Scott Morrow and his Venturer unit take
a canyoning trip that pits the youths against raging elements and forces them to
make a life and death decision nobody wants.
The actions of the deft teenager unite a
nation behind him with the Prime Minister sending army commandos and a Blackhawk
helicopter to make a daring rescue attempt to save Scott and his injured mate.
Hundreds of Rovers join the race to help
save Scott, the boy who brought them to national prominence and gave the
Australian community a new force in rescue management.
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By the same author:
Only the Brave Dare
Christopher J. Holcroft
Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published: 2008
About the author
Christopher Holcrofts background is in communications, media training, complex
public information planning and implementation, effective design of major
community relations projects and journalism.
Since 1974, Christopher has been an active
member of the Army Reserve. Christophers deployments have included Bougainville
onboard HMAS Tobruk in 1999 to instruct members of the United
Nations-sponsored Peace Monitoring Group. In 2001 he acted as the Senior
Military Public Affairs Adviser in East Timor for the Australian National
Command Element of the United Nations Transitional Authority East Timor (UNTAET).
In 2006, Christopher was appointed the Senior
Military Public Affairs Officer for the Middle East and was based in Baghdad,
Iraq. He worked for the Australian Headquarters of Joint Task Force 633.
Christopher was awarded the Reserve Forces Decoration (RFD) in 1998 and the
Australian Active Service Medal for his tour of duty to East Timor, in 2001. He
was presented with the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Australian Defence Medal and the
Iraq Campaign Clasp to the Australian Active Service Medal in 2006. Christopher
was also part of a unit citation to the Joint Public Affairs Unit by the Chief
of the Defence Force.
For more than thirty years, Christopher has been
involved in scouting and has run Venturer Scout units for youths aged 14 to 18
in both Victoria and New South Wales. He was instrumental in bringing to life
the annual Dragon Skin competition. Dragon Skin is the largest competition camp
held in Australia and the South Pacific for Venturers and Ranger Guides at
Easter, with more than 1,200 people participating from Australia and overseas.
Christopher holds a Masters degree in
Organisational Communication from Charles Sturt University and a Bachelor of
Arts degree from the University of Technology, Sydney, where he majored in
Journalism and Communications Technology. He is also a Justice of the Peace.
He is married to
Yvonne and the couple have three sons. Both Yvonne and Christopher enjoy outdoor
recreational activities including camping, abseiling and scuba diving.
Slowly William inched his way
the rock shelf. The BlueWater rope ran tightly through his abseil rack. The
teenager slid the rope protector in place to stop the rope abrading on the edge
of the rock face. He shifted his legs shoulder-width apart and leant backwards.
right hand held the rope under his bottom and his left hand was forward of the
metal abseiling rack around the rope. William took up the slack in the rope and
stepped down to the first level. He moved his feet together and overbalanced,
sending him into a mini free fall.
you! Scott yelled from the bottom of the cliff as he tightened his grip on
Williams abseil rope and leant backwards. Scott married the end of the rope
with the main part of the abseil rope and tightened his grip. He was belaying
William when he saw his mate slip. His quick action in tightening the abseil
rope averted a possible major problem. The youths action locked the rope in
Williams abseil gear and prevented him from moving down the rope.
William! Open your legs shoulder-width apart again and lean back, Scott said.
Ill lower you back on the cliff. Scott then eased back on the rope to allow
more slack and to enable William to take control.
Scott. I misjudged my footing.
watched William intently and allowed him free play with the rope. William sat on
his haunches, corrected his position and then kicked out from the cliff. The
movement sent the teenager out and down in a controlled abseil. The sound,
clunk, clunk of heavy boots hitting the ground echoed at the base of the cliff
as William landed. Scott dropped his part of the rope to allow William more
slack to feed through his abseil equipment.
course you know I was only testing you up there, William said with a cheesy
course, Im the official unit tester when I belay.
divested himself of the rope and his equipment and walked over to Scott. He
picked up the rope and curled it around his waist and married the ends. It was
an automatic gesture as each of the boys in the Venturer unit took turns in
belaying after abseiling.
next? Scott asked.
