by Brian K. Kelly

Managing Editor

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    If there’s a possum on your tent pole and an emu on your sack, you must be camping in Tasmania.

    The ferry was sitting low in the heavy seas, bumping the waves like a fat mallard barely making headway. As it inched closer to the dock you could see the captain in the wheelhouse surrounded by young men. The whole boat seemed covered with people, and the forward deck and rails were packed with eager young faces with a few adults interspersed.

    The moment the ferry nudged the pilings and the heavy ropes were thrown ashore, people in Scout uniforms started pouring onto the dock.

    Australian Scouts of all sizes were everywhere for a moment, and then they quickly formed a human chain from the dark interior of the boat, leading up into the light and out onto the dock. Supplies started flowing down this human chain. Boxes, billies (pails), tins, sleeping bags, tents, packs, and enough oil drums and surplus army ammunition boxes and weapons boxes to establish a beachhead were piled on the wharf. In no time at all the gear was sorted and loaded onto backs or carts pulled by more Scouts and Explorers, and the first Hobart Australia Stake all-LDS Scout camp was underway.

    Tasmania, the “Treasure Island” of Australia, lies 150 miles south of the southeastern tip of the mainland. Although it is Australia’s smallest state, its 425,000 inhabitants live in an area slightly larger than West Virginia. Regarded as a vacation land for people from the mainland, the scenic and bountiful land is a source of pride for Tasmanians. Their rich history goes back 300 years to Abel Tasman’s discovery in 1642. The first settlement was established in 1803, only 15 years after the original fleet arrived in Sydney.

    Maria Island, the site of this year’s camp, rests a few miles off the east coast of Tasmania. This island harbors a fascinating history as an early penal colony and is now a national park and wildlife sanctuary. Both its historical setting and the abundance of wildlife make it a wonderful place to camp and explore.

    Stake President John D. Jury explained that the camp was established, “because of the need for the young men of our widespread stake to come together for a major camping and hiking experience—to feel the strength of numbers greater than the usual minority status they have in so many of their other associations. I also wanted to allow them to appreciate the beautiful creations that Heavenly Father has blessed us with here in Tasmania. I wanted them to gain an appreciation of the hardships encountered by our forefathers who settled this area and also to practice the skills learnt in Scouting.”

    “Our preliminary work involved sending two of the brethren to the island to examine the campsite, the facilities, sea and land transport, and to make recommendations. Then leaders in the stake met at a central location and worked out the details of the basic plan.”

    Sixty-eight excited Tasmanians climbed off of the ferry for their adventure on Maria Island. Many had never seen or met the people from the other wards. They also brought many of their nonmember and non-Scout friends. And they had many good leaders, including their stake president and several bishops and fathers, in addition to their Scoutmasters and other priesthood leaders.

    The wind was whistling in from Darlington Bay as the boys tried to put up their tents. They struggled alone and in pairs until they quickly learned that it required more help and cooperation than pairs could muster. With many hands and backs bent to the task the tents came up, one by one, and now they stayed up. Pegged tight against the Tasmanian soil, they withstood the stiff sea breezes that are not all that far from Antarctica.

    As they were laying out camp and putting up their tents, the boys noticed their wild animal hosts, who quickly established themselves as wonderful combinations of curiosity and nuisance. The emus, wallabies, and kangaroos were everywhere.

    Emu watching became one of the full-time chores because they were big and hungry and were not very fussy about what they ate. They quickly earned the moniker, “walking vacuum cleaners.” And then the reason for all of the extra gear became clear: if it wasn’t sealed in a box, tin, billy, or barrel it would be eaten by an emu.

    Cries like “There’s an emu in your drum (barrel) eating all your tucker,” “Hey boys, an emu has his head in your grub box,” or “An emu has someone’s bread,” (a whole loaf), or “Watch that wallaby” were a constant part of camp life, especially at mealtime.

    From the beginning brushes with emus, the boys were ecstatic about the wildlife on Maria Island. Most of them had never seen kangaroos in the bush, and the emus, wallabies, and all the bird life made every outing and every meal an adventure. One hundred and twenty-nine species of birds live on the island, including some rare birds endemic to Tasmania. Emus, Cape Baron geese, native hens, flame and scarlet robins, white-backed magpies, sea eagles, parrots, and the raucous-sounding kookaburra, which delighted everyone with unbelievable vocal techniques, were pure pleasure to observe and classify.

