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by Mike John


It was around the middle of 1974. Ian McNeill and I had been flying together, first in Coolangatta in the Bonanza, then in St. George in the tail-dragger Cessna (a wonderful machine for 16000ft photography!) It was decided that Peter Cowan and John Messenger would fly down from Katherine in the Commander, and we would swap navigators, John and I going first to Toowoomba, then on to Noosa. Gordon Yorke, the new Operations Manager, flew up to chat to us in the field. Some months before, Peter had a riding accident (he rode into a post, damaging his leg) and had only recently returned to flying. We had been staying in The Australian at St. George for about three months. Incidentally, they had an aerial picture of the town, and one of a Hudson framed in the bar. In our first few hours and days, we re-heard many times two stories of the time Adastra came to town in 1948.

The first story related how an Adastra crew took a supply of beer up with them on each flight, then, on return, they would drop down quickly from survey altitude, fly over the town, then land. Almost immediately, vehicles would stream out from town, so the locals could take advantage of ice-cold beer.

The other story was about the navigator, who helped someone put a roof on their house, and liked the living so much (I think there might have been a girl involved!), decided to stay on after the aircraft left.

Back to 1974 and the horse. The horse belonged to a fellow who lived in a shack outside of town, and who would come into town once every couple of weeks, to sort out his business, and have a few in the bar. When he had consumed enough, he would tuck half-a-dozen stubbies in his shirt, and be helped onto the horse, which would meander off down the river bank on its way home, the rider now fast asleep on his back. (Apparently, some crime of passion had seen the owner as a guest of the government for quite a number of years, and he now kept pretty much to himself). On the day in question, with the arrival of the second aircraft with Gordon Yorke, we were saying farewell to some of the townsfolk we had become friendly with (as is the life of nomadic survey crews) and a bit of a party got going.

Just before closing time, Pete decides he wants to ride the horse (I can't remember if, by this time, the owner was in any condition to agree or disagree). We all followed him outside, where he mounted the horse, and trotted off into the darkeness, Some minutes went by when, in the distance we heard the sound of horseshoes on tarmac. We saw the sparks coming off the shoes long before Peter and the horse shot by the crowd, mouths agape. Having just got Peter back to work, Gordon was sitting on the pub step, head in hands, moaning.

I had recently bought the new type Polaroid camera, and decided I wanted a photograph to mark the occasion. It was then that some larrikin decided to take the photo in the bar. The landlord was new, only been in about a week, and made some protest, but to no avail. The crowd stood aside and the horse, and Peter were led in like a Melbourne cup winner. The locals crowded in round the horse, I took the photo and, whether it was the noise, the crowd or the flash, the horse disgraced himself. This was enough for the landlord, who threw out all the locals, and the horse, and moved us out of the bar into the reception area, to finish our drinking. The party didn't finish there.

The landlord joined us, four crew, operations manager, two wives, and three of the pub's bar staff, plus the horse owner. Around 1.30am, there was a knock on the door, and there stood the new police sergeant. He walked into a very silent group, looked around, took off his hat, sat down and gratefully accepted an offered beer. The horse owner had by now become more lively, cornering Gordon with tales of past exploits. We continued on for a little longer, when again there was a knock on the door, but very timid. Those who heard it took no notice. It came again, a little louder. Still no one did anything. On the third knock, the sergeant shouted "come in". A young, fresh faced lad appeared in the doorway. "Yes?" enquired the sergeant. "I want to go home." said the lad. "Well bloody go home!" said the sergeant. "I can't" replied the now white-faced young man, "somebody's tied a horse to me ute!"

Amongst a lot of loud laughter, the lad was rescued, the horse and rider sent home, and the sergeant went back to his duties. As for us, well, next day John and I went to Toowoomba, and there we......................... But that is another story.

Unfortunately, somewhere in all my moving around, I lost that photo.

Mike John
16th February 2004



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