Introducing Chief Remote Pilot – Paul Roadley

Paul Alexander Roadley trading as Earth Sea and Sky Photographics ReOC_

Today we have internet again and have had an amazing email arrive, which we just had to share. 

Last year Paul completed his RePL (Remote Pilot Licence), thanks to FPV Australia.

This 5 day course is Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) Approved and trains participants in all things related to the safe operation of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS). This is individual permission to fly.

The next step in becoming a commercial drone pilot is obtaining the RPA Operator Certificate (ReOC). This is a massive undertaking, and involves studying the rules and regulations surrounding drone operations. Manuals of policies and procedures need to be prepared for approval by CASA, and are incredibly detailed and specific. Paul had to complete an assessment within 72 hours – a case study based on a given scenario, showing that he understands the processes that need to be followed to operate a drone safely and for commercial purposes. Total RPA are CASA approved to assess this huge undertaking, and are one of our sponsors.

More often than not, the assessments are incomplete and further updates are required before the applicant can be passed. Paul’s assessment was flawless – if anything he was too detailed!

The final step is a 90 minute phone interview, where applicants discuss their assessment submission and the steps they followed in completing it, as well as specific questions regarding drone operations. Answers must be clear as they go directly to CASA as part of the ReOC application.

Today we came into phone/internet range again after 48 hours, and received the most amazing email. 

Paul is now the holder of a RPA Operator Certificate. He is the Chief Remote Pilot for our future business, Earth Sea & Sky Photographics. He has put a massive amount of effort into the last few months of study, all the while forging ahead with our travel with children and all of the inherent responsibilities, discussions with people about mental health awareness, the ups and downs of living with PTSD and depression, and coping with personal difficulties that have arisen in the last few weeks.

None of this would have been possible without the support of John Fleming of FPV Australia, including Jason Wuttke, and Total RPA. You have supported Paul through this intensive process, given us the opportunity to fully use the video footage we have captured with the DJI Mavic Pro & Phantom 4 Professional (while we have it on loan) as part of Driving Oz with the Black Dog in post production. You have opened the door to a new career for a man who can no longer return to the world of first responders, and given him a chance at a fresh start and bright future. There are no words to express how eternally grateful we are. 

Three cheers for Chief Remote Pilot Paul Roadley!

Three cheers for FPV Australia!

Three cheers for Total RPA!

THANK YOU!

 

Loving Lake Argyle

Heavenly infinity pool
Magical infinity pool
DCIM100MEDIADJI_0025.JPG
Ord River Dam – taken with Phantom 4 Professional
Banners at Lake Argyle
great banner exposure at our site
Beautiful gorges below the dam wall
below the dam wall
Great visibility at Lake Argyle
great banner exposure at our site
Ord River Dam topside
Ord River Dam
Paul keeping an eye on the Phantom 4 Professional
Paul keeps his eye on the Phantom 4 Professional
Scenic helicopter flights from right at the resort
scenic flights right from the resort
WA-NT border
leaving WA for the NT

It was only a short 70km trip from Kununurra out to Lake Argyle, along a road that it is part damaged from flooding. With a lot of travellers moving in and out of the area on narrow roads, there were times it was necessary to move over to be able to safely pass.

We couldn’t believe the lines of caravans & campers queued to enter the caravan park, but the resort has a very efficient system to move people around quickly. Staff at the petrol bowsers have a list of expected guests and the site they have been allocated to and guide them on pushbike to that location. The staff are all very fit, and we thought it was a great way to get the job done! No-one had to wait overly long to have their turn for a personalized guide!

When our turn came, the staff were fantastic and made sure we were given a prominent site so that we could put up our banners. Leah was on duty at the front desk when we went in to say hello. It is always nice when we get to meet the people who have organised such great support for our trip. We hadn’t noticed that we had no phone or internet since we arrived, and Leah told us that every afternoon between 4.30-6.30 they have WIFI available for free to guests in the beer garden area. In her words, it’s not great, but it’s something! She fastened the temporary wristbands on for us, identifying as a guests, and wished us a great stay. Wristbands I hear you asking? Can you believe that some people just park offsite and wander in to use the guest only (or paid day visitor) pool and amenities? The cheek of some people!

