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Australia Mystery surrounds pair missing in Victorian bush as burnt-out campsite found with well-equipped vehicle

02:50  31 march  2020
02:50  31 march  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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a truck parked on the side of a dirt field: Police have verified this photo of Ms Clay and Mr Hill's burnt out campsite, supplied to ABC Gippsland by a camper in the Wonnangatta area. (Supplied) © Provided by ABC NEWS Police have verified this photo of Ms Clay and Mr Hill's burnt out campsite, supplied to ABC Gippsland by a camper in the Wonnangatta area. (Supplied) Photos have emerged of the burnt-out campsite and abandoned car of two older friends, missing in Victoria's High Country for 11 days.

Russell Hill, 74, left his Drouin home on March 19 with plans to camp along the Dargo River in Gippsland.

Carol Clay, 73, a former Victorian president of the Country Women's Association told friends she was going away and would be back home in Pakenham no later than March 29.

Mr Hill's car and their campsite were found abandoned and burnt out near Dry River track at Billabong in the Wonnangatta Valley, north of Licola on Friday.

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Ms Clay's belongings were in the car.

Police are trying to work out why the pair abandoned the well-equipped vehicle when it was still able to be driven.

They are also investigating who lit the fire at the campsite and who extinguished it.

"The camping equipment is still there and the vehicle is still there and quite serviceable, so nothing at this stage to give us any clues as to where they have gone," Inspector Craig Gaffee said.

Inspector Gaffee said police had considered the possibility the pair was attempting to self-isolate to avoid COVID-19, but that was unlikely as they had planned to return on the weekend.

"Russell Hill is an experienced camper and bushwalker and knows the area well," he said.

"His routine when he goes away is to contact friends or family every evening via radio, and the last contact was on March 20."

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The bush camp has toilets, and that’s about it. You can also access the dam by a 2WD or a 4WD vehicle . Waroona Dam Creek is a great weekend trip for those close to Perth. Or if you prefer ‘ bush camping ’ you can camp anywhere in the Sandy Cape Reserve which covers around 10km of coastline.

Police drone, mountain cattlemen used in search

About 30 search and rescue police, State Emergency Service and Parks Victoria crews conducted a foot search near the campsite yesterday.

A police helicopter and drone are also being used to search the area from the sky.

Four riders on horseback from the Mountain Cattlemen's Association are using their knowledge of the area to expand the search along Dargo River and nearby tracks.

Inspector Craig Gaffee said they were combing through challenging terrain.

"It's pretty rugged, thick bush [with] steep inclines and very remote … and there's lots of different tracks they may have taken," he said.

A staging post has been set up at Surveyor's Hut along the Wonnangatta Track as the search enters its sixth day.

Last radio contact 11 days ago

Russell Hill made a radio transmission on March 20 via high-frequency radio to report he was having transmission issues.

At the time, he was at Wonnangatta Station, four hours southeast of Wangaratta, and intended to follow Wonnangatta Track down towards Dargo.

"We know other campers have been in the area over the last week to 10 days so we're calling on anyone who saw an older pair in the area to contact us," Inspector Gaffee said.

Carol Clay was president of the Country Women's Association of Victoria between 2011 and 2013.

Current state president Marion Dewar said Mrs Clay is an esteemed member and friend.

"All members are very concerned for Carol and her companion," she said.

Police say the pair were camping companions and were not romantically involved.

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