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WHIRLY GIRL 530 

WHIRLY GIRL 530

From the first time Rosemarie saw a Fokker Friendship land in a remote outback town of northern Australia, she knew she was going to be a pilot. But before her dream could take flight, the Air Force rejected her because she was a woman, she suffered the horror of miscarrying her third child in a shower (alone in the remote outback of Australia) and she was cut off from the outside world during a rainy season in the tropics with stink beetles eating her only meat supply.

She has won several heroism awards, flown movie stars, gold prospectors, and even the Aga Khan. She's lived in remote parts of the world where she had to share her bed with cockroaches and rats. She's survived a back-breaking journey across thousands of miles with her two young daughters, fought against discrimination, abuse, dust storms and cyclones, to become one of the most respected pilots in history.

Her story takes you on the ride of your life – so fasten your seatbelts and be prepared to be whisked to the heights of adventure, hardship – and triumph!

Today Rosemarie McRae lives on a golf course on the Gold Coast of Australia with her partner, Hugh. Her daughters (a computer programmer and a PHD student in Bio Molecular Science respectively) both live in Brisbane. Rosemarie is a member of the professional international body of Lady helicopter pilots known as “The Whirly Girls”. Her membership number is five hundred and thirty. She is also a member of The Ninety Nines, which is the international body of Lady airplane pilots.

“She’s Indiana Jones meets Amelia Earhart in real life!”

 

In Store Price: $AU25.95
Online Price:   $AU24.95

ISBN: 1-9210-0502-5
Format: A5 Paperback
Number of pages: 348
Genre: Non Fiction

 

 

Author: Rosemarie McRae 
Imprint: Zeus
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2004
Language: English

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AN EXTRACT FROM ‘ONE MAN’S DREAM’ BY BILL RICHARDS.  THE FIRST SOLO CIRCUMNAVIGATION OF AUSTRALIA BY HELICOPTER.

‘Off we went again, to Thursday Island this time.  “Reef Helicopters this is Alpha Hotel Sierra, can you guide us to your Helipad?” 

Surprise, surprise a female voice guided us in and was there to greet us after we landed.  Rose McRae, who was the Chief Pilot for Reef Helicopters, directed us to our landing spot, then took us to the Jardine Hotel where we had made arrangements to stay.

That evening as we dined with Rose she described some of the work that she was involved in.  Search and rescue, medivac, doctor delivery to the islands, ferrying pilots to and from the ships of the Torres Straits.

This was sometimes a very difficult job and one which she and her team handled very well.  Recently, she had been awarded a medal for bravery after she rescued some natives from a wild sea in extremely dangerous conditions.  Apparently they were in a ‘tinny’ when the engine broke down. She pushed them onto some rocks with the down draft from her helicopter, then picked them up from off the rocks.  What a gutsy woman, I doubt if I would have attempted that.

The next day we flew around the inner islands in the Robinson, then in the afternoon, Rose took us along for the ride when she ferried the doctor between some of the outer islands.  She was an excellent pilot - I was very impressed, smooth flying with a couple of very smooth landings on the edge of some small villages.’ 

While I was talking with Bill only the other day, he reminded me of how I told him the story of the body passing wind while I was transporting it back to Thursday Island. 

It really did demonstrate to me just some of the truly bizarre things that have occurred in my life.  

   

WINGS OF THEIR OWN’  

 

‘WINGS OF THEIR OWN’ is a cinematic film which has been released in New York featuring some of our best female pilots throughout the world.  I have had the honour of being featured in this film. To find out more information on this fabulous tribute to women in aviation, go to the web site wings@makebelievetv.com

    

Introduction

  

I have only ever refused to do one thing in my life.  There was absolutely no way I was going to relieve myself on a forty-four gallon drum cut in half and positioned in the middle of a paddock for all to see, with the full force of a Northern Territory summer sun burning down onto it.

“Thanks, but I’ll take the bushes,” I quipped.  “You guys can go to the right, I’ll take the left.”

