This bloke has trained with the SAS, lived through a helicopter crash in the desert, and walked away from being thrown overboard with a couple of sharks. He knows his stuff when it comes to surviving just about any mishap…
If you heard about a teenager who decided to hike alone along the lonely Australian coast for a bit of a holiday lark you might think ‘cocky brat’. If you heard he’d survived sunburn, heat stress and dehydration to grow up to be a deep-sea diver battling the bends and fending off curious deadly sea snakes you might decide he’s a determined thrill seeker.
Knowing that he’s survived a couple of shipwrecks and walked out of the desert when his helicopter crashed, you’ll probably come to the conclusion that he’s one lucky fella.
‘Lucky Bob’ might be his nickname, but Bob Cooper no longer relies on the luck of the young and invincible. He’s a practical and genuine survival expert who is dedicated to passing on his skills, knowledge and experience to help increase the chances of survival of others who might end up lost in the scarily-big outdoors.
Being lost or alone in the middle of nowhere probably ranks pretty highly on many people’s lists of fears – and for 4WDers who enjoy remote travel it’s not really much of a stretch to imagine having an accident or a breakdown.
Despite regular warnings and reminders, plenty of folk veer off course without comms devices that will bring rescue and end up needing to survive for a day or two (or even longer) in either frying-pan fierce heat or the ice-cold conditions best experienced in a beer fridge. Your stomach starts sinking as you realise that you’re hopelessly stuck and no-one knows exactly where you are or even that you’re in trouble.
Bob explains, “Firstly the fears from the emotional half of your brain kick in and kick in hard. Your body will react to the perceived fears as if they are real and, if you don’t stop them, these fears will override the other (rational) half of your brain and you will start making decisions based on these emotional thoughts. Uncontrolled fear leads to panic.”
Bob regularly runs survival training courses in WA and Victoria including an advanced course in WA’s north-west. Despite the advanced course including a 24-hour solo period in the Pilbara with only the clothes you wear plus a survival kit, snake bite bandages, a water bottle and a rescue blanket, it’s a luxury getaway in comparison to the 26 day SAS survival course that Bob completed in 1981.
The fact that Bob ultimately ranked as fifth in the group of 21, the lone civilian amongst toughened SAS soldiers and British Special Forces, demonstrates his innate drive to survive. This course would have made for gripping reality TV – starting with being psychologically stressed by stripping naked for a humiliating body cavity search before getting a generous 25 minutes to tailor a sun-protective ensemble from a couple of hessian sacks. After solo hikes navigating by sun and stars, isolating abandonment in small groups with no food but what you could catch, followed by more psychological trauma of being given food rations and forbidden to eat them while hiking once more, the course culminated with 75 hours on a beach – without water beyond what could be squeezed out of the ground succulent ‘pig-face’ plant.
Bob’s conclusion: “Survival is a mind game. Never feel sorry for yourself.”
The training immediately paid off. The following year Bob was acting as a field assistant for a couple of anthropologists when their helicopter crash-landed in the Great Sandy Desert. Bob’s luck was enjoyed by all as the skilled pilot managed to touch down with a thud but no injuries to the five people on board.
Bob’s calm assessment of the situation was key to survival. With communications irreparable, the men knew that while they would be missed come nightfall, no-one knew where to start looking beyond the fact that it would have to be within flight range of the Balgo Mission. At least 100km out, it would be a while before they were located… during which daytime temperatures would be in the mid thirties and night-time temps would fall to around –3°C with no blankets, limited water and just a few sandwiches. Given one passenger was old and frail, the freezing night temperature made Bob’s decision easier – to try to walk to a relatively close intermittently-used camp for road workers (and hope it happened to be manned).
He and one of the anthropologists set forth – marking their trail by setting fire to large dead trees and making tripods and cairns to mark where a 4WD could safely cross dry creek beds. After four hours of heavy hiking they were ecstatic to see a grader working in the distance – the camp was manned! Just like the movies, the grader kept on going with Bob and Kim failing to chase it down.
After yet more walking, an astonished young field assistant pulled up in a 4WD to ask, “Where the bloody hell did you come from?” Bob couldn’t resist pointing skyward, “Up there, mate.”
Then there was the time when the prawn trawler Bob was aboard caught fire and started taking on water in shark-infested waters. Fortunately the skipper stayed calm and applied well-rehearsed emergency procedures to get them back to safety.
Or the casual fishing trip with a mate when a wave up the backside of the punt had Bob sliding overboard and sinking with the net – which held not only plenty of large mullet but a couple of rather lively 2m bronze whalers. Bob not only survived, but also saved his favourite hat.
There was the time he got treed by a scrub bull; and the occasion when he became the centre of attention of a pack of very wild and very hungry dingoes.
Yep, Bob Cooper’s the real deal – and for those travelling off the suburban grid you’ll increase your own chances of being lucky to survive an accident or emergency if you learn from Bob’s experiences… either by attending a survival course or grabbing a copy of his excellent, easy to read and simple to follow book ‘Outback Survival’. It should be essential kit in the glove box of every 4WD.