Nightmare at Scarp Pool Picnic Area
Scarp Pool, Murray River, WA September 6th 1980
After a successful day kayaking down the Middle Murray, Jenny and I said goodbye to Fran, Tony, Glen and Sean. Left only with our camping gear we were going to be picked up by other Ascot Kayak Club members the following day.
It was the end of a perfect day and a start of an intimate evening together. The sun was still shining between lightly spaced clouds and small finches chattered and were bobbing from tree to tree. With the sound of the rapid below tumbling over the rocks and the wind whistling through the trees, what more could we want. Picnickers had finished cooking their steaks as Jenny and I stalked the forest for dry firewood. The decaying branches and the sweet smell of wildflowers reminded me of all the good times we have had in the bush.
Soon the sounds of the birds faded as the day dwindled into evening. The picnic area became deserted so we decided to pitch our tent and light the camp fire. When the light faded completely we sat and ate Jenny’s special Leverton stew, followed by delicious malt loaf and violet crumbles. The peacefulness of the night crumbled when we started singing any song that came to mind but our tone couldn’t have been that bad as it attracted small friendly, cute marsupials similar to a Quokka into our camp. It was just magical watching this creature, which I had never seen before come closer to us and be part our brilliant evening. This was truly Australia at its best.
As the evening turned to night we sat in front of fire and then retreated to the tent but fifteen minutes later our peaceful night was completely shattered. From out of the darkness two cars came screeching down the track towards the picnic area. Optimistically we thought they may be passing through but they had other ideas. Out jumped about seven young men and two lady friends, who on spotting our tent told us to wake up.
It didn’t take them long to get into the party spirit, having being well merry when they arrived. With the music blaring out, a large fire raging they soon started some party games. The most popular was sculling bottles of beer in a set time and those who failed had to take items of clothes off and dance on the table. This brought hoots of laughter from the others.
Their conversation was limited, but imaginative – they used many choice swear words as often and in as many ways as possible. We couldn’t sleep, only pray that the idiots would get bored and leave.
As we helplessly huddled together in our sleeping bags we kept wondering when the pack would have a go at our tent, or drag us out as they had been throwing empty beer bottles at the tent since they arrived. However, for the time being it seemed that they were content to smash and empty the rubbish bins. Then Max the mad axeman started chopping. At first he was content with chopping down three or four small trees, but he soon turned to some bigger stuff and he just kept going.
To the steady beat of the axe his friends started singing, row, row, row your boat, to keep him going. Then eventually there was silence. Suddenly a tree creaked and then started to whistle as it began to fall. Penned into our small tent, the whistle of the falling tree was frightening. My heart jumped into my mouth, cold shivers ran down my spine, as blind as we were, it felt like the tree was about to land on top of us. As the tree crashed to the ground, the earth trembled from the impact. The huge tree, which took hundreds of years to grow, was now lying helplessly on the ground only metres away from our tent. Our fear of being crushed though was immediately lifted and with pounding hearts we thanked our lucky stars that the 26 metre tree had amazingly missed us and landed only 10 metres away. No words could have expressed our relief.
About 1.00am we thought things were quietening down but the peace didn’t last long. An argument erupted between the two brothers. They yelled, swore and threatened to kill each other. Apparently, Rocky had got Leanne pregnant and his brother didn’t think he was good enough to marry her because he didn’t have a job. Quite rightly Rocky became angry and wanted to defend his honour. Instead he lost his temper and told his brother he can have her. At once Leanne ran off into the bushes bawling her eyes out.
As the quarrel died down we could hear mad Max chopping at another tree but after sticking my head out of the tent door I could see he was much further away from us this time so we felt safer and more relaxed. I felt sad for the tree. It wasn’t long before the tree started creaking and we heard the familiar whistling sound of it crashing to the ground. With two large trees down and several smaller ones they weren’t happy to leave it at that. They were still in a rampaging mood, so they knocked down the ladies toilet, dosed the timber with petrol and set it a light. A large ball of flames shot up into the air when a match was tossed on.
We were pretty scared as verbal abuse was constantly thrown our way. We were sitting ducks really, but we couldn’t escape, we had no car and it was too cold to hide in the bush. Jenny also couldn’t see much as she had her contact lenses out, let alone scamper through the bush in the dark. The worst scenario was also on our minds – rape. Luckily they didn’t know who was in the tent, or if we were two males.
After 5-6 hours of swearing, arguing, loud music and the demolition of trees, the toilet and the rubbish bins, they decided to set fire to the big tree close by. We heard a whoosh, as the flames took hold and followed the petrol trail along the tree. Then a second or two later a piecing scream echoed through the valley. Rocky was on fire. The flames had jumped from the tree to his soiled jeans. He screamed, moaned and rolled around the gravel as he tried desperately to take his jeans off.
At this point I decided to take the risk and show my face and go and help. With Rocky on fire and in a vulnerable position I thought it would be safe. Rocky’s two friends had gone down to the river to get a stubby bottle full of water and when I reached him his burnt legs were red raw and he was squirming helplessly with the pain. Only two of his friends attempted to help, the others were sitting, drinking and couldn’t give a dam. The small amount of water that they had brought back in the beer bottles did nothing to relieve his pain and it was pretty pathetic watching two guys trying to help in such a drunken state, so I had to take control.
I suggested to Rocky, that he should soak his legs in the river, he didn’t argue, he just followed me, groaning as he walked. As he stood soaking in the cold water the pain started to subside and his face was full of relief. We stood there for some time, cooling the terrible burns, I them soaked some towels and wrapped them around his legs, left the river and helped him back to camp. I strongly advised him and told his friends to take him immediately to hospital. I thought that would easily get rid of them so we could get some sleep but when they tried to start the car it wouldn’t start because they had been using his car lights all night. Then another argument developed when he asked his brother for help but he wouldn’t help, he and his friends just sat there and drank as nothing had happened.
The water on the towels started to dry out so Rocky started to feel the pain coming back and he started screeching again. Eventually after about 30 minutes his brother and gang decided to lend a hand to get the car started. At that moment, when the cars left the picnic area we felt so relieved and at 3.15am when we knew for sure they wouldn’t be back, we fell in an exhausted sleep.
As the morning light filtered through the trees it was hard to believe the destruction that had taken place, two giant trees and several smaller ones, rubbish bins and the ladies toilet was scattered all around the picnic area. We were just thankful that we had survived the night, a night that we will never ever forget.
That morning I was picked up by other Ascot members to paddle the Middle Murray rapid section again and enjoy the tranquillity of the forest and the excitement of the whitewater.
When we arrived back at the picnic area that afternoon an ABC TV crew who were filming a documentary about the area and why it should be classed as a National Park were getting some good footage of the destruction. It was screened later on in the week.
The following day I reported the incident to the police. Several weeks later, Rocky, who’s name the police got from the hospital records, was fined 60 dollars.
A very small price to pay for destroying the picnic area and the trees that took year and years to grow.