Getting lost in mallee

To: "" <>
Subject: Getting lost in mallee
From: Brian Fleming <>
Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2001 11:31:32 +1000
In his book on Malleefowl, Harry Frith wrote of the necessity in mallee
country of dragging a stick to mark one's track in mallee country - he
that despite compass and practice, he sometimes found he had come round
in a circle without knowing it.

The most challenging navigation we Flemings have been up against was in
the Vic. Sunset Country on a RAOU Black-eared Miner Survey a few years
back. Even in sunny conditions, mallee country should never be taken
This was before appearance of GPS devices, so all we had were compasses.
Our Organizer issued us all with radio beacons, in case we needed to be
We were supposed to walk due north for x kms, turn west for 100 metres,
return south till we came to the track where we'd been dropped. It
proved very difficult to walk through dense growth on a straight line.
Our solution was for me to go ahead until Brian (with compass) reckoned
I was due north of him. Then he caught up and we did it again.
Unfortunately, it seems I can't walk in a straight line without
direction. We crossed a number of small sand-dunes roughly at right
angles to line of march. My personal dodge was to notice some feature
and mentally name each ridge - I recall one was 'Golden Pennants',
another "Dead Wood" and a third 'Everlastings' - I forget the fourth.
Then we came into an area of chaotic and irregular sand dunes confused
by tracks made by broom-bush cutters in the past. Here it was more open
and we could get much longer views. When we came to return, through the
thick stuff again, my informal naming system helped me keep track of the
ridges, so that I didn't walk over our track where we were due to be
collected - which we could very easily have done. 
I am sure this is a very ancient dodge.

Another is, when leaving one's starting point, to turn round and have a
really good look to fix what it looks like when one comes back.

It should also be remembered that a steel pocket-knife, and the
oldfashioned magnetic light-meters in older cameras, can utterly confuse
a compass - and maybe a GPS too, though I don't know that. And then
always the possibility of doing a 180 degrees error with all the best
equipment if it's used without putting brain in gear first! (known in
orienteering circles as "The Dreaded 180s". Been there, done that!

Anthea Fleming in Ivanhoe (Vic)
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