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September 2018

Walk about Australia … by air

by Leithen Francis

There is a famous poem that most Australians know. It is called “My Country” and refers to Australia as “a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, of ragged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains.”

The poem highlights how Australia is a vast continent that is subject to extreme climate conditions. Temperatures inland often exceed 40 degrees Celsius and there are communities spread throughout the country. Some of these communities are in the driest and harshest corners of the continent.


People living in these remote areas usually make a living either from mining or from agriculture. They are so far removed from the main cities that the only feasible way to travel back and forth to larger communities is by air. However, the extreme climate conditions, coupled with local airports that have short, narrow and often unpaved runways means that very few aircraft can actually access these places. One airline that is helping serve communities in regional Australia is GAM Air.

The airline’s chief executive officer Carl Jepsen says people work for GAM Air because they are passionate about regional aviation and connecting outback Australia. The pilots “are passionate about flying and they love the Dornier 228. In their eyes, it’s a beautiful machine to fly.” Flying alone with your small team through extreme wide spaces, harsh landscapes and difficult weather conditions in the outback can feel like being on a “walk about” in the air.

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Iron ore mining in Port Hedland, West Australia

Jepsen says: “We receive an average of 25 resumes a month. We are famous and well known in our communities. People know who we are, and they know that we’re a really good training ground. If you look at most of the commercial airlines here in Australia, many of the pilots have worked at GAM Air in the earlier part of their careers. We’re well respected in the industry. Here, the pilots get valuable twin-engine IFR and all weather conditions flying experience.“ The experience they get here is a great stepping stone from which to move to international carriers.

Pilots come to GAM Air from all over Australia. Many have done VFR flying in the Northern Territory to build up their initial flight hours. After one to two years in the Northern Territory, they are ready to engage with GAM. Jepsen again: “The benefit to a pilot of flying the Dornier 228 is that it’s a real hands-on aircraft. And being a multi-crew, twin-turbine and IFR enabled craft, it means you’re doing the same procedures you would in a larger airliner. Some of the airstrips here are more remote, however your standard operating procedures are very similar.”

For example, in Taroom, a small Queensland town with a population of 800, the harsh sun meets an unforgiving earth. If you want to access Taroom, you need to land and take off from a 1,100m long gravel runway. Most of us would not really want even to walk about on this road, but thanks to a gravel kit that includes guards for the under-carriage of the Dornier 228 and a false skin that goes under the fuselage to protect it from rocks, Dornier 228 pilots can even fly about it.

GAM has also operated regular passenger services from Brisbane to Chinchilla on behalf of Queensland Gas Company (QGC) during the building of a gas processing plant in Chinchilla. Chinchilla is a farming town located about 300 km northwest of Brisbane in the northern Australian state of Queensland, and is known as the “Melon Capital of Australia”. There are no major regional centers near Chinchilla, and driving there from Brisbane is impractical. The gas company needed a regular passenger service to transport the tradesmen and construction workers in from Brisbane. It was important for the economy and skilled blue-collar workers are in short supply in Australia. The challenge was to convince the people to work on a construction site in a hot and remote part of Australia, away from family and friends. Temperatures there are a steady 25 to 30 °C. Having an air service helped convince the workers, because it meant they could return home on weekends rather than being stuck in Chinchilla away from home. “The Dornier 228 was the only 19-seat aircraft that could get into Chinchilla with the required stop distance for the narrow, 1,070m long runway. This was especially true in the height of summer”, says Jepsen.

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Passengers boarding GAM Air`s Dornier 228 at Miles Airport, Queensland, Australia.

In Australia, as in many other “sunburnt” countries, some airports are a challenge to access. However, the Australian continent, as described in Dorothea Mackellar’s famous poem “My Country”, does illustrate how varied the landscape and environment is in Australia. It means that the people who pilot the bush planes here get varied experiences and a rite of passage: a walk about in the air.

These passionate pilots are important for connecting Australia’s small and remote communities and most of the time they do it with nothing more than a dirt or gravel airstrip to land on.

For more information visit http://gamgroup.com.au

My Country

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The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

A stark white ring-barked forest
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon.
Green tangle of the brushes,
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops
And ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart, around us,
We see the cattle die –
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady, soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold –
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze.

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land –
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand –
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.

Dorothea Mackellar

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