Sticks and Stones: A night in the wild teaches bush survival skills

Would you know what to do if you got lost on a bushwalk? Or if your car broke down beyond repair on a quiet country road on a scorching hot summer's day? Do you pack a Plan B when travelling to remote locations?

Nope, me neither.

Enter Sticks and Stones Adventures, based near the Victorian town of Yackandandah, who offer a weekend of bushcraft and basic survival skills useful for just about anywhere from the great Australian outback to the Amazonian jungle. They call the experience A Night in the Wild.

An archaeologist from Melbourne, four friends from Beechworth in need of a break from parenting and I are driven from the Twist Creek base camp to a park-like clearing on a bush block adjoining Stanley State Forest.

"Nature provides everything we need," our guide, Charlie Wilcox, says on arrival. The rest of us raise our eyebrows at each other. We hope it can provide; all we've been allowed to bring is a sleeping bag, water bottle, warm and waterproof clothes, a hat, toiletries and a knife.

"People usually don't go off the tourist trail because of fear," Charlie continues. "But if you don't go off the trail, you miss out on great places." He'd know: he's been connecting with the Australian bush since birth and, as an adult, chose to survive self-sufficiently for four months on an uninhabited island off the Queensland coast.

Charlie starts us off easy with water collection from trees using the transpiration method, which involves sealing branches within a plastic bag to catch the water that evaporates as the plant photosynthesises. I've always wanted to know how to do that. We also learn how to find true north using an analogue watch. Then we pair up to make distress signals, construct sleeping shelters and build an animal trap for when things get really desperate.

A Lord of the Flies undercurrent inevitably develops as the day goes on, with competitive banter, hogging of machetes and two guys connecting their shelters to make an opulent bracken palace that no-one else is allowed to enter.

But nothing out of hand.

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One of the biggest challenges of that first day is creating fire using the Egyptian bow drill method, which is a very fancy way of rubbing two sticks together. Charlie, who everyone already admires, gets a flame on the first go. 

When the ration packs are distributed in the early afternoon, trading begins immediately. The archaeologist can't believe I'm happy just to give up my tube of condensed milk for nothing and insists I take half her muesli bar in exchange. The evening meal doesn't come out of a ration pack, but we do have to work for it by locating an Esky of goodies stashed in the bush. Orienteering has never been one of my strengths and I would have had two-minute noodles and tea for dinner instead of rainbow trout and pinot gris if the others hadn't been on the case. That night we bed down in the open air under our branch and leaf lean-tos. Though we're not entirely roughing it: we all sleep soundly through the night on cushy blow-up mattresses. In the morning I find a few mouthfuls of freshly transpired water in my tree-tied plastic bag and drink it with a sense of satisfaction that I'm really learning things. 

After breakfast and a brush-up on bearings, Charlie sets us our greatest challenge for the weekend: to orienteer our way through undulating bushland and across a small river to where our transport awaits us two kilometres away.

The archaeologist and I already know we work well as a team, having established a healthy trading relationship and building the best night signal (Charlie said so). I use the compass and all my concentration. She paces it out. We're not the fastest, but we are the only ones to emerge from the bush at exactly the spot Charlie had calculated we should. 

Back at Twist Creek, we celebrate our glorious success over a sumptuous lunch. 

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

victoriashighcountry.com.au.

GETTING THERE

Yackandandah, in Victoria's high country, is around three-and-a-half hours' drive northeast from Melbourne and is near Beechworth and Albury. Regional Express (REX) flies daily between Melbourne and Albury. Phone 13 17 13; see rex.com.au.

ADVENTURING THERE

A Night in the Wild runs over select weekends throughout the year for people aged 14 and over at a cost of $380 per person. Price includes all food and beverages from Saturday lunch to Sunday lunch, transfers to and from Beechworth and Yackandandah, survival kit and invaluable survival training. Phone (02) 6027 1483; see sticksandstonesadventures.com.au.

STAYING THERE

Ask about adding a Friday night stay at Twist Creek base camp to your weekend for an alfresco dinner, safari-style tent camping and cooked breakfast (from $85 per person). 

The writer was a guest of Tourism North East and Sticks & Stones Adventures.

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