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A Tribute to Paul Benjafield

Click on any photo to see a larger version. The latest photos and comments were added on 19 May. The most recent additions are at the bottom of the page.

Paul Benjafield, one of my best guides and a good friend was killed in a diving accident on 24 April 2010. This page is dedicated to his memory. Last updated 22 November 2010.

The start of Paul's first walk

I first met Paul in 2003 when he approached me asking about possible work as a guide. I was impressed from the start, all the more so when he accompanied me on one of our family walks in April 2004. The children loved him — and so did their parents. He led his first trip as a solo guide shortly afterwards. Right from the start, I had nothing but great reports. When it comes to guiding, Paul was as good as it gets. The photo at left shows where it all began, the beginning of the first trip Paul did with Willis's Walkabouts, smiling at the start, smiling almost to the very end. This was a Kakadu Family Walk in April 2004.

The next few pictures show Paul and the children on the trip. He had a way with the children and certainly increased their enjoyment tremendously, far more than I could have done on my own.

Helping people across the creek and sharing the wonder at an Aboriginal art site.

Helping the children cross the creek Sharing the wonder at an Aboriginal art site
Carrying the kids in the water Carrying the kids in the water

Paul was a keen swimmer and always happy to keep the kids amused. His constant energy and enthusiasm made the trip something special for all of us, but most of all for the kids.

Most of the photos below were taken by Holly Edwards on Kakadu Circle No. 2 in 2004, the 2nd trip that Paul led for me as a solo guide. The end of Cockburns photo was at the end of one of the sections of Kimberley Highlights No. 1, the first trip he did as a solo guide.

At Katherine Gorge Koolpin view
Enjoying a drink at the end of the Cockburn walk Kakadu view
Studying the GPS Happy walkers

Paul was a talented photographer. He did a fair bit of freelance work for the press -- at least one of his photos made the front page of The Australian. Press photography was one thing, fine art nature photography was one of his true loves. I don't know how long it will remain up, but Paul's Wildprint website shows some of his best work. Click on "Open Edition Panoramic Prints" on the top menu, then on the photo to see the selection. Paul was the inspiration for the Kakadu and Nitmiluk Photo trip in our program. Sadly, he never got to lead it himself.


Another of Paul's loves was fishing. He wanted me to organise a trip which combined bushwalking with some serious fishing -- serious as opposed to the simple fishing that's a feature of some of our Kimberley trips. That never did happen. Perhaps it never will. The photo at right shows Paul with a fish and a smile — a good way to remember him.

Paul liked to combine fishing and diving. This is what got him in the end. The ABC news story shows another picture of Paul with a fish and a smile. That smile and his enthusiasm for everything he did is something those of us who knew him will always remember.

If you have photos or comments about Paul you would like to share, please send them in. Below are some of the comments that people from Paul's trips sent us when they got the news. We will add others as they come in.

"Paul was our guide on a Kimberley Coast walk and we were so very impressed with the way he managed us all and opened our eyes to our surroundings. We loved the extended breaks in walking, for no apparent reason other than it was a nice spot for one, whereupon somehow magically some revelation of nature would present itself and be marveled at, with Paul leading the appreciation. He was an exceptional person whom we admired and respected greatly, even though we knew him for such a short time." Andrew Dunn and Grania Sheehan

Paul's castle

"That is so sad to hear about Paul, all I can say that his navigation, cooking and general knowledge and guidance made the Coast Walk I did in 2006 an enormous pleasure which I will never forget."

"Here are three pics from that trip: a gigantic sand castle he built on the beach west of Faraway Bay to pass the time before the afternoon's fishing, playing chess with Dave in a pool into which he later dived deep at night for the sole purpose of obtaining cold water to try and set the instant pudding (!!), and walking out into Kalumburu on the last day." Graham Dowden

Playing chess Last day's walk

"Margaret Story and I did Kakadu and Mount Cockburn with Paul which I think was the first walks he led in both cases. Paul was an incredibly easy guide to walk with and had an intimate knowledge of the Top End which he shared with all team members. He was one of the best guides that I have ever walked with especially considering that it was his time on those walks. He became incredibly close to all members of each of the treks and looked after the team members continuously. His passion for photography and the efforts he made for all walkers to get great photographs even with the most basic of cameras is the thing of legends. He went out of his way to show walkers the intimate highlights of the areas in which they were walking. This added immensely to the satisfaction walkers got from the walks. This was even more so when you were physically exhausted where the beauty of the scene or just the vibrance of the situation had you thinking of everything he was showing you and not about how you felt. David Missen (bottom right in the photo at the end of the Mount Cockburn walk)."

