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Narelle Davies search and rescue - from the head of Timbertop

Narelle Davies - Timbertop map


Tuesday 8 May 2018 began like no other at Timbertop and will forever be remembered by those on campus and in the broader Timbertop community. In the early hours of that morning, I was alerted to the distressing news that one of Timbertop’s own, nurse Narelle Davies, was missing in remote and rugged terrain after failing to return from an endurance training ride on her horse, Depict.

The regular Timbertop programme was suspended and eighteen members of staff were immediately deployed into the field to work with Police and SES volunteers while staff back at ‘base’ coordinated the search, worked to re-organise the student programme, including postponing Unit Hikes and Community Service and School Service and implementing an alternate academic programme.

From my perspective, there was never any doubt that Timbertop staff would be desperate to join the search. Not only was Narelle one of our own, but she was lost in an area that the staff knew well as steep, inaccessible and very difficult to search thoroughly in any other way than on foot. I knew that with their training, their knowledge of the area and resources such as satellite trackers and a newly minted radio system and incredibly fit and capable staff, we could contribute enormously to search efforts.



Many past students will vividly remember the terrain surrounding Eagles’ Peaks as enormously challenging; it was into this area that we focused the search as the last known contact from Narelle was at 5:11pm Saturday when she texted fellow Timbertop Nurse, Cait Codyre to say she was on Eagles’ Peaks. Shortly after sending this text, Narelle was on foot, leading her horse down the steep track toward her vehicle and camp when she tripped and fell, hitting her head. As she was leading the horse at the time, she wasn’t wearing her helmet. Narelle lay unconscious for an unknown period of time. When she came to it was dark and she was concussed, dazed and confused. She had dropped too low in the valley for mobile reception. In this state, she inadvertently led the horse off the faint track and dropped off the spur to the South, into the headwaters of Malcolm’s Creek. After a long night the sun rose and she realised she was completely disoriented. For the next three nights she survived without food, by finding water in a small creek and building shelters from vegetation to sleep in. Depict stayed with Narelle throughout.

On the Wednesday afternoon, searchers from Timbertop located hoof prints and a stirrup from a saddle. After confirming it as the same as the one from Narelle’s saddle this gave us both hope and focused our search. It was however bittersweet as it meant we could confirm she had been in the area, but we had no idea if she was with her horse or not when the stirrup was lost. As darkness fell and staff wearily made their way back to base that night, no-one slept for fears and guilt that Narelle was still out there as we lay in our warm beds. Rebecca Cody, having cancelled all other plans, arrived that night to bring support and best wishes from other campuses and help us prepare for the worst but plan for the best. The search continued at first light the next morning. As Ms. Cody and I sat in a search briefing at the Mansfield Police station that morning I took a call from Dennis Bainger, Head of Outdoors at Timbertop who said one of our staff teams had located Narelle. (I’ll admit, I swore in disbelief in front of our new Principal!)


I am bursting with pride at the combined efforts of the Timbertop staff and students. We asked for student cooperation and they were outstanding! Yesterday, to repay them and to refocus our attention on them and celebrate, we had a day of ‘Narellebration’. We all went to Shepparton on buses and enjoyed a relaxing day, watching a movie and going Ten Pin bowling. Admittedly, it wasn’t very 'Timbertop', but it was exactly what the community needed to recover, chat and enjoy each other’s company and share stories. It also made up for the extra days of classes students “endured”. We have now rescheduled the remainder of the term’s activities so that all units retain their Unit Hikes and Community Service, Rites of Passage and Teamwork events.This term’s focus is both Community and Service in all their forms; I can’t think of a better example to set to our students than to do exactly what staff here have done.

Thank you to all those who sent messages of support and congratulations. It has been a reminder that the Timbertop Spirit is not an abstract concept, but rather a very tangible combination of belief and action.

Tom Hall

Source: Old Geelong Grammarians