Aerial helicopter mustering in outback Australia I The Feed
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Aerial helicopter mustering in outback Australia I The Feed

September 13, 2019


Where are we today?
Fitzroy, where’s Fitzroy? I think that helicopter mustering
generally will attract a live wire. Someone’s that got a lot of energy. That they like to see a big result
in something they do. It’s not something that just
any pilot can pick up. The mustering side of it requires a stockman to be at the controls
basically. Probably some of the first times
you take off first thing in the morning
and head out to a job, it’s sort of like
a butterfly feeling. It’s a great feeling
probably of power. You rely on a machine to do its job. And the machine relies on you
to not push it past its limit and what its capable of
and so it will stay in the air. If you are in the wrong spot
in a helicopter you can send the cattle
in 20 different directions. We can also fix it
very quickly as well. The helicopters that we use for
mustering are very agile and nimble. Cattle don’t look where we are,
they listen to us. The wind will change where your noise
lands on the ground. You’ve got to be able
to put your noise where you want to be on the ground,
basically. Aerial mustering is definitely
a lot of fun. The most fun. If you can run amok on the ground,
you can run a bigger mok in the air. As a helicopter mustering pilot We’re working cattle from the sky. We’re stockmen in the sky. Those pilots are the modern cowboy,
really. Like the modern ringer. If the choppers were to stop
right here and now, this industry wouldn’t move. That’s how dependent on helicopters we have become in the north. Before helicopters you went out
with a team of 12 men plus two horse tailers
and sometimes up to 75 horses would be hobbled out and belled
and the old style stockman is nearly a dead art, yeah. Which is sad to me, it’s a sad way
to look at it cos I’m the old style. You can’t shift the numbers
of cattle and perform without the helicopter in the sky
doing the hard yards and those big distances. That’s the fact of the matter. Knowing that people
have died doing it and also probably friends and family
that have been killed doing it, probably makes you a better pilot
if anything. This memorial and this occasion
is dedicated to the helicopter mustering pilots
who have lost their lives in the course of doing a job. The essence of
the memorial service today really is a memorial to the lost
pilots who’ve been tragically lost over a number of years
flying choppers. But it also is a memorial to this era
of the helicopter. May it remind us
to be the arms of support and show care that is real
and from the heart. To those that our pilot
may have loved the most… My son Peter was a chopper pilot. He died in a mustering accident when he was 23. That’s five years ago now. You hear a helicopter
and you think it might be him. But the hardest thing probably is just knowing that
he’s never gonna come back. That it’s a life wasted. But in saying that I’m glad that
if he had to go when he did… that he did what he loved doing. And he was being sensible. Most of us still stand mesmerised
and in awe of a pilot and his machine as one working cattle out
of the most difficult situations. He loved helicopters. He turned into a pretty good pilot. Cos he’d done so much work
on the ground he got a pretty good reputation
pretty quick. I think it was three, four years
he was flying for. Before he crashed. When he told me he said “Mum,
Peter crashed his helicopter today.” And I said
“Michael, don’t be stupid.” Memories keep coming back,
like you see things, like his motor car’s always there, you see that and it brings memories
back but, like, you get by. And he started crying
and I knew straight away then when Michael cried
that this was true. He was a pretty good bloke. Yeah… he used to pick on me all
the time but that’s pretty normal. Despite the official report
coming back, after all these years, we really, I really don’t know
what caused the accident. Helicopter muster pilots
are treated sort of like gods cos they do such bloody vast
areas in rough country and they got to do a lot of work. I wouldn’t mind being
a helicopter pilot but I’m not allowed now,
Mum won’t let me. I might end up in the sky one day. I know of nine or 10 people that have
been killed in chopper accidents. There’s Merv and Stumpy
and Angus, Johnny… and of course Pete. And it just goes on, yes. I made a decision to myself to stop
counting when I could tally up 11 people that I personally knew who’d been killed. It’s just not good enough
I don’t reckon. This bull had jumped the fence. I was trying to get him to jump back
where he came from. Kept trying to bend him
and couldn’t bend him and… hit this bloody tree,
and it kept inverted and rotating and I was just going like that too
as well as going like that. I guess people do silly things,
they make mistakes. They think they’re bulletproof. Each pilot is his own worst enemy. I really believe that the culture
around mustering has to change a little. It’s very much the hero,
the hero in the sky. I suppose, cowboys in the sky. Well, I don’t know
what you can change. And I don’t really think
that you really can change. I’d like to think you could. There’s a lot on your mind so you can easily make a mistake during the day. Yeah, I have known a few people to have been killed in a helicopter accident. There’s a level of safety standard
obviously in every company. I don’t believe that we haven’t
put in enough safety measures to prevent them
at the end of the day. As within anything,
you have to take responsibility for your job and your actions
and what happens. It is a dangerous job. Yep, there are definitely risks
that are involved. Yes, I’ve lost lots of friends and yeah I’ve known quite a few people that have been killed, yeah. This spot here,
just a billabong, basically. It’s a really isolated spot you
can only get people by helicopter. We do really get to see
a lot of spectacular sights that are inaccessible by road,
basically. It’s a pretty tickly feeling to think
that no one else has probably ever walked on the same part of ground
that you just landed on, yeah. Every now and then
you’ll be flying by yourself and no one else is around you,
can hear you and talk to you, and every now and then you’ll drift
off into your own little world that you’re sort of
the only one there. It’s a great feeling
you sometimes take for granted that what you’re seeing
is something no one else can see. But leaving the hangar and not coming back’s something we don’t think about. There’s a very fine line between
getting cattle to the yard and being safe. But the only thing that matters
to the company is that everyone gets home
safe every day. There’s no other job
that I’d rather do.

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