Setting up was quick and easy as always with the Jayco, and the kids set up their swags for a three-night stay on the large site. Our banners were hung, and it didn’t take long for people to start taking photographs of the Legend or stopping to look at all the lovely signwriting. A couple nearby had seen the kids helping to get everything organized, and stopped to compliment us on their helpfulness and behaviour. As tough as it is to travel full time with three kids, they really do get stuck in to help and everything is easier on us parents as a result. It is necessary to sometimes remind them of tasks that need doing, but they are kids after all, not robots. Having said that, an “Off” or “Mute” switch would be handy occasionally!

During our stay, seeing as we were communications-impaired, we explored what we could around the lake and dam, spotting a freshwater croc in the water below the dam wall, and getting some interesting videos which we’ll get around to editing when we get home. Before we flew, Paul had a quick word with the on-site helicopter pilot to advise that he would be monitoring the Airband radio, and also to let him know that at some point Paul would be flying a drone in the area. There is a lot of scenic flight traffic over the lake, as you can imagine. The pilot was very appreciative of Paul checking in and told him that only earlier that day he had been temporarily grounded because some fool was flying a drone over the infinity pool area adjacent to the helicopter landing zone. Incredibly dangerous, not to mention illegal!

On the topic of flying drones illegally, we also heard of a traveller observed at Home Hill Station, flying his drone not only above other campers, but also despite frequent helicopters flying over the area. From those who saw what happened, other drone enthusiasts spoke to the operator and suggested he land the drone while the helicopters were around. These well-meaning enthusiasts were apparently told in no uncertain terms where they could go and what they could do with their advice! Unfortunately, we know of the person in question, and have seen online that he flies in restricted areas and appears to be trying to garner support for his You Tube page. Meanwhile we have friends who pilot helicopters and fixed wing aircraft for both business and leisure, and we shudder at the thought of someone sending a drone into the path of one of these. The kids saw someone flying a Phantom 2 over them at our campsite and ran to tell Paul. As Paul went out to speak to the operator, he saw his girlfriend PHYSICALLY CATCH the drone as he lowered it over her – such was the level of competence and confidence of the operator. He couldn’t land it, but it was okay for his girlfriend to risk her fingers in grabbing a drone in flight?! Paul warned them about flying in the park and over people, risking injury and fines. He was met with the same attitude as the aforementioned recreational flyer. Some people have no conscience.

The infinity pool at the Lake Argyle Resort is a major drawcard for tourists and visitors alike, and it is truly special. One morning, Kirstine took the kids for an early morning swim before the visitors arrived to take over. It was brisk, but it was utterly entrancing to swim in a pool with no visible edge obscuring the view to Lake Argyle. It was calming, and simply a wonderful way to start the day.

As wonderful as the scenery at Lake Argyle is, the discussions we had were special too. We met two ex-military men who took photos of the Legend and thanked us for making our trip so public to raise awareness for those suffering from PTSD.

Our favourite visitors by far were a lovely young couple on their second long distance journey exploring this massive country of ours. With travel stories to share, as well as their own personal journeys with healing from mental illness and coming to terms with a health condition that will restrict the ability to travel eventually, having these two spend hours with us over coffee was by far a highlight. We hope to see them again when they choose to head south to Victoria (assuming that’s where we stay!).

There is much luxury for some at Lake Argyle, but we fell in love with the wide expanse of lake, and the serenity of the infinity pool. As we left, we saw again the queues of new visitors arriving, smiling knowingly at the wonderful stay they would have, and wondering when we would have internet again, so we could catch up on everything! We’re nearly up to date!

