The Real Outback.
Day Two. Longreach - Mount Isa - Barkly Homestead.
The alarm clock buzzes right on time as one expects but secretly hopes otherwise.
I throw my legs over the side of the bed, start the laptop and ‘flick’ on the kettle. Everything from the cup of tea to my clothes is in order from the night before; ready and set to go. The weather still looks faultless along my route, so I send through the flight details over the wonder of the internet and begin to get my gear together. I have
Despite the early hour, I call my sister Pamela and recount the incredible coincidence of Dad’s ‘Red Baron’ song being played the night before. We agree that neither of us
The Dash-8 is still parked on the tarmac from the night before as I pre-flight the Jabiru. I had fuelled the aircraft the night before, but a
I farewell Longreach and the bloody Red Baron to an escort of birds emerging from the grass just as I lift off and set course to the north-west. Mount Isa, my first port of call, is about three hours away but a great deal of history lies between here and there. This region was the early stomping grounds of both QANTAS and the Royal Flying Doctor Service and I will be retracing many of the air routes of those early days as the Jabiru skips along its way.
The aircraft cruises along smoothly and I cannot help but smile to the point of singing. There is not a single cloud in the sky or a ripple of turbulence. My calculations have me benefiting from a tailwind and destined to be ahead of schedule. It is absolute perfection in the context of light aircraft ‘visual’ flight. As a consequence, I am relaxed and enjoying every minute and mile as they pass. I stretch over, grab a Muesli Bar and enjoy some fine dining in the skies. This is living!
My first turning point is Winton. I was once told that QANTAS was conceived in Cloncurry, born in Winton, but grew up in Longreach. If that was the case, the airline’s maternity ward now lies dead ahead. I had visited there once before when my Dad and I had driven to Kununurra together. My strongest memory was of the humble monument on the site of the first QANTAS office, so significant to our aviation history, but so easily passed without notice. For a moment I recalled standing at the edge of the paddock where Houdini had first flown and another moment in history
John Flynn had previously experimented with the concept of an aerial inland mission having witnessed the tragedies that had befallen the outback’s pioneers for lack of medical care. In time his experiment grew and in 1928 he had the finances to launch the entity that would ultimately become the globally-renowned Royal Flying Doctor Service. One of his supporters was the QANTAS founder, Hudson Fysh, and the first aircraft was also supplied by the airline. These two quintessentially Australian
For a lover of aviation and history, these miles beneath me are golden. I can almost see the ancient DH50 biplane leaving its trail of dust below as it lumbers into the sky on another selfless mission of mercy. I can hear the roar of the engine and see the pilot in his open cockpit weathering the elements while his precious human cargo remained shelter within the cabin ahead of him. I tip my hat to those who had the courage to see their vision through to reality without any of the creature comforts that we enjoy today.
The Jabiru with my other ‘office’ in the background at Mount Isa.
A strong wind is blowing down Runway 16 as I line up for the landing. There is a little convective turbulence bouncing me around as the day warms up, but mostly I am struck by my slow speed over the ground as I approach
Friendly folks and family at ‘The Isa’.
As I pull the Jabiru up to the fuel bowser there is a small gathering of people. Most are from the local base of the RFDS, on hand to give me a welcome, and the other is a reporter from the ABC. It is always touching to be met by welcoming faces no matter how far from home you may be. My website and the media tells me that people are following the flight, but the chance to stop and chat and put faces to the ISP addresses is so much more. After a brief conversation, it emerges that I am related to one of the RFDS staff; my father and her grandfather were cousins!
They had shared a rather ‘Tom Sawyer’ upbringing on the Darling Downs during the 1930s. It was the hard times of the Great Depression and drought on the land and yet these young boys made the most of their childhood. Undoubtedly their tough upbringing served them well as their manhood was destined to be overshadowed by a world at war hurling them to all corners of the globe. Here I was, miles from anywhere and yet again Dad has poked his nose into this flight around Australia.
I am given the grand tour of the RFDS facility and their Super King Airs, whose interior aeromedical kit-out is particularly interesting to me as both a pilot and a former paramedic. The good people even have a cake to mark my visit to Mount Isa and I could spend a lot more time here chatting about family and flying. However, by the time I have completed the media interviews, the clock is ticking loudly and the trusty Jabiru is ready to take me across my first state border.
For the first
The towering clouds ahead begin to dump their watery contents in a series of rain showers that are too opaque to penetrate. As I
Camooweal and its population of a few hundred people emerge from behind a shower with the Barkly Highway running into it like a yellow brick road. My GPS, map and the world outside are in total agreement as the clock ticks over right on time. I had mentioned Camooweal in my live radio interview back at Mount Isa, so I take a few moments to lazily circle the town in a gentle arc. Sure