Some years ago when I was a young real estate agent in Sydney I met a man who wanted to sell one of his rural properties in southern New South Wales at Batesmans Bay.
It was a huge acreage and he wanted me and my boss to see it personally in order to prepare the marketing campaign, so he offered to fly us there in his own private plane.
He owned several grazing properties then in New South Wales and Queensland; over a million acres I believe. He had fought in WW2 in the Pacific as a fighter pilot and after the war he flew everywhere in his own Cessna.
The day we flew to his property we took off from Sydney airport early one morning. Just four of us including his daughter who was then about eighteen years old – she sat next to me in the rear seats behind my boss and our client.
When we arrived over the rural property he flew several times around the boundaries to show us the place from the air. Then he said “I am going to land now ok.”
The land below was made up of low hills and gum trees with only a few paddocks of grass where cattle and kangaroos were grazing, and I could not see anywhere to land the plane at all.
But suddenly he descended in a low swoop; like something a fighter pilot would have done in those old bi-planes in 1917 and I closed my eyes momentarily as we raced down towards the earth where we would certainly crash and die.
About one hundred metres above the ground he pulled on the flaps and the aircraft almost stalled in flight as it became horizontal again and we landed on the side of a hill going upwards on the slope in a tiny clearing of grass. And then when we had almost stopped he turned the plane around to face down the same hill and quickly jumped out of the cabin with a couple of chocks and stuck them under the wheels!
His daughter who was sitting next to me hadn’t blinked an eye but my boss and I were both as pale as sheets.
So off we went after our client had taken some stores out the plane and he then made a fire by a billabong and cooked us a lunch of steaks with tea brewed in a billy can!
A few years later when I was living in Spain I was very sad to learn through a friend that he and his wife had been killed in an airplane crash. Apparently they had been to visit some country friends with their daughter (who had flown alongside them but in her own plane).
Just before returning to Sydney their daughter noted that her aircraft engine was leaking some oil, so her father and mother asked her to use their plane instead, and she took their Cessna home whilst they took off in hers.
I once told this story to my mother Brownie Downing by pure chance and she replied “Just after the war ended I went out with him when I was a military nurse based in Sydney – he was one of our Aussie heroes then and the bravest and most handsome man I ever met”.
She then turned her back on me and I know she cried for him.