    Listening to the birds was even more fun than watching them. Every morning the camp awoke to a special symphony provided by the local aviary company. Native hens began the first movement by setting up a racket of calls, clucks, and cries. Song birds of all sorts warbled and trilled their beautiful melodies from antiphonal perches in the trees around the camp. Cape Baron geese squawking and chuckling in their cello-like voices added a baritone harmonic presence to the symphony. Arias were freely added with the crescendoing, hyena-like cries of Tasmania’s laughing jackass, the kookaburra. This almost perfect, but loud, symphony suddenly became complete as the deep bass tom tom tom drumming tones of the emu joined in. The emus seemed to sense when the symphony needed their strong rhythmic accompaniment. The same orchestra seemed to go all out to give a wonderful hour-long concert every morning just after daybreak.

    Besides the wallabies and kangaroos, other marsupials living near the Scout camp included the potoroo, ring-tailed possums, echidnas, and wombats. The famous Tasmanian devils have never been sighted on Maria Island.

    This information alone allowed the boys to sleep easier at night, although many still felt sleeping was the biggest problem at the camp.

    “The nights were really bad. The possums were out in force raiding tents and rubbish bins all night. In the whole camp the worst thing was trying to get to sleep. There was one rock that seemed to follow me all night, and between that and the wind and the cold I didn’t sleep much,” said Stephen Szekely, of Launceston.

    “The possums through the night gave me the willies because we had to keep bashing them out of our food box and a possum got in our tent and climbed up our tent pole. We broke our torch (flashlight) trying to get him out of there. Then the emus got in our tent and dunged all over Heath’s, Andrew’s, and my sleeping gear. But the kangaroos were great; they weren’t pests like the emus,” said Geoffrey Jones, a nonmember from Glen Huon.

    Skinks, frogs, and snakes were also part of the environment. Blue-tongued lizards and white-lipped whip snakes seemed to be created just for the Scouts to observe.

    After camp was organized many of the boys walked the few yards to the woodlot for firewood. Captain Scott, the island ranger and caretaker, hauled in large trailer loads of wood, which the boys attacked with zeal and a wide assortment of hatchets and axes. It sounded as if they were chopping stone. The axes actually rang as they glanced off the tough wood. There was never the dull “thunk” sound one hears when chopping a pine log. Australian gum trees make a wonderful fire, but they are very tough and stringy. The wood is hard and dense and easily wears out axes and choppers alike. Most of the trees on the island are varieties of the eucalyptus and include blue gums, stringy bark gums, and white gums.

    The boys helped plan and cook their own meals and spent the most amount of time and creative energy on “tea,” the evening meal. Peas, carrots, parsnips, onions, potatoes fried, bully (corned beef), skim milk, and pudding started the week’s teas, and the same kind of robust fare continued every night.

    The meals were cooked over open fires in blackened pots and long-handled frying pans. After tea was over and the dishes were cleaned up and put away, the various patrol fires were ringed with boys and leaders. They sat on logs with their arms clasped around their knees, “yarning” about the gospel, cricket, the bad drought in Tasmania, and whether or not any of the political parties would accept Dick Smith’s offer of a one-million-dollar donation to stop the building of the Franklin Dam. American sports also interested them. “What about you, Brother Kelly? Do you like to play gridiron?” they would ask.

    Of course this much talk made for more hunger, and so before it was bedtime a spot of cocoa or a cup of hot Milo was welcome. A few went in for more exotic treats.

    “We’re having chocolate banners. They’re beautiful. You take a Cadbury’s block and put it in a split banana and then put it in foil and set it in the fire,” said Matthew Sayers.

    The young men also enjoyed singing songs around the campfires at night. They sang many folksongs familiar to other English-speaking Scouts, but their favorites seemed to be those with a particular Australian flavor, like “Advance Australia Fair,” “Botany Bay,” and “Gundagai”:

    There’s a track winding back

    To an old-fashioned shack,

    Along the road to Gundagai;

    Where the blue gums are growing

    The Murrumbidgee’s flowing,

    Beneath that sunny sky;

    Where my daddy and mother

    Are waiting for me,

    And the pals of my childhood

    Once more I will see,

    Then no more will I roam

    When I’m heading right for home,

    Along the road to Gundagai.

    Two taxing bush walks or hikes climaxed the boys’ stay on the island. The first was a long hike east from camp on a track that runs across a narrow part of the island, around the old convict cement works, and up along Fossil Cliffs above Fossil Bay. Here the trail climbs inland through forests of gum trees and across rocky scree slopes. Most of the boys reached the summit, the twin peaks of Bishop and Clerk. Perched on the rocky summit 630 meters above the sea they ate their boiled eggs, sandwiches, biscuits (cookies), and oranges while they drank in the magnificent vistas of Freycinet Peninsula to the north and Cape Bernier to the south.

