Ian Johnson – our living legend

Ian Johnson is the oldest member of the Bendigo Orienteering Club. His 88th birthday comes up in August 2016 and the club will celebrate the occasion at his micro-sprint event at Black Jack Gully near Castlemaine on August 13th. Ian still competes in events although he is now slowing down a bit, but he still enjoys the bush and finding hidden controls. I wonder how many people reading this will still be able to navigate their way around the Bendigo bush when they are 88 years old.

Ian retired from primary teaching in 1986, and came to live near Castlemaine, so it could be said that in 1986 the Ballarat orienteering world lost an asset and Bendigo gained one. At 88 he is still heavily involved in the sport; orienteering is a sport for all ages but the balance is still very much weighted in favour of the younger and fitter, and to see an 88 year old navigating his way around the rough forest areas week after week is still a bit off putting for many people. He has competed in almost every event organised by the Bendigo club since his arrival here but now, though still active competitively he is easing out of the organisational activities.

Ian first ventured into orienteering on a novice course at an event in 1971 at St George’s Lake in the Creswick Forest. Ian said he walked or scrambled it, as he went across country where he could, but did not use a compass. He can remember that the controls were buckets hanging by a rope with pens of different colours to mark the spaces on the map. He mapped the forest behind his newly built home in Ballarat and when some local runners were thinking about starting an orienteering club, he became an original member, taking on the position of Treasurer with a strict spending oversight. Tom Norwood and Ian both agreed low spending was essential to start with, and they gathered the profits carefully. The first event Ian organised was on June 1st 1975 on a map he helped to field work and draw. The longest course was 3.75 km with 13 controls. The cost of entry was only 20 cents, and compass hire the same.

With the experience of these initial ventures into orienteering behind him, Ian decided to make a better coloured map with more accurate fieldwork, using his usual three point triangulation, which is labour intensive but very accurate. Another map of Canadian Forest followed, it was bigger and more complicated, but still accurate. His map making procedure is, even now, still firmly rooted in basic, original methods with little time for new technology. Ian managed to make some more maps from some free photogrammetry he got from an International Three Day event. Today he still makes his own maps using free hand, pacing and drawings – then passes them on to others to digitally prepare the final map. During his time at Bendigo he has never missed course setting at least one — until recently two events every year and still continues to compete every week.

He is an avid environmentalist and his knowledge of indigenous plants is second to none; he has written numerous volumes on his observations of micro climate and vegetation changes and is also the author of many, many articles on navigational techniques as used in orienteering; his property at Harcourt is not connected to electricity and he lives a Spartan and totally carbon neutral lifestyle.

Ian Johnson is an amazing person, he is iconic to our sport– a “living legend” of the Bendigo Orienteering Club and an individual the like of whom we will probably never see again.

Peter Creely, based on observations by John Wilkinson and Colin Walker.

We will celebrate Ian’s birthday at the event that he will course set at Black Dog Gully in Harcourt on 13 August this year. The occasion will be much more social this year with a BBQ and food supplied by the club. As in past years Jenny Ball will make Ian’s birthday cake and all are invited to stay and celebrate Ian’s birthday in the company of other club members.

ian johnson

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