By Dan Telfair
The next day, after our morning exercise, we were off to the Outback Museum and Stockman Hall of Fame where breakfast was promised. Breakfast was served, as advertised, and was quite good. Thereafter, we began our tour of the museum and hall of fame. I cannot begin to do the exhibits justice in this narrative. Suffice it to say that no trip to the Outback would be complete without a visit to Longreach, and no trip to Longreach would be complete without at least a half day at the museum and Hall of Fame. A few hours there will give some idea of what the early graziers, stockmen, and their families had to deal with, and also what many of them have to deal with today.
At breakfast, and during our subsequent tour of the museum/hall of fame, we got to know Pip and Dale, a grazier couple from Charters Towers. They are delightful people, who would be right at home in West Texas. Pip is a real cowboy and Dale is a fit cowboy's wife. They are both in their early to mid sixties, successful, conservative, and friendly without reservation.
That evening, we went to the RSL (Returned Servicemen's League) for dinner. It is one of the social centers of Longreach, where most of the locals go for a weekend dinner/night on the town. Pip and Dale joined us for dinner, and we had a good time damning liberal politicians and exchanging conservative philosophies. These are wonderful people.
A slip into philosophy: The RSL is something like our VFW, only more likely to be frequented by the public. There are memorials everywhere with photos of local war heroes, etc. There is probably not a town in Australia, no matter how small, that does not have a veterans' memorial, quite often with the names of every serviceman from the area who ever gave his life for Australia. They don't seem to differentiate between WW I and II, Korea, Viet Nam, etc. There is an admiration here for those who left the relative safety of this great country to fight and die for it. I wish we had a bit more of that in the US.
The next morning, Easter Sunday, we got up early and went back to the Museum/Hall of Fame for an Easter Sunrise Service. All the churches in Longreach got together for an interfaith service. They held it outside, facing the sunrise. There was a large wooden cross that was framed against the wheel of a huge windmill in the background - very picturesque. It was a short service, with music, the parrots waking up and calling, passing of the "damper", a sort of campfire bread, and much "Happy Eastering" at the close of the formal service. Afterward, we went back in for a communal breakfast before checking out of the hotel; walking out to the airport; and taking off for Charleville and Bourke.
We stopped at Charleville for our usual brown bag lunch at one of the typically neat, but unoccupied little airport buildings that we had encountered at so many Outback airports. There is a loudspeaker outside, over which radio calls from incoming aircraft are automatically broadcast, since there is no tower or regular radio system at the airport. When no one is talking on the radio, the loudspeaker plays local radio station music. While we were there, it was playing US country western music. It is a great feeling to be standing on the apron at a little Queensland airport, on Easter Sunday morning, listening to Hank Williams.
From Charleville, we flew on to Bourke, and about our only disappointment of the flyabout. Somehow, Bourke has missed out on whatever it is that makes every other Outback town so great. Bourke seems to be about as big as Longreach, but the two towns are as different as night and day. I don't want to belabor the point nor to be overly critical. Suffice it to say that Bourke should be avoided if possible. It is not typical of the Outback nor of Australia. We spent the night at a third rate motel; ate third rate food at a Chinese restaurant - the only place in town to eat; went to bed early; and got up early the next morning to get on our way and out of Bourke as soon as possible.
Our next destination was Sydney. We had decided to stop at Parkes, a small town at about the halfway point for the trip. When I filed our flight plan and checked NOTAMs, they mentioned that there was 'aerobatic practice' at Parkes. I took this to mean that there were aircraft taking off from Parkes and practicing aerobatics at a nearby practice area. When we got there, we discovered that there was a full fledged airshow/aerobatic competition going on directly over the field! However, we had no trouble landing in between aerobatic aircraft taking off and landing. After a quick bite to eat, and talking with the controller on the ground who was coordinating the competition, we took off again for our final leg to Sydney, and back to coastal civilization.
In planning for the Sydney trip, I had chosen Camden Airport over Bankston. Both are high volume aerodromes serving Sydney, and Camben is further away from the city center by a good twenty miles. However, Bankston is listed as the busiest aerodrome in Australia. It would be rather like flying into LAX for the first time, if you weren't familiar with US procedures. For that reason, I opted for caution, and chose Camden. Also, a good friend was picking us up at the airport, so distance from city center was not a key issue. We had no real difficulty getting into Camden. Before we were through cleaning up Tango Sweetie and putting her to bed, our friend Richard was there to pick us up. For the next three days, he was our constant host, guide and companion.