 

 

Kununurra of the Kimberley

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The Great Northern Highway follows a bend south of the Gibb River Road, for those who by Need or Want, must travel on bitumen roads. This path takes you through the communities of Fitzroy Crossing & Halls Creek, on the way towards Kununurra, but when towing it is over a day’s drive. Unless of course you leave at dawn from Derby and drive till dusk to Kununurra!

The latter being ill-advised for fatigue management and avoidance of wildlife purposes, we pulled up halfway between Fitzroy Crossing & Halls Creek, at an overnight rest area known as Mary Pool. Thankfully we arrived when we did, for there were over 50 vans and campers there already! More arrived after us, the convenient waypoint and very civilized hybrid toilets being a drawcard. Whilst the Mary River was pretty much dry, it must be a magnificent sight when in flood!

Paul took some aerial shots from the Phantom 4 Pro, and Kirstine practised flying the Mavic Pro, till fading light meant it was time to put away our flying photographic tools and start thinking about tea. It was a peaceful night, with the couple of generators which had been running in the grounds, falling silent before bedtime. Personally, we prefer the nice quiet solar power options!

Not being in a rush the next morning, we enjoyed a lie in while we listened to the early birds pack up and leave Mary Pool in droves. It was such a lovely surprise to step outside the van and see a gorgeous handwritten note and gift from another traveller, who happens to be one of the daughters of the Director of our sponsor, Videocraft. Fiona and her family were headed to Broome, and though we didn’t get a chance to meet, we were mind blown at how small the world is, even in the massive Kimberley region!

We arrived at Kununurra after lunch and were welcomed by Lee at the Ivanhoe Village Caravan Resort as soon as we stepped out of the Legend. She was glad we’d been able to make it after all the schedule changes we’ve had to make recently and LOVED meeting Luna! Lee had made two stunning grassy sites into a drive-thru for us, so we had ample space for the Jayco, Legend and the kids’ swags, plus some to spare!

We took time to admire the iconic Diversion Dam, built to contain the flow of water from Lake Argyle. You actually drive across it as you come into town, and on one side is Lake Kununurra with its “croc-controlled swimming beach” and gorgeous picnic areas. Below the dam wall the Ord River continues, and the system is important to maintain irrigation to surrounding lands.

Kelly’s Knob is a lookout atop a massive outcrop overlooking the Ord River valley. The rock formations themselves are inspiring, and the views over and around Kununurra, just wonderful. We were so high that we could see the haze from prescribed burns sitting in the air over town. There is a sheer drop from one point at the lookout where a single handrail is in place, so Kirstine was more than a bit panicked about the kids’ curiosity for the views!

The family went to a nearby sports oval to fly drones. The kids got to put their toys into the air after several months of carrying them around. Black kites swirled around on thermals over our heads and paid little heed to the toy drones. Kirstine was too nervous to put the Mavic Pro too high in the air, as once or twice a kite came too close for comfort, but it was good to be able to practise the basics! Boy did the Icom Airband radio come in handy during our stay though! As an uncontrolled airfield, all air traffic around Kununurra was reporting their locations and intentions. Without the radio, it would have been difficult to fly the drones safely.

Our last afternoon in Kununurra was spent with the kids in their swimmers washing the Legend on our site at the caravan park. It was a rare event for them, with water restrictions in most places being such that it is impossible to use a hose to wash a car anymore. Of course, Paul & Kirstine were careless with rinsing off the Legend, and the kids accidentally ended up soaked, and loving every single bit of it!

The next morning, we packed up and it was the parents turn to wash the Jayco. Oh, it felt good to make her nice and shiny again! We could even see the green again on the wheel rims, and we’d watered the grassy site to keep it green. Winner all round we reckon!

Kununurra has given us another reason to return to the Kimberley, and Ivanhoe Village Caravan Resort is a brilliant base to explore the East Kimberley. We know where we’ll be coming back to, and we hope that Lee will still be there, so we can say hello again one day.

Dusk in Derby

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Leaving Broome after nearly two weeks was bittersweet. We were stressed because of the delays caused by waiting on couriers, but also enjoyed being in the one place for a bit longer.