The men from a mining survey camp set this device up when they learned that a female pilot was arriving.  They very thoughtfully designed this somewhat innovative ‘latrine’, failing to take into consideration any requirement for privacy.  At least they did have the foresight to realize that women function differently from men, so I guess I should have been graciously grateful for small mercies.  And given the tumultuous path my life had taken leading me to that forty-four gallon drum latrine, it may cause some wonder that I baulked at the situation at all.  But privacy issues aside, sitting on a drum under the ferocious Northern Territory sun would bring tears to the eyes and offend the olfactory senses of the most hardened and war-weary veteran.

As you read on you will learn that the episode with the forty-four gallon drum was an infinitesimal example of the insanity that has been my life, a life that has been driven by the desire to take flight.  So strong was this desire that at times it drove me to a form of dyslexia.  For example, I once purchased a helicopter landing pontoon that was anchored on John Brewer Reef.  The reef was situated fifty nautical miles out to sea off the coast of Townsville in north Queensland.  There was only one problem; at the time I did not have a helicopter to land on the pontoon.   For me, however, not having the helicopter was a minor detail.  Who wanted to do things ‘by the numbers’ anyway?  I have never had the time nor the inclination to be ‘normal’.  I broke out of the box that society tried to put me in, and I’m proud of it. 

I hope that everyone who has a dream will understand as they read this book that it is possible for your dream to ‘take flight’.  Refuse, as I did, to be subject to the myopia of people who are full of stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.  But if you do dare to be different you must be aware.  When you step outside of the box you are expected to sit in there will always be someone who wants to put you back in.  Don’t let them.  Nothing is impossible if you refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer.

In writing this book I realize I have reached the end of an era that has swept me across nearly twenty-five years of flying helicopters, and to a lesser extent light aircraft.  I have flown throughout Australia and parts of New Guinea, much of this work being done in the most remote and dangerous areas of these wild and beautiful countries.  Included in my flying assignments I have transferred ship pilots on and off ships of all sizes and types, built power lines, strung power lines, built and dismantled lighthouses, made movies, and shot my own still photos and videos.  I have flown the leaders of countries, movie stars, and racing car drivers.  In the survey missions I’ve flown, I have ferried many geologists in the hunt for gold, diamonds, tin and many other precious elements.  I have towed banners behind small piston engine helicopters, mustered cattle and horses, and I’ve been an aerial digital radio concentrator survey pilot for Telecom.  But perhaps the most dangerous, rewarding, frustrating, annoying, and exciting work has been my search and rescue missions in both single and twin-engine turbine helicopters. 

I feel I have been blessed, for I have witnessed the incredible, the extraordinary, the beautiful, the ugly and the historically amazing, while being paid for the privilege. 

One of the boarding grounds (a pre-arranged destination in the middle of the ocean) I stopped at for a ship’s pilot to transfer was off Booby Island.  This was a truly remarkable place in the Arafura Sea, thirty miles off the top of Australia. It was basically a huge big rock with a lighthouse and three homes on it.  It was also the site of the second official Australian Post Office.  While I was flying in this region I found myself working in an array of activities so diverse it would challenge the imagination.  These ranged from catching chickens, to medivac rescues, to abseiling, to looking for shipwrecked sailors – all of which you will learn about as you read on.

Even though I was only doing my job, The Australian Maritime Safety Authority saw fit to reward me for my rescue work with a heroism award for bravery in saving lives at sea.  After the pride I have for my two daughters, this was perhaps the proudest moment of my life.  (Please see Appendix 1)

After spending many years working out of far north Queensland, and touring Thursday Island in the Torres Straits, I felt it was time for me to head back to civilization.  It was in the beginning of 1993 when I stopped touring, and returned to Townsville where I had a home, my children, and from where I had started my first company in the April of 1986.  Townsville was also where my two daughters and I gained our divers’ certificates together.  There were so many very special memories for my daughters and I in Townsville, enriched by the fabulous fabric of other lives who intertwined with our own; people you will meet within these pages.

