Swagmen often didn’t need to navigate “properly” since they followed tracks and roads the bulk of the time. In unfamiliar areas they relied upon directions from other swaggies and from station workers and other locals they might run into and stop to yarn with along the way. In some areas the roads were little more than kangaroo or cattle pads so the swaggie usually had a working knowledge of direction-finding via the sun and the stars as well as other natural cues.
A swaggie walking his circuit out west knew where the water was, and he also knew that when water was more than a day’s walk he’d have to carry his own supply. Usually a swagman would carry a flax water bag. This would not only allow him to carry 3 or 4 litres relatively easily, but the slightly porous nature of the bag meant the water was always cool. In fact, the hotter the day, the cooler the water. Other methods of carrying water were, in a 5 pint billycan with the lid tied on, or in a canteen or glass bottle on a shoulder strap.
The swagman’s eating equipment is simple and concise. I use vintage and vintage-style eating equipment. It consists of a tin plate, a silver-plated spoon, three-tine fork, bone handled butter knife sharpened to a razor edge and the quart pot’s pannikin.
Making your tucker on the wallaby is an exercise in minimalist food preparation and cooking. Sure, you can take modern pre-prepared or freeze dried foods with you instead of the stuff the old-timers carried, but between you and me… that’s cheating. Taking a gas cooker or even an alcohol stove is cheating too. If the bushfire fire danger allows it, you use an open fire for your cooking. If it doesn’t then stay home or “cheat” and use a Jetboil and freeze dried slop-in-a-bag.
This post is about the bedding used when swaggin’ it. You’ll notice there are no self-inflating mattresses or camp cots used. Spending a few nights out bush without them is no great hardship, and they are easy to improvise. We’ll start from the ground up when describing the sleeping gear.
With all of these new-fangled modern canvas swags you see with their hooped poles and pegged-down corners, you could be forgiven for thinking that the swag was always meant as the sole source of shelter for the swaggie or the stockman. Nothing could be further from the truth. A canvas bedroll or swag cover was only ever used for bedding. If wet weather was expected the swagman built or used a shelter, whether it be a hastily thrown-together grass or bark gunyah, a lean-to of leafy branches set against a fallen log, an actual tent, or just a humble shelter sheet or tarp. Laying out in the rain under a canvas swag is folly. It’d get soaked and would weigh a ton when you have to carry it the next day.
Welcome to the first in a 10 part series on the “how-to” of bushwalking in the old style with a swag and nosebag.
Each of the ten parts of this series of posts will cover a separate aspect of the gear and how to use it, but keep in mind that there were literally dozens or even hundreds of different configurations. In this series you’ll see the gear I tend to use most often while swaggin’ it. For an exhaustive look at this stuff and the rationale behind it, you’ll need to wait for my soon-to-be-released book On the Wallaby Track: A Swagman’s Handbook . This series of posts is designed to give you nuts and bolts info purely to get people started and out there on the track swaggin’ it in the old style.
Packs and Carry has a broad definition. In this case it refers to:
- The swag straps and shoulder strap used to carry the wrapped bundle which is the swag roll
- The nosebag
- Tucker bags
- Ditty bags
- Any belt kit
- Any haversack
The most important parts of the swag are the straps and the nosebag. Everything else is secondary, even the swag roll itself isn’t as important as the straps used to secure it.