Monday, January 20, 2020

The origins of The Living Rock

 The Dugandan 1998: (from left) Bryden Cais, Greg Sheard, Ian Thomas, Wendy Steele (at end of table) 
Trish Hindmarsh, Keith Harper, Carola Henley and Ted Cais. Photo: Michael Meadows

It all began (above) on a warm Winter's afternoon in 1998 at the Dugandan Hotel, near Boonah. I was sitting around a table on the veranda of the pub with a group of friends, climbers, young and old. My school friends Greg Sheard and Ian Thomas were there as was Ted Cais with his son, Bryden. Ted and Bryden were visiting for another stint of climbing at nearby Frog Buttress from Ted's new home in the United States. Greg tossed a copy of Rick White's original climbing guide to the crag onto the table and the young climbers present pored over it as if it was the Holy Grail. It was clear that they valued this moment and the apparently insignificant, hand-stapled collection of words and images. It may have been at that moment that I realised that it was far more than a rockclimbing guide: it represented a historical moment in the origins of climbing in Queensland -- and beyond.

Six months later, I received the news that a small grant application to research Queensland climbing history through Griffith University -- where I worked as a lecturer in Journalism -- had been approved. It meant I could employ a climber as a research assistant to work with me in discovering whether there was any archival material  in local libraries and private collections that would help us to tell this story. I discovered many years later that the assessment committee's reception towards my grant proposal was luke-warm until a former Dean of Arts -- a climber in his youth -- argued strongly on my behalf. And so the search for documentary evidence of Queensland's climbing past had begun.

On my first day at the State Library of Queensland with climber-researcher Wendy Steele, I not only discovered a long lost relativen working behind the reference desk, but also met up with Robert Thomson who overheard our conversation. A cup of coffee later and Robert had offered us access to his own collection of archival documents -- many of them newspaper articles -- a research project he had started independently, eighteen months before. Although our trajectories were slightly different, our focus was identical: to document a history of European exploration of mountain landscapes in southeast Queensland. Wendy soon departed to attend to her own pressing academic studies and Robert became the sole researcher. It was he who suggested we delve into newspaper archives and akin to a poisoned chalice, he has spent the best part of his life since then doing just that. This was well before the National Library of Australia's digital newspapers' archive, Trove. Nowadays, following a few well-planned keystrokes, the digitised Australian cultural resource can reveal in seconds what it took Robert months, years to uncover. But despite the wonders of digital search and discovery technologies, a significant number of the sources Robert located manually still do not appear in the Trove database. It was a effort of monumental proportions.

When we started this quest, I had no idea it would produce the volume of data and publications that have flowed from this rich collection, almost from day one. Perhaps if I had known how much it would impact on my life I may never have started it! But seriously, it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my long career as a researcher. And it continues...

Farewell to a quiet achiever...

Rudolf Edward 'Ted' Cais

12 November 1947 — 20 December 2019

Ted in fine form at Frog Buttress in 1998 (Michael Meadows collection)

From his first tentative steps on to the rock as a teenager in south-east Queensland in 1960 until he emigrated to the USA in 1974, Ted Cais pushed Australian climbing standards to new heights. Although not as adept at — or indeed as interested in — marketing his personal achievements like some of his peers, he nevertheless leaves behind an unforgettable legacy of bold and visionary climbing routes, but perhaps more importantly, layers of camaraderie and personal experience that extend well beyond climbing into everyday life.

Perhaps the major influence on Ted's early life was his father, Rudi, who fled Czechosolvakia as a university student when the Nazis invaded during World War II. He fought in the free Czech forces before escaping to England to join a tank regiment and it was there that he met Ted's mother, Joy. They married and moved back to Prague after the war where Ted was born in an army hospital. But when the communists took control of the country in 1948, life became difficult for Rudi because of his background. It was then that they managed to emigrate to Australia where Ted — who would be their only child — recalled days living on a cattle station in Queensland’s Gulf Country:
There I had a gentle old mare to ride about on, bare backed of course, lethal snakes to avoid, giant spiders dropping off the ceiling at night, crocodiles lurking in the fresh-water creek, hot sand with bindi-eye stickers to cross barefoot, brilliant stars like never before or since, and suffocating, humid heat. The galvanized iron roof would creak and crack ominously at night during contraction after the blazing sub-tropical sun set. There was no electricity so our lighting was by acetylene lamps; a primitive outpost that by its very nature built self-reliance.
In 1955, the Cais family moved to Brisbane where Rudi — a skilled carpenter — built the family a house at Mt Gravatt, then on the fringes of the capital. Ted's father worked as a taxi driver for most of his life in Brisbane. He was a voracious reader and could debate anyone on almost any topic from economics to the Markoff chain — a mathematical probability theory that started Ted off on his own successful career as a research chemist. Rudi was a brilliant chess player — teaching Ted the art — and on Sundays when a group (including expatriate British climber Les Wood) would gather at the Cais family home — then at West End — Rudi would deliver food to them every few hours while he played chess with up to six different opponents simultaneously. It was around this time — the mid-1960s — that climbing started to feature more prominently in Ted's life. But in his own words, his interest in outdoor adventures began some years earlier with a chance meeting:
Around 1960 I was introduced to Bert (Albert Armitage) Salmon who kindly passed on his trove of knowledge about the Glass House Mountains, Scenic Rim and walking tracks around the Binna Burra and O'Reilly's lodges on the Lamington Plateau. Walking was a simple affair, outfitted with an army surplus canvas satchel and sandshoes. We had no GPS, cell phone, walking poles, rescue choppers or other conveniences now deemed necessary for a safe outdoors experience. Our bush icons were Bernard O'Reilly and Arthur Groom, and I still have their classic books, Green Mountains and Cullenbenbong and One Mountain After Another. They were early recreational explorers naturally imbued with a love of the land and rugged pioneer spirit so thought little of heading off solo into the unknown with just a few supplies on their back. We were slightly better equipped through Paddy Pallin whose gear was available at the Scout Shop in the Valley although not as cheap as army surplus. Canvas and cotton (waxed or oiled) were still the best materials at the time and I remember my first Hotham down bag that ensured toasty nights.
Undoubtedly influenced by Salmon, on 9 October 1960 — a few weeks before his 13th birthday — Ted made a solo ascent of Crookneck's steep, loose, crumbling North Face. It was the first ascent route by Harry Mikalsen in 1910 and this information would have almost certainly been passed on by Salmon. Ted recalls the moment:
My dad knew Czechoslovakian emigre farmers who scrabbled an existence out of a pineapple farm in the Glasshouse mountains and we often visited them. Something about the gnarly scowl and impressive rock wave feature shimmering through the heat haze halfway up Crookneck's north-west side proved irresistible. The basic desire was not so much technical rock gymnastics but getting to the summit of these enigmatic rock monoliths. After all, I had to find out what was on top! I repeated this solo ascent at least five more times and the most memorable one was just after a bushfire had raged over the entire mountain rendering the grass trees along the summit ridge into smouldering blackened stumps. They survived of course and will outlast all of us. To this day the scent of burning bush has a most evocative effect.

