The BTL editor put some questions to Duncan Brookes, Field Organiser with Bush Search and Rescue.
What was your introduction to bushwalking?
I grew up in an environment of bushwalkers as both my parents were keen bushwalkers. I can recall going on VMTC family base camps from a very young age. My first VMTC day walk was when I was about 8yo, up Mt Riddell.
How did you get involved in BSAR?
My father Stuart was a founding member of “The Search and Rescue Section”, as it was then called, and he was an FO. As a youngster I recall him going off to practice weekends and searches so I always knew of “search and rescue”. I joined when I was 18 in 1972. My first search was in 1974 at Stevensons Falls. Stuart was my group leader. Peter Dunbar the FO presumably thought that was a good idea at the time.
Before being appointed as an FO, what other roles have you had in BSAR?
I was the VMTC Delegate to the Committee for several years and an active participant in “practices” (now called training) and searches prior to being appointed to the FO list in 1978. I was also Convener of the BSAR Committee from 1984 to 1994.
What would be your most notable search?
A couple of searches come to mind. In August 1982 I was a group leader on a search for an elderly chap from Wandiligong, missing off the Ti Tree Range (he had ridden his bike across the mountains in winter, by accident!). My group located his shoe tracks and followed them for some time down Little Running Creek, until we found him alive and well after being missing for 7 days.
In August 1985 I was the search FO for the first time, called to locate two missing teenagers at Mt St Gwinear. They were quickly found. Rather than go home, the Police Inspector asked us if we would mind going to Mt Stirling to assist with the search for 2 missing young men, cross country skiers, that was already underway. An earlier callout of BSAR members was already involved in that tragic search. When we reached Mansfield Police Station later that day, we were asked to continue straight on to Mt Feathertop, following reports that a snow walker had fallen down the steep side when the cornice collapsed earlier that day. While en-route we learned that the victim was one of our members, Tom Kneen, who was leading a BMLC snow walk. We then spent two days on Mt Feathertop in a demanding but sadly unsuccessful search for Tom.
How has the search organization changed with time?
At one level, yes, there is now so much more of everything. The Police command post was once a policeman sitting in the front seat of a 4WD with a map on his knee. Now it can be a fleet of vehicles and trailers, well developed and finely tuned processes and very sophisticated resources. But the basics haven’t changed. Experienced walkers searching the scrubby gullies.
Having dispatched the searchers into the field, you then relax and have a sleep?
No. I can’t recall ever sleeping during the day on a search. There is a search in progress and our members are involved. There is plenty to think about and plenty to do.
What is involved in handling the media?
Caution and circumspection are required. A search is a Police operation and we must respect that. The main lesson to learn is not to say too much, if anything at all. I have never regretted saying too little but once or twice I have regretted saying too much. The media have an important job to do, and need to be able to do it, but they feed on an angle and the more controversial the better. We don’t want BSAR to provide that controversy, either in relation the search, or the missing person. BSAR’s involvement in a search should be reported, but one needs to be careful not to get carried away while doing so. The Police now do a good job of highlighting BSAR’s participation.
What is the hardest aspect of being an FO in your view?
The challenging time is that period immediately after arriving at the search base. It is critical that our members are well briefed on the circumstances of the search and missing person, on what their job is, and how that fits in to the overall search plan, and are fed and properly equipped. This has to be achieved without members spending excessive and frustrating amounts of time waiting around for something to happen.
Source: Behind The Log, October 2010
Emergency Services Medal award
Duncan was awarded an Emergency Services Medal on 18 June 2015 for his outstanding search and rescue service to BSAR and Victorian community over 42 years. Duncan has attended 34 searches and been Field Organiser on 19 of them.