"The Kakadu and Mt Cockburn back to back trips that we did with Paul in September 2004 will always hold a special place in my 'bushwalking' memories because Paul made it so. He was an amazing young man, who was passionate about nature, people and his country. I celebrated a birthday whilst deep in the middle of the Cockburn Range, complete with bithday cake and candles courtesy of Paul!" Margaret Story (front row, between Paul & David, 'rehydrating' at Emma Gorge at the end of a long, hot final day)

Paul and the crabk

"Our Kimberley Coast Walk with Paul was one of our greatest trekking experiences. He was a fantastic leader with the ability to read the needs of each member of the group and respond accordingly. He made everyone feel special and an essential part of the team. His knowledge of the environment was exceptional and we loved fishing with him even if he made us throw too many back!! He was a fantastic bush cook with a beautiful smile." Jacque and Mark Hagan

"When Paul knew how much I loved mud crabs, he went and caught me one by hand!! He did stuff like that and that is why we loved him." Jacque Hagan. Photo at left.

"Paul was our guide on a Kimberley Coast walk and we were so very impressed with the way he managed us all and opened our eyes to our surroundings. We loved the extended breaks in walking, for no apparent reason other than it was a nice spot for one, whereupon somehow magically some revelation of nature would present itself and be marveled at, with Paul leading the appreciation. He was an exceptional person whom we admired and respected greatly, even though we knew him for such a short time. Andrew Dunn and Grania Sheehan

"Paul led the Kakadu Circle walk I did in May 2005. He was a natural leader of our group and struck a real balance between letting people make their own discoveries, and taking charge when it was needed (pigs, buffalo!). He encouraged us not to be competitive in our bushwalking, just to focus on enjoying the places, the walking. His skills as a naturalist were awesome and he shared what he knew so willingly. He was very enthusiastic about art sites. On our walk he spoke of having been in the Sunshine Coast Bushwalking Club in his childhood, and his previous job as a wombat handler. When I moved to Darwin in 2006 I contacted him and we stayed friends. Paul introduced me to the beauty of Kakadu and remained a generous friend thereafter. I am still shocked by his death and very sad, but so grateful to have known him. Go well Paul." Libby McAllister

Libby sent in the two photos below from her trip.

Paul and Paul on Jim Jim Creek Paul crossing Jim Jim Creek
Paul and his monster pack, Berkeley River, March 2006

"I have attached a couple of photos of Paul from our 2006 Kimberly Coast Walk that Paul led very competently under difficult conditions. The photos, while just snapshots, show Paul with the 3 things that he loved, fishing in the Berkley River, carrying his camera overlooking the same river and carrying that immense pack after successfully guiding us over 9 days to the Berkley River. The photo with the pack is the image that I will always have of Paul. The size of the pack and the ease with which he carried it was mind boggling." Greg Neill

Paul fishing at the Berkeley River, March 2006 Paul with his camera and one of the group, Berkeley River March 2006
Paul and his camera, May 2008

"I find it hard to believe about Paul - he was such a great guy and a fantastic trip leader — here's a few shots from the trip I went on with him in 2008." Andy LeMessurier

Andy sent in the photo at left of Paul with that huge camera and the two below, one of Paul's fish ready to eat and one of Paul on a high point near King George Falls in the Kimberley.

Paul and one of his fish, May 2008 Paul on a high point near King George Falls, May 2008
Paul studying a wasp

"I did three trips with Paul and I feel I got to know him quite well, although he wasn't the type to open up his heart to everybody.

Whenever I am reminded of the Kimberley my mind always turns to Paul — he was the ultimate man's man — and from the countless stories of his outrageous exploits in his youth his mum had every reason to worry so much about him. He would entertain us with a brilliant and endless repertoir of campfire jokes and if we were bored in the heat of the day out came the cards for a game of Black Betty.

But for all of that wild and adventurous spirit he was a careful and responsible leader, and although he was very strict with me his lessons have proven very valuable for my outback camping and trekking, and for the many good bushwalking habits I have I owe to Paul.

Photography was his biggest passion but he had so many talents and so many skills for a young person, and for the very many plans he had I am sure he had the ability to fulfill them. Paul introduced me to the Top End and I think his influence keeps me returning, but it won't be the same without that tall guy with the enormous orange pack. But I have the photos and the menories and he will definitely not be forgotten." Don Macintyre

"I worked along side Paul for about 2 years here in Darwin, we had a good fun friendship and sometimes serious work relationship. He developed a special bond with my 2 kids as well as you said he had a special bond with children. I feel lucky to have shared one small camping trip with Paul and Dao but we were all keen to do a Kakadu walk with him as a work thing, well a great excuse to get out of work!

"It's been a real tough year, work is sometimes quiet and sometimes very sad. But one good thing is that Paul has made me realise that life is too short and my children, my family are the most important things in my life. We a heading off next year for an Australian Adventure for 8 months..prior to all this, I would have thought we didn't have time to go!" Kristen

Willis's Walkabouts, 12 Carrington Street, Millner NT 0810, Australia walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au

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