The swag is an Aussie camping staple, but did you know that people used to travel with them on foot? I chatted to Scotty from Scotty’s Gone Walkabouts, who does exactly that in his latest video.
Scotty’s videos have a bit of a cult following on YouTube. Over 78k subscribers tune in to his channel every few weeks to enjoy his stunning and meditative camping clips. With themes like solo camping, bushcraft, living off the land, and traditional camping methods, they’re uniquely Australian, and a whole heap of fun.
During lockdown, when I’m sure more than a few of us were thankful for Scotty’s videos, a pretty interesting new one popped up about ‘traditional swag camping’, complete with a thumbnail of Scotty’s swag slung across his shoulders. I was intrigued.
Turns out the ‘jolly swagmen’ of old wouldn’t have recognised the huge foam-filled swags that we use today. They’d swing an old canvas sack across their back and waltz into the countryside.
In fact, as Scotty says in his video, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ refers to walking the country with your swag. Waltzing is the walking bit, and Matilda, well that was slang for a swag, as you went to bed with her each night (hey don’t look at me, it’s just history!).
Sound familiar? Scotty designed some T-shirts for us a while back, a man of many talents!
How’s Scotty Been Filming Through Lockdown?
Scotty loves a bit of Aussie history, but he’s no bushranger. For the first seven weeks he just assumed he was locked down like the rest of us, confined to his 5km in southern Sydney. But then, when he looked into it, he realised that because a lot of his income actually comes from the videos, he might be able to get an exemption.
‘I rang up the Covid hotline. I rang up our local police. I rang up National Parks,’ he says.
‘I’ve been pulled over a couple of times up in the Blue Mountains over the last couple of weeks, police just doing their roadside checks, and they haven’t had any issue with me being out there, as I have a commercial filming permit with NPWS as well as getting a negative COVID test before I leave.’
I’m lost daydreaming that I too could’ve probably done that too, as Scotty goes on to say that it’s a real privilege to be allowed out while so many are still stuck at home.
But I snap back to it, what’s the deal with the swag?
The Art of Traditional Swag Camping
What inspires someone to go and camp like it’s the 1800s? For Scotty, it was a natural progression from bushcraft techniques to exploring the methods people used to use:
‘I find it’s a bit of a dying art in Australia. Swags exist, but they’re so far gone from what they’re actually meant to be. You basically need a 4WD to transport your swag these days. Back in the old days, you had to carry it around while looking for work. It had to be portable.’
For the first attempt, Scotty grabbed a Wynchester Adventurer canvas bedroll, replaced the foam with a Sea to Summit inflatable mat and threw in some lightweight cooking gear.
‘When you think about it, it doubles as a backpack,’ Scotty says. ‘I got it down to about five kilos, which is pretty good when it includes my pack and sleeping gear. With my other bits and pieces, like cooking gear and clothes, the overall weight was around 10-12kg or so.’
I like how Scotty creates a hybrid between new and old. He’s not a stickler, trying to get every historic detail perfect. Some things are non-negotiable though:
‘You need to carry a tarp. Traditionally they’d always cover the swag with a tarp or a small japara (waxed cotton) tent, otherwise it’d get soaking wet and weigh 20kg the next day.’
Scotty says he learned a lot on this first trip. He didn’t have it slung correctly, which led to a sore shoulder, (he found out later the correct way to carry it – having your tucker bag over one shoulder and the swag strap over the other – evenly distributes the weight. He might try and cut it down further, but it’s a bloody good start for a rustic camping adventure.
Inspired by the OGs
I ask Scotty where he finds his info and his eyes light up. ‘Have you ever heard of Myles Dunphy?’ he asks.
Myles Dunphy was a gnarly bushwalker back at the start of the 20th century. He pushed to get the Blue Mountains World Heritage status, created maps through the Wild Dog Ranges (south of Katoomba), and importantly, hiked off-track using a swag. In around 1910 Dunphy and his mate Bert Gallop hiked from Picton to Katoomba, a journey that’s still very difficult today!
Myles Dunphy, complete with gun!
Myles Dunphy & Bert Gallop
Together the two developed the Dungalla swag, which featured a tucker bag slung over the front of the wearer to help balance them. It’s one of the modifications that Scotty’s keen to try out to improve his ‘swag hiking’ experience.
Trawling through blogs is one of the only ways to find this kind of information, that and a few old bushcraft books. But what is it about bushcrafting and traditional camping that’s so inspiring?
Bushcraft and Traditional Aussie Camping
‘People these days are so dependent on technology, and also, it’s all well and good to go out for a bushwalk and just appreciate nature, but when you get more into the bushcrafting world, you start to look at the bush in a different light,’ says Scotty.
‘Even bush tucker (edible plants) or primitive fire methods, it’s a lost art. We’re disconnected from the landscape.’
I’ve often seen bushcrafters clash with leave no trace, so I wonder if there’s been any pushback to the bushcrafting aspects of his channel?
‘I always practice leave no trace when I’m wild camping. There are people out there who practice bushcraft and make these giant forts in the woods, which is fine if you’re doing it on land that allows it, but as most of my camping is in national parks, I try to keep my impact to a minimum. My aim is to combine the old knowledge with the new.’
‘I’m not out to destroy nature, I’m there to become a part of it, that’s how I appreciate it,’ he says.
Read more: Remember to leave no trace!
‘Bushwalking is great, but you’re more of an observer when you’re bushwalking. I want to connect to the land in a deeper sense, and it goes back way further than colonial explorers. You gain a sense of how Indigenous Australians must have looked at the bush.’
Safe to say, we can expect more bushcrafting, and more experiments with swags, in future videos.
Note: National parks are very sensitive areas where even simple things like collecting wood should be avoided. Follow all directions by National Parks when experiencing these beautiful areas.
Where’s He Off to Next?
At the time of this interview, NSW was a few weeks away from lifting its restrictions. So I asked Scotty if we could expect more adventures from further afield.
‘I really want to go down to Tasmania and do the Western Arthur Range traverse, or The Kimberleys in Western Australia, maybe head to East Gippsland in Victoria too,’ he says.
‘Anywhere more than three hours from Sydney!’
I couldn’t agree more.