Toastmasters Speech #6 – Bush survival course

You can survive 3 minutes without oxygen, 3 days without water and 30 hours without what?


Surprising isn’t it?  And you can go as long as 30 days without food.  If you are open to the elements and get cold and wet, or too hot then you are much more at risk of that killing you than you are of starving to death, so shelter is important. These were some of the things I learnt on a bush survival course that I did last weekend.

Yes – you heard it right. I did a bush survival course. Bear Grylls had better watch out cos I’m coming to get him!

The course was in the Blue Mountains and I went with some girlfriends and we learnt skills that could mean the difference between life and death in case we ever get lost in the woods.  Hopefully that will never happen so we mainly just wanted to learn to make fire by rubbing sticks together and pretend we were tough.

I thought we might have to eat witchetty grubs or something but it wasn’t nearly as awful as it sounds. It was actually really fun and we learnt valuable information such as:

  • building a really sturdy shelter using only sticks and leaves
  •  how to make traps to catch wild animals
  • and what plants would be useful as food or medicine.

But tonight I thought that I might give you a run through on the skills that I thought were most useful:

  •  How to make fire
  • how to tell north using only three sticks
  • and how to tell the time with your fingers.

Making fire
I found out that making fire by rubbing sticks together is not easy. You need a long thin stick called a drill and a flat piece of wood as a base. You carve out a notch in the flat base and then you rub the drill through the palms of your hands and drill into notch. This creates friction and makes smouldering saw dust which then turns into an ember which you then ignite some tinder with.

The Australian aboriginals could do it in less than 2 minutes. We tried for about 45 minutes and still couldn’t do it.  Our muscles were exhausted and all of us had bruises on our palms – some even blisters.

My advice?  Take flint, take about 50 lighters and waterproof matches.  It’s impossible.


Something much more simple though is telling exactly where north is just using sticks. It is so simple that in fact at first I didn’t believe the guide was telling the truth. By the way the sun does need to be out for this but just put on your imagination goggles and stick with me. All you need to do is place a stick in the ground like so and then another stick at the tip of where it’s shadow lies. Then you just go away for a while.  Half and hour will do but the longer the better as it will be more accurate.  When you come back the shadow will have moved around so all you do is place another stick in the ground at the end of that shadow and then draw an imaginary line in the ground between the two shadow marker sticks and perpendicular to that is north. I checked it with my compass and it was 100% accurate.


Most simple of all is that is that once you know where north is, if the sun is out you can just use your fingers to tell the time. You use 4 fingers to represent an hour and you start  by pointing your hand at north (let’s imagine that north is here, and then sun is that light over there), all you do is call north 12 oclock and then count backwards with 4 fingers for each hour until you get to the sun. You can even adjust for daylight savings. It sounds crazy but it’s pretty good. I implore you to go out and test this for yourself. It actually works.

Final tips

So now that I’ve taught you

  • how to tell where north is,
  • how to  work out the time
  •  and how to (not bother) make fire using sticks (seriously it is too hard!),

you will be happy to know you probably won’t need to use any of this knowledge. Most people get found by search and rescue within 72 hours of going missing.

And I imagine that you will be especially please to know that you don’t need to kill any animals since it’s not likely you will starve in that time.

So my final piece of bush survival advice is to simply to tell people where you are going so they know where to look in case of emergency.

If you do find yourself feeling lost, then just stay where you are, keep yourself warm and wait.

And just remember, you can survive 3 days without water, 30 days without food but only 30 hours without shelter.  (Oh and take extra matches!)