Monday, February 19, 2018

Birds in the Bush

In Oz the 'bush' is that vast interior far away from civilised cities, towns and even villages. Some other countries have their wild and desolate places too, where only the hardy individuals dare to share isolation with wild animals and wild weather.  Outback, Bondu, wilderness, the 'Back Country', whatever the name, such places are largely inaccessible by ordinary means or by ordinary men and women. The 'frontier' places. Getting there and through is not for the city car driver. Planes are necessary. Hardy, agile planes. In such places the ladies are few. But today a few of those ladies were spoken of in the Tavern and glasses raised to courage, persistence, sheer hard work and adventure.

A bird in the hand, it is said, is worth more then two in the bush, but there are exceptions to every rule. Here are two with whom any man would hold hands. For an aging Knight who loves women and planes, I, for one, was in for a treat. Here were men's women.

First up we heard of Leighan Falley, a spunky gal who has proven herself a hero's companion when the going gets tough.
Alaskan Bush Pilots have been the brave and iconic adventurers of the skies for over a century. They have tamed America's most outlandish natural landscapes thanks to their outstanding courage and one-of-a-kind gut instinct – and Leighan Falley, a Talkeetna-based pilot, is one of them. 
Falley is one of the very few female Alaskan pilots to continuously push boundaries in the great northern skies. 
Always graceful, even when under pressure, she explores Alaska's idyllic yet raw nature with the courage of an explorer, following her instincts, while calculating risks. 
“The first memory of my entire life is being in the backseat of my father's airplane,” Falley recalls. “I must have been a tiny baby, I remember feeling the airplane moving through the air and seeing the trees and the river below.” 
In Talkeetna, situated some 115 miles north of Anchorage on the southern edge of the Denali National Park, Falley is one of the Talkeetna Air Taxi pilots. The company was established in the 40s, the early days of Alaskan aviation, and currently runs 10 bush aircraft. 
“I moved to Talkeetna about 13 years ago and the summer I moved to town I learned to fly,” Leighan Falley smiles. “The first time I flew an airplane by myself – they call it your first solo – was probably one of the most amazing moments in my life.”

 In a northern wilderness filled with hazards – think blizzards and whiteouts, snow-covered glaciers, unexpected storms, heavy rains and wild rivers – raw survival skills are needed in addition to tech-savvy expertise, and Leighan Falley excels in both. “The part of Alaska that is accessible by road is very different from the one accessible by plane. The first is more comfortable, the second keeps you away from the craziness of the big city life. It's like having two different Alaskas. I like both parts, but prefer it when the road ends because this is when airplanes begin. 
I like to fly the Beaver, it's my favorite Alaskan Bush Plane,” she continues. “There's a famous sign in Talkeetna which is an advertising board for the early air taxis that says 'Fly an hour or walk a week'.” 
She flies to the remotest locations in Alaska in order to capture the adventurous everyday life of the Great North, while bringing mountaineers to their final destination and helping those in need.
Living her dream, Leighan Falley is not only a brave pilot, but also a mother, a ski guide, an alpinist, having reached the peak of Denali Mountain six times out of twelve expeditions. 
“Alaska is probably my favorite place on earth,” she continues. “I've been through different continents, climbed different mountain ranges, including the Himalaya, but Alaska is my favorite. It is so big and so wild, vast and untouchable. The biosphere is intact, the animals live in their natural habitat. Mountain ranges rise from a hundred meters to six thousand meters – it's simply beautiful. In a place as beautiful as Alaska, you have to have an airplane to see all of it,” she concludes. 
“Discovering Alaska and climbing its mountains is a journey that involves a lot of beauty, 
a lot of hardship, and a lot of testing yourself mentally and physically.”.
I am unsurprised she favours the Beaver. The quintessential Alaska bush plane, the DeHavilland Beaver occupies a seat of honor in the annals of aviation history. Perhaps no other airplane ever built has seen such a long career, and proven to be as indispensable today as it was when developed over 65 years ago.

The sturdily-built Beaver was designed to carry a lot of weight and operate effectively on either wheels or floats. Alaska Seaplanes' Beavers, for instance, all operate on straight floats in the summer for maximum payload, and amphibious floats in the winter for optimum flexibility. All their Beavers have advanced Capstone avionics packages with ADS-B real-time positioning capability.

With an ample useful load and the ability to carry up to six passengers, the Beaver is the perfect airplane for ferrying you to wilderness camping destinations—remote lakes, Forest Service cabins, islands and rivers.

It has 'reach', just like the fine gal above. 

