St Leonards man recalls how he was rescued from disaster in the Australian outback

Richard Holdsworth astride his horse in the vast outback of South Australia
Richard Holdsworth astride his horse in the vast outback of South Australia
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WHEN Richard Holdsworth set out for a trip along one of the most barren and isolated roadtracks in Australia he could never have imagined what a lasting impact it would have on his life.

The 24-year-old agricultural reporter was enjoying a week off work when he decided to take on the notorious Birdsville Track.

Richard guides sheep through the outback and onto a main road in South Australia

Richard guides sheep through the outback and onto a main road in South Australia

But on the first day of his adventure disaster struck.

His Volkswagen Beetle slid off the track and smashed into a boulder leaving him stranded.

In unbearable heat of 130 degrees Fahrenheit, the adventurous young Englishman thought his days could be numbered.

He had foolishly told the nearest post office 100 miles away that “if he was not back in a month to send out a search party.” It would be five days before any rescue team would be organised.

Author Richard Holdsworth and Ron Nicola with new book In the Hot Seat, St Leonards Seafront

Author Richard Holdsworth and Ron Nicola with new book In the Hot Seat, St Leonards Seafront

But after just 24 hours in the wilderness, a Land Rover appeared in the distance and Richard knew he was safe.

Fellow Pommie Ron Nicola was returning home on that boiling hot day in 1964 from a prospecting trip when he spotted his stricken countryman and towed him out of the sand.

Almost 40 years after they first met, the two men bumped into each other at Hastings Writers Group and have been friends ever since.

On Saturday, November 12, Richard, who now lives in St Leonards launched a book about his epic adventure Down Under.

Entitled In the Hot Seat, the book details Richard’s eight years in Australia and also gives visitors up to date information on what to see, where to go and how to get there.

Richard’s colourful story began when he emigrated to Australia in 1960.

A graduate of Berkshire Agricultural College in Maidenhead, he took a job at Home Farm in Upper Basildon working as a cattle breeder.

After a year he was asked to take a dozen beef Shorthorn cows to Adelaide from Tilbury Docks.

He then landed a job as a herdsman 200 miles from Adelaide in the outback. In 1961 he worked as a cowboy herding cattle before landing his dream job as a writer for the Stock and Station Journal in Adelaide.

“I was walking down Currie Street reading a paper when I saw an ad for a trainee agricultural reporter,” said Richard.

“I was right outside the offices so I went in and asked for an interview. The boss liked what he saw and offered me the job and I never looked back since.”

In 1965 he was offered an agricultural writer’s job in Melbourne at the Herald and Weekly Times where he met his future wife Heather. In 1967 the couple returned to England and set up home in south London before eventually moving to the south coast.

Richard ran his own VW Campervan refitting business for 28 years before retiring in 2000.

Around that time he joined the writers group and was stunned when he bumped into his old ex-pat buddie Ron.

He said: “I fell off my seat when Ron walked in. I just could not believe it. The man who saved my bacon 40 years earlier and he walked into the room.

“It was then that I knew I had to write a book about my life Down Under.

“It was just too good a yarn not to share. Ron is a good writer himself contributed a chapter about the Aborigines as well as a couple of illustrations.”

Former Red Beret Ron, of Fir Tree Road, said: “I could not believe it when I saw Richard at the writers group that day.

“I was lost for words. It brought back so many memories. It was an honour to write a chapter and I thoroughly recommend the book. It’s a fascinating read.”