1993, the very mention of it resonates with exhaustion for me.  The many years of extensive flying, running my own helicopter company, and bringing up a family by myself had taken their toll, yet I still decided to open and operate a new company.  By that point in my life flying was all I knew, so it should have been a relatively simply matter to get a new business going.  If only! 

It seemed like nothing I undertook ever came easily; but through all of the trials and tribulations some of the best of adventures and personal rewards have been born.  I have to confess, I could have made things a little easier for myself by not accepting an offer to do casual work on the rescue Bell 412 (a twin engine helicopter) and going for my endorsement to become a captain at the same time.  But I was “Rosemarie ‘never say die’ McRae” and telling me it couldn’t be done only made me more determined to prove that it could.  I employed a pilot to fly my helicopter, freeing some of my time to do the Bell 412 flying and take care of my company. 

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I hadn’t left a nanoo-second in my life for me to just be me.  I had been traveling to some of the most breathtakingly stunning resorts and islands in the world, yet I’d never been able to stop and appreciate them.  The penny was beginning to drop.  What a fool I’d been to arrogantly take for granted and carelessly disregard the devastating beauty and endless pleasures that were there for me to savor if only I would avail myself of the opportunity. 

From the time I started flying in the beginning of 1980, I hadn’t stopped.  With two children to support by myself, I opted for one of the hardest career paths a woman could ever have.  Why?  Was I stupid?  Was I selfish?  I would like to think the answer was no to both those questions.  Regardless, my dream was to fly.  From the very first time I imagined myself in the air I thought, “Wow, this is what I want.  This is who I am.”  And from the moment I first took to the skies in reality, I knew I was right.  My dreams had taken me to places beyond imagination, yet the reality surpassed even that spectacle.  I’ve faced trials and horrors that I wouldn’t wish on the vilest villain, but the dreadfulness of these experiences only served to ultimately enhance my appreciation of sublime.

I have been faced with such a wide range of moral, physical and emotional dilemmas, I have probably lost track of many of them.  Happily some were more easily solved than others.  One such time was when I was considering a career move.  A friend, Kerry Slingsby (who owned his own helicopter and airplane charter company in Kunnunnurra, Western Australia) rang and asked if I wanted to cross hire my helicopter to him to be based at a tourist resort called El Questro in a wild, beautiful and remote part of Western Australia.  I didn’t have to stop and think about it for an instant.  I knew the guys over in the West were a great bunch of people who would look after my helicopter extremely well.  I immediately said yes. 

A one hundred hourly maintenance check was carried out, even though it was not quite due at the time, and I organized for one of Kerry’s pilots to come and ferry my helicopter back to the West.  The plan was to use it in a tourist operation.  It sounded simple enough.  Everything always sounded simple enough … until, during the maintenance check, one of the engineers discovered a crack in the housing for the drive shaft out of the transmission.  Following this discovery I was given a range of advice as to what needed doing and when.  I decided it would be prudent to call Kerry (who had his own licensed engineering workshop capable of overhauling the transmission) to ask his opinion.  From where Kerry sat all those thousands of miles away, he was unable to give me a definitive answer, so I suggested he send one of his own engineers over with the pilot to assess what needed to be done. 

Kerry’s engineer inspected all the logbooks, the transmission and the offending part, and deemed the machine both safe and serviceable.  If only that had been an end of it, but no, one of the local engineers disagreed, saying it would likely kill someone if it was released in its current condition.  This was becoming plain annoying!

It was the weekend when the final inspection was completed and logbooks signed off.  The machine was wheeled out of the hangar and the pilot told to head west.  On the following Monday all hell broke loose.