Such 'reaching' is not confined by age  or to planes though. Leighan may be a modern young woman, cut from a very different cloth from 99% of her peers, but she shares a similar weave of hardiness, effort and self-reliance as several Oz ladies of a... ahem... more matured vintage.  They have reached out and tested themselves too.

Lydia Burton told of three ladies of the bush, of which I shall tell of just one here. Penny Button. She and the two others that you can follow the link to see, persisted alone after tragic losses of their menfolk. And continued life in the Bush on the vast 'stations' that are found in the Oz outback.

Meet the women who stay and work the land on their own despite tragedy
Three graziers, who each lost their husbands in separate tragedies, have taken on the running of enormous, remote sheep and cattle stations almost on their own.

Ann Ballinger, Penny Button and Ros Wood all lost their husbands suddenly.

Penny Button's eldest son Rodney died in a plane crash in 2003. Her husband Ian died of heart failure in 2006.
Losing both within three years, she found her connection to the property and community was her saving grace.
She owns Crossmoor station near Longreach, a vast 32,000-hectare property that, in a good year, can run up to 5,000 head of cattle.

"There's no truer saying than 'you don't know what you've got until you haven't got it'," she said.
"I just realise now the stress in running these properties and the tough side of things that he [Ian] shielded me from forever."
While for some the thought of flying again is unfathomable, Ms Button said it was just part of life in the bush. 

"My father was killed in a car accident, but you don't just not drive," she said.
"I did think about it and I don't think I did have a fly for a while. It wasn't deliberate bit I just didn't do it.
"Rodney was a very positive character and I think of him a lot. One of his great sayings was 'every day is a good day' and I often think of that."

Despite the tragedies that have struck her family, Ms Button's youngest son Hugh has come home to take over the family property with his wife Amanda and young son Charlie.
Hugh Button cannot imagine living anywhere else.
"I just love the adventure of the country life. I love the adventure and the freedom of it and getting out and about in the wide open spaces … every day is so different," he said.
"The support network in the bush — it just says so much about the bush.
"People stick together through the good times — and they celebrated the good times crazily — and when times get devastating they all stick together and get amongst it."
The tale of strong women left to make it on their own is not uncommon in western Queensland.
Watch and listen to these woman at a video on the link above. See Penny in her plane going out to round up her cowboys.

Oz has cowboys. Many Americans see the cowboy as their own, but hey, Oz has been herding cows as long as has America. Now our lads ride choppers as well as quarter horses. They are even faster ! 

And Oz has buffalos too. But not like those in North America. 

Planes suited for the bush are many, but some are a cut above the rest. Here are five for you to gauge and rank. 

It makes one wish the bones did not creak so much. It makes one wish for an adventure away from the Tavern for a few months.  Getting a bit of testing again.

Anyone care to take over the bars for a bit?

If I were only far younger. Freedom in total wilderness. Sunscreen, snickers bar and a Glock. And a Cub with fat wheels. 

Drink to those fine ladies. And the men who have the skies.

Drink to hardiness, courage and Character.

And fun.



  1. There's something special about one's first solo flight. Mine was in a glider. I sang.

    1. A great response to a first solo. My first Glider solo was followed by sheer relief !! Huge grins. It was about the same as the first 'cable break practice' which I executed perfectly much to my astonishment. In both instances my main hurdle was the radio !! Hahaha. But then I have to go back many years to a powered plane first solo. That was amazing.

      I shall have to get you a'horse with a lance, sir. :)

    2. Excellent place you have there in France, Mark. I hope readers here click on your name and go take a look at what you have. Ideal for a fine holiday.

  2. A fine pair of ladies. Both are good role models for any lady to aspire to :-)

    1. And so rare in these days of vapidity. Mind you, I dare say that out there in the wide world there are quite a few fine ladies with spirit and calmness, courage and many such qualities, who go un-noticed by the media. God Bless'em.

  3. Always taking a risk with a female pilot. The history is not encouraging, from Amy Johnson onwards. Similar in racing cars.

    1. Perspective, James. Flying is risky and far more men have crashed - and yes, I know that far more men have flown. But really, going back to Amy and an era of planes that would never get an airworthy cert now is taking things a bit far. And apart from planes falling from the sky, they are safer than cars on the road and much safer than racing cars.

      Now you be careful hobbling across the high street. :)

    2. Always taking a risk with a female pilot.

      There is the whole hormonal rollercoaster thing.

    3. Focus on the touch down rather than the touch up. :)

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Ne meias in stragulo aut pueros circummittam.

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The Tavern gets rowdy visitors from time to time. Some are brain dead and some soul dead. They attack customers and the bar staff and piss on the carpets. Those people will not be allowed in anymore. So... Be Nice..