Last week Barry shared with us the time he was nearly co-opted into the Michelin Band and of his struggle and ultimate failure to come to terms with the Flügelhorn. This week he shares another Flügelhorn story from the pages of a camping and climbing trip in Western Australia.
It wasn’t exactly inevitable that I would get involved in youth work. Coincidence played its part. I had been training on the local school track when a gorgeous young lady approached and asked if I could assist her in staging an upcoming metropolitan athletics carnival for the ‘Girls’ Society. You could have knocked me over with a feather. She had bright blue eyes and a smile that simply glistened in the sunlight.
My initial thought was to say no. Then she placed her hand on my arm and in a voice as sweet as angels said she knew I would say yes. I was gone for all money.
Whatever small successes were achieved in assisting to stage the ‘carnival were made known to the other leaders in the local branch of the ‘Boys’ Society, and before you could say ‘Bob’s your uncle’ I was being invited to become a member. Again, my initial thought was to say no. But the prospect of meeting up with a certain young lady helped make up my mind otherwise. Forgotten were the girls of Bentilee.
The Church of England Boys’ Society is similar to cubs and scouts with the one notable exception of regular church attendance. But it did surprise me to learn that there were no official camping and hiking programmes simply because none of the other leaders felt confident to conduct them.
After several discussions with the other leaders it was agreed we would commence an incremental ‘Adventure’ section of bush walking, daytime bivouacs, weekend camps, short to long distance hikes and climbing. The end result for any one of the boys would be trips upwards of six hundred kilometres from home and in some of Western Australia’s toughest terrain. The year was nineteen sixty-six.
Four years later a decision was taken to tackle Bluff Knoll in the Stirling Range National Park. As the crow flies it’s approximately 350 kilometres from Perth – 420 kilometres by road. The boys were selected on their respective participation rate and successes in the ‘Adventure’ section during the previous three years.
The Stirling Range National Park is named after the first Governor of Western Australia, Captain James Stirling. It covers 115,671 hectares stretching 65 kilometres east to west, 20 kilometres north to south. From above the stark cliff faces a panorama of magnificent views awaits.
The highest point, Bluff Knoll, is 1073 metres above sea level – or 0.7 of a mile high. During late autumn and winter the peaks are often covered in mist or fog. Sometimes in mid-winter light snow will cover them too. Because of their height and close proximity to the southern coast there can be cold changes causing the temperature to suddenly drop and rain or hail to set in which quickly turn dry riverbeds into raging torrents.
There are many tracks providing easy access to wildlife and flowers, and picnic areas with barbecue facilities are located throughout the ‘Park. The ecology is delicately balanced, and to ensure the flora and fauna are preserved camping and fires are permitted only where facilities are provided, and only then with the approval of the Rangers. To keep a close watch on all visitors the Rangers headquarters are located in the heart of the ‘Park near the turnoff to Bluff Knoll.
It goes without saying that Bluff Knoll demands respect and those who dare to climb it do so with due care and prior preparation. You can climb to the top via the rugged cliff face, or you can clamber up the five-kilometre well worn, but narrow clearing. The second method is a return walk of 3 to 4 hours, is of medium difficulty, and must be taken slowly.
Autumn in the southern half of Western Australia is an excellent time to go ‘Adventure’ camping. In fact, most of our major camping and hiking trips had been staged during those months. On this occasion it was mid afternoon on a Friday that our little band of twelve teenagers, four leaders and one mum left Perth for the Stirling Range National Park – arriving at our ‘Ranger approved’ camping area at approximately twenty one hundred hours.
The boys wanted to bivouac in one of the dry riverbeds – affectionately known as the Victoria Falls Creek. But as much as they protested they reluctantly pitched the tents in the places designated by the Rangers. The next morning they would begrudgingly offer their collective thanks for that decision because during the night the rain came down and flooded the riverbeds to overflowing – especially the Victoria Falls Creek.
So there we were with tents pitched and campfire roaring plus hot chocolate on the go. It was approximately twenty-two thirty hours when one of the boys interrupted the camp fire sing-along to suggest we have a lantern stalk. With eager agreement we were about to appoint a ‘Lantern’ when another boy suggested we use his flügelhorn instead. When camping we used it for reveille. If nothing else we seemed only to extract a loud and unpleasant noise, and it always reminded yours truly of the time he was nearly co-opted into the Michelin Band.
A ‘Lantern Stalk’ is similar to hide and seek. However, in the Oz version we have the darkness of night and the Australian bush as our camouflage. The appointed ‘Lantern’ has a large torch and heads off into the night and surrounding area. At intervals of thirty seconds the ‘Lantern’ signals four times to the north, south, east and west of his location. For their part, the ‘Seekers’ keep alert for the signals and try to home in on the ‘Lantern’ who, by the way, is continually on the move.
Using the flügelhorn meant we would have to rely almost solely on hearing to snare the ‘Lantern’. And did we have fun using that flügelhorn. So much so it was nearly two o’clock in the morning before we settled down for the night.
At sunrise we were rudely woken by a loud and deep voice begging the question as to who was in charge. We scrambled from our tents and were confronted by a giant of a man. With his large hand pointing in the opposite direction he asked me to identify the scene some three to four hundred metres away. There were about five caravans plus several trucks all marked with the ‘Park emblem.
Before I could answer his question he snorted that should they hear that trumpet again yours truly would be subject to non-surgical castration. Foolishly I blurted out that it was a flügelhorn, not a trumpet. Oh dear, he was not impressed saying something like he didn’t give a rodents posterior what it was, that should they hear it again it will find its way up my posterior. Ouch, and double ouch.
The next time we held a ‘Lantern Stalk’ we used a torch.
See you later…