Not too much should be made of my enforced overnight under the stars, halfway down the western slope of Mt Jack in N E Victoria, in sight of the home valley and family farm: Grossotto. There were lessons learnt. It was a long ten hour period chilling out in the cool alpine autumn airs but luckily forecasts of a storm did not eventuate.
Firstly, here are the facts relating to this storm in a tea cup, secondly some hilarious and wild political thoughts from the hunger games that sleepy minds play as you drift in and out, and finally, for all who venture above the snow lines at any time of the year, some lessons learnt.
Having obtained a lift from home to the northern face entry track to Mt Jack (Altitude 1206 metres), I was keen to set a fast climb pace as I knew starting out at noon was a little late in the day. I did not reach the relatively easy summit until near 5.00pm and saw glimpses of Mt Bogong nearby, Victoria’s highest mountain. I pushed on and thought of ringing a neighbour to come around the 4WD track and pick me up but then a late afternoon burst of sunshine and a gap in the trees revealed a clear view of home and the farm dams, so I decided to plunge off the track and scrub bash down the increasingly steep slope.Halfway down I lost my reading glasses and so had great difficulty reading the face of my mobile phone. I wasted half an hour unsuccessfully backtracking for the glasses and soon darkness descended. Very quickly conditions became pitch black. I stopped descending, in case in the dark I twisted my ankle or worse. I rang my wife Judy and said I will have to sleep out under the stars and walk out safely after dawn as I could see I had about two more kilometres of descent and then a creek track to follow. We agreed not to alert anyone, as there was no need and I had my Akubra, a rain proof coat, a Stanley apple in reserve and half a bottle of water.
My son Dominic had driven up the valley floor to liase with a neighbour and pick me up had I walked out but I told him to go home. The family made no alert and did not ask for a search call out, but due to some vehicle difficulties, the police were alerted. About midnight, I woke to see vehicle lights in the distance and heard the distinct noise of a European Aérospatiale helicopter. I thought it was on standard night exercises until it turned on its spotlight. Using my mobile with fading battery and fading signal, I rang 000 and was plugged through to the efficient police on duty at Wangaratta and by relay to the pilot who soon had the spotlight on me. I waved OK but now know I should have given a distinct crossed arms signal to indicate absolutely all ok.
Small ground search parties were then launched but none were able to make contact with me in the thick scrub. Dawn unfolded and I safely completed the descent and carefully filled my water bottle at a point where the creek had a trickle through clean undisturbed sands, free of animal footprints.Around 8.30 am I arrived at the neighbours home and then at the Grossotto front gate, to see many vehicles including two local TV News crews already set up. So I had to speak up and I said lessons learnt, sorry for any inconvenience and expressed my thanks to the efficient police, SES volunteers, ambulance and police air wing for their precautions.
During the long night I was not particularly hungry but the mind played tricks with hunger games. Later, when asked to write this column, I jotted down clear cut recollections: adrenalin intensifies memories. I had said a prayer and the recent Spectator article on UK Cathedrals installing commercial activities to sell food and function space came to mind, eg at Chester Cathedral. Indeed Gucci is being allowed to hire the Westminster Abbey cloisters and I recalled the outstanding proposal of Cardinal Pell to create a good coffee shop in the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. I would add a lunch bar in the non-consecrated section of the loft. Enough or basta as the Italians would say, these thoughts were making me hungry. Later I drifted into thinking about breakfast and Brexit came to mind and then a bizarre thought that if Britain votes OUT of the European Union, Scotland will seek to break away again to vote IN to the EU and if all this happens then the Cross of St Andrew has to be deleted from the Union Jack. Basta again but not before thinking that for the true interests of Australia, stability matters and also Britain is a key partner with Germany in support of vital common sense on the Common Agricultural Policy.
Finally I drifted onto the USA, again a mixture of the bizarre and possibly the brilliant: if Hilary Clinton wins, then the Republicans will seek an injunction from the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) blocking her being sworn in as President whilst email security charges are pending, her Veep will be sworn in or just possibly not, on some pretext. Then Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan will become the next US President. Basta! Key lessons learnt: Always carry matches, plan ahead carefully and always leave enough daylight time in reserve. Ensure mobile fully charged before setting out. And don’t forget the apple.
Tim Fischer is a former Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Nationals