Written by Jim Lee

With John driving us through Adelaide suburbs on our way to Mt. Torrens, Peter and I took the new Silva orienteering compass out of its box and read the instructions on how to align the compass on the map and make allowance for the magnetic deviation. We were all experienced bush-walkers, but a competitive walk was new to each of us. As members of the Flinders University Bushwalking Club we had accepted a challenge from the much more established Adelaide University Mountaineering Club (AUMC) to compete in the “South Australian Orienteering Championships” – but orienteering was virtually unknown in Australia, and rogaining was yet to be named.

We arrived early, about an hour before the start at noon to find around 10 teams there to compete. The rules were: 24 hours to complete the course with penalties for late return; teams of at least two; team members could be dropped, but only at a hash house, and there must be two remaining to continue. There were two hash houses, and it was compulsory to visit both. There would have been no competitors older than about 30. I don’t recall any female teams/competitors but there may have been. There was at least one other team from Flinders, who we did not expect to beat, and talk of a ‘hot’ team from AUMC that was expected to be unbeatable. Peter, John and I agreed that we would just see how we went, but we were not going to run at all.

We had 30 minutes before the start to mark control locations on our inch to the mile (1:63360, 50ft = ~15m – contours) Mannum topo map and to plan our route. We also noted the points available for each control. It was the sum of these points that would determine the standings. We started with a route planned at least to the first hash house, and followed through on that.

At noon we started off through mostly open farm land with sheep the main livestock. We had no regard for property boundaries. I expect there was minimal, if any, attempt to get permission for access. Filled with enthusiasm I decided to vault over the first fence we came to, only to rip the parka I had tied around my waist. The weather stayed fine for the whole event.

We found the first few controls without trouble. We had the grid reference and a description of where we would find the control marker. This was a glass jar in which there was a piece of paper with a phrase that had to be copied to prove we had found it. The phrases were mostly from well-known literary works such as Winnie the Pooh, or Alice in Wonderland.

Around dusk we had trouble finding a control for the first time. It was a spring on a hillside (B9) and we spent around half an hour in the vicinity in fading light and almost gave up before finally finding it in complete darkness. If there was a moon, it did not rise until sometime later. Head lamps were not in use, and our torches would have been dim in comparison with today’s super-bright rogaining lights. Never-the-less we were able to continue through the night to the first hash house.

It was too early to stop then, but Peter had already had enough and decided to drop out, leaving John and myself to continue without him. At control K we missed the turn in the spur and went past the control on the western side. Once we regained the spur, I was convinced we had not passed the control and should continue on, but John convinced me to go back. The next at the waterfall, was easier than we expected.

When we got to the second hash house, probably around 3am, John wanted to have a kip. I did too, but if I went to sleep there was no certainty that I would wake again in time. We felt we were doing quite well, and wanted to continue to go for more points. Also we found Brian at the hash house. Brian had been half of the other Flinders University team, but had been let down by his partner who decided not to continue. So Brian wanted to join us for the next stage. We weren’t clear whether this would be allowed, but what the hell. So John and Brian had an hour of sleep, while I stayed awake to ensure we got away again. We hadn’t thought to bring an alarm clock, and mobile phones were decades away.

The three of us debated going for control Q (8 pts) with Brian probably the strongest in favour, but we took the safer option of FF (4 pts). This was a fortunate choice. We had definitely slowed down by this stage. I was half asleep walking between controls V and KK, but we were still in good time to finish by noon. But then at KK, our last control, we couldn’t find the glass jar. Supposedly it was in a tree stump near the creek. We found the creek and a tree stump, but no jar. So we checked our location again and searched again. We were in an open field with a clear view of any tree stump in the vicinity. So eventually we gave up as we needed the remaining time to get to the finish.

We made it with ten minutes to spare, handed in our results claiming that KK was not where it should have been and so we should be given the points. Then we waited while some stragglers finished. I think the ‘hot’ team from AUMC was a bit late and so had some points deducted. When the results were announced, to our surprise, we had won. We had been given the 3 points for KK, as we were not the only team to be unable to find it and there was mention of the farmer getting annoyed and removing the control. There was also a rumour that the AUMC ‘hot’ team had called in at the Palmer hotel for refreshment during the night. Anyway we were happy with our win and didn’t see the need to ask about the legitimacy of adding Brian to our party.

The trophy was an old walking boot that had seen better days, spray painted silver and nailed to a polished piece of wood. We were proud to have won it for Flinders University, but had some difficulty convincing the Sports Association administration that it was a real trophy worthy of display in the University trophy cabinet.

Our route: 66 km (as the crow flies); 1450 m climb (estimated); 127 points

Due to intervening time, none of the facts in this account can be relied on for accuracy.

That was also my last rogaine, but I took up orienteering in 1975 and have been competing regularly since then – a sport for life.

(See the map in our map library.)