The local engineer who’d made all of the objections nearly exploded when he discovered the helicopter had gone.  He rang me, abused me, and informed me in no uncertain terms that I was going to kill people.  Following this tirade, be promptly called the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and told them I had illegally sent off my helicopter.  My next call was from CASA.  I explained the whole story to them and they seemed quite happy about it, just asking to see the logbooks to confirm my version of events.  I wouldn’t have had any objection to that except for one thing - they were with the engineer on the way to Western Australia.

When the machine finally arrived in the west, there was a CASA airworthiness representative waiting.  All the inspections were carried out all over again and thankfully everything was deemed to be in order.  None of which satisfied the engineer in Townsville.  At every opportunity presented to him, he would tell me I was going to kill someone one day.  I am delighted to say I can now rebut that claim with supreme confidence.

With that all out of the way, my life was beginning to look fairly straightforward – it was just me and my work on the Bell 412.  It was perfect … until the authorities changed the rules cutting out the need for co-pilots.  Why did these things always happen just as I thought I was getting on top?  It was exasperating, and it also left me in a very insecure position.  But I’d been in worse – much worse. 

Just as I was starting to think about what to do next, I received a call from the company in the west wanting to know if I would sell my helicopter to them.  My response was immediate and in the affirmative.  That gave me cash flow, which was great, but no active duty, which was not so great.  However I have come to trust in fate on occasion.  Incredibly, on the very same day, I was contacted by a Gold Coast company offering me a position as line pilot.  I didn’t need to think about that for long!  I was packed and on the Gold Coast within two weeks.  Had I tried to come up with a solution I know I would never have dreamed up such a wonderful result. 

Very early on in my flying career I had spent about fourteen months on the Coast, but it was so long and so many flying miles ago that it barely seemed like it had happened in this lifetime.  This time I was coming from such a totally different environment that the Coast became new and exciting for me.  In fact it was more than that – it was like being whisked away from the dark, dank, desperation associated with life on the remote islands and villages in the Torres Straits and New Guinea (where sometimes there was no food or water, where I would often have to remain in the same clothes for days, and where there was no real backup or support) to entering the shining light of a world where I could go to work each day in a safe and clean environment.  It was a real culture shock, but a very pleasant one.  You will read later about the harsh reality of life in parts of our planet that many in the world would never have heard of.

On the Coast I no longer had to rise at 3.30am in order to be in the air by first light, nor was I likely to head off for work knowing I may not return until three days later.  I have to say at this point how blessed I have been for having the wonderful mother that I do.  I could not have lived the life I have if not for her.  Mum was always there for me, and for my girls.  When my work had taken me out to the back of beyond for days on end, I was always able to count on mum to look after my daughters.  It had been tough on all of us, very tough on many different levels, but at last that part of my life was going to be put behind me.  Finally I knew I would never again have to chase rats (the four-legged, furry variety anyway) or cockroaches out of my bed.  The vile vermin that venerated my boudoir were destined to become a distant memory of another time and place.  

When I first arrived on the Coast both my daughters were in University. One was studying computer sciences, and the other biochemistry. I rented for about four months before buying a three-bedroom townhouse.  I was enjoying my job, and I loved the townhouse, yet it took me three years to unpack!  I just couldn’t get rid of the feeling that I had to be ready to move out at a moment’s notice.  After being so mobile for so long, to actually contemplate settling down was an enormous step for me.  It became something of a standing joke among my friends.  Whenever I invited people over the invitation was always accompanied with ‘BYO chairs’.  So how did this all begin?

  

Chapter One

  

When I was sixteen I wrote to the Air Force and applied to become a fighter pilot.  I quickly received a letter of rejection, explaining that I was a female and the Air Force did not take female pilots.  Happily in these enlightened times those rules have changed, although much of the old discrimination still lurks in the shadows waiting to pounce on the unwary.

The beginning for me was at Nambour, a sleepy little town on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Australia.  This is where I was born, and I’m very proud of it.  I lived with my parents and two brothers on a sugarcane farm at Woombye, where the ‘Big Pineapple’ is now located.   Of course when I was growing up, the Big Pineapple didn’t exist.  The only things that were ‘big’ in Nambour back then were the spiders and various other tropical insects that laid claim to the land before humans ever set foot in the place.  The whole area was comprised of sugarcane farms as far as the eye could see.  It was rough and ready, but unashamedly beautiful in its raw honesty.

