That’s a direct quote from Tony Abbott with respect to the satellite phone that nobody could make work during the few hours his party spent out of contact in the remote Northern Territory while waiting for his local guide, pastoralist Ian Conway, to return from a “quick” sidetrip earlier this week.
He also acknowledged that his party did not have enough fuel or water for their own safety in the event that Conway had not returned to them at all. Great leadership skills there, Tony.
I realise that he’s far from the only tourist who relies entirely on the professionals/local experts to look after them instead of taking some basic steps for their own safety independently. But I for one would never consider going into the desert without checking that the party as a whole had plenty of spare fuel and water supplies, and without asking for some instruction in using the satellite phone that was the only form of emergency communication (not even a GPS emergency beacon? for a trip to the desert with quadbikes that are notoriously prone to mechanical failure?) They set off without even a compass, which is an astonishing failure in the bush safety department.
The media narrative over the last few days has been remarkably replete with Abbott the Adventurer articles and astonishingly bare of Lost In The Political Wilderness articles. Why is that, I wonder?
There’s also been a notable lack of any articles discussing the breathtaking irresponsibility of Ian Conway, who was leading the party. The heading of this article from Paul Toohey in the Herald Sun is quite disgusting: Tony Abbott lost in the outback for hours after being abandoned by traditional Aboriginal guide. The fact that Conway was the one who wanted to go looking for pitchuri (a bush narcotic) and took “traditional Aboriginal” Junior Impu (who was NOT a guide, being from a different part of the country) with him for that purpose is utterly disappeared in that headline. (addit) While Conway himself is of indigenous descent, he does not appear to be considered a tribal elder of any sort and could hardly be described as a “traditional aboriginal” either.
Since Conway is also described as “somewhat of a force of nature” in Toohey’s text (I believe most people refer to folks like that as “stubborn hothead arses who never listen”), why doesn’t that headline read “Tony Abbott lost in the outback for hours after being abandoned by conservative pastoralist guide”? Does anybody paying attention really think that it was Impu who kept them looking for the stuff for more than two hours when Conway’s original estimate was 20 minutes? The whole story shows Conway pushing the party beyond the halfway point of their fuel reserves in search of what he wanted, in a place that he had apparently not been in 30 years and where nobody else in the party had ever been at all.
It was getting onto six pm and Anselem expressed concern that if Conway was not back soon, we’d have trouble finding our way back to the truck in the dark. He said he could find our way back if we needed, but only by following the tracks we’d come in on.
But there was not enough fuel in the quads to do this. We were relying on Conway, who said he knew a short cut to the truck.
Conway also left Abbott and the others with no water, telling them that they would find water nearby along the creek, but without checking to see that this was true (it wasn’t).
The general level of tactical nous in the party did not improve once Conway and Impu returned. Conway raced off to try and find their tracks on his larger bike, making no attempt to keep the party together. Toohey describes Abbott as making an effort along these lines, racing ahead to tell Conway to slow down so that they could all follow him, but there’s one glaring opportunity for the party’s safe rescue that the man who would be PM failed to recognise:
Conway, who did know how to use the sat phone, could have rung Kings Creek and told them we’d be late. He did not think of this. Nor, truth be told, did anyone else. (emphasis mine)
Hm. I’m taking a lot of what Toohey wrote with a large dose of salt, naturally. After all, he wrote (as if this is something everybody would know), that helicopters can’t fly in the dark.
The plan – not much of a plan – was to ring Kings Creek station and tell them where we were. The only problem was we did not know where we were.
We also knew Kings Creek had a chopper. Another plan was to ring them and get the pilot to drop off, in order of priority, red wine, water, blankets and food. But we could not give the pilot directions – and, besides, helicopters cannot fly at night.
And there was another problem. We could not work the phone.
I must be imagining the night skies near Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney International Airport then. And all those fugitives running at night from helicopters with searchlights in television and movies. Those whirlybirds certainly do seem to be flying, in the dark, but of course they can do all sorts of tricks in movies. [/snark]
In all seriousness, I presume that Toohey meant that there was some reason (which he didn’t care to share) that this particular pilot/helicopter combination couldn’t fly at night over that particular terrain, but that’s not what he wrote, and such a lack of clarity and precision on something as obvious as the fact that helicopters demonstrably do fly at night all over the world doesn’t give one much confidence in his perspicacity on much else, does it?
Someone at the Herald Sun should officially retract that disgusting headline. Going by normal newspaper procedure, it was almost certainly a subeditor who gave the article that headline rather than Toohey himself, but it’s still an appalling misrepresentation of the facts as he laid them out, and it’s a terrible (actionable?) slur on Junior Impu.