Thursday, December 10, 2009

Alone in the Wilderness

I stumbled across this online video yesterday. It is a self made documentary by Richard Pronneke who was a carpenter, diesel mechanic and war veteran amongst other things. In 1969 Pronneke retired to a place called Twin Lakes in the Alaskan Mountains. The documentary shows the building of the cabin that was to be his home for the next thirty years.

It's amazing to see Richard craft the cabin with only a few hand tools. He sounds like a fascinating character, not many individuals can thrive in the solitude of such a harsh but beautiful environment. This documentary is a study in bushcraft in action, surviving and thriving!!!

Supposedly his journals have also been published. I think I might track them down.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Richard Graves

The Ten Bush Craft Books by Richard Graves are considered classic texts, unfortunately they have been out of print for many years. They are still available in pdf format.

Richard Graves led an adventurous life. Born in Ireland in 1889 he latter moved to Australia where he died in 1971. During World War II he was commander of the Australian Jungle Survival and Rescue Detachment. The unit was credited with successfully rescuing over 300 soldiers After the war he ran a bushcraft school for over twenty years.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Svord peasant knife

I recently stumbled across the New Zealand Knife manufacturer Svord; a small operation that produces hand made knives. One of the products is the Svord Peasant Knife. This unique knife is based on the knives produced in Bohemia 400 years ago. It has a unique tang that protrudes from the handle when the knife is closed. A small hole in the tang allows the owner to fix a lanyard strap to the knife. The blade is held in the open and closed position by friction which can be adjusted via the screw through the handle. With the blade open there is also the added protection of the hand holding the blade tang in the handle whilst in use. There should in theory be no way for the knife to close on the owners fingers whilst in use. This knife has been gaining a lot of great reviews in the UK as a cheap and versatile bushcraft knife.
The amazing thing about this knife is the price, I ordered mine from the US and it was delivered for under $30 dollars. The knife is made to a price point and it is apparent when you first handle the Svord. The wood is a little rough, but a quick sand would fix that and unfortunately the blade was blunt. This may be bad luck on my part as from what I have read on the UK sites most arrive razor sharp. On the plus side it was very easy to obtain a razor sharp edge using a diamond stone.
For the money I think this is incredible value. I like the rustic appearance of the knife. It looks and feels like an old favourite straight out of the box. I suspect this will become one of my favourite bushcraft tools. When I have had the opportunity to test out the Svord I shall report back.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Flinders Ranges

Well been a little slack of late. Back from an awesome out back trip travelling to Hillston, Ivanhoe, Menindee lakes, Yunta, Arkarolla and the Flinders Ranges. Australia is such an amazing place with an incredibly diverse range of ecosystems. I had the opportunity to test some new gear (Bacho folding saw, Mountain Designs Sprite Tent, Black Diamond Ion head torch, Leatherman multi tool, Andy Strapz adventure panniers, Katmandhu gas burner, Katmandhu Sleeping Mat) and will over the next few months post reviews on these items.

This trip was undertaken on a motorbike with 3 friends and was a brilliant way to travel, if not somewhat challenging. Some days we covered big distances across wind sweept dunes. At night we would sit around a campsite and talk about the days adventure and life in general. Is there anything that is comparable to being out in the wilderness with good friends?

Here's a few pics.

At the campsite at Hillston

Old gold mining site near Yunta South Australia

Not much grows out here

Ivanho Menindee road 200km outback road

Menindee Lakes was a highlight of the trip. Beautiful red sand and plentiful wildlife. The lake was empty due to the tributary water being diverted to agricultural land and drinking water for near by towns. Also the drought has had an impact. When ever it fills up with water I will be heading back as supposedly millions of birds flock to the area.

The circuit road around Menindee lakes, in search of a campsite.

Ruins near Yunta

Dust storm in the Flinders

Taking a break

Time for a brew

Bola Bolana Springs Arkaroola

Water is a scarce resource out here.

kangaroo at water hole

The Pinnacles Arkaroola


Desert Flower

Bola Bolana Springs Arkaroola

Old Cooper mine ruins Arkaroola

GS near Chambers Gorge

Arid is an understatement
Aboriginal Art work, each circle represents an individual ceremony


Nice view from the tent

Walked through gorge, awesome scenery

Climbed nearby mountain, nearly made it to top, but became a bit dangerous without proper gear so turned back

Arkaroola and the Flinders Ranges, one of the best wilderness areas on the planet!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Adventure beckons

previous expeditions Lake Eyre
In late August I will be heading outback with a few friends on a motorcycle trip. We plan to ride to South Australia and make our way to Arkaroola via Yunta onto Strezleki track to Coward Springs up the Oodnadatta track, then to the Painted desert, Cober Pedy, William Creek and back to the Flinders Ranges and home.

