On the dangle

By March 21, 2024Science

Back when I was studying geology in Tasmania, I was involved in doing field work in the south coast of Tasmania at a place called Point Cecil. The only way to get down to that part of the state, was to go by boat, floatplane, helicopter or by a couple of days tramping along the South Coast Track. Given that we were hoping to bring perhaps a hundred kilograms of fossiliferous rock back to the university for study, tramping along the South Coast Track did not fill us with a great deal of enthusiasm. My supervisor happened to live next to an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and happened to be talking to him about our proposed field work. It turned out that the RAAF were undertaking training flights for their Iroquois helicopter crews around Tasmania, and a short conversation later, our transport was organised.

Some days later, we travelled out to Hobart Airport, hopped on the Iroquois helicopter, took off and headed south. The rocks we wanted to collect were on the western side of Point Cecil. On the western side of Point Cecil, New River flows into the ocean and it is a fairly large river, so getting across that to the rocks of interest was at best difficult or even dangerous. As a consequence, the plan was to drop us off at a small beach to the west of Point Cecil, and from there we would walk across the headland to the eastern side, bash the rocks into collectable chunks, wrap them in newspaper and place them carefully in our backpacks. Then we would walk back to the beach and the helicopter would pick us up. That was the plan. When we got to the beach to be dropped off, it was small and narrow, and the pilot didn’t seem too enthusiastic about putting down on the edge of the surf, so the three of us were winched down, one by one. I’d never been winched down ten metres of so from a helicopter before, so it was a new, if nerve-wracking experience. However, we all made it.

From the beach we tramped the few hundred metres up over the headland to the rocks we wanted to collect. We spent two or three hours examining and collecting the rocks, and while we were doing this the helicopter had landed on Prion Beach, which was the on other side of the mouth of New River. From there, the helicopter crew could see us and obviously kept an eye on us. When we had loaded up our backpacks and started to head back, the helicopter crew got busy, and by the time we had arrived at the top of the headland the helicopter arrived above us, and the winch operator signalled to us that we would be winched up. A this point on top of the headland, the scrub was quite thick, and it was a little windy such that the helicopter was bouncing up and down a little. I was first to be winched up. I had about 30 kilograms of rock in my backpack, so when the winch came down, I put it around me, under the pack, and the winch operator started winching me up. When it was clear to the winch operator that I was above the scrub, he clearly told the pilot, who took the helicopter up and out over the water, so I went from being maybe four metres above the headland, to being about 30 metres above the Southern Ocean with 30 kilograms of rock on my back. It was one of the most disconcerting experiences of my life. As my old man used to say in such situations, ‘you could have cut washers off my arsehole’.


  • JON says:

    Rofl, haven’t heard that one before. Very descriptive, perhaps too much so.

    I walked the Sth Coast track with a workmate, all the way from the Huon River (we did the Yo Yo Track as well) to Cockle Creek in March 1983. Long story short but we got stranded for a couple of days at Bathurst Harbour narrows, where we dined on fresh mussels and damper (trying to save our rations) while watching the eerie smoke haze and sunsets brought about by the Vic Ash Wednesday fires. It was like “On the beach” – very easy to imagine you were onthe edge of nuclear/volcanic fallout.

    On the third day we were “saved” from swimming across the narrows (to get a rowboat) by a yachtie who, after a series of hand signals pulled into Ida Bay on the eastern side of the northern narrows peninsula, invited us on board, gave us cake and champagne, told us the great news about Hawke’s election, then motored us over to pick up the two rowboats (you were supposed to leave one on either side which meant three crossings, but the previous walker hadn’t bothered).

    Spectacular walk that, and even better memories, including being serenaded by hundreds of currawongs near the top of the Ironbound Ranges. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous.

    • admin says:

      I did quite a bit of fieldwork in Tasmania in various parts, and the stuff on the south coast was the most memorable, even though it only formed a fairly small part of my studies. In another instance we took a flaotplane to New River Lagoon, and did some work up the side of Precipitous Bluff. We were woken up at about 2 am one night with devils or possums grunting and scratching away at the wooden boxes we had our food in. Fortunately, they didn’t get through to the food.

  • Bron Larner says:

    Beeootiful description!

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