Vale Bob McMahon: rock-climbing legend

By Andrew Bain 7 November 2013
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Andrew Bain pays tribute to a lost legend he interviewed on Freycinet Peninsula last year.

IN APRIL LAST YEAR, I sat at the foot of Tasmania’s White Water Wall, interviewing Bob McMahon for an article on his beloved Freycinet Peninsula.

Almost exactly a year later, on April 17, 2013, the climbing world lost a legend when 62-year-old Bob died in his sleep.

As a climber he was a pioneer, recording around 1500 first ascents throughout Tasmania, including the first known rock-climb on Freycinet Peninsula as an 18-year-old in 1969. They were climbs he eagerly shared during the 35 years he spent as an outdoors instructor.

Away from the rock, Bob was just as active and influential, fronting the fight against the Tamar Valley pulp mill with community group TAP into a Better Tasmania.

For our interview last April, McMahon drove three hours from his home in Exeter in the Tamar Valley, camping out for a night in his vehicle atop the White Water Wall cliffs.

In the morning we made him climb for hours for photographer Nick Rains, scaling dramatic routes for our feature on Freycinet Peninsula. The hours and the effort seemed no bother to McMahon – it was a chance to climb, and it seems such opportunities were readily grasped.

After he climbed, we sat and talked. Bob was due back home that afternoon, but still he talked on, about the youthful risks of his early climbing days – falling 30m, bouncing up and climbing on – and about his partly-realised attempt to walk around Tasmania’s entire coast, a journey he said he hoped would never end.

But as he looked up at the cliffs of White Water Wall, he uttered a prescient statement:

“On sunny days here, I always think that when climbers die, this’ll be the heaven they go to. If you were going to choose a climbing area to spend paradise in, this’d do fine.”

Here’s hoping he gets his wish. – Andrew Bain

Climbers Bob McMahon and Gerry Narkowicz scale the cliffs at Freycinet, Tasmania. (Credit: Nick Rains)