  Climbing as a teenager in the Glass House Mountains (Ted Cais collection)

His first climb with Bert Salmon was the East Face of Beerwah in the Glass House Mountains on 14 October 1961. Over the next several years, Salmon introduced the eager young adventurer to all of the easily accessible summits in south-east Queensland. But by 1964, Ted began to drift away from his mentor’s influence. He joined the YMCA Ramblers bushwalking club to continue his fascination with south-east Queensland crags and to extend his climbing skills on the Kangaroo Point training cliffs using a safety rope — something Salmon frowned upon as unethical. During his undergraduate years, he joined the influential University of Queensland Bushwalking Club (UQBWC) where he met others who would help to shape his pathway into climbing:
I also teamed up with Craig Rowley and Dennis Stocks for ascents of the Mast [The Steamers] and Glennies [Pulpit] and later climbed with Hugh Pechey who was president of the Brisbane Rockclimbing Club in 1965. Bert’s legacy stayed with me for some time but in some respects inhibited my development since it was hard to lead the more difficult climbs of the day with the 'no fall' maxim he imbued. This conservative approach required three static points of contact with the rock at all time limiting climbing to about grade 12. My new heroes became Ron Cox and Pat Conaghan of the UQBWC whose exploits I read about in the annual UQBWC magazine, Heybob. I then started climbing with John Tillack when I was an undergraduate at the University of Queensland and my standard accelerated to keep up with his natural ability.

Despite his break with Salmon, Ted always respected his mentor’s willingness to share his knowledge and passion of the Queensland bush:
He bequeathed me his priceless collection of photograph albums and I am ashamed to have let these disappear in some dusty archive … they properly belong in a Queensland historical archive.
It is a request — voiced again during his last days — that remains to be fulfilled.

Bert Salmon was one of three major climbing influences Ted identified in his life. The second was expatriate British climber, Les Wood. Les spent just 12 months in Queensland in 1966 and pushed climbing limits here to the equal of anything in the country. It was at this time that Ted began to realise his ambition and abilities as a climber and Les was one who encouraged him to follow his passion. Les recalls that young Ted wasn’t into climbing all that much when they first met in 1966 — but by year’s end, things had changed significantly. Ted re-calls the shift:
Les taught me boldness even though we did only about a dozen climbs together during 1966, his single year of influence, when he coaxed me upwards into the grade 16 zone. He brought his experience of British climbing to Australia and quickly applied this by pushing standards in the Glasshouses.
Les had the same effect on a young Ron Farmer and others including Lance Rutherford, when they met by chance on the East Face of Tibrogargan.

Donn Groom was a central figure in Queensland climbing culture at this time. One of the founding members of the Brisbane Rockclimbing Club (BRC) in 1965, he partnered Les on many of his memorable and still classic new routes around south-east Queensland. But when Donn left for an extended climbing trip to Tasmania, Ted linked up with Les for a blitzkrieg of memorable second ascents, including the imposing East Crookneck — their first climb together. It was a route that Les and Donn had climbed virtually free a few months earlier. Next was Clemency on the east face of Tibrogargan — 'a very competent lead', according to the perfunctory notes in Les Wood’s diary. Coming from the circumspect Brit, it was the ultimate compliment. Ted later described the challenges of climbing Clemency and its significance at the time:
The lousy protection, thoughtful balance moves, difficult route finding and problematic escape make it a memorable classic in the grade. At the time it was a tour de force and rivalled Lieben on Crater Bluff in the Warrumbungles as a breakthrough.

Repeating Clemency with Greg Sheard in the late 1990s (Michael Meadows collection)

After Clemency: (from left) Ted, Greg Sheard, Ron Farmer, Bryden Cais (Michael Meadows collection)

The impacts on his life and climbing ambitions extended beyond south-east Queensland:
At this time other huge influences by their accomplishments and writings were Bryden Allen with his guide, Rockclimbs of NSW, and John Ewbank with his articles in Thrutch. Lieben (17) and Heartstopper (18) became the ultimate hard routes to aspire to. Our ropes were still laid (twisted cable) nylon and we usually carried a Stubai peg hammer with half a dozen blades and channels. Under Les's influence we also started supplementing this vast rack with brass machine nuts and ball-bearing races threaded on rope as our first primitive chocks.
When the fledgling Brisbane Rockclimbing Club published its collection of archival documents at the end of 1966, Ted's name was on 13 of the 45 listed climbing trip reports — the highest single contributor — including a range of second ascents and new exploratory routes in the Glasshouses, Binna Burra and The Steamers. He swung leads with Donn Groom on the first free ascents of Queensland’s hardest climbs — Donn’s own routes, Alcheringa at Binna Burra, and Flameout on the south west buttress of Crookneck. Ted had emerged not only as a leading, enthusiastic and skilled climber, but also as an accomplished writer and artist with many of the BRC climbing guide sheets over ensuing years a result of his careful and creative hand. His penchant for producing pithy cartoons of various moments was a testament to his wide-ranging creative skills. But it was climbing that was increasingly taking up more of his time:
A dilemma that surfaced fully around this period was the conflict of continuing university to become a research scientist (my dad's dream) versus dropping out to be a full time climber (my dream). My intense mental dedication to climbing in 1966 caused me to have to repeat second year at University in 1967. And so this cycle continued with my oscillation from periods of hard climbing only to retire, hit the books, struggle through final exams and then back to bushwalking as a prelude to getting into shape for climbing again.

A bold 'lead' of Olos at Kangaroo Point in 1968 (Ted Cais collection)

On 7 January 1968, his climbing ambitions received another major fillip when he met Rick White, crossing paths at the Kangaroo Point cliffs. Immensely fit and strong after a summer of working as a labourer, Ted virtually soloed Cox's Overhang that day, using just one runner and impressing those of us present with his steely resolve and the power to do one-arm chin-ups. He soloed Olos around this time as well and led the fiery Pterodactyl (18) on sight with Dave Reeve, inspiring a blossoming of new routes at KP which, since the late 1940s, had always been considered a practice cliff. This visionary shift resulted in it eventually becoming a popular sports climbing destination. But as Ted recalled in 2002, it was Rick White who pushed him to greater heights:
Rick taught me mental stamina. Although I had raw power and technique I still suffered a nervous disposition lacking enough self confidence to fulfill my true potential. Rick on the other hand was tough and blessed with vision and mental drive. I drifted with the tide vacillating between climbing and studies but he had a plan with goals and worked to achieve them. We complemented each other well and several times on new routes I would figure out the technical moves only to back off and have Rick punch the route through to the finish. More often we were friendly rivals and I usually was the first one to repeat Rick’s new routes at Frog Buttress, although Barry Overs filled this role for a while.
His first major new route with Rick was the classic jamB crack, Infinity (19) at the newly-discovered crag, Frog Buttress, on 7 December 1968. It is akin to the classic Eternity at Wirindi in the Blue Mountains. Ted always had his own strong ideas about climbing and its broader connection with bushwalking and the environment and this passion compelled him to seek out more challenging and inaccessible destinations rather than being content with ticking off new routes at Frog Buttress. He readily joined with other climbers of the era for various adventures including the authors, Greg Sheard, Ian Cameron, Lance Rutherford, Ross 'Cecil' Allen and John Leah.

