boy, rugby freak, school handball champion for the last four years. Prefect, class captain.
Or Oseve from Papua. Pigeon English, feet like leather-tonged plates, teeth like whitened ivory and a laugh like some kind of hysterical angel.
Like Antony, a cold lonesome bastard from somewhere deep in the city, who listened to no overture, who needed no friend, yet who wept ceaselessly after five days of exposure to the rain and cold on the way back from Staples Lookout.
Or like the eight boys who died later that year in the cold waters of the Hume Weir when the weather turned to icy treachery and a squall flipped their canoes. Miles from shore. One instructor found dead high up in an ancient water bound tree. Stiffened by the freezing wind.
A young body over there uncovered, laid out in the rain. Parents unknowing.
Everyone got broken that day
Two years later Scoresby and Reid met in a hotel in Chippendale and sat around for a while not saying much. Hardly meeting eyes, mostly just drinking. Cigarettes and rum, done damage done. He brought his wife along that last time, the shy English girl with dark eyes.
Both of them gone now, untraceable, lost but to memory.
note: Ed died two days ago in Tugun Qld. (16 Jan 2011) – Seaman, artist, navigator, sailor, Outward Bound instructor, Antarctic veteran, teacher, – He was a friend of all those who knew him.