OUTBACK EDUCATION IN THE ‘NOT TOO DISTANT’ PASTWarburton Ranges (WA) in 1970 (9)

On one occasion in 1970, a twin engine plane, from memory a twin engine Cessna 412, flew into Warburton. The airstrip, in those days a smoothed out dirt strip that was periodically maintained, was just east of the settlement. Fuel for planes was ferried down on a needs basis on the back of a utility or truck, and then hand pumped into plane fuel tanks by pumping from 44 gallon (120 litre) drums containing aviation fuel.

Fuel was kept under survelliance as much as possible because of substance abuse issues and also cost per drum to freight the fuel (usually on the Atkinson). On this occasion, the pilot and passengers after landing, did not leave the plane and walk up to the community, a distance of several hundred metres. Rather, the election was to taxi the plane off the strip, up an incline (not the steepest but quite apparent), coming as close as could be manoeuvred to the settlement buildings.

It turned out that the passengers were members of a ballet company on the way from Perth to Alice Springs. They were attired in a way that revealed their individuality as persons connected with the expressive arts profession. The locals were amazed, indeed gobsmacked by the revelations of these personages as they alighted from the plane. Their dress and gait held special appeal. The local young men could not match these visitors for dress, but they took them off perfectly for the way in which they deported themselves while out of the plane and on the ground. The mimicking was accurate and entertaining. It lasted for a long time after the plane was returned to the airstrip, fuelled and had taken off to continue its journey.

Warburton in 1970 was a quite isolated place. But we could always expect the unexpected and visitors turning up out of the blue was part of what made the unexpected a part of community life.

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