Followed at Birdsland in 2014

Retold to the best of my abilities.

The First Incident

Much like many of the days in my final year of schooling, during one of my free study periods I was off-property and heading to the local nature reserve just a few minutes walk away.

Due to my natural inclination to avoid public spaces and people wherever possible I would always enter Birdsland via the back path. From the central carpark you could either go straight to hit the main path, or head to the left and head on a more hidden (yet still public access) alternative. Due to it being out of the way and located in ever-so-slightly more dense bushland it was uncommon to encounter people there, as it seems most don’t even know this second way exists.

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The two paths

The two paths run adjacent to one another, separated by a river that cuts through the middle.

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The river separating the two sides

There are only a few spots in the first half of the trail where they run close and open enough to see across to the other side.

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An example of a spot where you can see across to the other pathway

The following graphic is from a 2014 Word document written after the incident.

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Guy following me and Jay at Birdsland.docx, 2014

According to this image I had first observed the two males in question while heading into the reserve. My memory is admittedly vague but I’ll attempt to decipher this as best I can. On my entrance journey I had observed them loitering around the opening of the main pathway. My own position at that point escapes me, I cannot recall if I had been on the main path myself, on the back path spotting them from across the river, or on the main path and then crossing the river to hop on the back path in order to avoid them.

I was no stranger to skipping school to go mess around at Birdsland, in fact I was quite accustomed to it. I felt no shame or guilt in my decision to do so as I was in my final year of schooling, on top of my studies, at the peak of my fitness and generally quite competent in an emergency. Usually I would not be bothered by encountering anyone, even during school hours. Being a frequent face around there I was quite used to the area being abuzz with others on their walks, as it was quite a popular recreational spot. Offer a friendly greeting and continue on our merry ways, or so it should go.

But these guys were no goodI couldn’t tell exactly what it is that set me off, but as soon as I laid eyes on them I had primal warning bells going off in my head, begging my instincts to perceive them as a threat. Not necessarily to the extent of fleeing the premises, but to avoid them at all costs. An action which I believed would be rather simple due to me being just about the only person in the locale who would commonly run off the beaten path and dive into the wilderness around us. I would avoid them on the way in and then after I finish having my fun they’ll be long gone, that was how I predicted this scenario going. However things did not end up going according to my plans.

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Resting by that pond happened to be one of my favourite pastimes

As planned I spent the next one or two hours roaming around the hills having a grand old time – watching eagles high in the sky, scouring the ground for skulls, resting by the hilltop pond, you get the picture. Noting that it was about time for me to head back in order to make the end of school bell, I descended the slopes and started heading back around the right side of the lake. When I reached the end where I would turn off into the back pathway toward the carpark I noticed one of the pair near the bridge over by the main trail. I was concerned as to where his partner had gone but I turned off into my trail anyway.

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The guy on the adjacent path was coming to the main area of Birdsland and I was heading towards the carpark so we were headed opposite directions, however it seemed as though he spotted me and when I looked at the other trail I noticed that he had turned around to begin moving the same way I was. This was yet another warning bell, but we were on different paths so I had options available to me in order to deal with this situation. And there was still some degree of plausibility that his turning around may have been an unrelated event exacerbated by my paranoia. Either way, what was foremost in my mind was that I did not want to end up running into him in the carpark at the end of our roads. Taking shortcuts through the bush is a common sense to me, I don’t have the same aversion to straying off-path as most others seem to exhibit. So the idea that naturally came to my mind was to change direction again (thereby avoiding the possibility of meeting up with him in the carpark), hang out a bit in the bush and then make my way along through the cover of foliage while completely bypassing the public spaces. From precedent of seeing everyone succumb to psychological inhibitions towards leaving the established path, it seemed extremely unlikely that anyone would follow me into the bush – and even if they did, as an adventurer I had the home advantage. I turned back to get to the best entrance point, and as I again checked the main path visible through the trees I saw that he too had once more doubled back on himself to match my direction. Final warning bell. I was right to perceive these guys as a threat.

