Home' Air Force News : September 17th 2009 Contents 19
AIR FORCE September 17, 2009
SOMETIMES small things
can go a very long way and
for the remote Aboriginal
community of Gapuwiyak
that statement certainly rings true.
Gapuwiyak is about 230km south-
west of Nhulunbuy (Gove) in north-
east Arnhem Land and to get there you
have to travel along the long, rutted
and dusty Central Arnhem Road.
The Air Force Balloon and its crew
took on the challenge of bringing the
balloon and all its equipment to these
often forgotten-about people.
Balloon pilot SQNLDR Michael
Bannerman and seven other Air Force
members could not have comprehend-
ed the impact their three days in the
community had on its people.
Gapuwiyak School principal
Shirley Nirrpurranydji was emotional
when asked about the balloon's pres-
ence in the community.
"People will always remember that
it was here," she said.
"We never expected them to come
all this way and bring such joy to a
small and remote community like
Gapuwiyak. We were overwhelmed
by everything and it was wonderful to
know that there are people a long way
from here thinking of us."
Each morning the crew pulled on
to the community's oval to set up the
balloon in time for the children to get
checked into school and come down.
Once the wind came up and the teth-
ered rides ceased, the crew went back
to the classrooms where they handed
out gifts, talked to the children and
showed Air Force-related videos.
"As I was walking around the
classrooms, the kids were absolutely
fascinated and asked lots of questions.
It was just fantastic."
On the second night in Gapuwiyak,
the balloon was inflated for night rides
and it created the atmosphere of a car-
nival -- with children running around,
yelling and staying up until it was all
But it was not just the people of
Gapuwiyak who benefited from the
People from communities and out-
stations like the Yirrkala Homelands
and Wandawuy (Boruwuy) Homelands
arrived to see something nearly all of
them had never come across before.
"The only balloon the kids knew of
is the party balloons that you buy and
then all of a sudden this huge thing
appears," Ms Nirrpurranydji said.
"Everyone was happy and excited.
It was the first time a balloon had ever
been flown in our community."
Along with the fun came the mes-
sage about the ADF's Indigenous
Employment Program, aimed at
building community awareness and
understanding of the range of career
prospects the ADF has to offer.
"A lot of people in our community
didn't realise that these opportunities
are out there.
"After the balloon crew started
talking, a young fella came up saying
'wow, I wish one day I could do that.
I need to come to school every day to
learn and get strong so that I can get
the chance to join the Air Force or
NORFORCE'. It was incredible."
Sadly, she said that it was often
just movies that influenced the young
people of the community, so to have
another more positive influence was
"They have really given so much
to these kids in the short time that they
HERE COMES THE SUN: Crew member CPL Vivienne Rixon helps set up the balloon in the early morning
Photos: LAC Aaron Curran
DRIVING on an endless
highway with the horizon
out of reach is one of the
images synonymous with
Doing exactly that were two mem-
bers of 28SQN, who travelled more
than 4200km to bring the jewel in the
Air Force's public relations crown to
remote Arnhem Land.
SGT Paul Thorpe and FSGT Geoff
Hurling, both from the Air Force High
Readiness Reserve and qualified bal-
loon ground crew, took on the respon-
sibility to bring the balloon, its equip-
ment and their 4WD on a trailer, safely
all the way to Nhulunbuy (Gove) in
north-east Arnhem Land.
"We left Canberra in our Scania
truck on Monday, August 17, and
arrived in Nhulunbuy seven days later,"
SGT Thorpe said. "We went through
Dubbo and into Central Queensland
until we reached Mt Isa; then on to the
Barkley Highway and into the NT."
It was not all scenery and sunsets
for the two drivers though. They suf-
fered a mechanical breakdown just
outside of Camooweal.
Travelling the long and dusty road
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: From left, medic CPL Blake Reeve, CPL Vivienne
Rixon, WOFF Steve Mountstephen, SGT Paul Thorpe, Indigenous Affairs
Liaison LACW Deborah Booker and balloon pilot SQNLDR Michael
Bannerman on the Central Arnhem Road.
"We ran across an old fire truck
in the Variety Bash and were told
there was an Air Force mechanic with
them and we thought 'great' but he
stayed 10km ahead of us all the way
so we never caught him," SGT Thorpe
said with a laugh. "One of the other
mechanics on the fire truck had a look
at our Scania and we found a small oil
leak in the centre diff and fixed it on
the side of the road."
When they came across a car that
had crashed on the highway, they ren-
dered first aid to the driver and a pass-
ing car took him to the nearest town,
leaving him with the police.
It was not all drama for the two Air
Force drivers, though. They will be
hard-pressed to forget coming across
hundreds of emus all running together;
and seeing some of the flora and fauna
of central and northern Australia.
Then there was the Central Arnhem
With up to 800km of rutted dirt
road, river crossings and dust to deal
SO GRATEFUL: Gapuwiyak School
principal Shirley Nirrpurranydji.
with, the last leg of the journey to
Nhulunbuy was the hardest.
Despite the speed limit of 110km/h,
they averaged 65km/h and the trip took
17 hours. They went through nine
water crossings with the biggest being
the Goyder River and with these came
the added hazard of crocodiles.
"The four-wheel driving rule at
water crossings is to get out and walk
it. But in the circumstances that was
not an option, so we observed the
crossing and made our judgments.
The conditions from Katherine to
Nhulunbuy were different to anything
I had ever driven."
He said as a reservist you gener-
ally don't get to experience those long
drives, so when the opportunity came
up, he jumped at it.
"I originally was only doing the
driving task, but after realising the cul-
tural and physical experiences that I
would get out of the trip, I decided to
stay for the whole exercise."
Two members from 22SQN at
RAAF Base Richmond flew up to
drive the truck and equipment back to
Sydney once the exercise was over.
IMPRESSED: SGT Paul Thorpe
with Kurt Harrison, 13, leaning on
the massive burners.
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