At this point it's all about preparation, fitting out our bikes with the necessary components so that they can cope with the 1000's of km of corrugated dirt roads. A trip of this nature on a motorcycle requires a minimalist approach, as too much weight compromises the handling of the bike. Considering that it will be necessary to carry ten liters of additional fuel plus adequate water supplies for venturing into the desert it makes the whole propsition an interesting logistical challenge. So all my gear is spread out around the house, as I go through a trial pack and then discard items.

I intend to take along a few new gadgets to test with the aim of writing up a review. Hopefully the one item I do not have an opportunity to review is the first aid kit. My firewood processing combo will be a Bacho folding saw and the Becker BK2 knife. I also have a new Mountain Hardware Sprite 1 tent and CaribeeCosmic 1600 compact synthetic sleeping bag. The Caribee bag only cost $89 and even though it has a rating to -5 I'm a bit nervous about it's ability to cope with the cool desert nights. My understanding is that Australia unlike Europe does not have an official rating standard for testing sleeping bags, so one is at the mercy of the manufacturers in-house rating scheme. As a precaution I will be packing a Coleman emergency blanket which I will place beneath the sleeping mat in order to provide some insulation. A silk sleeping bag liner will also be thrown in for good measure.
I actually have a great Macpac down sleeping bag that is tried and trusted in these conditions however; I have never owned a synthetic bag and I am curious to see how it performs. By the way I purchased the Macpac bag in 1994 and it is still as good as new! It cost a lot in it's day, but quality often comes at a price. That fact does make me a little nervous about the Caribee.....oh well!
Anyway it's time to get back to the packing.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bushcraft by Ray Mears

Whilst Ray Mears is obviously an iconic figure in the UK with numerous BBC shows aired over the years; in Australia I think it fair to say that he is a relative unknown. Which is a pity as his bushcraft shows have obviously helped create a vibrant bushcraft community in the UK. Alas there is no such movement in Australia. The equivalent in Australia would be Les Hiddins who came to prominence with his Bush Tucker Man shows in the early 90's.

I stumbled across the Bushcraft book in my local library, at first I dismissed it as I was after a more hands on approach to describing techniques. Whilst the book has ample photos it is not a manual rather a travel book describing a diverse range of cultures still practicing traditional bushcraft. After randomly selecting a page (best way to gauge a books readability) I decided to devote some time to reading this work.

Ray Mears writes in a down to earth informative style. He has a knack for creating a vivid image of the characters encountered and an empathy for their world. Each chapter is devoted to a specific culture ranging from the Amazon Yekuana; African Masai, "Mountain Men of Wyoming and the Artic Sami people.

If you are interested in Bushcraft and traditional/indigenous culture I can highly recommend this book. I have since ordered the TV series by the same name on the basis of this book.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Ka-Bar Becker BK2

My new Ka-Bar Becker BK2 knife arrived today and all I can say is WOW what a beast of a blade. I thought it might be a good utility/camp knife; and straight out of the box I'm a bit blown away even though I was aware of the basic stats for the knife before purchase.

The Becker series of knives are designed by Ethan Becker who appears to be a jack of many trades. A little research indicates that he is an author of cook books, a mountaineer/outdoors-man and knife designer. Initially Becker's range of knives were manufactured by the Camillus knife company which went out of business a few years ago (now appears to have been revived). Ka-bar is now the licenced manufacturer of the Becker series.

First impressions, it's heavy weighing in at around 0.45 kilograms and the blade thickness is a staggering 6.5 millimeters. Despite the weight it is well balanced and the handle is a nice fit in the hand. I suspect it will be a great camping knife?

I will write a more informed review of the BK-2 once I have had the opportunity to use it on my next expedition. Stay tuned.

