If you’ve ever watched those survival shows on TV and thought, “That looks easy”, you are wrong. Oliver Pelling went on a survival course deep in the Australian bush—and technically died twice.
Janna is swearing at me. She doesn’t think I’ve been following the coordinates properly. I don’t think I have either. I have led us into the mouth of Peril itself, and Peril is hungry.
I try and focus on my compass. We are deep in a particularly obnoxious part of the Victorian bush, fighting our way through thick and prickly scrubland. It’s cold and sunset is fast approaching, which means we’re nearly in a not-insignificant amount of trouble. To make matters worse, I’m beginning to feel a bit peckish.
Just as we’re about to abandon all hope and accept our fate (death), an opening appears through the trees. It’s actually the same opening Janna, my partner, came through to go bushwhacking some 20 minutes ago. You see, we’re not actually lost in the woods—we’re halfway through a wilderness survival course. And we just failed our navigation lesson.
Back at camp, we sit around the fire with the rest of the group and take a moment to ponder the reality that, if the navigation lesson was a real survival situation, we’d be dead. Or worse—alive and very hungry.
“It’s not as easy as you think it’s going to be, is it?” says Paul, our instructor for this three-day course. “Trying to stick to a bearing through bush as thick as that is bloody hard.” I shrug. I’m listening, but I’ve also just figured out how to make cheese on toast over an open fire, so I’m a bit preoccupied. I give Janna a slice as a peace offering. She accepts.
The course, run by Paul and his company, Go Wild, takes everyday schmucks into the bush and teaches them the necessary skills they need to survive a life-or-death wilderness situation. We’re parked up in the middle of Victoria’s stunning Snowy River National Park—a five-hour, nearly-400 kilometer drive from Melbourne—our tents a literal stone’s throw from the immaculate river itself.
Janna and I came on this course because we thought it would be interesting and fun, and it is both of those things. On the course with us are Steve and John, two 4WD enthusiasts who fancied learning some tips in case they ever got caught out, and Hannah, Rachel and Onder, a trio inspired to sharpen their survival skills by the Survivor and Bear Grylls TV shows. And then there’s Paul and Kate, our two survival instructors.
So far, we’ve learned about the psychology of survival (tip one: don’t freak out), how to source water and build shelters, how to signal a plane with a pocket mirror, and how to use a compass and follow a bearing. Today, Paul informs us, we will focus on the skill every single one of us is most excited about: Making fire.