I had heard how good rogaines were in South Australia but despite doing events in other States and Territories I had never made it to one in SA. The 2021 Australian Championships on the last weekend of May did not disappoint.
• The mallee country 3 hours north from Adelaide
• Huge map and at 1:40,000 scale but with 10 metre contours
• Excellent weather
• Big red moon and later sunrise over frosty paddocks
• Quality of the course setting and administration of the event
• Friendliness of the hosting crew and competitors
We had a setback when Ted Woodley, driving force behind our team, had to pull out with a training injury to a knee. We would miss his enthusiasm. For my part in the week prior I trod gingerly at an orienteering ‘Moonlight Madness’ event at Hunters Hill and at a Metro League event on the rocky ground around Manly Dam. Meanwhile the other team member John “No Mistakes” Anderson was on an extensive road trip in South Australia and was acclimatising to the country.
John was also immune from last minute border lockdowns. Unlucky were Melburnians who on the Thursday prior were barred from SA due to a Covid outbreak in Victoria which ironically had originated at an Adelaide hotel. Numbers at the event were very sadly depleted with 50 missing Victorians. These included key competitors in the Mens Ultraveterans’ category. At least entry fees were able to be fully refunded due to agreement with the Australian Rogaining Association to underwrite the event.
After having been on 20-30 flights per year pre Covid, the pandemic had brought an abrupt change and I fronted up at Sydney airport for the first time in nearly 18 months. It was good to see the busy T2 Domestic Terminal again and Virgin under its new ownership with on time early morning departure. I arrived a day prior to catch up with old friends and colleagues at the Adelaide YHA.
Without Ted’s hired camper van my transport from Adelaide was the rogaine bus. There were competitors from NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria (who had left earlier) and included some old friends. It was very social. Bus travel is recommended as it avoids fatigue driving risks after a 24-hour rogaine.
Forecast was dry but a chilly 13 degree tops and a cold 1 degree overnight. We shouldn’t be sweating too much but better take a bigger backpack and some warm clothes. Being only three weeks shy of the winter solstice it would be dark for over 12 hours however there would be an almost full moon. The HH was centrally located, and John and my plan was to return about 9pm and head out again by 6.00am for another six-hour loop. Hopefully, we would be efficient in daylight and avoid the challenges of the wheels falling off in the small hours overnight. That was the plan.
The map was smaller scale than we are used to in NSW although not so small as my early days of Rogaining at 1:50:000. The instructions had told us that the control circles were 7mm diameter representing 280 metres – that sounded alarming given many small erosion gullies and the need for the promised fine navigation.
We picked up our maps at 9.00am. There was a total of 4250 points to be had and spread over 75 controls. Cleared land made up at least half the course. Using textas I marked up the controls – a good process which helps to get a feel for the map, see where the higher pointers are and start thinking about stringing controls together making loops. John used a technique with clear plastic overlaid and a measured piece of string. We decided to head south through hilly bush country then making our way into more cleared land after dark. An out of bounds area limited return options. For Sunday, a smaller loop to the north. Our strategy was to keep scoring, drop controls that were too far, too steep and at night looked too tricky.
Electronic smart devices carried had to be placed in sealed bags (it was a championship event). In preparation I had bought a new ‘retro’ Casio watch like what we had 20 years ago. I set my sealed up smart watch to track our course – it ran out of battery overnight so only got the first day.
Our second control was a 90 pointer on a very distinctive hill with spectacular views over most of the course. By NSW rogaining standards conditions were benign. Champagne rogaining I called it. A lot of cleared land, very little scratchy stuff or at least when there was there was always a way through. No big climbs but great views. Rocks underfoot but at least you could see them.
On the other hand, the smaller map scale meant that detail was often missing. Some tracks were not marked, and many controls were on fine features – it was a championship event. The cool conditions suited us and we didn’t need to visit any of the six water drops. However, once the sun went down it became cold. By the time we got back to the hash house at 11pm I was wearing my orienteering top, two layers of merino wool, a fleece and a down jacket. Plus, gloves and beanie. The pack was by then very light.
After it got dark John “No Mistakes” made sure we pace counted and also used the aiming off technique as required (we overdid it twice and aimed off too far – need to check up on tangent and cosine skills as a small compass variation makes a big difference over 500 or 1000 metres). Only one control gave us real grief at about 9.00pm. The control description was gully. The map showed a tiny twitch in a contour. We approached from above. Nothing. We scouted up and down and left and right. We seemed to be in the right place. We were tired. We backtracked and tried approaching from a heavily eroded water course. Heavily eroded meant 20 metre vertical banks sometimes undercut – beware standing on the edge. We met an SA women’s junior team (later category winners and with a bigger score than ours) who we had talked to earlier in the event. They couldn’t find it either. Then a woop of joy – they had found it in a place which showed few characteristics of a gully. My later watch track showed that on our first run in we pulled up only a little short.
Warm food and six hours horizontal rest made a big difference and we felt good leaving just after 6am and before dawn. There was heavy frost which took quite a while to burn off. We reversed our original plan to visited the distance controls earlier on. We did well and lost no time on navigation but were slowing and had to drop nearly 200 points on our return route which was unproductive and got us back 30 minutes early. In total we’d walked about 55 kms whilst the winners did a huge 115 kms – well done Julie and David Baldwin.
Our remaining ultra-veteran competitors after the Victorina drop out were very late back. At the awards we were surprised and pleased to be trophy recipients. John had been a great partner and at 74 is an amazingly strong walker.
Why Deceptive Lands? It is the name of a book describing country which in good years is very productive but in dry ones becomes marginal. The Goyder Line runs roughly east west across South Australia with less than 10 inches of rain to the north. Surveyor General, George Goyder, covered over 3000km on horseback and decreed that planting crops north of the Line was at your own risk. The event map was on the Line and evidence of those who didn’t follow advice was the number of ruined stone farm houses some making up control points.
Big thanks go the course setters Jenny, Zara, Steve and Mark, the event organiser Craig and the big team of volunteers who made it all happen. For the map and results (and should be photos soon) check here:
Well done to all the NSW participants.
The 2022 Oz Champs is in Victoria in October. Then in 2023 it is NSW’s turn again. Winners of the 2021 Mens category, David Williams and Ronnie Taib, are scouting areas. A big team of helpers will be needed to put on a great event.