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The good bushman

Apr 19, 1999
This is one of my favorite passages about bush survival and attitudes; the last passage shows why.

It’s taken from the book “The Bushman’s Handbook “ by H.A. Lindsay, first published in 1948. Lindsay was a survival instructor for the Australian and American armies during WW2.

‘Imagine yourself stranded somewhere in the scrub country of the southern portion of Australia. Overhead the midsummer sun blazes from a cloudless sky; underfoot lies a soil of reddish sand in which it is hopeless to try to find water in the shape of soaks, creeks or pools. All around, stretching to the rim of the horizon, is a leafy wilderness of low trees.

You have no water and your throat is parched. What should you do, and equally important, what shouldn’t you do?

The worst thing would be to start walking as fast as you could in any direction, driven by a sick panic and hoping to find a track or a fence which might lead you to a house, a hut with a rainwater tank, a well or a bore. If an aboriginal was watching he would probably sum up the situation by saying “White feller big feller fool!” He would be right.

Contrast the above with what a good bushman would do if he was in the same position. He would look around, to see a ridge slightly higher than the surrounding country. He would move towards it with unhurried, energy-conserving steps, his mind calm and his intention being to let his eyes save his legs from a lot of useless work. On reaching the crest of the ridge he would tilt the brim of his hat over his eyes to shield them from the glare and survey the scrub looking for water trees.

His gaze would become fixed on one spot, where he had picked out a large, luxuriant clump of water-yielding mallee, a needlebush bigger than usual, a banksia or any other tree or shrubs whose roots yield water. He would walk towards it, husbanding his body moisture by not raising a profuse perspiration. As he strolled along he would break a stout green stick for digging with and trim one end to a point with his knife.

What if he had no knife? In that case he would not be a good bushman so there is no need to consider the possibility.’
Very interesting. I'm always looking for new books on survival, I'll have to watch for that one.
Maybe he could use a Pepsi bottle, hahaha.
Sorry, I'm thinking of that movie "The Gods Must Be Crazy."
G'day Andre,

You're post sent me looking for my copy of "The Bushman's Handbook". Couldn't find it and can't remember seeing it for a while, hope it hasn't got lost in a move. I remember that it had a lot of very useful information.

I read that you are off to Cobar. I'm taking 30 boys (with a couple of fathers) in the opposite direction, skiing for a week at Thredbo. I believe the main range is good already so I'm looking forward to some back- country telemarking. Hope you have a good trip.

"Free the heel and free the mind."

Take care,

Don't worry that the world might end tomorrow....in Australia it's tomorrow already.

Another way to collect water when there is no apparent source is to lay low until early dawn and sponge up dew with a piece of cloth. A good bushman, or at least a modest one, will always at least have some sort of clothing to do this with. Which is why clothing is at the top of my list of survival gear. You don't need much, just something apropriate to your environment. Sure, you could kill some animal and wear his skin, but we're talking about gear, not worst case.

If you have no cloth, you might try lapping it up with your tongue. Only gross bushman do this.
Dew? In an Australian summer?
I don't think so.......

Anyway it's all plastic bags tied to trees to collect water these days, isn't it?

"..it is foolishness and endless trouble to cast a
stone at every dog that barks at you.."
I saw a program once that detailed the methods by which one African tribe secures water when in the field without any.

The first method was to locate a certain scraggly little plant and dig it up. It has an enormous root which can be scraped to obtain water.

The second method - I am not making this up - was to locate a troop of monkeys with a termite mound nearby. The native then makes sure he has the monkeys' attention and digs a hole in the side of the hard mound. All of the natives carry a special stick to measure the exact dimensions the hole needs to be. Then, making sure the monkeys' are watching, he places a large handful of seeds into the hole (yes, they all carry the seeds for this purpose as well). He then moves some distance away and waits. Before long, one of the monkeys is sure to come to the hole and reach in to grab the seeds. When it does, it finds that it cannot remove its hand with all of the seeds held tightly. Before it can figure out to let the seeds go, the native rushes up, captures it, and ties it to a tree. He then offers it a generous chunk of salt (which, again, is carried for this purpose) which the monkey greedily devours. It is then time to take a nice nap. When the native awakens, the monkey is going mad with thirst from the salt. He releases the monkey and follows it. To survive in any area, the monkeys must have some water source like an underground spring or something, and this monkey will go straight there. The native simply tracks it to this water source and, voila, has his water.

After seeing this whole process, I couldn't help but think I'd just look for that root-plant


(Why else would a bear want a pocket?)
That's a great story.

I wonder if it might make more sense to carry a water bottle instead of sticks, salt, and seeds?