Peters up next, followed by Mark and Ian, William said as he craned his neck
upwards to see if Peter had started to hook onto the rope.
head on up, Scott said. Ill also ask Mike if hes willing to let us do some
face first or Geneva today.
on you Scott. We havent done any of that for some time. Cheers.
made his way across the neatly mown sportsground and climbed the hilly
embankment. The abseil area was on top of a former rock quarry, long since
abandoned. The quarry itself had been flattened out and public tennis courts and
a carpark had been built. The local council knew Venturer units and other groups
used the quarry for adventurous activity but did nothing to hamper them. A
series of homes backed onto the top of the quarry.
turned the corner and saw Mike, his Venturer leader, talking with one of the
Venturers, explaining to him how to adjust his harness. Mike was an Army Reserve
captain who loved being involved with youth when he was not in the army.
one Scott, Mike said without looking up. That was a good save with William.
was slightly taken back. Does this man miss anything? he thought.
problems. Will just lost his footing for a moment. Well, actually, he was just
testing me, Scott said with a smirk on his face.
he was … now, I bet he wants to do forward Geneva? Would I be right?
Actually, I was going to ask if we could do some forward Geneva, Scott
Ian has gone down well start the face-first jumps. I want to ensure everyone
has had at least one jump backwards before we do any forwards work.
Ill let the others know, Scott said as he continued walking towards the other
joined in with the other boys as they discussed abseil options and the thrill of
running face first down the cliff.
wrenches your gut but is sheer exhilaration, Ian said.
But if you dont keep running you pay for it next day with a sore stomach,
Peter chimed in.
finished adjusting the new Venturers abseil harness and walked over to the rest
of the boys. He was proud of the way they listened to instruction and heeded
advice. A month ago, Mike had arranged for his Venturer unit to visit some Army
Reserve commandos and for them to instruct the boys on the finer points of
rappelling or abseiling. This included forward Geneva. The commandos generally
rappelled down a cliff to get to their enemy quickly. However, the soldiers also
carried weapons, wore webbing and had loads of special equipment. Mostly, the
boys would be lucky to even carry backpacks on an abseil.
we have all done forward Geneva it will be time to concentrate on our rescues
again, Mike said. In a few months time weve got the canyoning trip over the
long weekend and I want to ensure you are all up to speed.
shifted in his stance. If most of us know how to rescue, whats the issue? he
asked as he lifted his right hand to shield his eyes from the sun.
looked at him but redirected the question. Who can help Ian here?
anyone has a problem on the rope in the canyon it will be a major rescue effort
to get people out, Peter said. What if you were second last and hit your head
on the way down? You really would want the last person to know how to rescue
you, wouldnt you?
looked at Peter. He quickly realised the error of what he had said.
its time to tell you about the teenage boy who died at Julia Falls, Mike said.
Tell Will to join us, Peter.
boys waited for Will to climb the small hill and work his way around the top of
the cliff to join them.
seat and have a listen and youll understand why Ive pushed for a lot of extra
training for you both abseiling with the commandos and here. The boys knew when
Mike talked like this he was out to try and protect them. Two Venturer-age boys
went to a large set of waterfalls called Julia Falls for some abseiling, Mike
falls are in the Blue Mountains area west of Sydney and they are surrounded by
pretty rugged terrain. The boys had to abseil down three faces before the river
opened out into a wide, flat rocky area. It ended abruptly at Julia Falls which
had a drop the equivalent of a 25-storey building.
the boys threw the rope over the falls after securing one end. Both looked over
the edge and thought they saw the rope reaching the bottom. Instead, it was
knotted about 12 metres down under a small ledge. One of the boys went over the
edge and started abseiling but he became caught up in the rope knot. He did not
know how to tie off, disentangle himself and continue. Also, he didnt know how
to climb back up the cliff to safety.
boys uttered not a word as they sat attentively listening to Mike. He continued.
