David’s Franklin River Expedition Review

After reading through the blog articles that I’d written about our Franklin River expedition, David wrote the following comments about the trip which I’ve published here with his permission.

When thinking about who to invite on this, my third Franklin trip I cast my thoughts back to 1979 and 1980.

My companions from that era were all around 25 to 30 years old and each had at least five solid years experience in the Tasmanian wilderness. We were all “bushies” although none of us had any rafting experience. Each of my “old” rafting buddies turned down the invitation. One was approaching his 65th birthday and claimed “old age” another sadly passed away only a few months before. It seemed unlikely that I could make up a balanced group. I would be a 30 year old guy stuck in a 60 year old body on departure day. One of my good friends put it this way. “David, you were young and dumb in those days and it seems like only one thing has changed”.

I already had three candidates with my son Sean, my eldest daughter Kate and Paul our part time adopted boy of 31. I really wanted Nick to come along though. I had never been in the bush with Nick but I knew that he had a lot of experience and would be a solid team member. This proved to be true on the river. I was really pleased that his wife was able to talk some sense into him and get him to accept. The other two who made up our group, Jamie and Jess, were unknown quantities. I could only hope that there would be enough time and practice sessions to figure them out. I knew that once we were on the Franklin we would be faced with a life changing experience and some testing situations. How could I explain that?

I had unexpressed reservations about my own ability and strength to complete this trip. I knew (or at least hoped) that I could call on help from the younger and fitter people but I was determined not to have to do that. I have said many times in the past while on hiking trips “If I can’t carry my own gear, I shouldn’t be here”. I was not trying to prove anything either to myself or to anyone else but I was determined “pull my own weight” as the expression goes. Hopefully, without sounding vain I believe I managed to contribute as much as any other team member. I am very grateful to my team mates for their efforts.

Looking back on the trip I have more visual recollections from my previous trips than this one. There was much more drama and many more “incidents” on the trip than either of my two previous journeys. In fact I was quite frustrated by day four as there had been more “paddle overboard” accidents in three days of rafting than the whole of the combined time from 1979 and 1980. I couldn’t understand why everyone seemed so casual about handling their paddle or their boat. It seemed so obvious to me that you either carried your paddle when lining your boat or firmly secured it to your raft. Why did I need to tell these guys the obvious? On reflection It is possible that they were looking for my guidance. Being senior and having rafted down twice before it could have been simply that I was expected to say more. Eventually I did speak up and quite firmly stated “your paddle is your lifeline”. I would have those words thrust back at me by my son when I had my own “paddle overboard” event later in the trip.

I also realised that the Franklin was quite beyond anything that Nick and Jamie had experienced in the bush, even though they were the next most experienced in our group. Which was why in the evening, I would check that the boats and paddles were secured. It was surprising how often I had to move a paddle away from the river.

I have a rare photo book that was published by Bob Brown as material for the “Save the Franklin” campaign. The forward was written by a well known (then) American adventurer. He said, and I paraphrase, “If you are privileged to experience this River once in your life you are indeed fortunate. It will be a life changing event”. I sincerely hope that Nick and the others in our group feel that they have done something that only a relatively few from seven billion earthlings will ever do. We were lucky, we were adventuresome, we were bold. Would I go with you guys again? In a heartbeat!