In the Shed: Skippers Metro Ravensthorpe - Perth

"You could fly down," my sister said when she invited me for Christmas. So fly down I did and the time spent with family was enjoyable. In the first part of this two-part series, I described the flight down and a day in the Fitzgerald River National Park. In this report I cover the New Year festivities and the return flight to Perth.

Christmas Day was spent at my niece's house. We ate outside before assembling a trampolin for the kids. Then we retired to the Shed for a beer or two, passing the time playing darts and pool. Later we raised a glass of gin and tonic to a newly found sister in England.

The next day we were on the road again, this time to see how the building of a new bridge across the Phillips River was coming along. The old bridge had been knocked out by a flood during a rain event last February. The force of the water lifted the bridge and deposited it 80m downstream. Further back another bridge was also taken out, trapping some motorists between the two. They had to be lifted out by helicopter and ferried to the oval in Ravensthorpe.

Its hard to imagine how much water came down the river when you see how little remains. Before the flood, the river floor was much narrower and rocky. Today you can see how much vegetation was washed away and how tons of soil was dumped from upstream. The sand was criss-crossed with tracks made by kangaroos, monitors, snakes and rabbits.

We drove through what was left of the river and followed the trail to John Dunn's grave. It was the Dunn brothers who were the first white settlers in this part of the State, taking up land at Cocanarup. John Dunn was speared by a local Noongar man following allegations that he had raped a 13 year old girl. A party of whites subsequently ambushed and killed about 30 Noongars, men and women. Today there is a memorial to those events at Kukenarup, just off the highway about 15km west of Ravensthorpe.

Each New Year's Eve Esperance hosts a festival and fireworks display. We jumped in the Cruiser once more for the two hour drive. Along the way we took care to avoid the kangaroos jumping over stray cattle.

In Summer, Esperance is a popular holiday destination and parking can be a problem. Unless you drive the right kind of vehicle.

We parked up and headed for the foreshore. Overhead, a Tiger Moth did a couple of circuits but I wasn't quick enough with the camera. In the park next to the Museum, tents and marquees had been set up with local vendors promoting their wares. On stage, speeches were made and rock bands entertained the crowd. A humorous sign on the Museum wall recalled when SkyLab came crashing down to Earth and the Shire issued a litter infringement notice. NASA paid in full.

We found ourselves ringside seats overlooking the harbour. It was a bit cold as a fresh wind swept in from the Southern Ocean and we were happy to have brought warm coats. But the discomfort was forgotten once the sky lit up. I hear on the bush telegraph that they do something similar in Sydney.

Another day, another drive. We headed out to Mason's bay with its wide sandy beaches, protected by a rocky bar. No one else was around but we did come across a 1.8 metre Western Brown snake as we approached. Later, we drove along Southern Ocean Drive to a point where the road is still inundated following last February's rain. The sheer amount was more than the Jerdacuttup Lakes could handle but the water level is slowly going down.

Further along the coast is a popular camping spot. Starvation Boat Harbour, locally known as Starvo, offers anglers great opportunities for casting a line. But you do need a recreational fishing licence and there are bag and size limits and gear use rules.

The day before the return flight, there was a sky show of a different kind. The moon appeared low in the sky, about twice its usual size. It was orange in colour and the first of two full moons expected in January.

The time had come to leave Ravy and head back home so we drove out to another Shed - Ravensthorpe Airport. Originally built to meet the needs of BHP Billeton's nickel mine, the airport is located about 35km out of town, closer to Hopetoun, where many of the workforce would live. Today, the airport mainly serves the needs of Galaxy's spodumene project at Mt Cattlin, two kilometres north of Ravensthorpe.

When we left Ravensthorpe the town was enjoying full sun shine. But as we approached Hopetoun and the turn-off to the airport, the skies became increasingly cloudy. Would it rain?

Flight: Skippers Aviation HK1937 RVT - PER
Aircraft Type: Metro 23 | Seat: 08C
Aircraft ID: VH-WBQ
STD: 16:50 | ATD:16:48
STA: 18:00 | ATA: 18:09

The airport won't win any awards for architectural innovation but it serves its purpose. To those who are used to Sydney, Changi or Dubai, the absence of Gucci, Armani and Starbucks may come as something of a shock. In place of a major shopping centre is a colorbond shed with a simple check-in desk. Landside there is a covered waiting area and the toilets are in a separate building.

