Lincoln Hall in the Blue Mountains, 2006, shortly before setting off for Mount Everest. He is modeling headgear acquired in Kathmandu in 1965(!) during my own tragic attempt to reach Everest base camp.
Two weeks ago, when Lincoln Hall invited me to launch DEAD LUCKY, his account of ‘life after death on Mount Everest’, I was thrilled. It seemed my abseiling skills had finally been recognised. “Lachlan Murdoch was supposed to do the honours”, said Lincoln, “but suddenly had to leave the country”. And so I stand before you as his understudy.
Considering what happened last year on the slopes of Mt Everest – what with the resurrection and all that – many of us here can thank our lucky stars that Lincoln Hall was never cut out to be a Messiah. Otherwise, many of you here would have ended up as his disciples. This new book would have been a new gospel. Thousands of followers in brand name parkas and crampons would be worshipping icons of a bespectacled mountaineer with holy finger stubs and a blue eyed female consort, Barbara.
But luckily, the only kind of Christianity Dead Lucky brings to mind is the version according to Monty Python – The Life of Brian. One of its famous lines could have been uttered by Barbara: “He’s not the Messiah, he’s just a very naughty boy!”
This is reminiscent of the scene on that on that fateful night last year when some of us were gathered at Lincoln’s house with Barbara and her sons, Dylan and Dorje, and the inlaws and the friends and the dogs … when the news broke that there was a glimmer of hope that Lincoln may have actually survived his ordeal on the summit. There was a screech from the kitchen: “If Lincoln IS still alive, I’ll kill him when he gets home.”
Little did any of us know at he time, that on his way down from the mountain, some people DID try to kill him – well, haven’t we all? - but I’ll leave the spicy details for you to discover in the book. (Happy now, Lincoln? Surely this is the kind of blatant sales pitch you wanted from Lachlan).
Lincoln Hall had one hell of an experience, and he also put his family and friends through some unforgettable days. Reports of his death made headlines the world over and strong men wept openly, even the Aussie mogul, Dick Smith, who hadn’t cried in public since Arnotts Biscuits fell into foreign hands.
To try to make sense of this strange tale, we need to consider the qualities which make Lincoln special: Olympic-level lateral thinking, over the limit intelligence, immense courage and tenacity, clarity of thought, self discipline … plus modesty and a sense of honour that is today regarded by many as quaint. (My wife, Julie Clarke, wrote those words, which also serve as a rebuke to her husband).
The day I first met Lincoln, he looked the spitting image of the young man who had come to prominence in a series of children’s books: Where’s Wally? This was at a time when Julie and I had organised a toddler playgroup in our mountain home. Lincoln strode into our life with a manic male child, Dylan. After the arrival of their second son Dorje, Lincoln and Barbara had decided it was time for their oldest son Dylan to become socialised and to meet girls.
SOMETHING FISHY BEHIND THE WARDROBE
We soon witnessed some of Dylan’s extraordinary behaviour patterns, which made more sense as we got to know Lincoln. On entering the house, Dylan would dart around in all directions generating havoc, while the more sedated toddlers focussed on creating elaborate artworks out of toilet rolls. Then someone would ask, “Where’s Dylan?”
More than once he disappeared up the highest of pine trees, setting in motion a visit from the police search & rescue squad, who we got to know well during those child rearing years. On another day, Dylan decided to re-settle my daughter’s pet Axelotls by lifting them out of their aquarium and dropping them behind a large wardrobe, which they did not seem to enjoy.
This behaviour somehow smacked of his father’s famously odd sense of humour, which is fortunately constrained by his Buddhist precepts to avoid doing harm to any living being. Not that his other son’s exploits should be forgotten, which started as soon as he could walk. Dorje’s speciality during his visits to our place, was to wedge himself into various crevices, the tighter the better, providing yet more hours of fun for the police rescue teams.
One day, while waiting for the emergency convoy to arrive, I amused myself by pouring two bottles of virgin olive oil down the cement hole in which Dorje was jammed, to no avail. By the time Barbara turned up, the rescue squad had started to lower a giant mechanical claw in the direction of Dorje, but she barely blinked. It was just another day at playgroup.
STAVING OFF THE PAPARAZZI
Lincoln was able to find the one woman in the world who would put up with him, frostbite and all, possibly because her own strength of character is equal to his. Many years later, when the worst had happened, and many of us were gathered at the small house on that cold mountain night with Barbara and the boys and the dogs, we saw her courage and her character shining through. It was there we encountered another strong woman in Lincoln’s life, his sister Julia, steely and bristling with military capabilities as the phone rang non-stop and paparazzi tried climbing fences to get photos of the grieving family.
The irritating thing about Lincoln, when I first met him, was that he could not be dismissed as one of those strong hairy outdoor silent types, owing to his superb prose and Delphic one-liners. White Limbo is one of the classiest mountaineering books ever written. He has a solid scientific education and a spiritual awareness. Lincoln is also reluctant – to use his own phrase - to “throw adjectives at mountain tops”.
No-one really knows how close to death Lincoln came. We only know that medically his survival is considered impossible. Instead of sharing this wonderful night of celebration, we could very well have been attending a memorial dinner.
Lincoln has written about how his love for his family gave him the strength to make it back down the mountain. But while it would be understandable and excusable to become sentimental in such circumstances, the always-practical Lincoln avoids that pitfall, as in this moving sentence about his wife: “I could smell Givenchy perfume on her neck. I had bought it for her about a year ago, choosing the largest bottle in the range because it came with a free shoulder bag.”
“To me the only way you achieve a summit”, remarked John Mallory, “is to come back alive. The job is half done if you don't get down again.”And so Lincoln you did achieve a summit. Welcome back. May you and your family continue to enjoy your bizarre adventures long into the future, and at the same – and this would be Lachlan’s wish - make a mint!
Richard Neville, Kings Cross, Sydney, May 10/07.
Most of this speech was written by Julie Clarke.
DEAD LUCKY is published by Random House Australia.