 He was always up for an adventure: Red Rock Gorge, Black Canyon, Lamington National Park, 1969 (Michael Meadows collection)

Ted supported Rick White's introduction of a clean climbing ethic into Queensland, coinciding with the increasing availability of jamB protection, aluminium 'crackers' initially made and sold by John Ewbank, later replaced by the lighter and better designed American Chouinard hexentrics. This period — in the late 1960s — saw Ted re-thinking his 'old-school' approach to climbing.
I finally started systematic training for climbing mostly with free weights as an extension of my olympic weightlifting at University. These weights were home made from 1 inch [2.5 cm] steel discs cut out to make portholes in ships' plates that we 'borrowed' from a local shipyard. Hundreds of pounds of these unwieldy monsters were clandestinely dragged through the impossible slime of the Brisbane riverbank mud and into a small getaway row-boat that almost sank under the excess ballast. We also started circuit training at the University gym (a curious British commando regimen, it seemed) and eventually enjoyed true bouldering on the rough gritstone of the Tarragindi boulders.
Ron, a fellow student, accompanied Ted on these training activities. Ted had such power that usually he could complete each exercise set twice in the time Ron did one. It was typical of Ted's generosity that he saved one exercise until last. This required ascending a thick old rope hand-over-hand style without using legs for assistance and where Ted always lost. His weight-lifting skills were unexpectedly called into action on one of several exploratory trips to recce a possible new route on the north face of Mount Warning where the longest climb in Australia, Lost Boys, was later established. Ted stopped for a beer at the Tyalgum pub where he proceeded to deadlift a huge boulder from the floor onto the bar, thereby winning a free beer, much to the chagrin of the wide-eyed locals.

Rick White had moved onto the big walls in preparation for his historic Yosemite visit, still some years away, but Ted always considered his forte to be short, highly technical routes. He also dabbled with aid climbing over the years but saw it as far too restrictive. His new aid routes included KP's Hanger Wall (with Neil Lamb and Pat Conaghan in 1966), the first pitch of the Beerwah bolt route (with Pete Giles in 1967), Barnacle Buttress and Wages of Fear (both in 1968 at KP with Pete Giles and John Pickard respectively) and finally a quartzite roof in Brisbane’s western suburbs, Tarantula.

But Ted’s love of exploration — with a climbing edge — always seemed to have more pull, luring him back to rarely-visited slopes and faces in the Glasshouses and elsewhere for potential routes — or merely for the experience. It was how he discovered Queensland’s second longest climb — Dreadnought — a multi-pitch trad route:
Located on the south-east wall of Tibrogargan and a wonderful first-ascent outing in May 1970 with my longtime friend Mike Meadows. Actually I coveted a new route up the steeper and blanker section to the right that I was already calling Microjug Wall. Still, Dreadnought was more reasonable fun even though we found old engine valves driven in the lower section from some past failed attempt. Mike even led a tricky bit after I backed off but after that I got revving and everything fell in place.
On that climb, Ted and Michael camped in Cave Two on Tibrogargan overnight and it was there that they met a youthful Ian Thomas for the first time. The friendships forged on that day have remained strong ever since. Earlier that year Ted joined Donn Groom and Michael Meadows for a committing  first descent of the Coomera Gorge from its source.

For all of us at this time, climbing was inexorably embedded in a passion for various forms of motor transport, with Ted often leading the charge:
Other interesting diversions for me included exotic motorcycles such as the Velocette Clubman, CZ scrambler and pristine Matchless 500 single I fully restored. The Meadows brothers also got me into rallying and I cultivated an affection for old Peugeot cars, particularly the 203. Rally-proficient cars featured prominently in the early Frog exploration days as the access road was dirt with several pinches that became extremely challenging in the wet. Rick too was not mainstream in his choice of vehicles and in particular his classic Citroen Light 15 was just the ticket to blast up the greasy clay hill in reverse as the final recourse to getting in.
Ted thoroughly enjoyed exploratory four wheel drive trips with Ron during their time together as PhD students in Chemistry. These ranged from what is now called Red Cliffs through the lower Glass House Mountains peaks and on extended trips to places such as Double Island Point and Fraser Island. Ted tackled photography with the same intensity and perfectionism characteristic of his other activities and a wide range of high quality camera brands — Leica, Rollei, Miranda — came into contact with the pair of white silk gloves he always insisted on wearing to protect them.

 White silk gloves always kept his cameras clean, regardless of the rest of his body (Michael Meadows collection)

 Astride his immaculately-restored Velocette Clubman (Ted Cais collection)

Back on the rock, he joined with Rick to open a new climbing area on the south eastern flank of Mount Maroon — Maggies Farm — climbing several hard new routes there on the mixed cracks and faces. Australia’s first national climbing meet at Porter’s Pass in the Blue Mountains at Easter, 1973, saw Ted demonstrate his expertise as the first Queensland climber up several Mount Piddington classic routes. One stand-out was his second ascent of the 'spooky' Ewbank wall climb, The Minotaur. In the lead-up to the Blue Mountains trip, Ted and Rick had partnered to climb several imposing new routes at Frog Buttress — Black Light, Child in Time and Badfinger — as well as making the first clean ascents of Odin, Erg and Pollux.

 Ian Thomas lured into abseiling from a very rusty bolt with frayed blind cord from Ted's Indooroopilly house veranda with Michael Meadows looking on (Ted Cais collection)

After Porter’s Pass, Rick headed off to Yosemite and in other climbing directions with Ted seeking out new regular climbing companions: ‘I started climbing more with the feisty Humzoo  (Ian Thomas) who approximated Don Whillans in build and temperament (at least according to what we read about Whillans).’

 Ian Thomas and Ted contemplate another memorable FFA at Frog Buttress in 1973 (Ted Cais collection)
The combination seemed to encourage Ted's penchant for pranks to new heights and his close friends — including all three authors — suffered multiple indiscretions over the years from electrified doorknobs, a dead cat down a chimney, rotting crab shells hidden under a rear car seat at the height of summer (the car had to be sold as scrap!), holes punched through plaster walls, dousing a motorbike helmet with the foul-smelling and highly inflammable ethyl mercaptan, being left behind to survive on pippies on some remote beach, unexpectedly pushed into hedges, and the inevitable avalanche of dirt, leaves and twigs that would shower down on his climbing partners as they negotiated the crux of a route — all accompanied by his maniacal laughter. Strangely, his appetite for humour seemed to evaporate when the tables were turned!

