True Bush Spirit

Date published

04 Mar 2016

They say a photo can replace one thousand words, this story is not that long, but it is one example of that 'true bush spirit'.

A country boy at heart, RFDS Mount Isa Line Pilot Geoff Cobden joined the RFDS three years after a long career as a QantasLink pilot.

Reflecting on the last three years, Geoff said it has been a wonderful privilege meeting and helping Queenslanders living in the remotest parts of Queensland as he recounted the story of a particularly challenging emergency retrieval that exemplified for him the "true bush spirit".

"It was late one night in November when we received the call from a station about a terrible accident, "Geoff recalled.
"In an emergency like this, the Doctor and Nurse pack the aircraft with appropriate medical equipment and stay in contact with the patient or caller, giving medical advice, while the Pilot focuses on the logistics.

"My first thought is always about the location of the nearest landing strip. Most of the time the property will have one, but sometimes I need to look at our map of suitable landing locations and see what will be the best option."

RFDS pilots have a network of around 1,100 regional and remote airstrips included in their flight manuals.

"Once I've found the closest runway, I'll give that station owner a call on their landline. In this case it was around 8pm and the station owner was relaxing after dinner, however I've called people at 2 am in the morning or right as they were sitting down for dinner and regardless of the time, their first question is always, 'how can we help?'."

Local knowledge of the land is what is most valuable to an RFDS pilot.

"Even though the runway might be listed as suitable, we may not have landed on that strip for over five years, so we need to know if it is still operational and if our details are correct.

Recent rain, or simply running behind in runway maintenance, could mean we need to find another option."

As a general rule, if a 4WD can drive down a runway comfortably at 80 kilometres an hour and it is at least 1000m in length, then an RFDS aircraft could land.

"When you call the station to ask for permission to land, that true bush spirit comes out, it is extraordinary. I have never been knocked back yet and usually the whole station will be on hand to help."

It is unlikely that a station runway would have lights, so improvisation is key.

"Some stations will have flares on hand, but if not, toilet paper rolls dipped in diesel work well and in this case, that is what we used."

"An hour after my first phone call to the station owner, we were coming in to land. Everyone was there to give us a hand. They even brought us a cup of coffee, and had vehicles ready to give us a ride to where we needed to be."

"A stockman's swag was laid out on the dirt below the aircraft tail so we could set up a makeshift emergency room without getting the medical equipment too dusty."

"Like every station, no request was too great and with their help we were airborne again in three hours, with the patient on board for a direct flight to Townsville."

Geoff, and all RFDS pilots are forever grateful for the station owners that answer their phone at all hours of the day and night, ready to help.

"I have been astounded by the level of support we get. I guess we are there to help the people of the bush as mush as they are there to help us and that is a great feeling."


The above story is just one example of how the RFDS is supported by an invisible army of volunteers.

We call these people our RFDS Local Heroes and we are telling the world how much they mean to us.

This month we are launching the ‪#‎RFDSLocalHero‬ awards to thank and acknowledge those people who work behind the scene to help keep the Flying Doctor flying.

Nominate an RFDS Local Hero today.