In February, 1937, a Stinson Airliner was lost on its way from Brisbane to Sydney. It had not arrived at Lismore, its first stopping place, but the weather had been bad and people were sure they had seen it or heard its engines further south down the coast towards Sydney.
The Plane Had Crashed
Eight days later, when hope had “been virtually abandoned, it occurred to a bushman, Mr. Bernard O’Reilly, in the McPherson Ranges, that perhaps the plane had crashed before reaching Lismore. On an aerial map of the ranges he drew a pencil line between the last point where he knew it had been seen, and Lismore. This line passed over four high mountain ranges, and Mr. O’Reilly decided that the plane must have crashed on the northern slopes of one of these ranges.
Then he set out alone on a seemingly impossible task; to search through the great rain-forests and the gorges of those ranges and imposing mountains. To anyone but a most capable bushman who had spent years in such country the task of penetrating this tangle of vines, thorns, ferns and enormous trees, forming a thick canopy overhead for miles, would have been altogether out of the question.
After camping one night in the jungle, the lone searcher stood on Mount Throakban, whose summit was almost perpetually hidden among clouds. He stood for some time in the mists, until a sudden clearing gave him a view of the three remaining ranges on the plotted line. Amid that vast expanse of green mountains the keen eyes of the bushman saw a startling feature — a treetop which was light brown. Something had killed that tree!
It had not died branch by branch from natural causes, and no fire ever broke out spontaneously in that dripping rain-forest. Had the missing airliner struck that tree and killed it by the blaze of petrol and wreckage?
The spot was eight miles away by the map, but hours, of difficult climbing and descending lay between. At length, when attempting to find a break in the forest, some three miles from the goal, a short, clear call sounded from the direction of the dead tree!
The Charred Wreckage Of The Plane!
Three hours later, Mr. O’Reilly, who had kept silent in case he might mislead someone in those terrible mountains, gave one big “Coo-ee” call. Then the answer came from so close at hand that it caused a shock. A few minutes later, tearing a piece of vine aside for a better view, the bushman and mountaineer was confronted with a terrible sight. There was the great tree, blackened by fire, and beneath it the charred wreckage of the plane!
There lay one of the survivors with broken leg and in a dreadful condition! The other came forward with tattered clothes and torn skin and emaciated body. These two men, with magnificent courage and endurance, had fought for life for ten days under conditions which would have appalled the strongest of men.
The plane, caught in a cyclone, had struck a tree sixty feet above the ground, killing the two pilots and two of the passengers. A third survivor perished in an heroic attempt to reach civilisation in order to get help for his two companions.
The whole epic story of the rescue is told in Mr. Bernard O’Reilly’s book, “Green Mountains”. His own achievements are very modestly told, but are fit to rank among the notable deeds of heroism in Australia’s history.
A Higher Hand Was Guiding
It is evident also that a higher hand was guiding. “Bushcraft!” wrote the hero of the day. “What a poor, overworked word that became! Any person who has studied the topography and vegetation of the McPhersons would know that no matter how thoroughly he was equipped with bush instinct, a man might search there unsuccessfully for fifty years. This fact should be noted and due credit given to my mother who was saying her prayers back home.”
The one dead tree had provided the clue which meant the difference between life and death to those two survivors of the disaster. One tree in all those forest-clad mountains! It was a tree of death to some but became a tree of life to others. The roaring flames which killed it were ultimately responsible for attracting the rescuer.
Beneath that tree a drama of suffering and endurance was enacted for ten long days and nights. One man, Binstead, chose to remain with his stricken comrade rather than attempt to reach civilisation. This self – sacrifice was rewarded at length when both men were gently carried on stretchers over a path cut through those terrible mountains. Life, home and loved ones were the repayment for all the sufferings endured. What a welcome awaited them, as men brought back from the dead!
On all the panorama of this world’s scenery, there stands out one tree on a hilltop. It is the cross on Calvary’s mountain. On that tree the greatest deed in history was enacted when the sinless Son of God died for the sins of the world. Stretched on the cross, with burning thirst and agonies untold, the Sufferer faced the wrath of God against sin, that you and I might be rescued for evermore. He died, “the just for the unjust, to bring us to God.” “He was wounded for our transgressions … and by His stripes we are healed.”
A Tree Of Death A Tree Of Life
The fire of God’s hatred of sin has fallen on that tree, or rather, on the One who was nailed there by His hands and feet. It was a tree of death to Him that it might become a tree of life to us. It is the only place of safety for lost and dying sinners. Those who take shelter there, acknowledging their own sin and looking to Christ alone for help will never be disappointed.
In the last book of the Bible we read some of the results of Christ’s death and resurrection. We see the “multitude that no man can number” of those who have come to Him for pardon and salvation on earth and now have entered into the “House of Many Mansions.” In that land where there are no hospitals or cemeteries, and where sorrow and sin are unknown, there are “pleasures for evermore”. And there, beside the crystal river, we see “the Tree of Life” in the midst of the Paradise of God.”
Do we want to gather around that Tree with those who will die no more? Then we must come to kneel before “the old rugged cross”, for the Tree of Death on earth has become the Tree of Life in Heaven. Shall we surrender our lives now to the One who gave His life for us?
Shall we say, like Paul of old, “He loved me and gave Himself for me”?
Written: W. Arnold Long
The Bushman’s Guide p.72-76
Acknowledgement : CHRISTIAN BOOK ROOM
P. O. Box 95413 T.S.T. Kowloon Hong Kong S.A.R.of China
Photo by Sunbeams