I was the youngest, and only girl, which made me the apple of my father’s eye.  On our farm at Woombye we kept some ‘house cows’.  These were milked each day for our milk, butter, and other dairy needs.  I still remember mum churning the fresh butter and cream that went onto her freshly baked scones.  The thought of the aroma makes my mouth water to this day.  I was too young to do the milking myself, but I would always be hanging around when the milking was done so that I could scrounge a drink of fresh milk.  And I do mean fresh - straight from the cow.  My brothers would squirt the milk directly into my mouth, and I loved it.  For me life didn’t get any better than this, until one day one of the cows started to chase me. 

I yelled and screamed at the top of my little lungs.  Dad heard the commotion, but he couldn’t reach me before the cow had fixed me between her horns and pegged me to the side of a fence.  The look of rage in my father’s eyes almost made me sorry for what was inevitably going to happen to that cow, that is had I not been primarily concerned with my own survival.  Dad was still holding the shovel he’d been using, and that poor cow wore it over her head until it was broken.  As I am now a parent myself, I understand consideration for the cow never factored into my father’s thinking – any parent would walk barefoot over broken glass to help a child in need.

There were, of course, also numerous poisonous snakes slithering around the outback of tropical Queensland.  I believe there are four thousand species of snakes in the world.  Three thousand of those are harmless to humans.  Out of the one thousand remaining species only something like twenty-three varieties are deadly to humans … eighteen of those species live in Australia … and they call us ‘The Lucky Country!’.  It was inevitable that sooner or later I would come across one of these reptiles, and it happened when I was walking up the back steps.  I trod on it!  The snake had its head under a Hessian bag, so when I first saw it I thought it was just a stick.  Of course once I trod on it, it moved – funny about that!  I looked down not wanting to imagine what might be wriggling underfoot, to see this snake’s head shooting out from under the bag.  With growing horror I then realized the rest of its body was coming out from under my foot. 

“Snake,” I screamed at a decibel I wouldn’t have thought was within my range.  “Snake, snake,” I continued to blubber as I tore up the back steps as fast as my young legs could carry me. 

Every child of the outback is made aware of the venomous creatures who shared our land, almost before we were able to talk, so there was no doubt in my mind that I was in mortal danger.  One of our dogs had been killed by a snake not long before this, so I wasn’t going to let any grass grow under my feet while waiting to determine if this reptile was one of the poisonous variety or not. 

I almost crashed into mum, who was on her way down the steps with a broom to beat off the unwelcome beastie.  But the snake was way too fast for us.  As terrified as I was, the poor snake was in all likelihood even more shocked from all the commotion I’d created.  Without knowing exactly where the snake went, I was very wary opening cupboards and drawers for a long time after that.  But that was all part of life in the outback.

The Sunshine Coast was also home to my favorite shop in the whole wide world: the Noddy shop.  Mum and dad would often take us down to the beach at Maroochydore (where the shop was located).  Routinely I would go missing.  Of course mum and dad always knew where to find me.  They knew the beach wasn’t what I was interested in.  It was my Noddy shop.  It became something of a ritual for them to find me sitting on the floor in this shop, reading.  I loved those characters so much.  There was Mr Plod, in his beautiful little royal blue uniform, and Noddy in his wonderful red and blue outfit with a bell on his cap.  Noddy’s little yellow and red car was an absolute dream.

“How wonderful it would be if I could drive a car like that one day,” I sighed to myself. (My next car is going to be a yellow VW convertible with a black soft top. Really!)

But to top it all off, Noddy had one of his adventures in an aeroplane.

