Lost in the Valley of Diamonds

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Photo - Angela Bleakley © 1999

It was school holiday time, September 1982. During my last year at university in Toowoomba, I'd offered to help out as a leader at a week long holiday camp for highschoolers. The camp, called the 'Great Outdoors' adventure camp, certainly proved to be that for those of us who chose the bushwalking elective.

I`m not what you'd call an adventurous type, really. That year, some of my more outdoorsy friends persuaded me to try abseiling. When it came to the crunch, the idea of walking backwards off a cliff over a thirty foot drop – never mind the ropes and gear attached to me at the time – was too much for me. I just couldn`t take that step over into nothingness. I bailed up.

Then my obliging – and resourceful – mates looked around and came up with a drop that wouldn`t have been more than ten feet from top to bottom. (Presumably I could have jumped from top to bottom without sustaining serious injury!) Anyway, with full ropes, halter, and so on attached – reluctantly – down I went – carefully and slowly. Even then ( I was informed) I was sticking my bottom too far out to be said to be doing the whole thing properly. Ironically, they named the ten-foot drop after me, and the 'Margie Eather Cliff' was an 'in' joke for a while.

Anyway, helping on the camp seemed like the right thing to do. Some of my (braver) friends were going, and the idea was to allow highschool participants to enjoy a range of outdoors activities.

Hopefully we'd all learn new skills, and be challenged to grow in our relationship with God and faith in him. Off I went to the scenic 100 acre campsite 'Shannon Park' outside of Highfields, knowing I was, after all, only an associate leader in the bushwalking elective. How hard could that be?

The first few days of the camp were fairly low-key for the seven of us who had chosen the bushwalking elective. Our leader, Kevin, gave us some input on the do's and don'ts of bushwalking. A youth worker from Aspley Uniting Church, Kevin's energy and enthusiasm made us glad we were doing his elective. We did one or two short walks within the grounds of Shannon Park, and started to get excited about the overnight hiking trip planned for later in the week.

Our main walk was to take place in the Crows Nest National Park. We were to be driven to Crows Nest, and walk from the campsite area known as Crows Nest Falls, cross country to the wall of Lake Perseverance (known locally as Perseverance Dam). We were to camp overnight along the way, then be met at the road above the dam the following afternoon to return to Shannon Park

The first mishap occurred before we reached the National Park. While our two vehicles were travelling from Shannon Park, a stone flew up, and broke the windscreen of the second car. That car's driver pulled over, while the first carload continued on, unaware of their difficulty. After that problem was revealed, the vehicle returned to Shannon Park. It was then discovered that the two way radio we had planned to take with us had been left at Shannon Park, and it was brought out to Crow's Nest Falls for us.

After the last car left Crow's Nest Falls, we were conscious of being on our own. We prayed, and asked God to both keep us safe, and reveal himself to us through the time ahead. Then we set off on the main walking track, carrying varying loads of backpacks and sleeping bags. We walked past the natural, rocky swimming hole, which is a great place to cool off in the summer. Further along, we came to the lookout point from which, looking down, we could see the rugged depths of the 'Valley of Diamonds'.

This was where we planned to change course, and travel on a downward slope from the heights and more or less skirt along the side of the Valley of Diamonds – to complete the first leg of our journey.

 

Looking around for the path we were to take, we were perplexed. From the lookout it was a sheer drop, with guard fences up. Thinking we might have misunderstood the map, we backtracked to the swimming hole. Did the track we want actually lead downwards from the other side of the swimming hole, instead of from the Valley of Diamonds lookout?

We had to check to see. It took a long time to get the whole group across, stepping on and over the rocks. Unfortunately, our efforts proved fruitless. There was no path, and no clear way forward in the direction we wanted to go. Frustrated, and aware of the lateness of the afternoon, we decided to turn back. It would be better to spend the night in the relative safety of the campground we set out from, and start again fresh in the morning.

At that stage, I admit I felt a most unpioneer-like gratitude that we would be, at least until morning, in a place that offered the convenience and privacy of National Park toilets. Dinner that night wasn't quite cordon bleu – something went wrong with the main dish, and some campers actually missed out - or just opted out - on it altogether. Kevin's cooking woes were a bit of a shame at the time, but we were glad of it later. At a 'last night' campfire back at Shannon Park, we bushwalkers put on a skit depicting the radical effects of Kev's cooking (suitably exaggerated) - we fell around dramatically, as if poisoned – and it went over pretty well!

"This is QBL395-02 calling QBL395. Can you hear me?" From a high point, Kevin tried using the two way radio to contact Shannon Park. We wanted to let them know we didn`t get through to the planned overnight stopping point. "QBL395-02 calling QBL395 – can you hear me?" Despite repeated efforts, the camp leaders at Shannon Park couldn`t hear our calls.

Then Mark Bizzell, one of our highschool campers, met up with some friends who had also been camping out at Crows Nest Falls. We realised we could ask his friends, the Gaydon family, to call in at Shannon Park on their way back to Toowoomba, and deliver our message in person. They were happy to oblige, and since there was no phone contact from Crows Nest Falls, and no ranger in residence (his house was close to our destination at Perseverance Dam), having their help seemed like a happy coincidence.

After a reasonable night`s sleep, and further consultation with the walking tracks guide book, we set out again, single file, for the Valley of Diamonds lookout. It had to be there that we should branch off to head towards the Dam. When we got there, we headed in the direction we thought we should go. What we didn`t realise was, we had missed the unsignposted and unmaintained goat's track to which the guide book referred. We continued along the ridge, and would inevitably have to go down, deep into the Valley of Diamonds.

As we began the descent from the ridge, the way became more difficult. We were working our way between closely-spaced trees, leaning back against the pull of gravity, and bending lower to keep our balance. It was my turn to carry the 'medium heavy' pack, and I'm a bit clumsy at the best of times.

Suddenly, I lost my footing, and slipped! The weight of the backpack overbalanced me completely, pulling me backwards and downward at the same time. As I slipped, I grabbed, thankfully getting one hand, then two, around the lower part of a straight young tree trunk. Wonderful tree – strong enough to hold my weight, being in the right place at the right time!

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