Wasn't packrafting born in Alaska AND Australia

Just looking at the subtitles in the “packrafting trips” section of this forum, I note that Alaska is described as “the last frontier - where packrafting was born”

Roman seems to have been at the forefront of packraft production, and I recall reading in his book that interestingly, packrafting seemed to develop in Australia at a similar time to Alaska, with Bob Brown rafting down the Franklin in an early yellow ducky in the 70s, , although out packrafting did not develop further as it did in Alaska. I’m wondering whether this subtitle ought be changed? Obviously there is amazing scope for packrafting in Alaska, but, as an Aussie, I’d like some recognition to go to our big wide (dry) frontier down under, as would seem due. Perhaps the descriptor could be changed for Alaska to "the last frontier - where packrafting was developed?


That the lineage of the inflatable craft now used for packrafting runs through the boat used by Bob Brown in running the Franklin is pretty clear. And that he used he boat for a truly exploratory and risky trip is also clear. But I wonder, did he ever pack the boat?

As I read the Google maps for the area, roads seem to intersect the top end of the Franklin, so Brown’s trip might not have involved much walking apart from occasional portages. On the other hand, maybe the roads did not exist when he ran the Franklin, so he did have to pack the boat a distance. If Brown rafted, but did not pack a raft, packrafting was indeed “born in Alaska”; if he backpacked much with the boat, Australia seems to be the birthplace.

Anyone know the answer?

Wilderness photograher Olegas Truchanas travelled down the Serpentine and Gordon rivers from Lake Pedder to Macquarie Harbour in a self-designed/built packcraft (a collapsable/packable kayak) in 1958, I think he also paddled the Franklin later. The first full Franklin river descent was made by Johnson Dean and John Hawkins in canoes, it was their third attempt in 1959. In 1971 Fred Koolhof and a few others did Franklin river in “rafts made from tractor tubes”, it was the first Franklin descent in rafts. So most ceratinly the clever and adventurous Tasmanians were heading in the right direction for quite a while.

A Tasmanian forester, Paul Smith, actually convinced Bob Brown to raft the Franklin in inflatable dinghies – they are thought to be one of the first parties to ever make the entire downriver in the famous “Rubber Duckies”. National Museum of Australia holds a notebook diary compiled by Paul Smith during his journey down the Franklin River with Bob Brown in 1976, I might see if I can access the diary when I am in Canberra next. They also have Bob Browns Rubber Duck in the collection, I did some conservation work on it when I worked there :slight_smile:.

this is a quote from Bob Brown

“When Paul Smith first asked me to come down the Franklin River with him in 1976, I thought about patching all those rafts and carting things around river obstacles and I wasn’t keen. He had asked a stack of other people and none of them was silly enough to come … So I agreed if he in return came for a walk in the Western Arthurs…”

Intresting stuff.


As an Aussie who used to be an Alaskan, I am willing to concede that Alaska is indeed the birthplace of packrafting. I note that in Roman Dial’s excellent book there is also a great old photo of Dick Griffiths taking an old patched up Air Force ditching raft down the Copper Canyon in Mexico. That trip (in the 1950s) pre-dates both the well-publicized Franklin River trip and all the marvelous improvements and advancements in packrafting made by Ms. Tingley of Alpacka rafts, and Roman Dial and other Alaskans who have done so much to further the packrafting cause. Does this then mean that packrafting was actually born in Mexico?

By far the greatest technical improvements in packrafting boats and techniques have originated in Alaska, and as an experienced solo explorer of remote rivers worldwide, I am grateful for the versatility of the packraft in providing me with extra options to check out EXTREMELY little known and untouched rivers. The whole concept of packrafting requires (in its purest form) a certain amount of hiking with the packraft carried on foot, on one’s back. Not sure how much of that Bob Brown did, though there is no disputing the pivotal role that his rubber duckies played in the conservation of the Franklin, and I salute him for that.

Australia is an absolutely superb place to packraft, and my recent solo packraft journey down the beautiful King Edward River in the Kimberley is proof of that. The main problem for north Australian packrafters is getting out once you finish the trip - most remote rivers lead not to any kind of civilization, but to a mangrove-choked, crocodile-infested river mouth in the middle of nowhere…

Of course, some of us quite like that. There is a brief video “Packrafting solo through the Kimberley” on my remoteriverman.com website, as well as on the Remoteriverman Channel on Youtube.

Kevin Casey