Getting Bogged in Paradise

With every pull forward, water simply kept flooding the scene, turning the ground into a slurry like a render, thick enough to stick to a wall.

Michael Ellem
Jan 11 2024

We all have that one 4WDing friend who seems to get themselves stuck in the strangest of places.

And while some have the experience, there are others who are overly confident in themselves and their vehicle, and often encounter obstacles that exceed both with the attitude “She’ll be right mate!”

They will see a deep mud hole and treat it like it’s the smallest of puddles. They will have a go at it while everyone else simply looks on bemused. It’s like watching a small carpark accident happen, you don’t want to look but you can’t take your eyes off what is about to take place.

Then there’s the other guy who says he never gets stuck. They'll go on about how they've been "doing this for years" and "never needed a snatch-strap.” ...but they never get off the basic forestry tracks and don't typically go looking for an adventure.

Well, I have a saying… “If you have never been bogged, you have never been 4WDing!”

At first glance, it sounds a bit harsh, but the meaning behind it is to make sure people new to 4WDing understand what they're getting into, go prepared and take the right gear with them to help protect them from the inevitable... getting stuck somewhere.

Over the last 25 years that I've been working as a 4WD photographer, I've helped rescue so many people and their vehicles because they were ill-prepared and either had no recovery gear or no understanding of their 4WD.

I've also been stuck many times in various vehicles over my time in the field. Sometimes, I'd look in an obstacle ahead in disbelief that it's even there, and other times I've been caught out by the terrain looking okay on the surface and being anything but solid underneath....

This happened to me whilst I was on a property performing a recce for a photoshoot.

I was visiting a property in central Victoria and talking to the owner Donald about photographing a vehicle amongst rock on the top of a hill. Donald said to me that he had a much better location than that and was eager to show me the spot he had in mind. So, with this excited gentleman in my passenger seat, we headed out to have a look.

As we drove on the property tracks, I felt like I was in paradise. The property was stunning. I was taking it easy as I noticed a fair bit of mud on the entrance tracks to his property and didn't want to make a mess of his green grass. 

Donald pointed to the hill on the other side of a beautiful paddock which had a gentle slope from right to left and told me to head that way, so off we went. I was still driving carefully, so not to chew up the grass, had minimum to no momentum, highway pressure tyres and a full vehicle.

And that's when it got ugly.

Out of nowhere, my front left dug in a little, and then the rear followed, dropping slowly into what seemed like a hole in the ground. I probably could have put my boot into it, but I was being conservative towards the guy’s property and simply stopped.

I told turned to Donald and said, “I think we are stuck!” to which he replied, “surely this thing couldn’t get stuck!”

I first tried to engage both my front and rear lockers, but it made no difference other than sinking us further into what seemed like slurry.

Next, I tried lowering the pressure in my tyres, but this stuff was terrible, and it really made no difference at all. Not even my trusty Maxtrax could get us out, and with each try, kept getting driven deeper and deeper into the sloppy earth.

I looked around to see what we could winch from I saw a tree at the end of a fence line. My Warn Zeon was about to get a serious workout.

After countless winching attempts of trying everything to get the front tyres out of this mess, I realised I was in an underground stream. With every pull forward, water simply kept flooding the scene, turning the ground into a slurry like a render, thick enough to stick to a wall.

Whilst winching forward was working inch by inch, I was simply heading towards a tree at the end of a fence line and would have nowhere to go after that... and whilst I was distraught with the mess I had made, Donald was having an absolute ball.

We grabbed a neighbour and his tractor with a bunch of straps who tried everything he could but still no luck.

Time to put a call out on Instagram. “HELP”

As a back-up, I put a call in to my insurer, Club 4X4, to see what options I had to help recover my vehicle as a worse-case scenario. They confirmed that off-road recovery was included in my policy and talked me through next steps in case I went down that route. What a relief to know that was a possibility.

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Not long after, my Instagram blew up. I had so many people keen to offer their help. People from all walks of life wanting to help in their own way, by offering advice or reaching out from as far away as Queensland offering to head down to help me. There was couple of guys with their excavators, and even a harvesting crew keen to put their hands up.

I decided to put all my hope Steve Hanbury from Saber Offroad and his Portal Cruiser known as Skooby, plus Leigh Hardman from Marks 4WD in his Portal Cruiser who were heading to my rescue.

As with any recovery, unless life is in danger, you really should survey the situation and not rush into things to ensure accidents don’t happen. I had plenty of time to investigate all our options and was ready with a plan of what I would do before the guys turned up.

By this stage, it was night and was extremely dark so we would need to be more vigilant and take our time to ensure we carried out the recovery safely.

Steve and I discussed the options, and we started laying out a double line pull with an extended winch line to drag me backwards to where I had come from. We had an ARB tree trunk protector as an A-Frame strap on the back of my 79 connected to a Saber extension winch cable linked to a winch ring performing the double line pull to help reduce the load on Steve’s winch. Before we started winching, we had placed recovery blankets, a couple of jackets and a recovery bag to help dampen the recovery gear down to the ground in case of a cable breaking. To help in anchoring Skooby in this slippery ground, we had the Marks 4WD Cruiser attached to it at the rear which was also attached to a tree further back.

There was some serious winching to be done with a lot of line out and many different pieces of recovery gear added to the equation, so everything needed to be checked and double checked as we performed this huge recovery.

This underground stream just seemed to be sucking the vehicle into the quagmire and every effort to lift it up and on top of the ground seemed to be in vain. Even though it was moving, it was a slow process.

As the wind picked up and the temperature dropped, all of us began to get quite fatigued. The mud was getting worse the deeper into the recovery we got.

We were communicating carefully over UHF to move the vehicle a small distance, adjust the straps and repeat. After going at this for a while, we finally found some harder ground on the edge of the underground stream and managed to get the Mighty 79 up and out of the sodden terrain.

The Mighty 79 certainly wasn't looking ''mighty'' anymore, covered in a thick, sludgy layer of mud. I had created a mess of my vehicle, and the land.

The damage to the Mighty 79 was terrible. It suffered damaged rims, major brake damage and a tail shaft that had been taken back to bare metal. Thankfully, after a huge 3-day effort from the team at Marks 4WD, my vehicle was back in tip top shape again. I was confident hitting the road again on my next photography adventure, hopefully away from mud. This vehicle is our camera car and is an extremely important piece of equipment, so whilst we use it heavily and it serves us extremely well for its intended design, we really do look after it and over service it.

This makes you realise how that simple decision to drive across a paddock creates so much work for so many people. We were here for an extended stay of 9.5 hours in total before we retrieved the vehicle. It is also quite humbling to know so many people had reached out in our time of need. Hats off to all of you out there, but a huge thanks to Steve and Leigh for going the extra mile and saving our “the Mighty 79” from becoming a future fossil in a Donalds paddock.

“Cheers”

Michael Ellem | Offroad Images

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Michael Ellem
Michael Ellem is a long term friend of the Club 4X4 Insurance and voice of The Campfire. He is also an expert adventure, 4X4 photographer from the renowned Offroad Images and has over 20 years experience in the industry.