Weight: 0.453 kilograms
Length: Blade length 14cm
Overall length 26.5cm
Shape: Drop Point
Edge Angle:20 Degrees
Handle Material: Grivory
Steel: 1095 cro-van

Friday, June 5, 2009

Not so primitive

Here's a great site to explore for a wide range of bushcraft skills. The Wildwood Survival site offers very detailed instructions and practical advice on traditional and primitive survival skills. When I say primitive I am referring to flint knapping etc. Although I should point out that primitive is a deceptive term and perhaps inappropriate for discussing technology from humanities distant past.

Flint knapping is an exceptionally difficult task particularly if you are trying to replicate the tools utilised over the last 50 thousand years. I majored in Archaeology at university and devoted many hours to replicating indigenous stone tools. End result a huge appreciation for the knowledge and skills of our ancestors. At it's zenith some stone axes required over 100 individual strikes on the blank to create the final product. The practitioner had an in-depth knowledge of the characteristics of the raw material, flint, obsidian etc, and artisan skill in executing complicated designs.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Winter (bush paddock dreaming)

For some people winter is a season to persevere through or avoid altogether by traveling to tropic destinations. I have already noticed people complaining about the rain and the impending chill. Their moods darken and they scurry home as quickly as they can to sit by a heater and watch TV. Each to their own.

Winter has the opposite effect for me, it beckons me to leave my abode and head into the wilderness. I was fortunate enough to grow up on a farm. We lived a fare way out of town so for entertainment on the weekend I used to go for a walk up to the back bush paddock. My favourite time of year was winter, I would dress for the occasion wearing my flannel shirt footy jumper and my grandfathers old world war one trench coat. The coat would skim along the ground as i was only around 13 years old. Those old trench coats were as rough as guts and felt very abrasive around your neck, but they were bloody warm (wish I still had it). Initially I would take along a BSA air rifle and latter I was given an old single shot .22 rifle. The skill of hunting rabbits was honed to a fine art over time and I could often get to within meters of my prey. I still have the old hunting knife which must be over 30 years old (a made in japan bowie).

Truth be told I enjoyed just being out in the mist, rain and the bitter cold afternoons. The solitude of walking through the forest, the smell of the rain on the eucalyptus trees and the sound of the bird life are all etched into my mind.

Nowadays I'm a long way away from that top bush paddock, but every year as winter approaches memories of my childhood beckon me to head outdoors and seek the solitude of a winter forest.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

RM Williams Australian Bush Learning Centre

I read with interest that a Bushcraft school will soon be opened in Queensland. The RM Williams Australian Bush Learning Centre will provide instruction on contemporary and traditional Bushcraft skills. This is a great initiative considering the lack of Bushcraft schools/courses in Australia. May it be the first of many.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A-Z of Bushcraft

One of my aims with this site is to share the great resources that are available to bushcraft enthusiasts. One of the best that I have encountered is the A-Z of bushcraft and Survival site. Here you will find an array of amusing videos on essential bushcraft skills by presenter Andrew Price. The production is excellent and I look forward to further initiatives from Andrew and his crew. As a sampler I have embedded the fire making lesson. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Bushcraft what is it. The Oxford dictionary says a skill for living in the bush!

Not that descriptive really however; it is a tough question and there are a few different schools of thoughts on the practice of bushcraft and often survival skills are thrown into the mix. In the UK it appears to be a very popular pursuit all thanks to Ray Mears. There is a great site Bushcraftuk which suggests a sizable community of enthusiasts. The UK adherents are into basic outdoor skills such as making traditional shelters out of the resources at hand, fire lighting techniques, and woodworking skills using small 4inch blade scandi ground knives.

In the US it appears to be more about survival skills, big knifes, hunting and hiking. Although I confess that I have not really explored the US philosophy in the same depth as the UK counterparts.

In Australia, well there really isn't a movement as such. The Bush Tucker man (Les Hiddins) popularised many of the skills necessary to survive in the outback in his show but since then there has been no well known exponent. I suspect that there are many people in the Australian wilderness using bushcraft skills with out labeling them as such.

I guess from my perspective I define bushcraft in a very general manner. It's about outdoor pursuits, such as hiking, exploration and traditional yet proven skills used to thrive in nature; finding water, fire craft and techniques for setting up camp. A minimalist approach using a small kit of tools as opposed to carrying every gadget under the sun would be how I classify my style.

I guess I shall flesh out my idea of buschcraft over the proceeding posts. What to expect, well lots of reviews on equipment, exploration of techniques and discussions on life in the wilderness.

And yes the above insights are horrible generalisations......but I had to start somewhere.