(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.

Trevor Gollan & Ian Dempsey (at right) at the start of the 2019 Paddy Pallin Rogaine (Photo: Geoff Peel)

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.

Aus Champs map from 1983

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.

Peter Watterson accepts the winners trophy at 1990 NSW Champs, Copeton Dam. No-one knows why Ian wasn’t available for the preso.

(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?

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8 Comments

  1. Trev states “the lack of people at NSW Champs worries me”, but then admits “we receive regular requests to have individual entry” which the NSWRA committee has banned because they “feel that the spirit of our sport involves team dynamics” (stated in their “2018 in review” email sent in December last year).
    Does anybody else think it’s weird to lament about low numbers at long events while at the same time preventing people from competing at those events?
    Does anybody else see the irony in ostracizing people from a sport described as “social”?
    The trend towards greater participation in shorter events is disturbing. Very soon the difference between orienteers and rogainers could be defined as “orienteers compete as individuals in short navigational events on a course planned by others” and “rogainers compete as teams in slightly longer navigational events over a course they plan themselves”.
    The amalgamation of orienteering with rogaining might actually be a good thing. The resulting organization might be more likely to allow solo rogaining …

  2. I think that the difference between solo and team is an issue of safety, out on the course. Orienteering is done in smaller areas, not far from roads and major tracks, making it easier to access an injured participant. Also because the events are shorter, with a bigger concentration per area of participants, the participants are more likely to be found much quicker if missing or injured, and more likely to be found by another participant earlier. With longer rogaining events, even 6hr or 12 hr ones, the map area can often be in a more remote area with few easily accessed rescue points, no matter how hard the setter tries to have them. With larger areas of map, controls are further apart, so participants are spread out on the course much more, leading to less sightings of other teams. Thus, if a participant becomes injured, it can be a very long time before they are known to be missing or in need of help, which can be life threatening.
    Personally, I prefer the longer events, as it gives me more time to find more controls, without needing to rush so much. ( I am not a great navigator or super fit), it is also another reason I like collecting controls afterward, trying to go where I didn’t get to in the event. Plus, now I am retired, and I like camping, the distance from home doesn’t worry me.
    Finding a compatible team mate/s can be a problem, I know, so can understand those wanting to go solo. Personally, prefer safety in numbers.
    Keep up the good work, organisers, setters, vetters, flag hangers, H.H’s, the Montgomery’s really appreciate your efforts.

    1. I agree with Pam that the NSWRA committee and volunteers do a great job. I also agree with Pam that safety is a concern, and would suggest solo rogainers MUST carry a PLB. The committee, however, don’t see safety as a major issue. They encourage setters and vetters and collectors to go solo. After the blog discussion about solo rogaining last year, I felt sure that the NSWRA committee would allow solo rogaining in longer rogaines, and was really surprised when they banned it – because rogaining is a social sport. Given that the first rule of rogaining is that “a team shall consist of two, three, four or five members” and the preamble to the rules states that rule #1 is “fundamental to the continued survival of the sport”, I can’t understand why solo rogaining is allowed in the Minigaine at all …

  3. I must categorically reject Brett’s statement that the committee “don’t see safety as a major issue.” Committee has a dedicated Safety Officer and at every committee meeting we i) consider safety issues, ii) review incidents arising from each rogaine, and iii) consider ways to improve safety.

    I also must reject his statement that the committee “encourage(s) setters and vetters and collectors to go solo.” That is not true; rather it’s an extrapolation of my opinion previously expressed, as one who enjoys travelling solo in the bush, who sets courses and hangs/collects flags.

  4. Sorry if I misunderstood, Trevor. In your 2018 year in review email when explaining why solo entry was banned, you said “the safety components can be overcome” so I assumed that this meant that safety wasn’t a major issue in the committee decision to ban solo rogaining.
    When explaining the committee’s decision in that email, you talked about “our logic?” and said “We feel …” and “we leave …” – which sounded to me like you were speaking on behalf of the committee, so when this was immediately followed by “There is one simple variation on our sport that you can do solo; setting, vetting, flag hanging & collection …” it sounded to me like you were continuing to speak on behalf of the committee.

    For those who missed it, here is the relevant section of the email …
    “Finally, I want to thank Brett Davis for initiating the discussion about solo rogaining. It’s raised interesting conversations and opinions this year, including review at the last two committee meetings, where we decided:-
    Not to have solo entry if the rogaine is longer than three hours.
    “Our logic? The Team is an essential part of this sport, for social and safety purposes. It differentiates rogaining from other similar activities, such as orienteering & ultra-marathons. Yes, some people will be excluded if they can’t find a compatible team, or they may have negative experiences in a team that deters them from returning, and the safety components can be overcome.
    “We feel that the spirit of our sport involves team dynamics, and we leave those alternate, equally viable, distance-bush sports where the loners/individuals can push themselves.
    “There is one simple variation on our sport that you can do solo; setting, vetting, flag hanging & collection are great ways to get out in the bush. Some of my most memorable rogaines have been in the weeks before or after the event … on my own.”
    This still leaves the question of why solo entry is allowed in the 3 hour Minigaine, given that – in your own words – “The Team is an essential part of this sport, for social and safety purposes”?