Well, who'd have thought there'd be a couple of spotters? The incoming aircraft approached from the East, landed and used the full length of the runway to turn about and taxi back to the terminal. The airport has two runways: 06/24 which is sealed and has turning nodes; and 14/32 which is gravel. Aircraft over 5,700Kg using 06/24 must use the turning nodes for 180° turns.

As the aircraft turned into the hardstand, I was able to take a couple of shots. The young fella on gate duty was happy to allow me to take a couple through the open gate once the arriving passengers had come through. I noticed that the Metroliner was the same one that had brought me down before Christmas - Bravo Quebec.

Being a small local airport means that there is no urgency in going airside. When Virgin Australia Regional flew the route, they used larger aircraft (a Fokker 50) and that meant security screening had to be in place. With Skippers using the Metro, or occasionally an Embraer 120 or their Dash-8 100, screening is no longer necessary and the equipment has been removed.

It was time to thank my sister and her husband for having put up with me and say goodbye. They were kind enough to take some shots as I made my way to the plane and during departure. Kendrick led the way, welcoming passengers and inviting them to take a bottle of water from the Eski on the ground.

There were nine passengers (including me) on this afternoon's flight, leaving empty seats at the front and back of the aircraft. On the flight deck once more were Hamish as Captain and Kendrick as First Officer. We were welcomed aboard and the usual safety instructions were given.

Through the tinted (and rather dusty) windows the airport buildings could be seen, including the fully-enclosed Clayton's airbridge and equipment shed. The building at the western end houses the patient transfer station for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

The engines spun to life and ran a while to warm up. Final checks and then the Metro taxied out for departure on Runway 24. Reaching the end of the runway, it turned to face into the wind.

The sound of the engines changed. Bravo Quebec remained stationary for a while and then began its roll. There's something pleasing about taking off in a turboprop. Perhaps it's due to the smaller size, but you get to sense the momentum as the aircraft shoots forward and you feel the seat in your back.

We shot past the turn to the terminal and then the gravel strip, chewing up the runway before lifting into the air.

Higher, climbing higher ... The land falling below, taken up by farms and bush, protected by conservation reserves. The sky above looked grey and uninviting.

Bravo Quebec crossed the Ravensthorpe to Hopetoun road, before disappearing into the cloud. There were a couple of moments of turbulence but nothing disturbing. Soon we broke through the cloud, emerging into bright sun light which flooded the cabin. The seatbelt sign was extinguished and the FO told us that we were free to move around the cabin or use the onboard toilet.

Below, the clouds gradually thinned out until we were flying over country shrouded by haze. Most passengers either rested, listening to music on electronic devices, or read. I watched the ever-changing patterns made by the farmers as they divided their paddocks or by the courses of ancient river systems and remnant bush.

Beyond the string of salt lakes, I could see the just short of sixty kilometer straight stretch of road, heading almost due East, linking Newdegate with Lake King. The road engineers obviously followed the ancient Roman principle that the shortest distance between two settlements was a straight line.

Nestled between two of the larger lakes is the town of Newdegate. The town is a primary grain receiving and storage location for Co-operative Bulk Handling. The Department of Agriculture maintains a research station here too. Each year, thousands of people visit for the Machinery Field Days, during which there are not only displays of agricultural machinery and equipment but art, music and other cultural events.

The Metro continued its path over the wheatbelt, passing the town of Corrigin. This town has two claims to fame and both are connected to dogs. The first is that it holds the record for the greatest number of dogs in a ute being assembled in the one place. The other is the properly laid out Dog Cemetery west of town, where over 80 dogs are buried. Dogs play an important part in farming communities.

In the distance, Quairading with its airstrip appeared. The name is taken from an Aboriginal word for a small kangaroo. The town itself grew after people left the nearby town of Dangin, a private townsite, the owner of which had declared teetotal.

The flight continued over Mt Bakewell and the town of York. The local Noongar community has a story about the origins of Mt Bakewell and nearby Mt Brown. Long ago, there was a handsome young warrior of the Hills people who many of the young women had eyes for. However, the young man fancied a woman of the Valley people. In their family groupings, the relationship would have been forbidden. They decided to ignore the restrictions and eloped.

