(from Trevor Gollan, 23 Aug 2019)
For 40 years Ian Dempsey has been a regular rogainer and in the 80’s and 90’s had a vital role in organising and promoting the sport in NSW.
I first met Ian in 1988 but this year was the first time we’ve teamed together to compete, at the 2019 Paddy Pallin, Upper Colo. We did OK too if you ignore the 20-25 minute late-penalty.
Perhaps we can blame that lateness because we talked almost all the way. Here follows some of the conversation from our 6-hour walk. It includes the reminiscences of a some old-time rogainers, some memory loss, and some provocative thoughts about the future of the sport.
Of course I asked Ian about how he started in the sport…
Ian: In 1980 Bert Van Netten persuaded me to enter a 24-hour bushwalking event at Armidale, along with another Novocastrian, Robin Dean. This was a few years before a NSW Rogaining Association existed, when NSW intervarsity bushwalking events were held occasionally and they were open to members of the public. Publicity for these events (beyond the university network) was very low-key and usually involved passing on event details to key people in like-minded organisations like bushwalking and orienteering clubs.
Bert had competed in a Victorian rogaine, was brimming with confidence, and at least had some experience in this kind of event. Robin and I came from an orienteering background. We had trouble finding the first checkpoint and had to jettison our plan to drop into the Georges River valley and climb to the plateau beyond. As I recall, we visited no more than a few checkpoints before dark and returned to the Hash House for a sleep, before getting a few more checkpoints the next morning.
The organisers had arranged a bus to transport us to the event site from Armidale. On the way back, I remember sitting behind Rob Vincent (orienteering icon and occasional rogainer) and his rogaining partner Ray Dawes. They won the event. Rob was in a talkative state and as we drove by some open farmland with scattered massive granite boulders he enthused to Ray how great this area would be for a night orienteering event with its complex feature detail without the undergrowth. I couldn’t get over how energetic this guy was after 36 hours without sleep and a solid 24 hours of walking. But the overall weekend experience for me was positive, I think because of the camaraderie of fellow competitors and the intense enjoyment of navigating through forest to successfully locate a checkpoint.
Until the establishment of NSWRA in 1983, the only way to get a regular rogaining fix was to travel to Victoria where the sport had been successfully running maybe four events a year. Small groups of NSW bushwalkers and orienteers made the trip in the early 80’s and were impressed with the quality of the event organisation. I’ve got a copy of the map specially produced for the 1983 Australian Rogaining Championships in Victoria. You’ll note that checkpoint locations still needed to be plotted using supplied grid references (like we still do at NavShield) and the 1:50,000 scale allowed only larger landform features to be used for checkpoints. Nevertheless, it is a highly legible map (produced via hand-drawn drafting film layers for each colour and an offset printer) that compares very well with the quality of the CAD-produced rogaining maps we rely on today.
Trev: I recall meeting you when setting the Winter 12-hour at Yetholme [see Newsletter 17b, Aug-1988]. One of my favourite memories was camping on a Saturday night with you, Warwick and Maurice Ripley … after my first-ever day course-setting; a mild, clear night, a campfire by a fire-trail on the big ridge south of the village, >1200m altitude … yes, that’s a good memory! You were the event organiser. That on top of you organising the Paddy Pallin only two months before – the year you extended it from 3½ to 6 hours. You were pretty essential to NSW rogaining in those days.
Ian: I have a vague recollection of that camp experience. I also have a vague recollection of one of you explaining that someone intended to complete the event with their girlfriend/partner and to take chicken and a bottle of champagne for an evening meal at a spot with great views. At the time I thought this was a bit strange; why would anyone enter a rogaine without wanting to be competitive?
Trev: The chicken & champers picnicker was Peter Watterson. He also wore a coat and bow-tie, out to impress.
Ian: The other memory I have of that time is meeting you at a service station on the highway near Yetholme for a chat before we separated to visit and tape checkpoint sites. You were new to rogaining but were kindly getting involved with event planning and organisation. After several years of struggling to find new event organisers, Bert and I were grateful to see you, Warwick, Julian and others pick up the baton. Indeed, NSWRA flourished in the late 80s and early 90s because of the injection of many new course setters and organisers.
Trev: Peter Watterson refers to you as “a machine” at the 1990 Copeton Dam NSW Champs, both physical and navigational. What’s your memory of that event? I’ve rogained with Watto many times and know he can be extreme, so I’m interested in your perspective.
Ian: The truth is that Watto had the physical edge on me at the NSW Champs in 1990 and the 1991 Paddy Pallin events, both of which we won. He impressed me with his use of high-tech string to measure and compare the distance between different routes. I soon after bought a measuring wheel.
I have several memories of Copeton. First, we’d been warned about the Tiger Pear cactus. Yes, some penetrated my runners and yes, I removed them with my fingers and got spines in my fingers because we hadn’t brought pliers with us. Second, in the hour before dusk we had a navigationally challenging forest leg of about 3km across several watercourse systems to a saddle on a ridge. I wasn’t confident about this leg, but Watto was more confident than me and we hit it straight on in fading light with good compass work.