The young chemist in his laboratory preparing another evil concoction to test out on his 'mates' (Michael Meadows collection)

Ted, Ron and Michael once went in search of a lost aeroplane around the southern side of Mt Lindesay, ending up climbing to the summit and down to a shelf on the south-west side for lunch, watching the eagles soar beneath. On returning to Ted's Indooroopilly house, he decided he needed to top up the liquid nitrogen in one of his experiments, so they took off for the university via the local dump for some makeshift rally driving in his Peugeot 203 on a dirt, glass-covered track that encircled the tip. Ted thought that Ron’s predicament of being thrown around on a petrol drum seat in the back while the back doors flew open was hilarious. A few wide bridging moves saved the day. They had wondered why Ted's housemate and fellow scientist Mark Sceats had not joined them: now they knew! Several unsuspecting visiting interstate climbers were also lured into a circuit of the dump in the back of Ted's Peugeot (sans seating) on more than one occasion.

 Another trip to the Indooroopilly dump for spurious reasons (Ted Cais collection)

Before he left Australia, significant first and second ascents abound: think about climbs like Clockwork Orange, Venom, Juggernaut and many more — lots more. Observers were always astounded at his strength and his technical footwork. On 6 April 1974 as he was about to launch into the final stages of his PhD — a complex mathematical treatise on polymers — he made his last Australian climb before emigrating to the USA: the first free lead of Rick White’s Conquistador at Frog Buttress, Queensland’s first grade 21:
After that I hung up my boots and made the final concerted effort to finish my PhD and depart for America to become a permanent exile. There I met John Stannard who was the last major influence on my climbing. He was a reticent purist whose efforts defined the Shawangunks as the Eastern-U.S. haven for adventure trad climbers but then this chapter of my life is another story.
Ted's PhD Thesis, 'The copolymerization of vinyl chloride with sulphur dioxide', was monumental in size, as well as comprehensive in both theoretical and experimental accomplishments.

But away from the research labs in the US, he soon established his reputation as a climber of note in the 'Gunks where his partner was the legendary John Stannard, 'Hot' Henry Barber’s muse. Ted managed a fine ascent of the amazing Foops — a climb akin to Kachoong at Mount Arapiles — but on steroids! He was admired by the uber-hero of bouldering, John Gill, the person who invented that modern, extreme incarnation of the sport, by introducing a training and gymnastics' attitude to ascents — an approach that was right up Ted's alley. One of Ted's old climbing mates from his Australian days, George Harrison, also joined him for some climbing in the ‘Gunks.

Ted's day job was as a research chemist, specialising in the development of compounds which stung, stank or stained and all three of us — his close ‘mates’ — unwittingly became experimental subjects before he left Australian shores! In the USA, he initially worked for Bell Laboratories, later moving to Mitsubishi Chemical America. As his research and development expertise continued to expand, he produced seven patented products and processes as the lead inventor. One of these was for work done at Bell Laboratories with the rest resulting from his work with Mitsubishi. After Xerox was forced to license its patents, he was involved in research that extending photocopying technology. Ted's other patents were also applicable to this field. He published a considerable body of academic work in peer reviewed professional literature, two with Ron as a co-author. Ted's published papers rose from two in 1975 to a peak in 1984, followed by the typical slow decline as he became a senior researcher with expanded responsibilities. His last paper in polymer chemistry was published in 2001. His most heavily referenced paper has had 198 citations.

Despite his scientific achievements, his passion for climbing and outdoor adventure was never far away. On a return holiday visit to Australia in 1980, he roped two of the authors (Michael and Ron) into an attempt on Vidler’s Chimney on the eastern side of Mount Lindesay. Climbed just once before in 1954 by a team of four (including John Comino) from UQBWC, Ted had obsessed about a second ascent. Needless to say, the almost vertical, loose dirt slopes inside the chimney, coupled with endless rope tangles, soon dissuaded us from pursuing it beyond the second pitch. But it was another adventure and it summed up Ted Cais to a tee.

 On the slopes of Mount Lindesay in 1980 (Michael Meadows collection)

His regular visits back to Queensland every few years saw him link up with his old climbing buddies (and some new ones) for a day or two on the rock. His level of fitness and strength seemed to remain at an extraordinarily high level throughout that time, stemming from his consistent climbing activity across the Pacific:
During a visit back to Australia in 1987 I was in my best climbing form ever, having worked up to the 5.12s in the ‘Gunks. So I had this glorious day with Rick and Mike at Frog under a perfect blue Queensland sky cruising up some classics awash in waves of nostalgia watching Cap’n Fists jam away like in some time warp and wishing I could stay. One always appreciates things more by their absence.

 He was always at home on fierce, technical crimpers (Michael Meadows collection)

On other trips he revisited Clemency with Greg Sheard and in May 2003, after a warm up at Kangaroo Point, attempted Air Time over Pumistone with Phil Box, followed a few days later by a trip to Glennies Pulpit for a wonderful day out. Michele, Rick, Cass Crane, Cameron Featherstone and Phil participated in some of these adventures.

Typically, Ted always felt that some of his more memorable climbs were those that he never completed once musing: 'It is often instructive to learn from our failures as success only seems to confirm our bad habits.' He was a self-confessed follower of the ethics of the period rather than a trendsetter but like Frog Buttress’s principal developer — Rick White — railed against bolts being used there. He believed to the end that the possibility of keeping it as Australia’s great clean-climbing crag was an opportunity lost.

Ted Cais was always more concerned with quality — of the moment, the experience, the friendships — rather than quantity. He never publicised his climbing achievements, always valuing camaraderie above all else. The climb was most often secondary to the strong relationships he maintained despite spending the last decades of his life on the other side of the world. He had a confident personal philosophy that enabled him to make sense of his life experiences, even including those infuriating pranks directed at his closest friends. A deeply intellectual thinker, he was aware of global trends and when he retired, sought out a simple life in Arizona with his second wife, Michele, and their beloved dogs. He once wrote: 'One great maxim of life is to "know thyself" and climbing is an excellent medium for attaining self knowledge by training the quiet mind. Fitness and mental equilibrium are added benefits that enhance the quality of life.'

His pancreatic cancer diagnosis came barely five weeks before his death. In typical style, Ted shared with his family and close friends his decision to eschew chemotherapy because of the scientific uncertainties around its curative claims coupled with the medical certainty of the inevitable poor quality of life that would ensue. To the very end he was lucid, sharp-witted and as always, offered a brutally honest yet skilfully adept take on current issues. Ian Thomas was one of the few of his Australian mates who visited him several times in his modest home in Benson and Ted’s appreciation was patently obvious — devising a particularly intricate prank that resulted in Ian falling from a boulder problem into a patch of spiny cactus and rolling into the foul-smelling den of a pack of Javelinas, creatures with the longest canines of any mammal in North America: an ultimate acknowledgement of friendship!