  5. Thank you for the informative and entertaining article, Trev and Ian!
    Great to read about the experiences and challenges faced by the original rogainers back in the years when the sport was born and established!

    Despite being relatively new to the sport, I personally prefer longer bush rogaines – 24-hour is my favourite format (although I don’t mind the 29 hours of Navshield 🙂 ). In the last couple of years I got into orienteering and it feels that has improved my experience in shorter rogaines where everything happens fast.
    I would be very sad if NSWRA stopped organising the 24-hour (Championship or non-championship) event. I think the 24-hour format showcases the best of Rogaining – the opportunity to getting to the wildest remote places and challenge navigational skills and stamina.

    On the question of individual entries, I feel Brett has already provided the answers to his own questions:
    1. The 3-hour Minigaine (and other shorter mostly urban events) allows single entries to help introducing Rogaining to people coming from other sports – orienteers, runners, etc.
    2. In classic Rogaining events – long duration in remote bush, being in a team brings advantages.
    – In Brett’s earlier example if his teammate’s torch failed, then Brett’s race would be ruined. However, if Brett’s torch failed while he was on his own, there would be nobody around to at least help Brett get back to a road, or safety, or warmth until daylight;
    – Navigating in the bush for 24 hours is hard enough and everybody who’s tried it knows how many times their teammates have prevented them from making mistakes;
    – Same goes for motivation – there are highs and lows and often we don’t experience them at the same time, so the team stays stronger. You could pass the nav to your partner while having a 10-minute walk/dose at 4am.
    – From safety point of view it makes a big difference if you’re going out on your own to set, vet, hang flags or if you are competing. First of all when competing you aim to carry as little as possible, so a lot of the safety equipment is being left behind. Second, the pace is completely different – you might average 3-4 km/h during a Rogaine, but setting pace is usually around and below 2km/h.

    Must admit, I am lucky enough to have a regular team mate which I would prefer to do all the events with even if there was an individual option.
    I realise for some people it is hard to find a team mate who is compatible enough – personality and competitiveness wise. Team work is hard. But it has it’s own rewards.
    And Rogaining IS a team sport. That’s one of the best things about it.

  6. Like Toni, I also prefer long rogaines, especially the 24 hour events. I live on the south coast of NSW, which can sometimes mean that travel times to rogaines are quite long – 6 to 8 hours of travel for a 3 hour event is hardly worthwhile, but the travel is worth it for a 24 hour event.

    I also agree that shortening the state championships would be sad. Rogaining is about navigation and endurance. Navigation is really tested at night, so championships should always have a night component. Endurance is obviously tested more over longer events. 12 hours would be a minimum, but as these finish in the dark anyway, why not go right through the night? Why should we make championships easier? They are supposed to be tough – because we are trying to find champions!

    Is Toni correct in saying that single entry is allowed in the Minigaine to help introduce rogaining to people coming from other sports like orienteering and running? It would be nice if a committee person could confirm this. If it is true, then it obviously isn’t working – given Trev and Ian’s lament about low numbers in 24 hour events. Perhaps orienteers do cross over to the Minigaine, but perhaps they don’t graduate to the longer events because they don’t want to be in a team?

    Just for the record, while I advocate solo rogaining, I am not trying to force people to compete solo. I don’t even care if solo rogainers are ineligible for prizes or championship trophies. I don’t care if the NSWRA makes PLBs compulsory for solo rogainers. I would just like solo rogaining to be an option in all rogaines. We will never know how popular it would be unless we give it a go. What are people afraid of?

    I have to admit that I had to really search for Toni’s reference to my earlier example of a teammate’s torch failure, but I eventually found it in a previous NSWRA blog post called “Go Your Own Way” which was lost when the NSWRA’s website went down earlier this year. That blog has been reproduced at http://www.solorogainingaustralia.org/goyourownway.html. After reading the blog, I can agree with Toni when she says that being in a team has advantages, but it also has disadvantages. Why not simply give people the choice of team or solo?

    I agree with Toni that teammates can prevent you from making mistakes, but one of the skills of rogaining is being able to recover from mistakes, realize where you went wrong, and get back on track. Solo rogainers will make mistakes, just as teams will make mistakes – despite the benefits of being in a team. A really excellent team recently finished almost 40 minutes late in a 12 hour event – or was that deliberate? 🙂

  7. In summary, to answer Ian’s three questions …
    1. When does a rogaine become an orienteering event?
    Some people might say that a rogaine becomes an orienteering event when solo entry is allowed, but I would say that a rogaine becomes an orienteering event when the controls / checkpoints have to be visited in a specified order. It then becomes a race against time, rather than a race to accumulate the most points in a set amount of time.

    2. 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?
    It would be interesting to see a breakdown of costs associated with a 24 hour event. How much is spent on admin, setter and vetter costs, the hash house and all night cafe, portaloos, map production etc. What could be eliminated to make the event financially viable?

    3. Should we change the NSW Rogaining Championships from a 24 hour to a shorter event because most NSW rogainers participate in the shorter events?
    No. Isn’t the reason we have Championships to find champions, not trying to provide a relatively easy, feel-good experience for the masses?

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