15 Jan 2017
Mud, mud, glorious mud.
The area is known as The Cells and was a gold mining area in the mid-19th century. In 1989 a horizontal mineshaft -filled with glowworms-was still accessible.
The descent into a gorge where the mine is located is very steep and there is a serious river crossing. The early miners managed to transport very heavy pieces of mining machinery down into the gorge. A large boiler and a massive stamping battery and other bits and pieces are still there rusting in the bush. The machinery was bought by ship to Port Macquarie where it was offloaded onto wagons and using big teams of bullocks was hauled up into the hinterland -a major task as it is a long, steep climb and then taken down into the mine site. The descent into the gorge where the mine was located would have been extremely hazardous with the wagons anchored by ropes and chains to trees.
On the media launch pictured we had 12 Range Rovers and one Land Rover Defender which was fitted with a winch and full recovery equipment. In the week before the event there had been heavy rain and whilst the descent and river crossing were easy the track for the steep climb out turned into a quagmire very quickly. I was in the lead Range Rover and we manged to get up with a lot of wheelspin and sliding as did the Defender. But we had shredded the track so after those two vehicles it was chaos. As you can see from the photos the mud was clay and was so deep that there was no traction, no braking or steering control. I have a vague recollection that the Range Rover in the photo was being driven by Australian 500cc motorcycle world champion Wayne Gardner but I would not swear to that. Anyway the driver was extremely lucky not to go over the edge. It was a sheer drop into the gorge at that point. As you can see from the photo as a precaution we fixed a steel cable from the rear of the Range Rover around a tree to anchor it.
The guy with the red boots is Bani McSpedden who was then a partner in an advertising agency and also a motoring writer for men's magazine. Bani is still writing -now as a watch journalist. I suspect from his expression that at the time I took the photograph he wanted to be anywhere but on that muddy track.
It should have taken 30-45 mins for the vehicles to climb out of that gorge. In fact it took over 3 hours as we had to winch all the remaining vehicles up most of the slope.
The delay meant that we were very late back to the hotel in Port Macquarie. I drove back ahead of the convoy to change the timing for dinner so I was the first back and when I stepped out of the Range Rover at the hotel entrance the young lad who was the porter asked me if it was true that Wayne Gardner was on the launch and if so could he meet him. I said I would set it up and he was delighted so he then did something which I am sure he later regretted- he volunteered to clean all our boots for us. Well there were 20 journos on that launch and all of their boots were as muddy as mine. The lad did get Wayne Gardner's autograph- I hope that he thought that it was worth the effort.
I used my Leica M6 with a 28mm Elmarit lens for these photos. In later years I acquired -from a pawnshop in Sydney at a great price - a brilliant mint Nikon L35AW-AF- a rugged waterproof camera with a superb lens. See photo below. I took it on a few rugged Land Rover events and did not worry about getting it dusty, muddy or even wet but I wish that I had it years earlier. A wonderful journalist and camera collector extraordinaire,Brian Woodward, -sadly no longer with us-put me onto the Nikon.