 A reunion at the Dugandan Hotel near Frog Buttress in 1998
(from left) Michael Meadows, Ted, Greg Sheard and Ian 'Humzoo' Thomas (Michael Meadows collection)

Despite the decades and tens of thousands of kilometres that separated us, whenever any of us spoke to him either in person or electronically, it was as if we had seen each other barely days before. He maintained a strong email correspondence with several long-time friends and the contents of these covered a broad range of topics. Each topic was treated with customary thoroughness and depth. They are truly a rare treasure to those blessed with his thoughtfulness and strength of spirit. And when we sat together after a day’s climbing on the verandah of the Dugandan Hotel on one of his Australian visits, the memories and stories flowed freely — like the cold beer. It was as if he had never left and to an extent, remains so. Indeed, it was one of these moments that was the catalyst that led to the research and writing of the Australian climbing history book, The Living Rock.

He is survived by his first wife Kirsten, their two children Bryden and Carly, and his second wife, Michele.

 A recent picture of Ted with one of his many epicurean passions -- cheese (Michele Cais collection)

His passing is a reminder of the significance of an extraordinary period in Australian climbing history in which he played a central role. It is particularly poignant as those characters who defined that era are gradually slipping away. Despite his long physical absence from these shores, Ted’s contribution to Australian climbing culture should be remembered for what it was — a visionary, far-reaching impact that placed people and experiences above all else. He never sought the limelight and yet his achievements and influence deserve as much recognition as anyone of that era.

Ted Cais is arguably the best unknown climber that Australia has ever produced. A high-achieving scientist who craved adventure. He thought deeply about ethics. He worked out. He was a master boulderer. He was an off-width monster. He was an aggressive prankster with a one-sided sense of humour. And he was our good mate.

Rest in peace ‘cobber’.

Ian Thomas, Ron Farmer and Michael Meadows

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Between the persona and the private

John Theodore Comino

Born: Brisbane, 2 June 1929

Died: Brisbane, 16 January 2019

John Comino (left) and Jon Stephenson on the summit of The Thumb, Hinchinbrook Island, following their first ascent in 1953 (Photo: Geoff Broadbent)

It was only recently that I learned of the death of John Comino at age 89, an innovative and pioneering climber-bushwalker, who pushed the boundaries of the possible during an intense period of outdoor activity in 1950’s postwar Queensland. John was an integral part of a small core of adventurers who formed the influential University of Queensland Bushwalking Club (UQBWC) in 1950. Along with my peers and, I suspect, many others, I was lured into the world of bushwalking and climbing by reading the exploits of John and his cohort in the pages of the UQBWC magazine, Heybob. We planned our local forays into the Southeast Queensland wilderness based on the vivid accounts of first ascents and dramatic events, but more often, encouraged by the engaging perceptions of landscape and environment and our place in it.Although I did not know him personally, I’ve drawn together these memories from a series of interviews with him between 1999 and 2003. 
When I first spoke to John Comino 20 years ago about those halcyon years, he recalled the precise set of circumstances that led to the formation of UQBWC. In December 1949, he was attending a UQ Science Camp near Mount Coolum on the Sunshine Coast when a fellow student, Jon Stephenson, asked him if he wanted to climb to the top of the low-lying peak. It was the view from the summit that day that triggered something inside John to pursue the heights with a vengeance.
As a result of that Science Camp and people picking around the bush — and we were happy about the climb up east Coolum — we decided we’d form a bushwalking club. Now I’d heard of bushwalking in 1946 from Ross Barber and Graham Jarrott — a remarkable photographer. They were telling me about how they went bushwalking. And I said, ‘What do you want to walk in the bush for? What’s this in aid of?’ And I thought, ‘What a waste of bloody time.’ That was my first introduction to the name bushwalking.
Despite his early misgivings, in the first few months of 1950, he and others — including Dave Stewart, Stephanie Henson, Ian McLeod, Geoff Broadbent, Bob Waring, Sid Williams and Jon Stephenson — formed the UQBWC. The original idea was to have a small group of about a dozen keen walkers — but the first trip to Mount Elphinstone at Brookfield attracted around 120 people! Jon Stephenson decided to ‘prune back’ the numbers by climbing the mountain at breakneck speed — and it worked as John recalled:
I think a lot of them thought it was going to be little boysies and girlsies holding hands tiptoeing through the tulips but this was not the idea at all from our point of view. So those with the wrong idea found that it was very difficult physically because we were virtually running. We moved very fast and had to deplete them by attrition. That diminished the number from 120 down to about 30, maybe 20.
It was the start of an extraordinary chain of events that set up the framework for the development of postwar climbing and bushwalking in Queensland. Bert Salmon had dominated the climbing and walking scene between the wars but John sensed that a changing of the guard was imminent:
Bertie Salmon used to have the Alpine Journal — he had every issue of the Alpine Journal since it was first published bar one issue and he was quite proud of this. He spent a lot of time and money all his life. It was the pride of his life this Alpine Journal, believe me. He used to sit and read about all of this stuff and I used to think, ‘Well, how bloody dull.’ We were brash I suppose — so I didn’t give Bert his full due, by any means.
It was around this time that his nickname, ‘Johnno’ was coined:
I was always what I would call antisocial. When I started at university, I purposely changed my persona to be ‘Johnno’, the life of the party, instead of the introverted wallflower that I’d been previously all my life. I’m probably about normal now [laughs]. But that was my persona.
On the next UQBWC trip — to Mount Barney’s North Peak — ‘Johnno’ struck up what would be a lifelong friendship with the inimitable Bob Waring. They shared a powerful desire to reach summits in the shortest possible time so when the group stopped for lunch, gazing up at the massive hulk of East Peak, Bob Waring was puzzled. ‘Why are we all sitting around?’ he asked. ‘Aren’t we going up there?’ The group leader, Sid Williams, tried to dissuade them but John and Bob headed off regardless, promising to return in 20 minutes. Perhaps predictably, they were back before the rest of the group had finished their sandwiches!

This no-nonsense ‘just do it’ approach quickly came John Comino’s defining characteristic.