Third, we walked down a track to the river soon after daybreak on day 2 through some trees with what seemed like 100+ cockatoos. Their screeching was so intense it became painful. Finally, soon after we had an unavoidable leg of about 500m through a gorge littered with large boulders. I was knackered getting through this.
(I later, separately, checked the story with Watto, who responded: Memories that emerge from the mists of time include a half hour kip just before dawn by some haystack and that quixotic battle against giant boulders along the river bed. The compass leg would stand out in Demps’ memory, because he generally never bothered with such high tech devices (not even string). Certainly on the Paddy Pallin, I don’t think the compass ever left his back pocket whereas I consult mine probably every minute. I’ve just found my old Copeton Dam map and will look at the notes I texta’d on the map after the event:- at our first checkpoint, “tiger pears!”; 54 -> 61 “Ian’s smart route”; on the Gwydir River 57->52 “I saw platypus!”, then “sword grass”, then “boulders”. What a pleasure to reminisce on fitter days!)
Back to Ian: It’s around this time that there was an influx of fit and competitive NSW rogainers that soon overtook Watto and me. My brush with fame was winning an ACT Championships in the early 90’s with Mike Hotchkis. I teamed up with him later in the same year in a NSW Socialgaine but really slowed him down. Regardless, one of the great attractions of rogaining is that it’s a team sport and so it allows a shared experience – lacking in our closest comparable sport, orienteering.
Trev: Have you done many rogaines outside NSW? I’m reminded that you, Bert and Arthur Kingsland competed in the 1988 Aus Champs at Honeysuckle Creek in the Victorian Strathbogies. (And looking further I see that you were disqualified – I’d forgotten that – what happened? Ahem – we came 5th btw!)
Ian: Can’t remember this one. If we did something illegal at the event, then I’ve erased it from my memory.
Trev: I haven’t noticed you at NSW Champs much lately. Perhaps the last time was when you were an organiser – at Garland Valley back in 2013. Are you, like many NSW rogainers, averse to 24-hour events too? Or is it the distance from Newcastle? The last three years have been beyond Oberon, which is great rogaining country but a fair way to travel.
Ian: Haven’t competed in the longer events for some time because I can tend to be more competitive than I should, and being competitive in the longer events is extremely physical and psychologically tiring. It takes me a week or more to recover. Also, I don’t enjoy camping much. At age 65, the 6-hour events are just the right length for me. I can go hard if my partner and I want, but these days I’m just as happy to walk more slowly and solve world problems in conversation with rogaining partners.
In recent years, I’ve been enjoying my orienteering more, perhaps because of the shorter events. Since retirement, I’ve got more active with producing orienteering maps. Our orienteering club has recently purchased a computer tablet that I’m using in the field for mapping and it’s greatly improved my mapping efficiency. I quite like mapping – the combination of discovering stuff, being in the great outdoors, and the challenge of interpreting features in the field into a 2-dimensional format that can be meaningful to others.
Trev: I’m interested in your views about the sport – how we’re going and future directions. We pulled together a Strategic Plan last year, with significant feedback from our members. At the moment we are moving towards more, shorter events … which perhaps means they don’t deserve the moniker “event” anymore, and we’re moving closer towards orienteering. The lack of people at NSW Champs worries me, then again the Europeans can easily get 1,000 to the World Champs.
Ian: Like you, I worry about the ongoing viability of the 24-hour NSW Champs. On the one hand, there is limited demand for this event. On the other hand, many would say we have at least an historical obligation to continue the event. However, as past organisers, we both know how discouraging it can be to put in all the additional work for a long-distance event to find under 200 people showing up on the day and the event running at a financial loss.
Trev: We receive regular requests to have individual entry, and committee decided last year that solo rogaining won’t be available if an event is longer than 3-hours. Which does mean solo entry is OK in the 3-hour Minigaine, not much different to a long-O score event, on a less accurate map and with some nibblies at the end.
Ian: It’s generally acknowledged that the word “rogaine” is an amalgam of the initial letters of the three Victorians who were responsible for formalising the sport in the late 70’s … Rod, Gail & Neil Phillips. Perhaps they did this oblivious to or, more likely, prior to the naming of the US hair restoration product. Regardless, it’s understandable that this core Victorian group had a close interest in how rogaining developed in other states. I recall some pushback from them when we adopted the Paddy Pallin 3½-hour in 1985, and called it a rogaine, because previous events had always been 12 or 24 hours involving night navigation.
Fast forward to 2019 and many things have changed. We now understand the benefits of high-intensity short-duration training in producing health outcomes comparable to longer-duration exercise. Why bother with a long workout when a short one will do? People are “time-poor”. We now run a preponderance of shorter rogaining events (i.e. Metrogaine, Minigaine, Socialgaine) on the NSWRA calendar. Which leads me to ask the following questions:
- When does a rogaine become an orienteering event?
- Given the time and usual financial loss involved in running the 24-hour state rogaining championships, and the relatively low participation at these events, why should we continue running long duration events?
- Should we change the NSW Rogaining Championships from a 24 hour to a shorter event because most NSW rogainers participate in the shorter events?
Trev: That’s sacrilege, Ian, but I wonder what our members think?