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An example of the thick hillside brush that made it possible to stay hidden from an onlooker

I reached my spot, hopped the fence and ascended to the cover of a thick line of trees a few metres up the hill. Being understandably shaken at the arising situation, I squatted down to take a breather and process it all. There was no longer a reasonable doubt that this guy, and likely his missing partner, were targeting me. I was actually in trouble. With my mind racing I must have spent longer there than I had intended to, as I soon heard voices at the trail below me. I can’t recall the specific dialogue as it was somewhat muffled from the distance, but I was able to perceive chilling phrases to the effect of “we lost him” and “you go that way, I’ll go this way”. This exchange of dialogue reveals the mystery of why I had only seen one of the guys, at least. His partner must have been on the other end of the back pathway, so had I bought into the first person’s bait and continued walking the same direction as him then I would have been led directly into the second member anyway. Doubling back into the bush was the right decision. However the suggestion of a pincer attack eliminated my original plan of using the bush as camouflage to make it back to the carpark since they would presumably be covering the line I needed to reach it. So instead I headed further atop the hill. If they were coming from left and right then I would simply go up. I intentionally decided to avoid the bush trails I would usually choose because I placed myself in their shoes and assumed they would think I’d go on the path of least resistance. I would first lose myself, and then in the process I would lose them too. This seemed the safest option.

And so off I went. Scaling the incline, I then veered off into some particularly dense bush that I only had vague experience in, headed back down the other side of the hill to reach the small river running through that area, followed the water back towards the marsh sitting next to the main Birdsland lake, and jumped over the fence.

This is about where my memory of the day trails off. But knowing myself I can quite easily predict what I would have done from here in order to safely escape back to school.

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With both of them presumably either still in the bush trying to pincer where they thought I was, or pacing the back path watching the bush for signs of me, I quickly snuck over to the mouth of the main path. From there I went across to the other side of the lesser lake since that was once again a place people rarely went, with foliage to act as cover.

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A view of the obscured other side on the lesser lake

Stick to that until I reach the gateway of the privately-owned farmland that bordered the carpark and main pathway. Jump the gate to temporarily trespass across that field and then travel the perimeter fence in order to arrive at the abandoned cattle run in the bush, and from there it’s smooth sailing.

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The view back across the farmland

At this point if they were still hanging around the area they had last seen me, or even if they begun fanning out after realising I had already fled, I had fully escaped them. From there I simply followed the bush corridor to the open field at the other end and exited into the roads in order to make my way back to school. Thanks to my years of experience learning all the various routes throughout the landscape I could immediately pull to mind a course worth betting on in order to evade detection.

The following is a brief, incomplete case study that I typed up back in 2014 after the second incident of being followed. It features much less detail but is arguably a more accurate and potent retelling due to being written in the same year directly in response to the second incident further down the page.

“As for the first time… Once during a study period, I walked into Birdsland and noticed two men lingering around one of the tracks. Something about them seemed off, they were giving me a really bad feeling. I went and had a splendid time lying in the sun in the grass next to the frog bog. However when I went to go back, that was when it happened. I think one of the men was on the main path and one was on this back path. They may have been communicating at this point. The one guy near me was going towards the main dam, but I think he noticed me in the bushes and changed direction to the same way I was going. I noticed this and went back towards the dam, then up and around so that he would lose my location. I then went through the bush far from yet parallel to the track for as long as possible, and when I hit the fence I went back to the track and went back to school. While the specifics are blurry, I blatantly remember the urgent feeling that I had to get away from this guy. All the men in both incidents gave off a more “urgent need to avoid” aura than usual ‘person walking the same way as you’ paranoia.”

 

The Second Incident

In my memory this is the more prominent event so I assumed it was the first incident, but upon reviewing a word document written merely a few weeks after the event I have this listed as the the second time. Despite this being in the peak of my fitness where I was very much a larger threat than the pursuer, it was still one of the most vulnerable moments I’ve ever felt in my life.

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Guy following me and Jay at Birdsland.docx, 2014

As somewhat of an inverse to the first story, this entails two of us pursued by a single individual. When you look back at the wider picture this one seems like far less of a precarious situation than the last, but in the moment it felt immediately more confronting due to the much more direct nature of the encounter. Unlike before where it was just glimpses of the dangerous duo with barriers of bushery between us, the mysterious man in this second stalking was on much closer turf. This once again takes place on the same rear path as in the last account, though this time there is no back-and-forth maneuvering between us to be found. Me and Jay were plodding along on our way to the Birdsland exit after an afternoon of adventuring. Just around the bend where the plant nursery’s entrance is we had stopped for a brief moment to watch some parrots in the tree above us. A brief chat and then we resumed walking. About half a minute later I casually glance back and there’s a guy there.

