Saturday, 26 July 2014

Which flight path?

A recurring motif in my life has been the sense of connection expressed by a flight path. Unlike the iconic Australian movie, The Castle, the initial one I lived near for most of the first two decades of my life was relatively quiet. It is used by holidaymakers flying in and out of the airport with the codename OOL.

"Passenger flights took off for the first time in 1939 using the then grassy field of the current Coolangatta site. Regular services were started by Queensland Airlines and Butler Air Transport after the Second World War." [Ref:]

Originally known as Coolangatta airport, it changed its name in 1999 to the Gold Coast airport to stay as hip as the increasingly trendy surrounding areas. Luckily the distinctive codename was retained. Although my home at Cobaki bordered the New South Wales - Queensland dotted line, I didn't experience the runway until 1976, when I returned to my hometown on a first-year visit from university in Canberra.

Correctly flipped view, courtesy Peter Cokley

After several years of study at the Australian National University, and learning how to become a public servant at the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in the 1980s, I was invited to join other National Library staff as a computer programmer to look after the codebase which underpinned the Australian Bibliographic Network (now Libraries Australia).

One of the fabulous privileges of working in the Library's architecturally stunning building was the opening of the mezzanine level balcony for staff to watch celebratory fireworks every year. Sponsored by local radio station FM104.7, Skyfire is the locknote event celebrating Canberra's March birthday. The fireworks are placed in the middle of Lake Burley Griffin, and the natural backdrop of the hills surrounding the valley in which Canberra sits creates a spectacular cacophony of light and sound.

A few years ago, in an Airforce tribute as part of the fireworks, an F-111 was sent up from the Tuggeranong Valley south of the city. Thundering up Commonwealth Avenue and around the Library itself, in a flight path pointing towards Canberra airport, it seemed as though a wingtip would carve out a corner of the building. The echo of power was extraordinary, and it certainly dimmed the power of any antics inside.

Last year, to bookend a 27 and 1/2 year career at the National Library, I took a trip with my husband to Western Australia. Our goal was to traverse the Canning Stock Route, one of the most remote 4WD tracks in the world. It would be easy to succumb to a sense of isolation. Most water, all fuel and all food have to be carried along its 1,700 kms. There are many compensations though - the wildflowers changing every 100 kms and the beauty of the Albert Namatjira trees against a clear sky, day and night, were breathtaking.

When we reached Well 16, a quarter of the way into the wilderness, the sound of a jet overhead made us pause. It seems that the Darwin - Perth and Broome - Perth flights are also keen to see the scenery of the interior.

But the most spine-tingling flight path I have experienced was one I am sure I will revisit. In 2011 during a visit to Segesta in Sicilia, I made my way to the open-air teatro built more than 2,000 years ago by the Greeks.  The bare hills form an epic backdrop, the whole space still dramatic after all those years. I asked myself, what have we achieved in the 20th Century to match this? And at that very moment, an Italian fighter jet swooped in a circle around the site, on its way to Libya.

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