“What was that?”
No one answered. No one dared to. For an hour—well, perhaps minutes—not a word, not a murmur passed our lips. Instead, at three in the morning, we huddled together in quaking fear, drew close to the campfire, and listened.
It was out there.
What it was, though, no one knew, except for the fact we could hear it—in the bushes, thrashing around, prowling through the impenetrable darkness.
Our heads filled with fearful thoughts we dared not utter, and raced with beastly images we struggled not to imagine. Little was certain in my mind, save this one insight, crystal clear in its import: We were being stalked.
But as the group’s leader, I couldn’t share that horrendous fact with the others. Instead, I bravely motioned we move nearer the fire. When the noise died, I dug deep into reserves of courage I never knew existed and tip-toed away to investigate. That was when things turned worse. The creature stirred. It began thundering towards me, ripping the limbs off trees, cleaving their trunks in two. Death seemed imminent.
I had also, it must be said, just turned fourteen years old; this was my first unsupervised overnight bushwalking trip. But as the party’s eldest member—the others ranged between ten and twelve—it was my honour–bound duty to show no fear. We’d set off earlier that day, hiking a mighty three kilometres from my mother’s place—not far from Orange in rural NSW—into nearby bush where we set up camp. And in the early, still-dark morning, with a wild pig scrounging around nearby, I wished I’d never left. Not just home, but the comforting warmth, many years ago, of my mother’s bosom.
Sleep was impossible. Never leaving the fire’s safety, we stayed up all night smoking faux-cigarettes of eucalyptus leaves hand-rolled in newspaper; this, we believed, was how tough guys taunted death. In the morning, we tailed it outta there.
But I was energised. I’d tasted real adventure; now I was hooked. Over the coming months I began, time and again, wandering at length the cramped aisles of the local army disposal store—the only place in Orange back then selling outdoor gear—dreaming of equipment I might one day buy. Usually, though, being an impoverished teen, all I could afford were free catalogues, of packs and tents and sleeping bags, which I took home and pored over at length.
Soon after, I was in a newsagency with a little money in my pocket I’d made from collecting aluminium cans. Until then, my magazine purchases had consisted entirely of comic books, but I was finding they no longer caught my interest as they once had, and it wasn’t merely that I was growing up. No, what I craved now was adventure. And wandering the aisles, I saw a magazine that not only that day became the first real magazine I ever bought, it was a magazine that would change my destiny, a magazine that would fill my young and impressionable mind with dreams I’ve since spent so much of my life chasing: Wild.
Returning as editor now to Australia’s oldest adventure magazine is an incredible arc, and a humbling one. I feel I’m treading in the footsteps of giants, of not just founding editor Chris Baxter but all that followed: Megan, Ross, Belinda, Carlie and Campbell. To them all, I say thank you.
And to all our readers, too, I say thank you. You’re what makes Wild wild. That’s why I want to ensure that Wild’s readers continue—as they have through the years—to feel they’re part of the magazine, and that they’ll keep on telling their stories of adventure in these pages. In this issue, we have Ben Lans, a subscriber since 1981’s Issue #1, responding to Issue #168’s ‘Crocs and Waterfalls on the Herbert River’ story with his own tale of the river’s first descent. It’s a cracking read; I hope you enjoy it.
There will be some changes, of course—each editor brings their own vision—but they’ll be minor, either largely cosmetic or more simply just us striving to bring you our best writing and photography ever. For the most part, the magazine will stay the same. And our core values—adventure, conservation, community—will remain with Wild forever.
James McCormack, Editor
(Wild Issue #170)