Mountain expedition… just a regular intrepid weekend

by Megan Rowlatt, 16th July 2015
Mountain expedition… just a regular intrepid weekend

When we first headed to Foxground on our annual celebration last year we never imagined that less than a year later we would be traipsing up the side of the escarpment through thick scrub and Rainforest to find a 48 year old plane wreck. But here we were.

Last September, 2014 as part of Landcare week, we decided to start our celebration with a very early hike in the dark up to drawing room rocks near Berry, NSW to take in the sunrise over the region we (like many of the amazing Landcare groups), work to protect. It was nothing short of spectacular!

Some of the Intrepid Landcare gang at Drawing Room Rocks, September 2014

Our day-long Journey then took us to nearby Foxground to meet the wonderful volunteers working in this catchment to protect and enhance the local Rainforest which is listed as Endangered in our region.

Rainforest through Foxground

This Landcare group boasts one of the largest memberships in the region and is quite unique in that there are 26 volunteers who work over 14 different properties and rotate their efforts to a different property every month. Now for those of you in the business of Landcare, you know how much work you can get done with 26 people on the ground! But there’s also a nice big fat reward waiting for everyone at the end, and on the 22nd of June we got to see just why this Landcare group is so addicted to Landcare in Foxground.

It’s all about the food you see. And what a spread!

Each month a different property is worked on by the group, and the host landholders host the lunch. The day before everyone prepares a dish either for morning tea or lunch or both. We heard there were high standards to maintain so I even hosted a cook off at my apartment the night before so we didn’t turn up looking like a bunch of hungry uni students begging for a feed. We made chocolate brownies and slices and even two quiches!

You know the way to a young Landcare volunteer's heart is free food right?

And so after a few hours work we got our first sugar hit! Check it out!

The action at Rick and Marie’s property involved removing and following up the work that they had started and removing Lantana from the understory of the Rainforest. Our favourite! Lantana smashing. Except this time we learnt a new technique…Lantana rolling! Heard of it? Neither had we, but they showed us and we rolled. It was actually really fun. You cut the lantana at the base and start to roll it down slope and with enough momentum the bundles start to roll themselves, and then we followed through removing the roots and making sure we cut and painted what we left in the ground with herbicide along the way.

Volunteers rolling the Lantana

We continued to mid-afternoon and then we joined the feast. Now this was incredible. A full spread of food, beer and wine, and a big deck set up with tables and chairs for everyone so we could dine and overlook the Rainforest. One of our volunteers even exclaimed “you know, sometimes I come to these things and it’s like I’m in a dream…” and you know what it is. We get treated to the most amazing experiences through Landcare and meet some incredible people too, and this was no exception.

We chatted late into the afternoon talking about history and culture and Landcare and nature and cool places we’ve been to and more!

We then headed into the nearby town of Berry to set up camp for the night. Now we couldn’t stay in this quaint little town without sampling the local, so we headed to the Berry Hotel to wind down by the open fire and take in some local music (we didn't need any more food). The night ended up quite the opposite to winding down, and instead we joined the locals and probably stayed up way too late. But it was worth it. So many laughs.

Camp set up for the night in Berry

A not so quiet night in Berry...

The next morning we were up bright and early to meet our local guide Paul. Now Paul is a deadest legend. 79 years old, who had just spent 3 weeks prior walking around Japan, and he was there keen as beans ready to lead us on an expedition to find an old plane wreck which had crashed into the side of the escarpment over Foxground in the 1950s.

So off we went meandering along the escarpment cliffs, looking down the heads of majestic waterfalls which flowed into the valley below, scrambling up (thankfully) dry creeks covered in beautiful moss, and we came across amazing Aboriginal rock carvings too!

