Book review: Canyons Near Sydney (5th edition)

Canyons near Sydney (5th Edition)
Author: Rick Jamieson
Cost: $15

UPDATE: Following Rick’s death it appears unlikely further editions will be printed.

For many people, the earlier editions of this book are what introduced them to the strange yet marvellous pursuit that is canyoning. For some people I have met Rick’s descriptions — which cover a good chunk of the diverse and interesting canyons that have been carved into the rock within a few hours of Sydney — are effectively their bible.

But I’m not one of this crew. In fact, I had explored somewhere in the vicinity of 70 canyons before I purchased a copy of Canyons Near Sydney, and even then it was more out of curiosity than anything else. Indeed, there is plenty of useful information from free sources for popular canyons (such as Tom Brennan’s online guide-book), and once you have a basic level of proficiency then not much information is needed to successfully explore canyons without the need for track notes.

I’m also one of those people who is concerned by elements of Rick’s canyon ethics, including his willingness to publish details of new wilderness canyons (despite including in his book a copy of the canyoning code of ethics where it says not to do this!), his views that there should be increased vehicular access to wilderness areas and his strange comments about flying “bags of sand-and-cement” into Spring Creek Canyon to deal with loose rock!

Most people will be best off skipping past his didactic rants about the long walk-ins to remote canyons and the fact that bushfires are getting worse because of the “greenies” stopping controlled burns.

That said, I quite enjoyed skimming through the book, and it has clearly benefited from its recent revision.

I also can’t be too harsh given that I was introduced to abseiling and technical canyoning by Adrian Cooper, who is one of the people who have provided a good chunk of the new information in the guide given Rick is not able to canyon much anymore.

Past editions have been rightly critiqued by Dave Noble (who has probably done more first descents of canyons than anyone else in Australia), and his comments have broadly been taken onboard in the latest edition, with most of the errors addressed.

There are still a few historical inaccuracies (such as the reference to Rick Higgins and Terry Thomas abseiling into Claustral “a week or two later” when it was actually two years later or the reference to the Kameruka Bushwalking Club party completing Claustral in December 1962 when they were actually stopped by the keyhole), but most have been remediated.

Again, most naming errors have been fixed, although a few still remain (Dead Log Canyon should be Dead Tree Canyon, which has now been given the additional name of “Buttock’s Canyon” by Rick for some unexplained reason). Similarly the original name for the canyon section of Explorers Brook, Buramin Canyon, is omitted.

Rick has also decided to court controversy by publishing grid references for a large number of canyons in the Coorongooba area, despite them being in a declared wilderness area. Based on the canyons I have visited in that area (which admittedly have barely scratched the surface of this amazing region) even I can spot a number of errors with these grid references (not to mention that a couple of the best canyons are actually missing from his list).

His grid references appear to have originated from a sketch map produced of the area more than 15 years ago. My recommendation, if you intend to visit this area, is don’t rely on the book. It will lead you down some that are little more than creeks, and right past some spectacular long constrictions.

But there are some positives to this book, and I’d argue many of them are the less described, less visited canyons it contains. Some of them are places you won’t hear much about, and won’t read many trip reports for, but they are still well worth a visit.

Over Easter I made a trip through one of these canyons, which was one I’d never heard of. I was blown away by it, despite it not being much of a technical canyon. I guess that means I already owe Rick one pleasurable day. But unlike him, I decided not to publish a name or details for it, because I’d like to give other people the same chance to have their expectations exceeded by this little surprise packet.

In many ways Rick’s best descriptions are the canyons with no, or very little description. The ones where he lets you know an obscure creek is worth exploring, but it is up to you to find your way in, have the right gear, and get yourself out again. (Although the real reason for the limited description is usually that it is a canyon he has never visited).

If you are a casual canyoner, you can probably save your money and stick to the free online information, but if you’re someone who is keen to trawl for new places to explore, $15 is a pretty small price to pay to be able to skim through and potentially find yourself a few new canyons to add to the ‘to-do’ list.

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