“An aeroplane,” I gasped.  “What if one day I could fly an aeroplane like Noddy’s?  How good would that be?” What more could a child ask for, but to be transported in a world of fantastic fantasy adventures in cool cars and exciting planes.  Everything about Noddy was an adventure.  They were always saving someone and always being the hero.  That’s what I wanted to be.  I spent hours sitting on the floor of my Noddy shop, totally absorbed in and involved with all of Noddy’s adventures.

I was the only girl in amongst about eight boys in the neighborhood.  We often roamed around the district going to each other’s farms.  We built Billy carts, cubby houses, and canoes made out of corrugated iron (which of course sank on every maiden launch).  I managed to get my brothers into terrible trouble with my dad due to one of the Billy carts we’d made.  I can see it as clearly as if it were yesterday.  They had just built a brand new cart and were having the official launch from the top of the hill just near our house.  I wanted to be in on the action, so I told them I would help by pushing the cart down the hill from the starting grid (to get them going).  They said no. 

In hindsight, why would anyone push anything downhill?  But do you think I took any notice of my brothers?  Of course not!  As soon as they hopped into the cart I attached myself to the back and started pushing.  I only took a few steps off the starting grid when I fell flat on my face.  Needless to say, my legs couldn’t keep up with a Billy cart going down hill.  I picked myself up and started crying.  Bits of skin and hair were missing all over me.  When dad saw the state I was in, he was furious.  The next thing I knew was my two brothers were the ones with the skin and hair missing for hurting daddy’s little girl.  Perhaps it was at this point I started to learn how to get along in a man’s world?

It was a wonderful environment for a child to grow up in.  We would never go hungry while roaming around the bush.  There were plenty of wild fruits to pick including pineapples, sugarcane, guavas, custard apples, gooseberries, mulberries and a whole range of other magnificent tropical delicacies.  Already I was beginning to learn survival techniques, and I didn’t even realize it.

My first contact with an airplane came when I was six.  We had moved to a place in central Queensland called Barcaldine.  In a small country town such as this, there wasn’t a great deal of nightlife (although the town did have the reputation for having the greatest number of pubs in one street for a town of its size).  The main source of entertainment was for everyone to gather at the railway station once a week waiting for the train from Brisbane to come in.  We would all stand around with nerve-tingling anticipation, expectantly gazing along the tracks prior to the arrival of the huge steel beast.  The next excitement was, of course, to see who got off … and who got on.  Were these people newcomers or locals?

With that basic level of entertainment you can begin to imagine how the energy levels raised to fever pitch when news came through that an airplane was going to be landing at Barcaldine.  Better yet, the town was going to be getting a regular scheduled service.  This was big news indeed.  We were even going to be allowed inside this unnatural bird when it landed.  Naturally the whole town turned out.  It was absolutely amazing to see all of these people giving up their Sunday afternoon to drive out to a dusty old airstrip just to see an airplane land.

I remember hearing an announcement over a loud speaker that the airplane would be landing very soon.  Even though I was so young, I could still feel the excitement being generated by the townspeople.  I didn’t really know what airplanes were all about, but I can still remember how I felt when I saw it land and taxi up to the waiting crowd.  It was big, shiny and loud.  I was so impressed.  This was much more impressive than a train.

After the engines were shut down, steps were placed at the door for us all to walk up.  We were asked to form a line and then in an orderly manner, invited to come and have a look through this extraordinary machine.  The airhostesses (as they were known back then) were on hand to answer questions and point out the features of this Fokker Friendship.  When I finally made my way to the front, there, standing in the cockpit door, were two pilots in uniform.  My little eyes popped out on proverbial stalks.  They looked like they could rule the world.

I peered inside the cockpit and was awestruck by all of the controls, instruments, and gauges.  All of this technology, and those two dashing pilots, made me feel as though I’d just entered a rocket ship on its way to Mars.  It was one big marvel, a huge wonderment for a little girl who couldn’t spell ‘airplane’ at the time.  I took those impressions away with me that hot and dusty day at the Barcaldine airstrip, knowing what I was going to do when I grew up.

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