Me and Jay had been adventuring for many a year at this point and thus had an appropriate  amount of experience under our belt. Spending so much time in nature led to a very notable increase in aural and visual prowess while looking out for ourselves. We were attuned to the faintest sounds of animal movement – rocks displacing, leaves rustling, water rippling,  twigs snapping, etc. We knew our soundscape incredibly well. Yet both of us managed to miss this man as he stealthily entered the scene.

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So then where did he come from? There had been no one visible down the straight path behind us beforehand, and with his walking speed he definitely didn’t blaze the trail in the 30 seconds before I noticed him. To have been out of sight on the straightaway yet as close as he was around the corner he would have to either by moving quickly or lying in wait. We would have heard him as the stones crunched beneath his heavy footfall if he was running, so that’s off the cards. The nursery’s noisy gate didn’t ring out, nor did its rabbit mesh fence shake to signify the gate’s operation, so it seems unlikely he came from in there. With how sudden his appearance was it almost seemed as if he had been hiding in the bush waiting for us to pass by, and then deliberately taken care to be silent as he moved behind us.

But in any case, there he was. Just a random guy appearing in the most random way. I noticed him first, and much like the previous incident I immediately got bad vibes from him. Encountering someone at Birdsland is far from a cause for concern in and of itself, but my usually trustworthy senses were screaming at me that this seemingly normal situation was in fact something to be worried about. Eerily quiet and keeping perfect pace with us in his rigid posture, it’s not really any surprise that he was unsettling me as much as he did. I will say that to this day I still very much regret not taking proper action to inform Jay about him myself, and thereby exposing him to potential danger. But with the pressure that was seemingly being transmitted by this suspicious individual I got the sense that I shouldn’t be calling out towards him, it seemed a fool’s errand to provoke him while he wasn’t baring his fangs. Jay had for some reason gotten distracted with something in his hands, perhaps his phone. His walking speed was slowing and he was trailing off closer towards him. In what felt like a very bold move at the time I turned around completely and walked backwards for a little bit, keeping my eyes on Jay rather than the guy. I didn’t necessarily want to incite him with eye contact but felt I had to at least let him know that he wasn’t a secret any longer, though this caused no reaction on his part and I flipped around to face forwards again. Just as I thought about calling out to Jay under the pretense of deciding where to go once we reached the trail’s end, he jogged up and relayed to me in whispers that “there’s a guy back there” to which I responded “I know.”

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I can no longer remember what the individual in question looked like but have email discussions corroborating his appearance. He was an older guy with grey hair. I can’t remember the colour of his pants but he had a khaki shirt on. There was some initial thinking about him perhaps being a ranger of the reserve who spotted us coming back from off-trail and wanted to give us a stern lecture for running amok. But this would have been the very first time seeing any kind of official in the years of hanging out at Birdsland, and the fact he very silently followed us for as long as he did without ever making any attempts to call out to us makes the possibility he wanted to reprimand us seem excessively unlikely.

We turned left at the trailhead into the carpark. Despite the alarms going off there was still the possibility that it was all in our minds. Because the track had been linear it was unavoidable that he would be following us back then, but by checking his response to the multitude of ways in which to exit the park we could properly verify his intentions. There were several turnoff points in our way. Each one he skipped would be an argument in favour of him trailing us, and if he happened to branch off and leave by himself then the problem had solved itself. I had considered swinging around the carpark in a  deliberate circle to settle once and for all if he was on our tail, but if his allegedly malicious intentions involved stabbing or kidnapping then I didn’t want to risk pulling him by the family having lunch with their children at the picnic table. So that option was out. Either way, rather than turning off he continued in line with us through the parking lot. At the very least we knew he was on his journey out of Birdsland much like ourselves. I suggested that we should walk on the dirt road leaving the vicinity rather than the raised footpath, as using the road was much more uncommon and therefore another checkpoint to test his response. He ignored the path and kept on the road like we did. Another mark against him. For the final test I persuaded Jay into continuing straight down the bank of the road along a game trail and slipping into the bush. He was reluctant to the idea of being in an isolated area with the other party, but agreed since based on youth and experience we had territorial superiority. We both wanted to finally settle this question of whether he was actually following us or if it was coincidental, and this was the perfect stage to do so.