When the boy became stuck it sent the other one into a panic as he could not
pull his mate up the cliff and over the edge for safety.
couldnt hang on any longer. Why couldnt the boy on top use some karabiners
like a pulley and haul his mate up over the edge?
you become unconscious or die, the weight on the rope is extreme. There was just
no way physically the boy on top could pull his mate up. He needed winches,
pulleys and a lot of engineering-type experience to bring it all together.
boys neither had the experience nor the equipment to effect any major rescue.
So, the stuck boy just sat there tangled next to the waterfall with water spray
constantly blowing onto him from the chilly winds that occasionally whip through
the valley. The second boy went back for help but this took several hours to
climb out where he could raise the alarm. Then it took several hours for
rescuers to reach the stuck boy. The second boy was dead when rescuers arrived,
did he die of? Scott asked.
died of hyperthermia when the constant spray of the water and wind chill from
the valley cooled his body to the point where it killed him, Mike said, his
voice had a noticeable change in it.
Couldnt the boy on top use his mobile phone to call for help?
This accident happened before mobiles were really in fashion. Even still, with
todays technology, we still have problems getting emergency services to help us
when we have misadventure. Its not that they wont help, its just a lack of
proper coordination on our part. As a youth organisation we need to be able to
share information to properly identify who is to be rescued, exactly what maps
people use, their escape routes and so on.
is to ensure you can enjoy the challenges of the activity you choose to do and
that if anything happens to you, you are self-reliant enough to get out of most
problems or, you can get your mate out.
was a noticeable few seconds of quiet as Mikes words sunk in for each boy.
Scott particularly, listened intently. He was always hearing from his father of
people being rescued and their lack of preparedness. Scotts father Allan would
hear about various rescues from other police officers, he would then tell his
wife Kelly when he got home.
be going near Julia Falls for our canyoning weekend away, so we need to be
prepared, Mike said.
looked at the other Venturers and took the initiative. Okay, weve heard our
story for the day. It is a true one and it shows why we must train hard so we
can play hard, as our commando friends kept reminding us, Peter said. Whos
next? he continued as he stood up.
grin came over Ians face. Actually, Mr Chairman, you are, he said.
rest of the boys laughed as they stood up, ready to resume their abseiling. The
preparation for the canyoning trip also included some days of basic rockclimbing
for the Venturers. Their expertise in rope handling, rope calls and descent were
of a verbal remonstration from each other if there was a problem, a mere look
from any affected Venturer to his mate sufficed.
On one Thursday
night meeting the unit went indoor rockclimbing to hone their skills. Mike
motioned to Peter as the pair watched most of the boys in the unit try the
various climbing routes on the man-made walls.
is now calm among the boys and an expectation to perform at a high level, Mike
They have come a long way in a short time. But then again, not every Venturer
unit can call on the commandos for extra tuition.
looked Peter straight in the eye. A lot of the commandos were former Venturers,
which is why they were also keen to help out in their spare time, Mike said.
Who knows? Maybe someone from our unit may want to take the challenge of going
for a green beret and becoming a commando themselves one day.
smiled. You werent intentionally recruiting for the Army Reserve were you? he
was just introducing a new dimension of service to the community and thoughts
about possible career lines. It would be wrong for me to push the boys into the
army … but not wrong to expose them to it!
recounted the excitement and thrill the Venturers had felt when they visited the
commandos at their army base south of Sydney. He remembered the boys were
particularly thrilled not only to abseil the special abseil wall but also try
out the Blackhawk helicopter simulator and crawl over the mock helicopter shell
set up in a special warehouse-type building.
Abseiling is great, but I bet you cant replace the thrill of the Blackhawk,
Peter asked Mike.
The army air taxi has an adrenalin rush all of its own. Hopefully, youll
never have to fly in one for real.
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