A day in the scrub with Gordon Dedman

Hat, backpack, water, camera, let’s go.

Ahead of me is Gordon Dedman, professional trumpet player, army reservist and bushcraft survival expert; around me is the Nambucca State Forest - dense, scrubby and full of food and water if you know how to look.

And Gordon does.

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 the 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, 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 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 with an Associate Diploma in Jazz Studies.

Working as a professional trumpet player and music teacher, the city had him in its grip for many years. But even then, he said his spirit craved the outdoors.

Enlisting in the Australian Army Reserve, completing the Special Forces Commando training and joining the 1 Company 1st Commando Regiment got him out of the city and fed his growing interest in bush craft and survival  … but it did nothing for his trumpet career.

“I learnt heaps about bush stealth … but I’d keep missing out on (musical) work because I was not available.”

In 2002 Gordon joined Princess Cruises and began travelling the world with his trumpet and London as home base.

“I was doing West End shows but I also started watching Ray Mears, who was a BBC presenter with a special interest in bushcraft. Seeing him 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, his parents had retired to Nambucca Heads and the Valley became the playground to practice his skills.

“I kept up my work on the ships and every time we finished I’d head out and hike, camp and do bushcraft courses. I’ve honed my skills in many different countries ... Canada, Norway, Sweden, South America, Mexico, Caribbean, UK, Mediterranean, USA (Alaska) and the Pacific Islands. 

“I became really obsessed with bushcraft and started lecturing on the Princess Cruises, teaching a five-part course on basic survival skills on board with practice onshore when we could.”

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 Bear Grylls-style adventuring.

“In the army we distinguish between survival, which is when something has gone wrong and the aim is to get out in about 72 hours. Survival is all about the long game, self reliance, which is what I really love. It requires a much greater knowledge of nature and puts you much more in harmony with the environment.”

Since 2013 he’s been part of NORFORCE, based in Darwin with the army reserve Regional Force Surveillance Unit (RFSU) conducting 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 quite a few Aboriginal people 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 on survival skills. When I’m not on patrol I have 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 cruise contract and to challenge his technology demons to promote his new business, Bushcraft Survival Australia, in the online world.