Outback Flight (The Great) with Dick Lang: Ron journeys the Outback region of South Australia
"Travel lighter - fly longer" that's our motto as we weigh-in for a bush odyssey with pilot Dick Lang.
Soon, our Piper Chieftain is cutting its way through the clouds over wheat and barley crops and beyond. From up here we take it all in but it's Dick, who brings us down to earth with tales of the settlers who tragically pushed beyond Goyder's Line believing the rain would follow the plough.
"(They thought) If you dragged the ground and ploughed the ground you would release a 'magic gas' that went into the air and made rainfall," explained Dick. "So they came out here and they ploughed and ploughed and ploughed and they turned the whole of this country into a dustbowl."
Over fields of broken dreams, we push on to an icon of the State's interior - the majestic Flinders Ranges. Dick tells the Adnyamathanha Dreaming story of the two serpents that coiled head to head to create Wilpena Pound.
"At the gap in Wilpena Pound they open their mouths and that's the water that's coming out of Wilpena Creek."
In just two hours we've flown over the patchwork quilt of cereal crops that is the mid-north, the russet reds and browns of the Flinders Ranges. After a refuelling stop and a cuppa at Leigh Creek it's back into the plane and a flight over the Gammon Ranges and Arkaroola. Dick points out a spectacular mountain range below.
"That formation is called The Armchair. It contains a very high concentration of uranium," said Dick. In Paris in the 1920s, Madame Currie experimented with uranium from here. Her work paved the way for radiation therapy for cancer sufferers. But the gift from the Northern Flinders has been a two-edged sword.
"The uranium from here was used to build the bombs in the Los Alamos Project," said Dick.
In the distance we can see Mount McKinlay, named after the South Australian explorer sent out to find Burke and Wills. For Dick Lang, tourism trail blazer and one of the first to bring four wheel drive tours onto the ridgetops of the Gammon Ranges, the epic tales of those who first ventured out here are part of the outback's romantic appeal.
Not that there was anything romantic about the near-death experiences of men like Edward John Eyre, who tried to push north through the salt lakes of South Australia.
"It was at about this point that the explorer was confronted by what he thought was a horseshoe of lakes at the top end of the Flinders Ranges. He was utterly desolate - in fact, he referred to one of the high points here as Mount Hopeless."
We cruise at nearly 200 knots over country that took Edward John Eyre weeks to cover. Soon, we land on a dirt runway at a spot pivotal to another great exploration saga - the Burke and Wills Dig Tree.
A short walk from the airstrip at Nappa Merie in outback Queensland is the Dig Tree on the banks of the Cooper. It was here that the ill-fated party of Burke, Wills and King stopped to regroup on the return leg of their epic trip across the continent. They'd made it to the Gulf of Carpentaria battling hunger, thirst and fatigue for months.
On the very day they got back to this camp, Camp 65, the party instructed to remain behind had left. It's surely one of the cruellest ironies of Australian exploration and one, which ended in tragedy.
That was in 1861 and a little more than a century later Dick Lang would get here by Land Rover. "It was like a pilgrimage," said Dick. "I came here, looked at the tree and had an overwhelming sense of history because I saw the word "dig".
The buried provisions would keep the emaciated party alive for several days but ultimately they couldn't save Burke and Wills.
"It would have to be the most famous tree in Australia," said Dick. "It tells an incredible story of a lack of communication."
Late in the day we come to Burke's final resting-place on the Cooper. Today it's like an oasis with the corellas seemingly intent on mocking the very notion that anyone could perish out here. Water wasn't the problem for Burke and Wills - they were simply done in.
For passenger Michael Bellen and the rest of us, the Burke and Wills tragedy provides a solemn end to a long day.
"It seems to be another one of Australia's tragic experiences," said Michael. "It reminded me of Gallipoli in the sense that we've attached ourselves to kind of heroic tragedies."
On day two on our air safari we push on into the Queensland Channel Country. Dick has told us something special lies ahead but nothing can prepare us for what's laid out on the ground before us - thousands of rivers and creeks fanning out like capillaries into the desert. The legendary cattleman, Sydney Kidman knew the potential of country like this and like a true visionary he sought to capitalise on this miracle of nature.
Kidman purchased a network of stations along the channel country and into South Australia allowing him to both fatten and transport his stock. Vast volumes of water from further north combine with the flat land to create an expanse of country vital to the beef industry.
"The next time it floods those six channels become a hundred channels," said Dick. "Then the next time they become ten thousand channels."
Another short hop from Windorah to Longreach and we've reached the furthest point on our air safari - the Australian Stockmans' Hall of Fame. People get here by various means and they come dressed for the occasion. Big blokes come in hats and little blokes too and they all come for a greater appreciation of the outback.
Guide Wendy Tabrett showed us a huge wagon proudly displaying the name Darva Singh.
"He was an Afghani trader," explained Wendy. "He travelled all over Australia but mainly northern New South Wales selling his wares."
Darva Singh was a hawker bringing essentials and the little luxuries from the cities to the bush. His story and those of the stockmen are told here at the Hall of Fame. Many tales relate to country we've just flown over - places like Maree at the end of the Birdsville Track. It was the railhead from which cattle would be transported to Adelaide. By 1910 there were 15-hundred camels working out of the town.
Day three and we're flying over tracks once beaten down by the hooves of those camel teams. Soon we land at Birdsville and in its famous pub we find reminders of the stockmen who've come through here. Among the hats displayed on the walls is an old pilot's hat. It belongs to the bloke who brought us here - Dick Lang. An ex teacher, ex roo shooter and tourism pioneer.
"I was lucky the slate was clean for tourism back in the 1960s," said Dick. "Not the harsh licensing. The outback was free and you could do what you wanted as long as you were safe and careful. So it was a wonderful start."
It was a start with no immediate end in sight as Dick has many more trips planned.
In three days we've covered about three thousand kilometres as the crow flies, we've visited some of the remotest parts of Australia, taken off and landed eight times and collected countless memories. If you have any further questions please email email@example.com
For your ticket on board "The Great Outback Flight" contact Dick Lang on 8264 7200.
"The Great Outback Flight".
3 day accommodated flight.
From $1,699 per person.
Contact Dick Lang on 61 (0)8 8264 7200
Published 20th August 2006