25 Year Legends – The Organisers of the Lake Macquarie Rogaine

This is an expanded version of the tribute I gave at the 6 hours presentation of the 25th Lake Macquarie Rogaine on behalf of President, Gill Fowler, to recognize the extraordinary contribution made by two rogaine stalwarts – Bert Van Netten and Bob Gilbert.
It was in September 1992 that Bert gained support from Lake Macquarie Council to include a rogaine each year in the Lake Macquarie City Games. The support came in the form of some cash. Our still new sport of rogaining was gaining a level of respectability! Who could have imagined that the relationship with the Council would have continued successfully every year to this day.
Bert together with Ian Dempsey and others of what we called the Newcastle/Central Coast mob were amongst the founders of rogaining in New South Wales. Bert’s courses were often challenging and always original just like the man. The Lake Macquarie 12 hour become established and was held around August/September each year and later with a 6 hour option. We came to know the Watagans and Sugarloaf Range, the varied bush and views both east to the coast and west out towards Wollemi. The fabulous waratahs, the unspeakable lawyer vines, variety of tree types, pockets of rainforest in gullies sometimes chocked with enormous rocks, waterfalls, cliffs, bush trails, swinging vines, lilly pilly, gymea lilies, lyre birds and cabbage tree palms.
In 1992 rogaining in NSW was growing quickly with more and more people attracted to the sport mostly through word of mouth. At the Paddy Pallin 6 hour event numbers had increased to over 400 – just a dream a couple of years prior. In October of that year the first World Rogaining Championships was to be held in Victoria. Bert had the idea that for his first Lake Macquarie event he would offer prize money in a bid to attract elite athletes like marathon runners. I remember being on the Rogaining Committee and this idea being controversial. Surely we were amateurs competing for the love of the sport. Would prize money taint the event and encourage cheating? Eg teams sending the strongest member to the ‘out and back’ controls (a single punch card per team in those days). The Lake Macquarie became tagged as “the Dash for Cash” a cheeky name when everyone knows that whilst this sport needs strong fast legs it also requires cunning and strategy.
A few new speedster competitors did compete but whether their navigation was not up to scratch or they found some of the tougher aspects of rogaining not to their liking I’m not sure but they didn’t seem to stick with it. In fact in 1992 the usual rogaining suspects were winners – I think our team was third creating an ethical dilemma of what do with the (modest) prize money.
At that 1992 event we started on the east side of the range near where the freeway was under construction. A memory is trotting down a long empty stretch of straight road after 11.00pm in a rush to get back on time. Looking at the old map this morning after the efforts at the event this year and on a post rogaine endorphic high I can still remember some moments at that first event. By the fifth control I had lost my compass but compensated later at night by becoming the specialist pace counter on the team. I also note that control 30 this year was control 33 in 1992 but of course did not recognize that one.
Bert had the ability to attract others around him and reminded me of an unorthodox field marshal coordinating the troups. An advantage was that on hand were the Newcastle orienteering community who brought rigor to course setting. Names like Rob Vincent, Ian Dempsey and Dug Floyd come to mind and forgive me for not remembering more. However at the centre of it all has been Bert who has contributed to course setting 22 of the 25 Lake Macquarie rogaines.
But there is one other name who has become most associated with the Lake Macquarie event and that is Bob Gilbert. Bob took over as Event Controller some years in and has brought his skills and organising ability contributing a huge effort to consistently put on a great event each year. Many of us have run events from time to time. It is a very rewarding activity but does require focus, time and commitment and most are happy to hand on the batten. Bob is different because he has continued to carry the responsibility over many years. Not only that but this year he also organised the Paddy Pallin at Catherine Hill Bay in some very very wet conditions. He told me on Saturday that those of us who got bogged left a sufficient mess behind that the rogaine bond to Council was forfeited for remediation work. Such things are the life of an event organiser.
Over the years the Lake Macquarie event has been held in fair and foul conditions and everything in between. Whilst the areas have been similar the event has never got stale. There was the period where Bert experimented with making all controls the same value. Another year almost every control was little more than 20 metres off a track – a so called runners’ course. I also remember a year where many teams cleared the course. Then last year the event doubled as the NSW Championships.
The Lake Macquarie has been a success and always well supported by rogainers. My impression is that numbers have averaged 300-350 per year. Besides raising money for, and involving, many local organisations like the scouts it has together with the Paddy Pallin been a financial contributor to the New South Wales Rogaining Association. It has helped ensure there has always been a strong bank balance, monies available for things like insurances and new nav lights not to mention underwriting occasional events like hosting the Australian Championships and back in 2006 the World Championships out at the Warrumbungles.
Thank go to Bert, Bob and all the others who have made the Lake Macquarie event such a success over 25 years.