Martin Chambers

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The Deliverance weekend

published: February 12th, 2017

For every adventure tour there are staff for whom the trip is very much within their comfort zone. It is difficult to keep it interesting after the hundredth run down the same river on the same rapids, telling the same jokes. A group of us running adventure events from rafting, hot air ballooning, horse riding, bushwalking and skydiving had come together in a joint marketing exercise and one, Jeff Muir, developed the ‘Concept Weekend’ where we re-enacted a famous event or movie. Outdoor leaders are like actors- the thrill is in the performance, the theatre is the great outdoors and the audience is also in the cast. So we all took to the concept weekends with renewed vigor. They were a lot of fun. 

‘Deliverance’ was one of these trips and was the brainchild of Jeff who had been running week long horse riding adventures along the south coast. Those who have not seen the movie should hire it before reading any further. 

The bus picked the participants up from Perth and drove late into the night, deep into the southwest forest. It was raining, dark and cold. Deeper into the forest and the driver consulted a map. Lost. He drove around on ever less substantial roads, down a few dead ends. An even greater lostness. Suddenly out of the midnight darkness lurched a hillbilly, complete with trenchcoat, toothless leer and shotgun. While hungry passengers huddled terrified in the back of the bus the driver attempted to communicate with the owner of the leer, who grinned a wild wordless ‘follow me’ between similar worless leers that might have meant ‘I want to eat your children.’. 

Breakfast the next morning, the rain has finally stopped and it is ‘discovered’ we are not far from where we want to be. What luck! Just when things are looking up Hillbilly returns with his mates, in a cut down Land Rover with no exhaust. Hoopin an hollering, doing laps of the camp, firing shotguns into the air, they leave as suddenly as they appeared. 

‘This is deliverance weekend…’ the participants say nervously to each other but failing to sound very convincing. No clues from Jeff who is off launching the canoes. 

We paddle all day, and believe it or not- we get lost! How do you get lost on a one way river trip? Jeff, the performance master, had briefed each of the leaders in only their own particular component. I was leading the canoe section and my brief was to paddle all day and not to stop or have lunch until we had passed under Larkin Bridge.   

Sore, unsure of what they had gotten into, tired from very little sleep last night and then paddling all day, the group probably failed to appreciate the wonderful silent beauty of the karri forest. The storms of the night before had passsed, jewels of sunshine warmed tired backs as the windy remains of the storm rustled the giant tree tops. Silent trees, full of the forest sounds of birds, of leaves rustling in the wind, the splash of the paddle and the canoe parting the water. Snippets of conversation. It is silence only by the lack of dull drone of motorway trucks that is the constant background to the city life. Silent noises, the tinkle of flowing water around bridge pylon and the tinkle of banjo. Banjo?

Up upon Larkin Bridge the hillbillies are at it again, playing dueling banjos and leering down at the canoes. Dare we pass under? 

That night we ate fire roasted trout, baked potatoes, chestnuts and Squeal Piggy, a pig on a spit. The wine was from the fruit of the Claret Bush. Jeff would point out the local vegetation ‘This here is a Eucalyptus byriverus. Up there is a Eucalyptus tophillus. Oh look, here is a claretbush and it has fruit!’

The hillbillies arrive, the banjo band now has a clarinet and washboard. Good food, entertainment and total relief. It was all a show put on by Jeff’s relatives. Long into the night we talked and told stories, joke how all along we knew what was happening. Tomorrow would be a short day down to the mouth of the river. A swim in the ocean and a 4WD trip back to the start. 

Next morning with the slow new world peacefulness of survivors, or just nursing claret bush hangovers, the crew emerged to a healthy breakfast. Healthy in the old world live on a farm work hard eat plenty sense- bacon, eggs, sausages, toast and brewed coffee. Pack up camp and into the canoes. We let the group spread out, each canoe to it’s own pace down the shallow river to the sea. Meandering past paper bark swamp and peppermint woodlands. Gentle breeze and warm sun, gentle paddling and lazy conversation. We approach the last two sand dunes as the river flows out onto the beach. Surf is breaking less than 50m away but we are safe in a freshwater lagoon that idles along the beach parallel to the southern ocean. 

We flow to the end of the lagoon and find a sign where the 4WD should be waiting. 

‘End of Deliverance weekend. Beginning of Burke and Wills’ Ha!

We looked around. To the west are the Yeagerup sand dunes, a white desert of steep sand hills. The surrounding forest is part of the D’entracastreau national park and we are on the ocean side of a 110km wilderness. To the south, the nearest land is Antarctica. It is a wild and isolated coastline surrounded by deep wilderness forest. This is about as remote as you can get and there was no easy way home. 

By now the sea breeze was in, blowing cold all the way from Mawson Station. We pulled all the canoes up and build a little shelter of them, stacking each one acrossways over the last to provide a windbreak. We have left all our gear and most of the food back at camp, all we have is some cheese and bickies. 

‘How long do we have to wait?’

‘But you’re the leader, you must know. This is another stunt, isn’t it. Do we have to walk out?’

‘I am the leader and I don’t know. We just wait for the bastard to show up’.

An hour later and someone notices something along the beach. It is tall and dark, it moves. While we watch the moving black stick becomes a person and finally he walks up to us. He is dressed as a waiter in formal black and white, bow tie, carrying a silver tray with champagne and tall glasses. 

‘Congratulations on Deliverance. A trip well done’.

We are all relaxed now, for the second time on this trip relief that Jeff’s dramas are not really going to be anything other than good fun. Suddenly, screaming over the sand dune, launching airborne as it bursts onto the beach, a blue land rover speeds directly over to the stack of canoes. Out steps a policeman, walks to the nearest of us and, taking the glass, sniffs.

‘Just as I thought, drinking in a public place. You are all going to have to come with me!’

Never mind that this story began as someone else’s film. Burt Reynolds lives forever in the film Deliverance and this trip will live forever in my memory. Isn’t that what adventure is all about?