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 Canoeing in Western Australia

"It's going off!"

Steep Creekin' - Far North Queensland Style

by Giles Thomas

© 1996, Giles Thomas

 I wanna have some fun

That's what I'm always seekin'

I'm gonna quit my job

and do some steep creekin'

The stereo in the Combi was up loud and we sang along, chugging as only V-Dubs can chugg, south from Cairns. The thermometer in the back was nudging 45 degrees and unfortunately it wasn't my turn for the front seat. Still, the thought that we would soon be paddling cascading waterfalls of cool, clear water down through lush, tropical rainforest was just enough to stop me from melting.

Adventure - this was adventure! It had all begun the previous evening as we relaxed with some locals over a few beers and some good food, after an excellent day's paddling on the Barwon River.

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"It's going off!" exclaimed K-Ken from Babinda.

"What is?' I enquired.

"Behana Creek! We should paddle it tomorrow!"

The word 'creek' conjured up fearful images for me - steep, boulder strewn alleyways with trickles of water flowing down big drops. Minimum safety equipment required equals - motorcycle helmet, elbow pads, shoulder pads and gloves. This was the domain of the lunatic fringe of paddling - for those that take delight in running Niagara Falls backwards in a C1 without a paddle. I needed my fears allaying . . .

"It's straight forward" said K-Ken from Babinda. "It's at a perfect level, nice drops into big pools. You can BOOF* everything - no worries. Piece of cake."

My fears were allayed. But perhaps I should have taken more notice of Ken's eyes. They had that slightly glazed look which normally signifies too many wet seasons in the tropics. (Babinda currently holds the golden boot award for the most annual rainfall in Australia, with over four metres). His sense of humour should have given me a few clues as well:

"He was stuck in the stopper! ha ha ha ha ha. Yeah, he nearly drowned! ha ha ha ha ha ha."

Still, it sounded exciting and we had come to FNQ to paddle after all.

Turning off the highway onto a side road we cruised past flourishing plantations of sugar cane and bananas, past isolated Queenslander homesteads standing proud against the backdrop of forested hills. The crickets were singing and the sun continued to beat down. The thermometer was still rising in the back of the Combi. "Are we there yet?"

Fortunately a good local connection saved us an hour's steep walk up to the put-in by obtaining the key to the water authority road. Feeding off the excitement of the imminent paddle it didn't take long to load up all the boats, gear and everyone onto a ute for the final drive. Occasionally from my perch on top of the pyramid of boats I could glimpse through the thick brush the creek running alongside the road - or, rather, not running - it appeared to be bone dry!

The view at the put-in, though, was spectacular. Upstream were steep waterfalls hemmed in by verdant rainforest, whilst downstream (I use the term 'stream' loosely in this context, given the lack of actual water flow!) were large boulders and clear pools as the creek dropped away precipitously.

"It's dropped a lot since I looked at the gauge this morning" said K-Ken from Babinda.

This I had heard before, along with other famous paddling deceits like "Just follow me and you'll be fine" and "That stopper won't hold you."

K-Ken was still optimistic, though. "We'll be alright, you can BOOF everything!"

We were soon into our boats and headed off down the first pool. It must have taken all of eight strokes before the river disappeared dramatically from our view and we were left only with a horizon line. We hopped out of our boats to inspect the rapid. (I use the term 'rapid' loosely in this context. More truthful would be -'a trickle of water running over some steep slippery rocks'). The line down this rapid was obvious though: 'Straight down the guts and BOOF it!"

All safely into the next pool we paddled on, this time a longer pool, about ten strokes, before we had to hop out of our boats again and inspect the drop. The line down this rapid was even more obvious - a portage on the left! A nasty rock, perfect for a vertical pin, was sitting right in the centre of the drop.

A pattern for the day was beginning to emerge: a bushwalk down a steep creek, scrambling over boulders, carrying or dragging our boats, whilst occasionally paddling a ten metre pool and even more occasionally BOOFING a drop.

Inspecting rapids soon changed into inspecting portages - left or right down here? Left, the boulders look smaller but a bit more slippery. On the right there's more shade but the boulders look huge, not sure if I could pull that move off. Grade 4 portage for sure, with Grade 5 consequences. Left looks like the option here. I'm going for it . . .!

Still, K-Ken from Babinda remained optimistic "It gets better from here. The best bit is just around the corner!"

As the creek widened out slightly there was even less water to scrape down with. K-Ken was still trying to BOOF. He had dispensed with the paddle in order to pull himself along on the rocks and had one paddler pushing from behind and one pulling from in front! K-Ken did not want to be defeated, he had his honour to uphold. A short stretch further down and we encountered a drop that the boats could go safely down. Unfortunately it was easier to send the boats down without their paddlers on board!

"Bugger it!" exclaimed K-Ken from Baninda. "I've had enough of this!" And off he marched, dragging his boat behind him, up the river bank towards the track that ran beside the creek. We followed and were soon tramping our way down towards our cars, relieved that K-Ken's honour had finally given way to commonsense.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I wanna have some fun

That's what I'm always seekin'

I'm gonna quit my job

and do some steep creekin'

We sang as we headed further south to the legendary Tully River. K-Ken had guarranteed that there would be good water down there and we were prepared to give him one more chance! Though remember, when paddling in FNQ, everything described as 'It's going off!' by somebody with a few wet seasons under his belt should be treated with extreme circumspection.

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*The word 'boof' is derived from the Latin verb 'boofor' (declined - boofo, boofas, boofat, etc.) which means to leap from a great height. It was coined by the Roman General, Agricola (64BC to 21AD whilst serving in Britain. He observed a soldier jump from the top of Hadrian's Wall into a pool of water and is believed to have shouted "You boofoon!" The word 'boof' became part of Roman kayaking tradition and was shouted loudly whenever a kayaker jumped a waterfall, etc. It has been passed down into modern day usage by kayakers throughout the world.

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