A comment about Sydney: Neither Zia nor I have any desire to live in a big city. However, if we were going to, it would be Sydney. If I haven't mentioned this before, I love Australia. I also think that Sydney is the most beautiful city in the world. I doubt that we will ever leave New Mexico but if we did, it would be to move to Australia.
Our last morning there, after three days in the big city, Richard picked us up at 0800 to take us out to Camden, a little over an hour's drive from our hotel. He made the Sydney visit so easy and pleasant. Having a local friend who has free time and a car is a blessing any time you visit a new city. When that friend is Richard, it is a double blessing.
Our next destination was Canberra. The flight was uneventful until we reached our last checkpoint inbound. When I called Canberra Approach Control, they advised me to remain outside of controlled airspace until further notice. After a bit though, they relented and brought us in behind a DeHaviland Dash 8. There were no problems thereafter. We landed, refueled Tango Sweetie, and put her to bed.
We caught a taxi from the airfield to the hotel, checked in, had lunch, and went into the city center. We did some more shopping, waited out a rainstorm, and then walked to the ANZAC Memorial. We were only able to spend an hour there before closing time, but that hour was enough to both impress me and bring tears to my eyes. The Australians honor their soldiers, sailors and airmen, both those who returned from wars, and those who never returned. I don't think we have anything quite like the ANZAC Memorial in the United States. If we have, I have never seen it.
The next morning, we were both up early with a run for me and meditation and morning walk for Zia. We crossed paths on ANZAC Parade, the boulevard leading from the ANZAC Memorial to the old Parliament building. It is a beautiful avenue, with smaller memorials on each side dedicated to the different wars in which ANZAC servicepeople have died. When I met Zia on the Parade, she was standing in front of the Viet Nam Memorial, bawling like a baby. I did not stop to examine the memorial as I still had a good way to run, and it is hard to run and sob at the same time.
After exercise and breakfast, we headed into our day's walking tour, by the end of which, we had walked another ten miles or so. We returned to the hotel and to flight planning for the morrow's trip back to Melbourne. Unfortunately, the weather outlook was grim. We hoped for the best.
The next day was a sad day. The weather report showed low clouds, poor visibility, rain, and thunderstorms, with no chance of getting into Melbourne. The forecast was for no change in the immediate future. With that in mind, and having a return flight to the US booked a few days later, we had to say farewell to Tango Sweetie; leave her in Canberra; and fly QANTAS back to Melbourne. I called the RVAC and arranged to have them pick up Tango Sweetie later, and we made reservations for the QANTAS noon flight to Melbourne.
After all we had done, it was disappointing to stop less than three hours short of finishing our journey. Despite the letdown, I felt much better having made the decision, and not having to sweat the poor weather flying. When Zia and I first started flying, I swore I'd never take chances with bad weather. This was an opportunity to live up to that pledge.
And so ended one of the most exciting and rewarding adventures of our lives.
When we left Melbourne three days later to return to the US, The RVAC still had not been able to retrieve Tango Sweetie. The weather had really turned foul, so it was as well that we had made our decision early.
While on our fly-about, we had flown around 45 hours and almost 6,000 miles in 21 days. We landed at 18 airports/airstrips, and RONed at 14. When all was said and done, the cost was a bit under $100 per hour, including our checkouts before we left, and all flight related costs such as landing and parking fees. In addition to that, we spent a little over $100 per day for food, lodging, and entertainment - a bit more in the cities, and a good deal less in the outback.
When we first conceived the fly-about, we considered doing it with one of the aerial safaris, so that someone else would be responsible for route selection, navigation, fuel, hotels, ground transportation, etc. When I think back, that option looked good because we were a bit afraid of trying to do all that ourselves. Now, I'm very glad that we decided to do it on our own. We have already begun planning for another trip next year to do the western half of Australia.
Reading back over the above ramblings has reminded me of my original intentions in wanting to publish a narrative of our fly-about. I wanted to stimulate an interest in fly abouts of this sort, and to show that what appeared daunting at first glance, was only my fear of the unknown. There is no better way to explore a big country/continent like Australia than by air, in a small plane.
Try it - You'll like it!