Just kidding of course. I love to hear how people in other parts of the world get by without having water taps within 50 feet of them every waking second of their lives.(Or a bottle of evian).
About do in an Australian summer, I can't say. I was speaking in a more general, non-geographicaly-specific sense. Though I'd be suprised if there wasn't enough dew to get by on. Just because there isn't much rainfall doesn't mean there isn't humidity. I would rekon along the coast or what do the call them?, bilabongs? Deserts often exist next to bodies of water, usualy undrinkable(salt, minerals). Beyond that even, there is just out of neccesity a degree of water in the air anywhere. It gets cold at night in desert since the clouds can't reflect heat back to Earth and it escapes in Space, anyway it'll condense any moisture in the air. I'm not saying you won't have to work for it...

Corduroy, I saw the same flick! That monkey trick was wild! How do you even think up something like that?!!

For the guy who likes ways to get water from the wild, a little tactic for beaches;

After rainfall, and usualy up to a week or so afterward, fresh water can be found above the high tide line floating on the salt water. Dig as shallow a hole as possible to where the water is just barely seeping in.

A little something for everybody, a definition for Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary(this one's great! get it if you ever have the opportunity;

OCEAN: A body of water occupying 2/3 of a world made for Man-who has no gills.

POTABLE: Suitable for drinking. Water is said to be potable; indeed, some declare it our natural beverage, although even they find it palatable only when suffering from the recurrent disorder known as thirst, for which it is a medicine. Upon nothing has so great and diligent ingenuity been brought to bear in all ages and countries, except the most uncivilized, as upon the invention of substitutes for water. To hold that this general aversion to that liquid has no basis in the preservative instinct of the race is unscientific-and without science we are as snakes and toads.

Bierce himself was a Civil War veteran and quite a cynic. I love his sarcastic wit. Good book.
Some time ago I heard about this method of obtaining water in arid areas but I can't say I've ever tried it.

What you do is dig a deep hole and place a container (a "billy" in Oz
) in the bottom. Then you secure a sheet of plastic (carried in emergency kits for this purpose) over the top, with a stone in the centre so that it makes a funnel shape leading down to the container. During the day, condensation forms on the underside of the plastic and will run down into the container.

As I said I've never tried it but I believe it is very effective.

Take care,

Don't worry that the world might end tomorrow....in Australia it's tomorrow already.

I haven't tried this in a desert, but I have tried it in relatively dry Florida scrub. It works, but I'd say you'd need a coulpe going to make a living at it. I reccomend using sailcloth instead of plastic, the sun kills plastic.
Solar stills suck.
They don't produce nearly enough water for the effort that goes into digging the hole, etc.

"..it is foolishness and endless trouble to cast a
stone at every dog that barks at you.."
You could also find you a small stone and suck on it. It will help with your thirst until you find water.
And for some reason(I've read alot of survival books, so I don't know where I got this from) I thought that with a solar still, you fill the bottom of the hole with plants and grasses. Also I thought you could urinate around the outside edge of the solar still. It puts mositure into the dirt that in time would give you more water. What I don't remember is how far away from the edge of the solar still you should be. Because you don't want funny tasting water.
Has anyone else heard of this?? Or am I mistaken with my information.

I have heard the same thing. Except I heard that you urinate right into the hole around the can inside of the still. It might stink and taste funny, but it will be water, and in that circumstance (desert) it'll do fine.

When you get thirsty enough you will drink anything. People have been known to drink urine, gasoline, radiator fluid etc. in their desperation.

As far as drinking urine, I've heard different points of view over whether or not it will help you survive or whether it will in fact contribute to your demise sooner. Manuals I've read say not to, due to high levels of minerals etc that are in fact toxic to your system. However, I've also read stories of survival where the person (stranded on the ocean) claims that without drinking their own urine, they would never have made it.

All this talk is making me thirsty.

Speaking of consuming human excrement: Did anyone here see the new Austin Powers movie?
There is a great coffee drinking scene in that movie, made my wife gag but I was on the floor laughing.
"I've heard stories of people surviving at sea on urine. All this talk is making me thirsty." YUCK!!!

Actualy, it's not the toxic minerals, it's the salts. Theoreticaly, if you limited your consumption of urine, and had fresh water, you could balance it in the short-term to extend you supplies. No way I'd do it though. There are many other ways of getting fresh water at sea. For the stout of heart;

Your intestines are specificaly designed to remove moisture from excrement on it's way out. With a length of rubber hose, or a brave companion's puckered lips, they also make a built-in desalination plant. Give's you an enema at the same time! Two birds with one stone.

Anyway, none of you should ever die of dehydration at sea now.

A good rule of thumb is that "your body excreted it for a damn good reason, and you'd be a bloody fool to countermand it's better judgement".

Actualy, solar stills are at their best when you put plants or muddy or salty water in the hole to be evaporated/purified. Urine will only help, it's not a very efficient process. You lose a lot every time.

I think a still-suit like in Dune would be ultimate. You theoreticaly could make one work too.