Shortly after the formation of the UQBWC, he was also involved in another Queensland milestone — the Brisbane Climbing Club (BCC), the second such organisation devoted to climbing activities in Queensland [Bert Salmon started the first around 1926]. Although the UQBWC lasted well into the 1980s before being superseded by amongst others, the current UQ Mountain Club, the BCC lasted barely eight months. Its demise had nothing to do with climbing — but Communism! John’s version of the meeting that saw the club torn apart differs in places from others’ accounts but essentially captures the spirit of the times. Essentially, the instigator of the club, Kemp Fowler — a New Zealand radar technician — was accused of having Communist sympathies. An extraordinary general meeting of the BCC called by Bert Salmon, Jon Stephenson and Raoul Mellish (amongst others), asked noted geologist Dr Fred Whitehouse to address the gathering. John rembered the tone of the meeting that evening:
'Can you trust your companion when he’s holding your life in his hands?’ was essentially the prĂ©cis of what he [Whitehouse] was saying, and if he’s not the same political persuasion as you — namely a Communist — then beware, take care.
John and others claim that Fred Whitehouse had ASIO connections which led him to make the accusations, demanding that club members declare their support either for King and country — or for Communism.
The idea was to expel Kemp Fowler from the club. Kemp walked out, the schism was broad and deep. [Secretary] Shirley [McKenny’s] affiliation in working with Kemp made her walk out. My association with Shirley made me walk out. Waring’s association with me made Waring walk out. So we all walked out down Edward Street, fuming: ‘They can do whatever they like with their club if that’s the way they feel about it.
But while a difference in political ideology may have led to the demise of the BCC, it did little to prevent the climbing activity that followed. Friends split by the incident soon realised that their common love of the outdoors overrode any political differences and climbing activities resumed.

John Comino soloing the first ascent of The Pinnacle, the Steamers, in 1952 (photo: Jon Stephenson)
  John was the first to repeat the exposed traverse above the north face of Leaning Peak soloed by Bob Waring in 1949 and was soon pursuing the last unclimbed summits in southeast Queensland — in the Steamer Formation on the Main Range near Killarney. In 1952, John and Bob soloed the steep north face of The Pinnacle in the Steamers, making the first ascent. In January 1953, John joined with Jon Stephenson, Geoff Goadby, Geoff Broadbent, Dave Stewart and Ian McLeod to make the first ascent of the Thumb — a pinnacle on the side of Mount Bowen on Hinchinbrook Island.
It was three days going up there to do Mount Bowen and for those three days we just about sweated blood. It was right in the middle of summer. It was hot as hell. And when we got up on the top that night we could see in the distance a thunderstorm coming and thereafter it rained and rained. It averaged eight inches a day for 10 days.
It was actually a cyclone and as they approached their objective, John described his plan of attack to climb the steep, weathered granite to the summit of The Thumb:
I was going to take a flying leap at it but they said, ‘No! No! Don’t be silly’ — or something — and dissuaded me from jumping across. It was about from you to here [1.5 metres] away and dropped away to nothing but I reckon I could have taken a running jump — woomph — and stuck. I suppose that would have been foolish but I was quite confident I could do it so I expected I would have. They dissuaded me from doing that.

On the summit of Leaning Peak, Mount Barney, 1954 -- from left, John Comino, Italian Consul Felice Benuzzi, 
Geoff Goadby, Peter Barnes and (rear) Alan Frost (photo: Peter Barnes)

Following their successful ascent on Hinchinbrook Island — and a subsequent escape from the cyclone — John met up with Jon Stephenson and Alan Frost to guide Bert Salmon up the long south face of Mt Beerwah, remembering it as the most enjoyable climb he did: "We were using ropes then. Bert had never used a rope before, or so he said. He was shit-scared to say the least."

Unlike many of his peers, John was not an avid reader of climbing literature nor did he have an interest in climbing history. He heard about Bert Salmon through Jon Stephenson who was keen to maintain contact with the 1930s climbing pioneer but to John, he was just ‘an old bloke who was working at Ag [Agriculture] and Stock’ although he remembered Salmon’s white, curly hair.

In December that same year — 1953 — he joined Jon Stephenson again, this time to make the first (and still the only verified) ascent of Vidler’s Chimney with George Ettershank and Ron Moss. He had few recollections of the challenging climbing conditions:
The idea to get up Vidler’s Chimney is to climb up faster than you’re sliding back. That, in essence, is what it is, but it’s terribly exposed.

 John Comino instructing in climbing techniques at Kangaroo Point circa 1958 (photo: Ron Cox)

In the following years, John became one of the stalwarts — albeit initially a reluctant one — conducting climbing training sessions at Kangaroo Point cliffs for UQBWC members.
They were started off by ‘Cleat’ [Alan Frost] and Peter Barnes because they were boarders at St John’s College in River Terrace. They used to spend weekends mucking around with climbing practice. Alan Frost was a friend of Geoff Goadby’s and that’s how Geoff got to know Peter. The three of them used to do some climbing practice over there. Geoff was keen on showing people who wanted to climb how to climb. I thought this was a dumb idea. I wasn’t very enthusiastic. I think Geoff took the first couple of climbers. We were trying to dissuade people from climbing, let’s say, because it’s a dangerous pursuit because if you think you’re just going to go out and climb solo on something very dangerous, you’re going to have an accident for sure. And it would reflect back on the club. As far as the bushwalking club [UQBWC] was concerned, we weren’t officially into climbing. If there were a few ratbags among us who went climbing, that was OK — they weren’t doing it under the auspices of the club.
It was at one such Kangaroo Point training session that he first met Ron Cox. He learned that Cox had managed to climb a buttress on the lower cliffline — a route that still bears his name — and that it had reputedly repelled all other attempts. A small group of climbers was standing around the base of the cliff, discussing the route.
I don’t know whether they’d been in our class earlier in the afternoon or not. It was just about going home time and I think it might have been Ron who was just about up to the top of it when we went to have a look. That was about 100 yards downstream from where we were. I thought, this fellow can climb alright, he didn’t need any instruction. Then I got baited into having a go at it. I said ‘You insolent little bastards, I’m not going to be dared on this. I’ll take you on!’ [laughs] And so I did. I was belayed from above and it was very safe. Stephanie was there, too, and I think this was after we were married. It was quite a good climb until you get to this Cox’s Overhang and I thought that this was quite difficult and I couldn’t reach the handholds — they were about two or three inches out of reach. I was standing on tippy toes sort of thing and stretching as hard as I could stretch but they were a few inches out of reach.
Describing Ron Cox as being built ‘like a bloody spider’, he decided to make a lunge for a crucial handhold.
I wouldn’t have got over that thing without the rope.Anyway I got up there and after that I think Ron thought, ‘Well, this fellow can climb’ and that’s probably what caused him to look me up about the Crookneck thing some time later.
The ‘Crookneck thing’ was, of course, the first ascent of the East face route in 1959. John had attempted East Crookneck some years before with Bob Waring but had realised it was beyond him.
"I shinned up this column and I’m standing on top of the thing. Bob said, ‘Can you see anything from there?’ As I was standing there — the column’s only about eight inches diameter — I could feel the thing starting to peel off the side. I said to Bob, ‘Get away from down the bottom there, I think I’m coming down. Just get out of the road.’ I don’t know what I would have done if it had peeled right off. I ended up putting my arms around the thing and sliding back down it [laughs]."

