Cunnamulla – Charleville
In early April 2018 Harpur Michell, Peter Bradley, Mark Cuskelly and I headed off to the Wild West of Queensland for a weekend in the outback.
After a refuelling stop in Roma we headed to Cunnamulla for our first night.
We stayed with Ken and Barbie who are Peter’s aunt and uncle. It’s an interesting little town with plenty of characters.
Barbie and Ken organised a barbie for us (fitting) and invited a couple of friends around for the evening. Their granddaughter Hannah joined us later in the evening.
Following our evening in Cunnamulla Harpur, Peter, Mark and I woke up to clear blues skies. After a coffee at a trendy “downtown” cafe (yes there is one and it’s for sale!) and a great breakfast of omelettes cooked by Babs, her granddaughter Hannah drove us out to the airport, dodging suicidal kangaroos as we went. Hannah is a jillaroo and used to catching wild pigs around the property she works on so kangaroos are nothing for her.
At the airport we noticed a large billboard that described the life of Nancy Bird Walton, one of Australia’s pioneer aviators. She worked in Cunnamulla as a charter pilot for a while and founded the Australian Women Pilots Association.
We loaded up and headed off for Charleville, about 40 minutes away. On departure we orbited over Cunnamulla at 2000 ft to wave to the locals and take a few photos then followed the road and the Warrego River northwards.
Although there wasn’t a cloud in the sky I wanted to practise an instrument approach as this is something a private IFR pilot must practise at least once every 6 months and more frequently if possible. It helps you prepare for a real one in cloud when required. So I prepared to fly via the RWY31 RNAV. This meant diverting northeast when we were 25 miles out from Charleville and descending to 2800ft for the initial waypoint. I used the autopilot on the Cirrus to hold us at 2800 while using the heading mode to manually fly a holding pattern at EB. We then continued past waypoint EB and EI to EF, where we started descending at 500ft/min until we were about 3 miles from the threshold. I then broke off from the straight in approach and did a circling approach and landed into the wind on RWY 13.
On arrival we refuelled the aircraft then walked over to the Royal Flying Doctor Visitor Centre nearby. It’s a static display of the history of the RFDS where Charleville played a major role in the past.
We caught a taxi into town and checked into the Corones Hotel. I found this place on Trip Advisor and it was special. Built in the 1920s by a Greek immigrant and entrepreneur it saw some pretty amazing times between the wars. Lots of historic photos line the walls. It has some really finely crafted woodwork, mainly of silky oak, like the main staircase, and stained glass windows and sculpted ceilings. We had a drink and a meat pie (what else?) in the massive bar and made a plan for the evening.
Dad had asked me to look up whether any of the Herriman family still live in Charleville. John Herriman was dad’s pilot in the bomber command mosquito squadron and had grown up there. I checked out the white pages and sure enough there was one Herriman listed. I called up but no answer. But the address was less than 1km away so we headed around there to check it out. I went up the front steps of the old Queenslander and rang the bell. Along came an elderly gent with a shock of white hair and a great bushy beard. “I’m looking for someone who might have known John Herriman” I said. “That’s me” he answered. “I’m Harry, his baby brother!” Bingo!! So we had a chat about John growing up in Charleville and how he’d moved to Brisbane to study electrical engineering at UQ then went to fight in the war. I mentioned that John was a good pilot according to dad but I’d heard that he never flew after the war and found it strange. “Well you see, I don’t think John ever liked flying” said Harry. “He just did it as a job during the war and when he got back he had no interest in it any more.” It was good to meet up with the brother of the guy that dad entrusted his life to during those many missions in the 1940s.
We had to get to the Cosmos Centre at 7:15pm so arranged dinner at 6pm in the beer (and steak) garden. The taxi picked us up on time and we headed out for a couple of hours of star gazing. The Cosmos Centre has about 5 or 6 large telescopes. Astronomers set them up using a GPS system beforehand and then guide the visitors through the process of star gazing while explaining the various nebulas and clusters. Charleville has a reputation for clear skies and it didn’t disappoint us. Unfortunately there were no planets in the sky at that time but we saw plenty of different star groups. We saw Capella that’s 47 light years away, the Great Orion Nebula that is 1600-1900 light years away, the Jewel Box that’s 7,700 light years away and Omega Centauri Global Cluster. This is the largest globular cluster in the Milky Way. It’s 17,000 light years away, contains up to 10 million stars and looks like shards of broken glass – quite strange. By the time we arrived back at the hotel at 10pm the bar was shut as was the rest of town (it was Sunday) so we retired for a well earned rest!
Monday dawned with clear blue skies. After a short stroll around the Charleville “CBD” we headed off for breakfast at one of the cafes that opened at 7:30. With some good coffee and a good breakfast we chatted away aimlessly until someone noticed it was almost 10am and we had to check out of the hotel. We caught a taxi out to the airport and loaded up once again. I preflighted the plane and submitted an IFR flight plan to Roma. A Rex plane arrived and parked at the terminal. MSF roared into life and taxied out to runway 13 and departed to the east, climbing to 9000ft. It was lovely and smooth up there, above the turbulence.
After 45 minutes it was time to descend again. It was a smooth touchdown in Roma and while refuelling we had a chat to Gavin the ARO who we’d met on the way out to Cunnamulla on Saturday. I think he must have been impressed that I’d told him we’d be back on Monday at midday and sure enough, there we were, right on time. I submitted a new IFR flight plan on the Ipad and after a bite to eat we all climbed aboard again and taxied out, took off and headed east again. For this leg I’d elected to fly at 7000 ft, knowing that we’d have to avoid the special Commonwealth Games Air Defence Identification Zone around the Gold Coast above 8500ft. Unfortunately it was a wee bit turbulent at 7000 so after putting up with the bumps for about 20 minutes I requested a climb to 9000 ft which ATC approved without delay. We’d have to descend before we reached the ADIZ anyway. Lovely and smooth yet again! We just so happened to have a band of cloud at that level which meant popping in and out of clouds as we went along.
There were a few bumps passing through them but it was fun to pass in and out. That’s what IFR is all about! Passing over Kingaroy the autopilot turned us gently for home and MSF was soon descending over Lake Somerset and Kilcoy for Redcliffe.
We were visual as we descended, picking some gaps between the few clouds in our way, allowing the air traffic controllers to focus on guiding more significant aircraft. It was a pretty normal join to the circuit at Redcliffe and a smooth touchdown. Home again from our “wild west” weekend.