Rock of Ages

Last night’s episode of Australian Story on ABC TV featured Dick Smith (VK2DIK) and his friends’ return to Ball’s Pyramid and includes much of the footage from the original expedition.

A repeat will be shown on Saturday 16 April at 12.30 pm.

Rock of Ages Australian Story [ABC]

Forty years ago, entrepreneur Dick Smith and his young scouting friends climbed Ball’s Pyramid, the formidable dagger-like rock that spears straight up from the Pacific Ocean, south of Lord Howe Island.

It was a frightening and spectacular expedition that thrilled and challenged them and ultimately shaped their lives.

Ball’s Pyramid

Dick and his now high-achieving friends, aged between 60 and 73, regroup to visit Ball’s Pyramid again to rediscover their lost youth and pit themselves against the forces of nature one more time.

Their spirits are willing, but there are some surprises waiting.

Well, I finally caught up with this on the Saturday replay. That would have been a great Rover crew!

The climbing sequences were straight out of Paddy Pallin’S Rockclimbing chapter in Rope and Rucksack (1969). Hemp ropes and steel caribiners, shoulder belays, glove belays and all sorts of things that look a tad drastic today 🙂

The Australian Story was the 40th anniversary of the groups climb, with some of the original (8mm?) film cut into the story. It would be good to get a copy of the original movie as a Scouting PR film.

We couldn’t land. That was a disappointment and for some people it was a bitter disappointment. They would have just loved, not to climb it, but to swim on and say – you know, mark, “We’re back.” About six months after we attempted to climb the pyramid, our friends from the Sydney Rock Climbing Club got to the top and several groups since then have been to the top, including Dick Smith, who climbed it in 1980 and ABC covered that in ‘A Big Country’. Then in 1986 the Lord Howe Island Board banned all public access to the pyramid because of the perceived dangers in climbing it, and it’s also been declared a biodiversity hot spot because of the fauna there and that includes the Lord Howe Island phasmid which I discovered on our original trip. And so along with the birds, the phasmid’s got the pyramid to itself now.


As amazing as the climbing story is, the rediscovery of the Lord Howe Island Phasmid (Dryococelus australis) that was though to be extinct was possibly more amazing. “Now, there were lots of birds, so we got lots and lots of bird photographs, and then I found this long black insect, one-off, about that long, about as thick as the little finger, with enough legs to be an insect, and it looked like a praying mantis-type of animal, a stick insect.” — Prof. Dave Roots

“When we brought it back to the Australian Museum and showed them the slide they said, “That’s the Lord Howe Island phasmid. That’s extinct.” And we said, “But it can’t be because we photographed it.” And they said, “It hasn’t been seen in 20 years.” And I said, “Well, it’s on the pyramid.” Now there is a breeding program on in Sydney and Melbourne hopefully to reintroduce them to Lord Howe Island and to back up the population on Ball’s Pyramid. — Prof. Dave Roots



[1] PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT: Monday, 11 April , 2005 [ABC]
[2] Search for the Lord Howe Island Phasmid (Dryococelus australis)
[3] Phantom Phasmids [Australian Museum]

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1 Response to Rock of Ages

  1. Pingback: Sobre mundos perdidos, pirámides en Australia y monstruos resucitados – Fronteras

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