John recalled that when he and Bob Waring first contemplated climbing Crookneck, the gear they had was rudimentary, to say the least:
I’ve seen young people out at Kangaroo Point with thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment draped over them and I thought, ‘Oh God, climbing was never like this!’ We rappelled over here [the East Face] to see if there was a route that would go. We thought it would from the bottom…We decided that one of these days we’d go back and do that and we reckoned if we took some wooden chocks about 18 inches long down to about four inches long and a big hammer, then we could whop these into places that we could see. They wouldn’t be permanent pitons but they’d more than do the job.
On their recce of the climb, they had abseiled down to a large ledge [the second stance] they dubbed the Eagle’s Eyrie — and then had climbed back up to the summit ridge. But in September, 1959, John found himself standing below the east face with Ron Cox and Pat Conaghan.
So Ron and I went up and we had these etrier things that he and Pat had made up — marvellous things to use — it’s like a hangman’s noose [a prussik knot] that you wrap around the rope and slip up the rope. A good idea but there was only one catch: I’d never used them before. I’d never seen them before and I’m starting up on what I think is the most difficult pitch, the beginning of the thing…Where we started the climb, there was no column and, Holy Mackeral, there was an awful shortage of handholds. As far as I recall, you get up as far as you can and then traverse about 20 feet [six metres], diagonally. That first part there is where we used the etriers, as I recall. Of course, I was swearing about the things but once you got the hang of them they were marvellous to use. But it’s only in the beginning part of the climb we used them. It’s fairly easy up to the overhang but Ron had conveniently put a piton in before the overhang…You’d clip onto them and you were safe.
John reached the Eagle’s Eyrie just before nightfall so he and Ron settled into a bivvy while Pat sheltered at the base of the climb. The slow pace of climbing was testing his patience.
"It wasn’t until after the Eagle’s Eyrie that I led because I was so cheesed off with Ron taking so much time. After the Eagle’s Eyrie it’s just a stroll. Ron was super, super cautious because he hadn’t done that part before. When I got the opportunity — I didn’t like to say to him, ‘For God’s sake hurry up will you?’ I said ‘Look, I’ll do this part’ and he said ‘Righto’, so I went straight off up to the top. We ended up getting to the top of the mountain in darkness, holding a torch in my mouth."

John Comino was from a generation who saw climbing and bushwalking as inextricably linked — and it may explain one of his most enduring memories of his years spent exploring the wilderness regions of southeast Queensland:
It was after the climbing club’s climb of the north of Beerwah — coming back in the truck, the most outstanding thing in any of the climbing was the view at sunset — a red sky and an absolutely full moon beside Crookneck with Beerwah purple-black. In the back of this truck it was the most beautiful scene I’ve ever seen in my life. We’d had a good day climbing Beerwah on the inaugural trip and that scene sticks with me.
He had a strong belief that anyone who ventures into the outdoors should understand their limits — and he had little time for those who indulge in self-promotion based on their climbing achievements:
"I thought that all this self aggrandisement was a lot of bullshit. That’s frankly what I thought then and it’s what I think now. And this is what I see as a danger in climbing — if you have that mentality then you’re going to kill yourself or someone who’s with you very easily. That’s the downside of climbing. The other downside is that if you have such a high opinion of yourself you can over-climb and if you outclimb yourself, you should bloody drop dead or get back your own way, not get a helicopter to help you. You shouldn’t outclimb yourself; you should know your capabilities. That’s what I believe anyway. It worked for me because I’m still alive but a couple of other people aren’t."

John Comino leaves behind a rich personal legacy — a string of daring and sometimes outlandish tales that still hold their own today in terms of achievement, without the fanfare of self-promotion that seems to have become almost de rigueur in today’s social circles. He and his cohort have inspired generations perhaps because his no-nonsense approach seems to better reflect the real world of bushwalking and climbing we have inherited. It brings to mind one of my favourite quotes, entirely appropriate in describing the essence of John Comino’s contribution to the pantheon of Australian climbing history.

The history of mountaineering is about the firsts, mosts, and disasters, but behind the dozens of famous faces are countless mountaineers whose rewards have been entirely private and personal — Rebecca Solnit.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

A memorable ascent of the north face of Leaning Peak: 16-17 September 2017

Alan Frost with son Chris on the summit of Leaning Peak -- 16 September 2017. Photo: Chris Frost

This is the story of an extraordinary ascent of Leaning Peak's north face by Alan Frost and his son, Chris. Why extraordinary? Alan was 82 at the time, becoming the oldest climber to have completed the route. He's also the oldest active climber from a postwar Queensland cohort who created a climbing culture that all of us have built on -- and benefited from. Chris has made an enormous contribution to the climbing scene both here and abroad from the late 1970s, following in his father's very large footsteps. As a climbing team, they have made many memorable ascents across Southeast Queensland and look set to continue.

I first wrote about their achievement last year in the online climbing magazine, Vertical Life (No. 23), but space restrictions prevented me from including more detail of this memorable event. I doubt whether anyone will better the ascent age record set by Alan who seems to have lost none of the passion for the heights that inspired he and his long-time climbing partner, Peter Barnes (now 87), to accomplish a long list of first and significant ascents in Southeast Queensland. Although by his own admission, the lightning pace set by he and Peter during their forays from the late 1940s may have slowed a little, he still climbs at a level that would challenge many current climbers. The following are emails sent to me following their historic ascent. I must declare a personal interest here having been part of the first ascent team -- with John Shera and my brother Chris -- on Leaning Peak's north face in February 1968. It was a defining moment in my own life and it seems that the spell of the big face has lost none of its aura. At 410 metres, it is still the longest trad route in Queensland (arguably Australia). I am sure that their experiences on the climb and the memories evoked will inspire you as they did me...

Alan Frost on one of the lower pitches of Leaning Peak's north face. Photo: Chris Frost


Chris has told of our adventure Sat/Sun. It was magic in so many ways, and gave much food for thought, especially as I was the belayer. It was hard to place it all in the perspective of the old days, but my main conclusion was to recognise the amazing achievement of your first ascent in 1968. It is always easier thereafter, knowing it can be done and an approximate idea of difficulty. And you did it in the old trad way with minimal gear (pitons?), static rope and I guess no sticky rubber shoes. After 49 years I felt humbled by your success. You were lucky in your time — the edge of our trad stuff (the leader shall not fall — Frank Smythe) and the beginning of protecting the leader, which slowly changed everything, in which you were much involved. Of course at the time I was well aware of the changes occurring, but let them pass me by: I was too busy at work and with a young family; it was evident that to be involved would take up too much time in mastering the new techniques.

I took up squash for the sharp exercise and played Pennant for many years until I could not see the ball well. When Chris, Paul (Hoskins) and others got serious in the early 80's, I dropped squash and trained with them. But for me it was too late. I fairly quickly got up to leading 21s and a few harder, but never felt myself competent, needing more practice. Then they all disappeared: Paul to Arapiles, Chris married and then took up flying ( as did some others). So I was back to the old scrambling, which I still enjoy, with irregular climbing with Chris.