    Wednesday’s 26-kilometer walk to Chinaman’s Bay and back was tougher than the hike up Bishop and Clerk. Everyone brought their bathers (swimming trunks) and a towel, plus lunch. It took several hours slogging along the soft sandy road that followed the shoreline to reach the white beaches of Chinaman’s Bay. The boys showed amazing stamina as they not only kept up but often overtook their leaders.

    As four young Scouts passed him, Brother Pash described the feelings of many of the adults when he said, “It’s disgusting, it is, to see little blokes catching us up that way.”

    After some very icy swimming (the Tasman Sea carries too much of the Antarctic chill for the less hardy souls), everyone began the long walk back to camp in time to hike down to the ferry dock, meet the afternoon boat, and buy a fizzy (soda pop).

    Thursday’s activities included a treasure hunt that lasted several hours and figured as the high point of the trip for many of the boys. Patrols used clues provided by leaders to guide them from point to point around the island. Because the clues were written very subtly the boys’ powers of observation were sharpened, and whether they had to identify the bleached bones of a beached whale or an old cabin used by one of the early penal officers, they gained a new appreciation for the island and its inhabitants.

    Wide games (for getting acquainted), softball, cricket, chess, and fishing took up their share of time as did some service projects for the ranger. Most agreed that it was a wonderful camp, but by Friday men and boys alike were ready to go home.

    Geoffrey Swanton, 13, summed up the feelings for many when he said, “The camp was a good experience for me. I think the hikes to Bishop and Clerk and Chinaman’s Bay did me good. I’m glad came. The food was good, but there was not enough of it. I reckon the wildlife here is some of the best in Australia. You could pat the wallabies and observe other animals quite close up. The historic value of the island is good and there was always something to do. I wouldn’t mind staying a little longer, but I need a good shower, a good feed-up, and some sleep at home.”

    Though everyone had his favorite activities, most agreed that the most successful part of the whole camp was the wonderful associations that were forged in the warm glow of campfire conversations, in the hot dust of the island’s trails, and in the friendly warmth of patrol and tent group prayers.

    “At first the camp appeared boring, but by the second day things became all right. I hardly knew anybody from the other patrols at first, but by the end of the camp I had made many new friends,” said David Scott, from Launceston.

    “The camp drew us all a lot closer to our leaders, and it made us all work as a group in order to eat or have activities. The camp succeeded. It brought the young men and leaders together and helped to unify the stake Scout force,” said Matthew Parsons, from Glenorchy.

    Every leader enjoyed his associations with the young men of the camp. They seemed pleased when the boys wanted to tell them about their troubles and hopes for life.

    “I’ve enjoyed getting to really know the boys I’ve been called to watch over. It has helped me to know their strengths, and this camp really opened up the lines of communication between us,” said Bishop Triffith, Devonport.

    The young men left the camp with new friends, better associations with their priesthood leaders, and in many cases stronger interests in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Scouting program. The first all-Tasmanian LDS Scout camp on Maria Island was over, and everyone agreed that it had been a smashing success.

    Photos by Brian K. Kelly

    Eric Reece surveys the campsite on Maria Island, while an emu keeps a wary eye out for something to eat. It’s a hot half-mile hike to transport gear and people from the ferry dock to the campsite.

    Putting up tents in the wind requires more teamwork than Noel Hodges and Matthew Parsons could handle alone. David Paul and Heath Bester participate in the morning flag ceremony. Cape Baron geese, a rare Tasmanian species, are having a hard time finding enough grass to eat on the drought-stricken island. The hike up Mt. Bishop and Clerk leads the boys along the fossil cliffs above the Tasman Sea. Emus seem more at home in the camp than do the Scouts.

    Sausage and potatoes cook “bush-style” in Noel Hodge’s long-handled frying pans over a gumwood fire. Bennett’s wallabies, the best-loved camp pets, are friendly enough to beg apples and carrots out of your hand. One seemed to feel left out when he was the only one without a neckerchief. Slow-moving skinks occasionally have to be lifted out of the way when they get underfoot in camp. Walking under a canopy of trees on the way back from Chinaman’s Bay provides a few minutes of welcome relief from the sun.

    Mark Tang and his friends enjoy beachcombing at the base of the fossil cliffs. They examine fossils and collect some barnacles for fish bait, while back at camp, Stephen Szekely challenges his bishop to a game of chess. A wallaby with a baby joey in the pouch watches every move they make.