Article about Rick Jamieson (author of Canyons Near Sydney guidebook)

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Article about Rick Jamieson (author of Canyons Near Sydney guidebook)

Post by T2 » 21 Jan 2020, 17:46

I've reproduced the below post from a facebook. It was written by Gabriela Faura from the NSW Canyoning Association. Gabby recently caught up with the son of Rick Jamieson, the author of the Canyons Near Sydney guidebook, along with two of his mates who were part of his adventures over many decades. It's an interesting read about a real character of the Australian canyoning scene.

Rick Jamieson - the Author, the Explorer and the Friend

When I started canyoning about 7 years ago, one of the first items I bought was the book “Canyons Near Sydney” by Rick Jamieson. Before each canyon I would read the description and then tick it off the list at the back.

On one of my first canyons I met Joe Dunn, one of Rick’s mates and after whom “Joe’s Canyon” is named. So all these years later, when I wanted to write an article on Rick, the first person I called was Joe.

A few days later I meet him at McGees Hotel in Richmond. With him is Derek Cannon who was Rick’s canyoning partner, and Rick’s son, Pete Jamieson.

Joe and Derek have brought albums with hundreds of photos. Derek gifts me his 3rd edition Canyoning book, which has a handwritten dedication from Rick saying “Derek, thanks a million!” Derek’s book also has the canyons he’s done ticked off at the back and I’m pleased to see that I’m not the only one!

Derek is now 82 years old. He lost his lifelong adventure companion and best friend, Rick Jamieson in 2013. Derek and Joe are excited to keep Rick’s memory alive and recount adventures lived.

As they start talking the past comes back to life, if only for this night as I set the voice recorder to on.

Born in 1941 Rick grew up in Richmond, NSW. In Derek’s own words Rick was the image of a true Aussie bloke, “baggy giggle hat, shirt billowing, blooming shorts held up with exposed braces and his standard size 13 Dunlop volleys”. His favourite expressions were “Great going you guys, Rippaaaa, Beauty, Struth and Flamin Bottlaarrr.”

Rick was by profession an electrical and mechanical engineer. However, by passion he was a Scout leader, RFS member, bush poet, folk singer and writer. He wrote books in very diverse subjects such as song, mathematics, applied science, philosophy, religion, English orthography, bushwalking and of course, canyoning!

In the Canyoning book, canyons are described as fearsome places… “And yet this fear brings with it a great attraction. For it is not a paralysing fear, but rather one which awes and humbles the soul, and which can bring a realisation of a presence of something much greater than ourselves.” In line with that, Rick’s favourite saying was “The greatest risk is to take no risk at all”.

Rick loved to share his knowledge and was naturally a teacher. He taught physics at school and this vocation extended to his everyday life where he would regularly train children and take Scout Venturers canyoning. Invariably on trips with the Venturers Derek would be assigned the position of being last, having to count everyone in the trip as they went through and then reporting back to Rick how many people they had in the pack. “As the last one through I’d end up carrying all these ropes round my neck, and they’d be having a brew by the fire when I reached them” Derek exclaimed “I’d throw the ropes at them and say ‘Catch these bloody things!’”

Every other weekend Rick and Derek would be out looking for new canyons.

Rick started canyoning in the early 1960s. During the 1960s and 1970s many canyons were still being explored and descended for the first time.

Rick and Derek would generally do a known canyon and then explore the side creeks and surrounding areas. Back then there was no internet and sharing of information was scarce. Rick would make most enquiries about the canyons “asking around”.

“We were always looking for new canyons” said Derek. “Whether or not they had been found before, Rick would try to find out. Many he named himself and then described them in his book. But Rick was very humble, he would never name a canyon after himself”

“He named 3 after me!” interjects Joe. “There’s Joe’s Canyon, False Teeth and Hangover Canyons.” Guess which 2 have funny stories!

The Canyoning book states between brackets under the heading False Teeth Canyon that “Joe’s teeth were taken by a wombat from inside his volleys, while we were asleep.”