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The bank in question, our treeline not visible from this angle

Myself, Jay and his youngest brother; In the hundreds of outings to Birdsland before that point we had not once come across anyone else who weaved through the bush like we three did. We had many years of visiting the reserve to support this statement. Everybody else stuck to the established pathways. If the pursuer came down the bank too then that was as good as irrefutable evidence that he was indeed after us. And so we waited with strained eyes, crouching hidden in the treeline at a vantage point where we could see him but he wouldn’t see us. We had walked faster in order could get into position and watch his course of action, so there was a little bit of time to spare before he came into view. After a minute that seemed like an eternity his figure popped up from beyond the obscured road. He took a single step onto the offending trail, and the two of us bolted. 

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We sprinted further into the bush, leapt across the stones in the river to the other side, and then sprinted once more. Perhaps it’s a component of my general behavioural response when faced with danger, as like the previous mantra of “lose myself and therefore lose them” I once again placed myself in the psyche of our perpetrator, warning Jay that we should take a foreign path under the assumption the other party would believe us to have gone the easier way out. So rather than hopping the gates at the end of the bush corridor we ascended up the hillside, making our way through thick blackberry brambles and barbed wire to arrive at an unknown road that we would follow home. In the end we never saw the mysterious man again after fleeing the treeline, and given his apparent aversion to running I’m sure that by the time he arrived at the river the trail had long gone cold.

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Around the area we surfaced, blackberry brambles visible

Once again, the incomplete 2014 case study. Note: I believe ‘ranger suit’ just meant brown pants and a khaki shirt, didn’t look at him close enough to see if he had a badge. He never made any attempt to make himself known such as coughing, calling out to us or dragging his feet on the gravel.

“Oldish guy with grey hair wearing what looked like a ranger suit. I first noticed him at around where that seat is on the shortcut that me and Jay take to and from the main Birdsland dam. I looked back and suddenly he was there. He appeared out of nowhere. We had just taken a brief break to look at some rosellas near the seat. We walk about 30 seconds, I look back and he’s there. No noise. He just appears out of thin air. He was too close for me to just tell Jay that he was there, so I brushed him off. I turned around completely and walked backwards for a little bit to ensure he knew that I saw him. Jay didn’t notice him until a minute or two later down the track. We both were immediately cautious. The fact he was being silent set off the first warning bell in my mind. We walked through the Birdsland carpark and onto the road to exit out, and alarmingly the man didn’t enter a car but kept following us, also on the road. I had considered looping around the path and going in a circle in the carpark to eliminate all reasonable doubt on whether he was following us, but I didn’t want to swing him by the family with children that was sitting at the picnic table. I suggested to Jay that we go through the bush to make sure he wasn’t following us, to which Jay reluctantly agreed. I’m glad we did this, as this confirmed our suspicions. This man followed us (from a reasonable distance) down the trail and into the bush. I told Jay, and we both got slightly distraught and annoyed. We crossed the river at some rocks, and that was the last time we saw him. Once the trees obscured us from his view, we ran along the path and instead of crossing through the paddock, opted to go up through the blackberry bushes and barbed wire onto Hazel Vale road. At this point it would have been nigh impossible for him to catch up with us, what with all the obstacles (the barbed wire was slightly hidden so I think an older guy like him would have walked into it and hurt himself) and mixed directions. We continued along Hazel Vale road and went through a labyrinth of streets to arrive back at Jay’s house. It was incredibly unnerving and is possibly the second time I’ve been followed along that back track at Birdsland.”

 

These two instances of being followed left a pretty significant impact on me, and as an extreme reaction I ultimately ended up abandoning Birdsland. Back in the day I was someone who was there at least three times a week, but as a result of being followed and feeling in danger I could count on a single hand the amount of times I’ve been back there after 2014. It was my most favoured stomping ground, unfortunately transformed into a place of paranoia that I was unable to overcome. In the end I never reconciled those feelings and properly returned to the bush reserve before moving out of the region.

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