A day in the scrub with Gordon Dedman
Written by: Ute Schulenberg, 12th January, 2018
Hat, backpack, water, camera, let’s go.
Ahead of me is Gordon Dedman, bushcraft survival instructor, army reserve soldier and professional trumpet player; around me is the Nambucca State Forest - dense, scrubby and full of food and water if you know how to look.
His knowledge of and enthusiasm for the bush is irrepressible and goes back to when he was a young lad growing up on the outskirts of Moree, NSW.
“Out there it’s country of dry creek beds and black soil plains,” Gordon said.
“I had an Aboriginal mate and we spent hours making shelters and rafts. I have always been fascinated by Aboriginal culture.”
For me the pursuit of bushcraft brings us closer to the natural world and opens our eyes to see that we are part of the earth and not separate from it.
Back in Nambucca, we’ve not gone far before Gordon stops and points out the five-leafed water vine.
“You can cut a length, turn it upside down and through capillary action, the water will flow – it has to be clear and odoreless, never drink anything that is milky or cloudy.”
We walk on, pausing under the shady fronds of a cabbage tree palm, ‘nature’s supermarket’, as Gordon calls it … it gives you food, shade, tinder for fire lighting and the materials to build shelter.
His simple bush camp is soon reached – a shelter with raised bed and a fire place with tripod and fire reflector. He built it back in 2012, and apart from some recent repairs, it’s clearly stood the test of time.
“This is where I come, often, when I’m home, just to be in the bush and practice my skills. I love being in the bush.”
But the bush is not Gordon’s only love … there is also music, jazz in particular, with the trumpet his instrument.
He is in fact classically-trained, having pursued music at university when he first left school. He completed his Bachelor of Music and an Associate Diploma in Jazz Studies.
Working as a professional trumpet player and music teacher in Sydney, the city had him in its grip for many years. But even then, he said his spirit craved the outdoors so whenever possible he would get out of the city and into the bush to go camping.
In 1996 Gordon enlisted in the Australian Army Reserve, completed Special Forces selection and training and became a member of One Company 1st Commando Regiment which further fed his growing interest in fieldcraft and survival … but it did nothing for his trumpet career.
“I did numerous training courses and learnt lots about fieldcraft and various other military disciplines … but I’d keep missing out on (musical) work because I was not available.”
In 2002 Gordon started working casually for Princess Cruises and Cunard Line and began travelling the world with his trumpet and London as home base.
“I was teaching music at a school north of London and doing the occasional West End show but I also started watching Ray Mears on BBC, who is one of the few legitimate and educational TV bushcraft survival presenters. Seeing his programmes gave me back the realisation that this was my calling. I started doing courses with his Woodlore Bushcraft School (UK) during my holidays.”
When he returned to Australia in 2005, the Nambucca Valley became the playground to practice his bushcraft and survival skills.
“I kept up my casual work on the ships which allowed me to hike, camp and do bushcraft/survival courses in various countries. I’ve practised my skills in many different places ... Canada, Norway, Sweden, South America, Mexico, Caribbean, UK, Mediterranean, USA (Alaska, Hawaii) and the Pacific Islands … bushcraft became a real obsession".
Gordon also started lecturing on board Princess and Cunard ships as part of their on board Enrichment Lecturer Programmes, presenting a five-part series of talks on bushcraft survival.
We have so much to learn from indigenous cultures around the world who have known this connection to the land for thousands of years.
Gordon makes a clear distinction between ‘bushcraft and survival’ and reality style TV programmes.
"There is a difference between bushcraft and survival. The army concentrates on the survival side of things, which is generally a 72 hour situation or longer where something has gone wrong and you need to prioritise your immediate survival needs in order to be rescued or effect self rescue … this holds true for civilian situations as well. Bushcraft on the other hand is all about the long game … a much deeper understanding of nature and its resources with minimal reliance on equipment, which is what I really love. It requires a much greater depth of knowledge and skill and puts you much more in harmony with the environment instead of working against it.”
Since 2013 he’s been part of NORFORCE, an army reserve Regional Force Surveillance Unit (RFSU) which conducts long range patrols and border protection operations in remote northern Australia.
“Norforce works closely with Aboriginal communities to provide the Army with information through reconnaissance, surveillance and community engagement and there are a lot of indigenous Australian in the unit".
“The nature of our activities means patrols may be in the field unsupplied for considerable lengths of time so there is a strong emphasis placed on survival skills".
Gordon also works seasonally as a tour guide in Darwin, taking visitors on camping expeditions into Kakadu National Park and various other places around the Top End.
"When I’m not out with the army, teaching on my own courses or tour guiding, I have indigenous friends who invite me out hunting or I go wild food gathering with the women. It’s great being out on country with them.”
He reflects there are so many indigenous skills worldwide being lost, “swallowed up by modern society – it is very sad.”
We end our walk back in town and say our farewells – Gordon is off to practice his trumpet in preparation for a three-month ship contract overseas and to challenge his technology demons to promote his new business, Bushcraft Survival Australia, in the online world.