Brotherhood of Memories

It’s my last day in Mudgee, a town where I lost one of my closest and dearest friends. In October 1989 Ross Spicer did not see the power lines strung across the field as he approached for a landing of his hot air balloon. With the envelope strung over the lines, basket close to the ground, Ross and his passengers jumped clear. Except for one woman leaning on the electricified gas tanks in the basket. Ross reached up to help her jump. His body took the current blowing his boots and gloves off his body. He died immediately. His female passenger died on the way to hospital.

Ross came into my life in 1984 ballooning in Canowindra together. He secured an interview with Toyoto for a sponsored balloon. He and I walked into the Marketing Manager’s office together. The first words we heard were “I am telling right now I am not interested in sponsoring a hot air balloon”. We walked out of there 65 minutes later with a signed sponsorship contract for a Hilux balloon. A few months later I moved to Calgary to fly balloons commercially. Ross took over piloting the Hilux balloon. He remains in my thoughts and heart as do other dearest ballooning friends who have left us.

The wind has dropped, blue skies show no sign of heavy clouds as the caravan drives out of Mudgee. Google Maps show a time to travel of 2hrs 34 minutes to the next stopover so the road rolls along in front till Gulgong appears in the distance. A very quaint old town with narrow streets and no obvious parking spots for the long caravan, plus utility. Almost out of town when a spot is available so a long walk back to play tourist, drink a coffee and capture a few images.

Further along the track it is time for a lunch break. The brilliant green of the willow tree stands amongst the dull smoky shades of the eucalyptus. I step down from the van to stand on scatterings of dry grass and broken sticks. Must check carefully for brown snakes I remind myself.

Slow drive through Wellington past their well developed park but again difficult to stop easily anywhere so foot to the accelerator and onto Molong stopping to interact with some Suffock sheep along the journey. There is little activity in Cudal so the vehicle continues onto Canowindra as the final stop for the day. Travel time nearly 5 hours.

It is said that many people remember their first love. I certainly remember my first balloon, VH-JUR (Tarma), and think back on her fondly of our first flight in Canowindra in 1977. The balloon rose from the early morning frost-covered ground at the local Showground in western New South Wales. At 0700hrs the balloon’s basket left the ground and climbed to 1050 feet tracking 235 degrees. In the distance, mist rose from the Bebubla River as the sun spread its wintry fingers across the patchwork of purple and yellow fields scattered across the landscape.

My younger son, Grant aged 7 years, his blond hair curling out from under his green safety helmet with his 9 year old brother Mark beside him, stood in the basket’s corner. My heart felt full as I watched my sons peering over the basket side, absorbed in the stillness of their first balloon flight. Both would go on to get their balloon pilot’s certificates as soon as they legally could at the age of 18. Mark represented Australia at the 1989 World Hot Air Ballooning Championship in Saga Japan.

Canowindra has played a huge part in my ballooning journey. For many years I flew almost every weekend taking my family and friends up in my various balloons to enjoy the world above, Canowindra below. My last Canowindra flight was over two years ago now but as I arrived in the township I felt like I had come home. And my lovely friends Adrian and Diane Cole insisted the van settle at their property. After dinner and drinks I really felt that I had come home.

What will tomorrow bring?