Head of a waterfall dropping into Foxground

Heading up the creekline

Aboriginal rock carvings

We continued climbing up rocky ridgelines through gorgeous Subtropical Rainforest, and then we hit sandstone country. Boom. Thick impenetrable scrub. As much as I adore heath vegetation, holy moly we became very well aquainted with Prickly Hakea and all sorts of other prickly scratchy scrub. Just as the South Coast Register article written back in 1957 explains "The way up to the scene was through very rugged country, which was dense with undergrowth, and it made the process of the rescue party a very slow and hazardous one."
The article also explained that during the rescue "Another party of Berry men who went to the crash got "bushed" on the way down and they did not get home until after daylight. They also met up with some of the men of the naval station, one of whom collapsed from exhaustion and had to be helped back to the bottom of the mountain."

It was an adventure alright and we almost didn’t find the wreck for the scrub was so thick, but we moved through at snail pace, sometimes on our hands and knees crawling slowly through the shrubs, and we really got a sense of what it would have been like for the rescue teams making their way to the crash site on that night back in 1957.

We also had many laughs along the way. There’s something about suffering through being scratched and pricked by sharp vegetation together that actually kind of makes it more tollerable. Just like the time we were all working in meter high stinging nettle for two days at Jenolan Caves with NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. Now we're like "Stinging Nettle, Schminging Nettle, pfft, whatever". But that’s another story

We finally found the wreck, and the unfortunate story goes like this…

Near Foxground NSW, within a few kilometers of each other are the remains of several aircraft. The one we went to explore was the wreckage of RAN Firefly WD869.

WD869 was first accepted for service with the Royal Navy, and from 1951 to 1953, was embarked on the light fleet carrier HMS Triumph.

On the 21st of January 1953, she was delivered to the King George V Docks in Glasgow Scotland, to be embarked aboard HMAS Vengeance following purchase by the Royal Australian Navy.

In March 1953, after arriving in Australia, WD869 was off loaded to RANAS Schofields, and later allocated to 851 Squadron were she was known to have served aboard HMAS Sydney. For most of her career however, Fairey Firefly WD869 was used at HMAS Albatross (Naval Air Station Nowra) for observer training.

On the night of 19 March 1957, SBLT Warren Browne, 22, and 18 year old Midshipman Ian Caird, both of 851 Squadron left Albatross on a navigation exercise.

WD869 was an AS6 series Firefly and would have looked very similar to her sister WD915 shown above.

At 9:28, on the return leg of their journey, they crashed near the top of the mountains surrounding the valley of Foxground. Several Foxground residents witnessed the crash and they all said that they had seen the aircraft flying very low before it crashed, exploding on impact. One of these residents immediately contacted Police Sergeant L. Daley from Berry who took his Jeep and six other Foxground residents up as far as it was possible to drive.

A Vary light was seen to rise shortly after the crash and there was a faint hope that someone may have survived. It was later determined that the cartridge had been ignited by the intense heat from the burning fuselage.

After leaving the Jeep, Sgt Daley and his team battled their way up the mountain in the extremely thick bush for an hour and a half, trying to reach anyone that might have survived.

When they finally reached the still burning wreckage they realized that it was too late to render any assistance to the unfortunate crew. Some twenty minutes later, the Navy rescue team arrived, having climbed the hills from Broughton Village. It was a weary and solemn group that gathered together as a Naval Officer said a prayer for the souls of his two young comrades.

With very little evidence to go on the accident investigation concluded that the crew had become lost. Being displaced some 20 miles north of track and mistaking the lighthouse at Kiama for that at Point Perpendicular on Beecroft Head, they had descended below lowest safe altitude in the belief that they were on track back to Albatross.

The impact point, marked by a mass of molten glass and aluminum debris, is a mere 20 feet below this point at the top of the mountain.

As the South Coast Register reports, the rescue team got lost several times on the way out, and although we didn’t get lost, it’s easy to see how easy this would have happened in the dark with the scrub all looking the same and so thick. Now we did take 7 hours to do the walk instead of an anticipated 3.5, but we took our time taking in the special views, and we would like to extend a HUGE thanks to Paul for leading us all the way, and to Foxground Landcare for having us over the weekend!

Another amazing adventure done and dusted

 

Some images and italicised information taken from: http://www.adf-gallery.com.au/gallery/The-Loss-of-Firefly-WD869