Thursday, January 14, 2010

A gem in the red dust: Windorah aerodrome

There's the Australian aerodromes I have photographed from the sky, and there's the ones I have photographed from the ground: Wondai, Goondiwindi, Cherrabah or Taree. And there's a few I haven't yet mentioned on this blog, such as Windorah aerodrome (YWDH).

Windorah (pop. 60) is a well-known stop for those travelling through Outback Queensland, being roughly half-way between Blackall (pop. 1160, 400km east) and Birdsville (pop. 115, 400km west). The local Western Star Hotel has some historical information about the town.

Remember that Simpsons episode where Bart convinces a young boy from the Australian outback to walk six hours to his nearest neighbour just to double-check if water drains clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere? That's the kind of distances we are talking about here.

Being so far away from anywhere and in particular 1300km from the State capital Brisbane, political correctness is mostly unknown here, as can be inferred from the plaque above which proudly adorns the front wall of the terminal building.

This good-natured form of humour, with an aviation twist, can also be found on the door of the male toilet, which reads "unwanted baggage".

The service desk has all the amenities the modern-day regional traveller would expect. You have to admire the sign about new regulations for liquids onboard. Somewhere on the wall someone wrote the toll-free SARTIME number.

The yellow sticker advertises a watering hole ten hours drive south-east of Windorah called the Bulloo River Motel. It may be far, but at least by the time you get back home from the pub you've sobered up. The photo below was taken more than two years ago, I don't know whether the sticker survived CASA's alcohol and other drugs in aviation initiative.

Windorah for us was only a refuelling stop on our way to Birdsville so we didn't make it to town. That will have to wait for our next visit. The photo below was taken on downwind for runway 04 after taking-off from Windorah, en route to Birdsville.

This trip was part of a one-week fly-away organised in September 2007 by two instructors of the Redcliffe Aero Club where I was training for my PPL at the time. This was the trip of a lifetime (so far).

Each Cessna 172SP had one instructor and two students onboard. The two students would take turns flying or navigating (or sleeping) in the back seat. Everything was new for me: I had 15 hours total time when we started, and doubled my flying hours in just one week. I had not started this blog at the time which is why I never blogged about it until today.

I wrote an article about this adventure in the March 2008 issue of a French aviation magazine called Aviation et Pilote. There's still plenty of images of flying the Australian Outback in there if you can't read French. Having trained in Australia I found myself having to look up the French translation of aviation terms I only knew in English, which is a bit of an uneasy feeling.

I cannot finish this post without mentioning Bub, the lady who mans the fuel pump and fuel drums at Windorah. And also the gas station. Bub welcomed us with a roll of toilet paper and handed a few sheets to the pilots who she thought had performed "a shit landing". One poster on summed it all up saying "Bub calls a spade a "bloody shovel" but is always ready with a cold drink and a helping hand. Country hospitality at its best".