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THE SUNDAY TIMES
24 November 1985
MARIO Ambrosino and David Whitney are explorers — true adventurers in a world where most frontiers have already been conquered.
But these men found their own ‘last frontier’ in rugged Snowy Mountain country recently when they challenged nature in search of that ultimate :thrill.
The pair were among 10 Perth men who tackled the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee Rivers head-on, in the Twin-Rivers Expedition last month.
Neither river had been fully navigated before, and coordinator Kim Epton says it was the hardest trek ever attempted in their 3.3m power dinghy racing craft.
Before the historic 2000 kiloimetre trek, the men had each covered 6000 river kilometres in Western Australia and interstate.
In the middle of nowhere, the team coped with a swamp, 5 kilometres of impassable rocks, flu, exhaustion and injuries – but spirits were still soaring at the end.
Mario and David also attempted a spectacular jump off Berembed Weir into the river 4 metres below. The boat appeared to be floating down like a feather until it hit the water at high speed, unceremoniously dumping its crew.
What is it that drives 10 ordinary family men to leave the comfort of their homes and tackle the wild head-on?
A trucking contractor, a company director, an instrument engineer, a sheet-metal worker, concrete contractor, builder, houseboat proprietor, sports promoter and lab technician left behind their commitments in Perth to spend 12 of the best and worst days of their lives on a high-speed river adventure.
The Twin Rivers Expedition was 2000 punishing kilometres by power dinghy down the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee Rivers – deep within Man from Snowy River country.
Totally lost twice, shivering in wetsuits without blankets and at times living on muesli bars and cups of soup, the team managed to keep spirits up on the history making trip.
Neither of the rivers had been fully navigated previously.
Locals said they were stupid to risk their lives on such a trip, but even the loss of a boat, thousands of dollars worth of damage, a sprained wrist, bone-chilling cold, exhaustion and flu could not keep the men down.
Humour helped us survive
“Now we know what the Lachlan is about we can come back and do it again someday,” said David Whitney.
“We proved that if you get enough men who find humour in adversity, you can make it,” said Geoff Rumsey.
“Enough people with that attitude makes it worthwhile.”
Les Simpson, Geoff Rumsey, Richard Urban, John Haynes, Mario Ambrosino, Mark Whittome, Steve Palmer. Kim Epton, David Whitney, and The Sunday Times photographer Neil Eliot, left Perth on 26 October for the long haul by truck across the Nullarbor to Oxley, NSW, on the Lachlan River.
Sponsored in their attempt by Swan Special Light Beer and Kodak, the adventurers arrived three days later.
The first day on the water brought 100 kilometres of 5 metre high bullrushes, and tales from the locals of an Italian naturalist who was lost for three weeks in the Great Cumbungi Swamp.
He survived by shooting rabbits and sucking sour grass stems for water, emerging from the swamp dehydrated, but very much alive.
Unperturbed, the crew continued upstream, meeting the support trucks on the riverbank for the endless nightly task of cleaning and fixing motors, bashing dents out of dinghies, and snatching a few hours sleep,
Submerged trees were responsible for much of the damage, and the crew decided there were more trees in the river than on the banks.
A lot of time and energy was expended jumping the boats over submerged trees, dragging the boats over logs and chopping away at log jams with machetes.
The modern-day adventurers had hardly a moment to think of home – there was only the boat, the river and the companionship.
Concrete contractor Mario Ambrosino left million dollar jobs on the Burswood Casino, the Scarborough Observation City and the new airport behind him without a backward glance.
“When I’m on the water the factory doesn’t exist,” he said. “There’s just the thrills and the danger.
For David Whitney one of the attractions the trip was getting away from everyday hassles, and for Steve Palmer. it was the thrill of knowing he was involved in the hardest trek ever attempted in power dinghy racing boats.
“How could you pass up a trip like this?” Richard Urban asked.
But it was the feeling of creating history that gave the explorers the ultimate thrill.
“Our great grandchildren will look back on the pictures and say, ‘Look at those silly buggers with outboard motors’, as they zoom downriver in high speed hovercraft,” said Steve Palmer.
- A special report on the Twin Rivers Expedition will be shown on the Channel 9 News tomorrow night.
Return to Twin Rivers Expedition report.