Day 14: Latrobe Valley, Australia

September 7, 2013 by Mike Collins

Latrobe Valley Aero Club sign

Welcome to the Latrobe Valley Aero Club.

So what do you do with your one day off at approximately the midpoint of a flight around the world? Of course: Laundry! Clean clothes will come in handy during the remainder of the journey. But going to the laundromat doesn’t make for an interesting blog post, and the photos weren’t particularly interesting, either.

On Friday evening George Morgan and his lovely wife, Marguerite, had introduced me to several members of the Latrobe Valley Aero Club during the organization’s weekly happy hour. They invited me back at noon Saturday for the club’s weekly barbecue. Who could resist the chance to see how a flying club socializes Down Under?

Lining up for sausages

Lining up for grilled sausages at the Latrobe Valley Aero Club’s barbecue.

This week's grillmaster

Club members take turns will grillmaster duties.

The club’s tradition is to grill sausages, which are wrapped in a slice of white bread and eaten with some barbecue sauce–and a cup of tea or coffee, as desired. We know from research that social interaction is very important to keeping new pilots active and engaged. Club members aren’t sure how long the Saturday barbecue tradition has been going on, but the club has about 100 members and four aircraft (three Cessna 172s and a light sport aircraft), and it’s been operating since 1949. Like most clubs, it’s operated by a cadre of volunteers, and this extends to the Saturday barbecues; a sign-up sheet on the wall inside dutifully tracks who will be grilling the sausages over the coming weeks.

Incorporated as a nonprofit organization, the club is licensed by  Australia’s Civil Aviation Authority as a flight school. It also provides some of what most of us would consider FBO functions at the airport, especially fuel sales; the club offers both 100LL avgas and Jet-A fuels. We know this because we purchased about 1,000 liters of Jet-A from the club when we arrived on Thursday.

Hanging around the airport

After lunch I hang around the airport for a while with several club members.

There’s a brisk, 17-knot breeze that club members feel was responsible for the lower-than-usual fly-in traffic for the barbecue; only an Archer, a Skyhawk, and a Cirrus arrive during my visit and I think the Skyhawk was on a training flight (and not necessarily in search of a $100 sausage). Several club members head out to the ramp after lunch, however, including the group above, trying to resolve some intermittent interference issues with the intercom in a member’s Van’s RV-12. I’m unable to add more than moral support to their efforts.

Caution: Koalas sign

I pass caution signs for koalas and kangaroos, but see none of either.

Fortified with a couple of sausages and some tea–and getting more comfortable with this whole driving on the left side of the road thing–I go exploring. The Latrobe Valley has a long and proud history of generating electricity, for Victoria and the rest of Australia. Here, what they call the open-cut mines are located in close proximity to the power plants themselves, eliminating the need to transport the coal long distances by rail or other means as typically is done in the United States. The morning’s beautiful weather is replaced by clouds and rain, so most of my exploring is through the rental car’s windshield. I do see several impressively large power-generating facilities. I also pass cautionary signs for both kangaroos and koalas, but I see none of either. I do see a rabbit, in addition to lots of cattle and sheep (and one herd of alpacas), and a plethora of large, black-and-white birds that look something like crows and make one heck of a squawking noise. I think they all live next to my motel.

Snake procedures sign

Snake procedures sign at the GippsAero factory.

Speaking of the local wildlife reminds me of a sign I saw yesterday in the GippsAero factory. When I was preparing for this trip, and mentioned I would be in Australia, one of my coworkers at AOPA told me that Australia was the only continent where every known poisonous snake could be found (I’m not going to mention any names, but Rebecca, you know who you are). George told me that a couple of snakes make their way into the factory each year, but usually only during the hottest days of summer.

Fortunately for me, here in Australia not only am I on the opposite side of the clock from my home in Maryland, but I’m also on the other side of the calendar. Late at night here is early morning at home, and while fall is rapidly approaching back home, here in southern Australia winter is turning into spring. Much of the foliage here is bright green; flowers are poking up in gardens and along the roads; and many flowering trees and shrubs are…flowering. I’m going to take solace in my hypothesis that any poisonous snakes are still hibernating.

And this one-day breather is coming to an end. Tomorrow afternoon we’re back in N50ET, heading up Australia’s eastern coast to Bundaberg.

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