I first heard about Outward Bound from a friend in Tamworth. Like most 20-somethings I had boundless energy and was up for a challenge, however ridiculous.
After a bit of hunting around in Sydney I found the head office in Kent St and Wendy, a wonderful lady whose boundless courtesy and patience put me at ease and helped me on my way. I still remember the tea and biscuits.
A few months later (December) I was offloaded at the Jolimont Centre in Canberra and hustled out to a remote place called Tharwa. It was big course with participants from diverse backgrounds. Many were corporate-sponsored and not so keen – during introductions one chap said he and two other cadets had drawn straws for the course and he lost. This attitude
contrasted with that of a number of thrusting achievers in the mix all of which made for interesting group dynamics later in the course.
The instructors on first glimpse looked like your average mob of tree-huggers who regarded any form of indoor employment as akin to a prison sentence. We soon realised though that they knew what they were about and we trotted after them on base kitting out, packing food, hanging off flying foxes and doing other things.
From memory the course lasted 26 days and I don’t think we had a single day under 33C. Water was scarce and on occasion we had to dig for it, sterilizing the yield with ‘puri-tabs’ – chlorine-based water purifiers that discouraged all but essential drinking. Fires were banned and thus all meals were cold – not a bad thing as by the end of the day a hot feed was the last thing any of us wanted. Often we simply cut up vegies, opened tins and emptied the whole lot into a dixie before stirring and doling it out. The beetroot and mackeral made an interesting contrast visually as well as gastronomically.
We tramped through some stunning landscapes, up ridges that would defeat a feral goat and did things we never thought we could do. I remember reaching Caves Creek and taking a swim, only to recoil from the smell of my clothes when I went to put them back on. Much of the course was a blur until we hit Solo – three-odd days of solitude and welcome inactivity.
We were given a very inadequate-looking bag of food to see us through but once again these guys knew what they were about and no-one starved.
For the final six days our instructor cut us loose and told us to find our own way back to National Base. We started off OK but soon were bushed. I remember heated tempers and some pretty robust arguments. Eventually consensus was reached with minimal bloodshed and we ended up in the Orroral Valley, way off course but thankful to be out under open sky once more. A long last-day march featured a brief stay under Naas bridge sheltering from a thunderstorm before reaching the final camp at Angle Crossing.
I kept my Blue Peter in my suit pocket for many years after completing the course. Today, going on 35 years later I still regard it as one of the formative experiences of my life.