Commercial pilot Peter Sherlock started Big Blue Air Touring after a friend asked him to fly him around some outback properties. He realised the exciting experience was one not accessible to most people, and with 30 years within the Australian General Aviation industry and extensive contacts, the outback can be, and should be, enjoyed by everyone. They have eight Outback Explorer trips to choose from, and a most unusual element of them is that you can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner in three different states in the one day.
Rather than always land in a well-known towns, Big Blue goes to working properties where possible and passengers stay in shearer's quarters or stockmen's huts. They are very comfortable and clean, with hot water laid on. There's time to tour the properties, maybe help with daily tasks and at the end of the day enjoy a cold drink and Australian barbecue with the farmer and his family.
Big Blue Air Touring operates out of Moorabbin Airport in Victoria, but will collect passengers from any capital city. They fly Italian-designed PN68s, great little six-seater aircraft with high wing for clear viewing and twin engines giving a cruising speed of 140 knots. They are very comfortable, fully GPS equipped and approved for Instrument Flight rules meaning they can leave in almost any weather conditions. They can also land at airstrips where larger aircraft simply can't go.
Our adventure began in New South Wales at Kars Station, a 60,700 hectare sheep station 20 minutes from Broken Hill. Once much larger, a substantial part of the station was reclaimed by the Government as part of the post-WWII soldiers' resettlement scheme. It has been in the Hughes family for six generations and the homestead dates to the 1870s. There are other buildings from the late 1800s, one housing records, books, a gramophone and other bits and pieces from the past.
Fred Hughes has around 7000 unique Wiltipolls, sheep which don't need to be shorn. His mother introduced the breed to Australia. Over breakfast he talked about his 35km of fence and just what was involved in running a property of such magnitude.
Then it was time to fly interstate for lunch at Birdsville on the famous track. The ochre-coloured land stretches as far as the eye can see, and just looking at it whets the appetite for the famous seven-course Birdsville lunch six schooners of cold beer and a meat pie. (There are other choices if you prefer!)
Birdsville township at the northern end of the TRACK is lonely, isolated and almost magnetic to those wanting to go to the continent's most remote place.
It became important in the 1880s when drovers and station owners in western Queensland saw that moving cattle through the Channel country and down the Birdsville Track to the rail at Marree was the most efficient thing to do. By the late 1880s there were two hotels, three general stores, a doctor, bank and police presence in Birdsville.
These days the Birdsville Hotel is Australia's most legendary watering hole. Built in 1884 it has been witness to history being made, yarns being spun and the survival of Australian mateship. It epitomises the essence of the outback.
Next stop is the Mungerannie Hotel in South Australia. It is on the edge of the Sturt Stony, Simpson, Tirari and Strzelecki deserts and nestled beside the Derwent River. It is an oasis in sharp contrast to its surrounds and is the only stopover on the 528km Birdsville Track.
As you would expect, everyone is country-friendly and there is plenty of literature on the history of the track for browsing. The pool, which is fed from an artesian bore, is a great hit and offers cool or warm water, depending on your needs and whether the pipe is in or out of the pool. Very high-tech stuff out there!
Around 100 vehicles pass through each day and Birdsville families always get together to celebrate birthdays and the end of a muster.