Back to Saturday: all this stuff was whizzing around in my mind while watching the smoke, the exposure, and Chris seeking runners. Initially I was more concerned about getting a pack to the foot of the climb -- I am slow uphill with a pack (age and cardiac output are not friends, as you will find!!). As it turned out it was no problem, but finding the Gash (as we called it in the old days) in the smoke was difficult as we could not see any part of the mountain.

Eventually the start was obvious, a good angled start that just slowly became steeper. I was unsure at first of the slippers on the rock, and how I would handle the heavy pack, but after a few minutes I felt in my element, and the rock moves were great. Eventually we were over the smoke, but it was still very hazy. The last two pitches were fantastic. Very steep and scary for Chris with the runout on delicate holds. He is the ultimate climber, has been for a long time: relaxed and careful, judgement from long experience, yet once runners are in, graceful and quick. There were a couple of moves on the climb that I thought were around 18, the rest around 12-14, and overall, fantastic rock.

To my astonishment we topped out just on 5 pm, exactly where you exit the ledge [the Waring Ledge, first climbed in 1949 by Bob Waring], a few feet from the top. At the time there was no wind, and it would have been churlish to rush off to find a spot to curl up — so we stayed and watched the sunset, put on some clothes, feet in bivvy bag, and guess what? Chris produced some Talisker Scotch which we supped as the West and East Peaks turned from mellow detail to (West) a giant sombre black pyramid. The clouds of smoke down below from 8-10 fires around Ballow and the north of Barney creek mellowed and disappeared with the light, leaving the bright stark margins of the fires. It was one of the most magic hours I have had in the mountains.

So thanks to you for pioneering such a great climb. As we all know one cannot wax lyric to anyone but a climber, and often even they are not interested; so thanks for listening to my rambling.
PS. Chris just reminded me that I took him up Logan's ridge when he was 8, i.e. 1968, the year of your climb!

 Alan Frost high on the face in fading light. Photo: Chris Frost


Left the car park at 4.45am. There were many fires about with lots of smoke. The smoke even made navigation hard in the scrub leading up to the base of the route. We were slowed by the thick scunge for a while and didn't start climbing until 10am. T'was a bit of a slow start! We did 12 pitches with Dad climbing second on each pitch. He was amazing, climbing the entire route without assistance from the rope. We topped out at 5 pm in the setting sun. I'd planned on a bivi, so had packed bivi bags, a stove and little extra water.

I surprised Dad with a cup each of fine scotch whiskey. We sat and soaked up the moment as the sun set over west peak. After a few brews we climbed into our bivi bags and endured a fitful sleep in the cold. A southwest wind rose considerably overnight making things a little cooler than I imagined. We both had bouts of shivering. Good fun!

The first morning light had us out of our bags and keen to start moving. We were being blown over with the wind! The abseil was fun in the even stronger wind of saddle venturi effect. We scooted up over North Peak and descended Rocky Creek. Back to the car then the obligatory beer at the Rathdowney Pub.

The living rock: the invention of climbing in eastern Australia

The Living Rock has been officially archived by the National Library of Australia. To search the   archive of websites like this one, click on the logo above.

I'm now down to my last 150 (of 1100) copies of The Living Rock. There's been a wonderful outpouring of support and information from readers, buyers, climbers, relatives and others which really has made all of the effort worthwhile. In fact, it's the aftermath of proiducing the book that hasd been the most rewarding. Despite all of that, I won't be embarking on a secondn edition in hard copy format but have decided to pursue an iBook version that I plan to publish later this year. It will include most of the images in the hard copy but with some additional photographs and video clips -- both historical and current -- of climbs and climbing areas, mostly in Queensland. It'll be available through the iBook store and readable only on iPads or Macs, mainly because of the large file size of the document. If you haven't yet obtained a copy of the hard copy edition -- and would like to -- please contact me.

Since publication in September 2015, I've been involved in various promotional events, beginning with a fantastic launch at Mountain Designs' Valley store in Brisbane. It was wonderful to see Donn Groom (with virtually the entire Groom family!) and Paul Caffyn who came from their homes in New Zealand for the event along with about 80 others, including old friends from decades ago. It was an uplifting evening. A highlight was meeting 85-year-old Bernice Manley for the first time. I spoke to Bernie at the very start of my research by telephone from Melbourne where she lives. She happened to be in Queensland staying with relatives and it was wonderful to meet her and to experience her continuing enthusiasm for climbing. Bernie was one of a handful of pioneering women who were climbing in the late 1940s/early 1950s in Southeast Queensland. Peter Barnes who is close to 86 was also there, along with his old climbing partner Alan Frost. Both look incredibly fit and are still active in the outdoors: what wonderful examples for us all. Long-time friend Ian Thomas flew up from Melbourne with the doyen of Australian climbing Keith Bell kindly coming up from Sydney for the event. Ian, Keith and I managed to squeeze in some memorable moments in the Glass House Mountains during their stay.

Mountain Designs has been strongly supportive of the book since the launch and I thank all involved for this. It was very sad to witness the closure of all of its 39 walk-in stores across Australia in February 2018, particularly because of my own brief involvement in the company's first few years. I've also had strong support from other local climbing outlets -- The Far Outdoors (Boonah), Pinnacle Sports at Red Hill and K2 Base Camp in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley -- with the book available at all of these shops along with the following general book stores: Avid Reader (West End), Mary Ryan's (Milton), The Maleny Bookshop, Rosetta Books (Maleny), The River Read (Noosaville), Binna Burra Lodge, Canungra Visitors Information Centre, Rathdowney Historical Museum and Visitor Information, Glass House Mountains Information Centre, Fullers Bookshop (Hobart) and the Hobart Bookshop. I thank all of these outlets for their support.It's also available in selected bookstores in southern Australia thanks to Glenn Tempest who is distributing copies from his Natimuk headquarters.

Below is a Table of Contents to give you an idea of the span of the project. Part I explores the earliest known European ascents in Australia and the emergence of rockclimbing as a recreation before World War II. Part II focuses on climbing in postwar Queensland until about the late 1980s. I stopped at that point because of both the enormity of the project and the diversification of climbing into more specialised categories: sports climbing, bouldering and  indoor climbing, for example. In addition, the most recent stories and images of climbing in Australia -- particularly since the mid-1980s -- have been published in a range of climbing magazines, including Thrutch, Rock, Wild, Crux, and current online offering, Vertical Life.

The price of the book is AUD$39.95 (including postage to most places in Australia).


Living Rock Press
PO Box 52
Rochedale South
QLD 4123

Articles on climbing history from 2013-present: Vertical Life (free subscription).
Climbing wars: or Victoria versus the rest (Crux 2007)
Transport trauma (Crux 2007)
Women with attitude (Crux 2007)
Ghosts and the Glasshouses (Crux 2006)
The origins of Australian climbing (Crux 2006)
Return to the North Face of Leaning Peak  (Wild 2003)
The changing role of QLD newspapers in imagining leisure and recreation (eJournalist 2001)
Close to the edge: imagining climbing in S. E. Queensland (Queensland Review 2000)