When it was discovered that the young woman was missing, her people demanded her return. The other group said they didn't know where she was, weren't believed and a war broke out. The Hills people were superior in strength, so the Valley people called on their wise man to use his "magic". He turned the warriors of the Hills people into grass trees and you can see them on the slopes with their spears today. He also placed a curse on the illicit lovers. They were found dead a few days later and the curse was that the man's spirit would stay on Walwalling (Mt Bakewell) and the woman's on Wongboral (Mt Brown). They would never be able to meet again until the mountains crumbled.

Once past York, the country is more closely settled, farms tend to be a bit smaller and more and more houses appear, though there is still a lot of tree cover. This forms part of the jarrah, marri and wandoo forest that stretches some 400km from north to south.

The FO had announced that there would be a slight delay on arrival into Perth, apparently due to Air Traffic Control requirements. I don't know about others, but I was in no particular hurry.

As we passed over the scarp ...

"I could almost touch the ocean, shimmering in the distant haze
As I sat here in this Metroliner, on the loveliest day of days.
Around half the world I've drifted, left no wild oats unsown
Yet now my view had shifted, as the landing gear came down."

(Apologies to Eric Bogle.)

The approach took us over Bellevue and Midvale, with views over the regional centre of Midland.

Continuing the descent and lining up with Runway 24, Bravo Quebec passed the bricks works on Kalamunda Road and crossed the threshold.

Then we were down, decelerating before turning into the taxiway to pass in front of the Qantas Domestic Terminal (Terminals 3 and 4). On the ground were a couple of Boeing 717s, a 737 and an Airbus A330-200 sporting the flying kangaroo.

Parked on a remote stand was a South African Airbus A340-300, still sporting the 2012 Olympic Games livery. Later the aircraft would be moved over to a contact stand for a late evening departure to JNB.

Over at the International Terminal, next to the ubiquitous Emirates A380, was a temporary visitor. Wearing a Clean Seas livery, proclaiming "Turn the Tide on Plastic", was an Airbus A330-200 leased from Portuguese charter company HiFly. This is subbing for the 787 operated by Air New Zealand, while maintenance is carried out on the 787's Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines following a fan blade incident.

Some attention was being paid to a Qantas Boeing 737-838 VH-XZB "Mudgee". This aircraft made its first flight from Renton – Boeing Field as BOE059 on 13/09/2012. On 22/10/2012 VH-XZB departed Boeing Field on delivery, routing Boeing Field – Honolulu – Nadi – Melbourne as QF6024.

The Metro continued past the Cobham Aviation base. One of several aircraft present was VH-NJU, a BAe Avro RJ85. Produced at Woodford (EGCD), and powered by four Textron Lycoming turbofan LF507-1F engines, it made its first flight on 28/04/1996 with test rego G6-287. Before coming to Cobham, the aircraft was previously with Delta Air Transport for Sabena, SN Brussels Airlines and Brussels Airlines as OO-DJP.

Turning into the Skippers Aviation base, the Metro passed a couple of Embraers 120 Brasilia on stands and a Dash-8 100 in the maintenance hangar. VH-XUC was previously with the now defunct Brisbane-based Flight West and for a short period with Ansett Australia. It came to Skippers Aviation in May 2002.

We were almost there. In front of the terminal, the man with the ping pong bats was waiting to guide the aircraft into the stand. The baggage cart was approaching, ready to offload checked-in items. On the stand, a reminder that telephones and other electronic equipment should not be used until inside the terminal and a thank you for flying with Skippers. Once in the terminal, it didn't take more than a couple of minutes for the bags to arrive.

The trip down to Ravensthorpe and back had been enjoyable. It had been fun catching up with family. The travel was good. Both on the ground and in the air, Skippers staff proved to be friendly. While some of the fleet has been around the blocks, the aircraft appear to be reasonably well maintained.

The Metro appears to be a good choice for the Ravensthorpe route, given the number of passenger movements. But in the long run, the future depends on the viability of mining in the area. I hope that Skippers won't have any reason to withdraw, as Virgin Australia Regional previously did.