Joe recalls vividly that night. “We were looking for Devil’s Pinch Canyon and we had camped for the night in an area full of wombat holes. I took my volleys off and placed my false teeth inside. During the night I felt a wombat walking over me and I threw my shoes at it with my teeth, which I never found again!” There is laughter around the table as that story is retold.

The men would camp regularly on weekends, carrying in more wine than food and spending the night around the fire drinking and singing. One of these nights Joe drank too much, resulting in the naming of Hangover Canyon, which they explored the next day while Joe was quite hungover from the night before.

Derek also has a canyon named after him, Cannon’s Canyon. He laughs “Don’t look it up!” but I already have. “Then don’t read the description” says Derek. I quickly get out my book and search for the canyon. The first line says “Not much of a canyon”. Derek explains “Of course I only found out when it came out in the book, I didn’t know. Fancy that, not much of a canyon!!” He repeats laughing.

I get the impression that Rick had quite a dry sense of humour. For example, one of my favourite lines in his book is under the description of Penrose Gully which is “Not for fat people”.

Derek and Joe tell me some other funny stories like that one time Rick got stopped in his vehicle by a police officer. Apparently, he had placed a toothbrush to hold up his dashboard which was falling to pieces, and when the policeman asked him what the toothbrush was for, Rick answered “to clean my teeth of course!”

Pete, who has mainly kept quiet listening on with a smile as Joe and Derek recount old tales, describes his father as “a quiet, aware man, not a joker, a solid man who kept the wheels turning” As Joe and Derek chat away, Pete adds “Dad never professed to be the first descent down any canyon”.

There are 5 editions of the Canyoning book, the first in 1993 and the last in 2012. The book describes abseiling techniques and equipment but I’m interested to know about the early days.

“Back in the 60’s and 70’s we would only wear woollen sweaters. I reckon they’re warmer than a wetsuit!” says Joe. “Wetsuits were too expensive back then. Anyway, I don’t like wetsuits because you have to carry the bloody thing out!” claims Derek.

When I query the explorations in those early days Derek is quite blasé about it all. They’d usually only take 2 ropes, probably 50m each and when I ask what they’d do if the ropes didn’t reach Derek replied: “Well then you wouldn’t go down. You see,” he explains,''you can tell the length of the drop by looking at the maps and knowing the area. For example, you’re not likely to find a 60m drop at Bungleboori and if you do, you go round. Anyway, you’d always carry your jumar gear with you to climb back up if needed, and one of us would stay at the top until we knew we could get through. We’d always knot the bottom of the rope too!”

Rick was featured in the National Geographic and Outside Online magazines when reporter, Mark Jenkins came to the Blue Mountains to descend some canyons. In the year 2000, Rick and Derek took him down Hat Hill Canyon and Bennett Gully (see the article Give ‘Em Enough Rope). Derek recalls it as a close call. “See we took that American bloke to do Hat Hill, and we decided to abseil down at the end of the canyon. I looked at the drop and thought, nobody has been down here! And the American bloke put a sling around a tree and off he went. And I was thinking, I hope the bloody rope is long enough. The rope wasn’t long enough and he had to swing onto a tree! He yelled up at us to come down and of course Rick looked at me and said ‘you better go down first Derek’”. Derek chuckles at the memory, “So I did, down into the top of a bloody tree. And the American guy was way over there taking photos.” He points to one side of the room. “And then Rick was coming down with big holes in his shorts, coming down onto the bloody tree. When we finally started back up Pierces pass, it got dark and we didn’t have torches. The American bloke had gone ahead to get my car, and luckily Rick and I met up on the track with another guy who was going down to the Blue Gum forest who said he’d go back up with us with his torch and we were like ‘Bloody Beauty’!”

Perhaps more worthy of a story on the TV show “I shouldn’t be alive”, Rick travelled to and got locked up in the Congo. He also had many other exciting adventures, such as climbing the Matterhorn a couple of times, a 7 week canoe trip in Canada, driving a Kombi from England to Australia, 13 trips to Nepal, etc etc.

Rick was described as a tree, solid and reliable. But he was not only a tree for his family, friends and the generation of children he taught, but the roots extend through his writings and continue to contribute to the whole canyoning community.

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