The roads to Derby are a hive of activity with roadwork crews repairing and, in some cases, replacing large sections of road which were damaged during the floods of the wet season just gone. 639mm of rain fell in four days, leaving sections of road underwater and Broome itself cut off from the rest of the country. It was the western Kimberleys that received most of the rainfall and interestingly, from the couple of people that Kirstine spoke to while in Broome, residents were happy about the “good wet season” and not at all perturbed about being isolated. It’s all about perspective!

The Kimberley Entrance Caravan Park had offered us a powered site for a couple of days, and on arrival we joined the queue of caravans checking in. Ian was happy to see us and had allocated us a super large and shady site, equidistant to two amenities blocks, meaning the Legend was well placed. We were quite amused when the staff member checking us in pointed out the lovely civic pool in town, telling us that “there isn’t a beach here. The crocs have taken it”.

After setting up, we went for a drive around town. Several streets are lined with beautiful boab trees, the symbol of the Kimberley region. In many ways these trees exemplify the resilience of nature in this remote area. The fibrous trunks swell as they take in water during the wet, lush green leaves covering the branches. In the dry, most of the leaves fall, and the tree produces short-lived beautiful creamy yellow flowers which become boab nuts. The nuts themselves when they fall, are a source of vitamin C and protein, lasting for months. It’s common to see them carved and sold as souvenirs. Boab trees and termite mounds are sacred to the indigenous people of the Kimberley, and as such it is illegal to take nuts from wild boab trees. There was one at the caravan park however, and the kids took great delight in picking up the fallen nuts, smashing them open and trying the dried pithy type fruit inside.

The jetty at Derby is a popular place, the most extreme tides in the southern hemisphere are most visible here, as the tall pylons appear decrease drastically in height as the tide comes in and stand proud and tall in shallow muddy water when the tide is out. We stopped to have a look and were quite mesmerized by the hundreds of fish in the water, feeding. Apparently, these are called gob-eye mullet, and they were everywhere in the shallow water chasing their food. A man was catching crabs by lowering a baited basket down into the water, and the kids were quite agog at the size of the crabs he was hauling out, compared to the teeny ones they were catching at Broome. The crabs were still below legal limits however, and had to go back, and there were disappointed “aww”s from the kids.

The Prison Tree at Derby is an important heritage site, yet still bears the graffiti from those who disrespect its place in the history books. Back in the day when it was common for indigenous men to be “rounded up” (abducted) and taken over to work on the coast, the Prison Tree is where they were secured while waiting for transport.

Nearby is Myall’s bore, and the trough which is the longest in the southern hemisphere. It was a common resting point when droving cattle through the area, and the water in the trough is still good enough to drink, as Luna can attest to.

That night as we were preparing tea, the kids remarked that they could hear bagpipes. We were sure it was coming from the tv, yet when our eldest daughter went outside, she told us there was a man strolling through the park playing the pipes! Talk about a surreal experience! We stepped outside to see others emerging from their caravans to listen and take photos. It was rather a special evening.

The next morning, we stopped at the Pioneer Cemetery, and paid our respects to the resting place of “Larry Kunamara” of the Ungarinjin people. He was a police tracker and was awarded a Coronation Medal by HM Queen Elizabeth II for fifty years of meritorious service. Life as a police tracker could often be difficult, and usually the authorities took steps to make sure that trackers did not have to try and locate members of their own mob, as this would cause considerable issues.

On our way back through town, a large block had been prepared for burning off, and was lit from all sides, carefully supervised by the local fire brigade volunteers. What amazed us were the vast numbers of black kites flying through the smoke, their keen eyes searching for anything tasty making a run from the flames. There were literally hundreds of birds, and every so often one or two would swoop the ground to grab something unseen to us. We later joked about fat bellied kites sitting on power lines around town in food comas, having gorged themselves on flame singed tucker.

That evening we made our way out to the dried mud flats to fly the drones. Paul had already assessed the requirements for flying at Derby, even contacting the RAAF at Curtin to ensure there were no concerns. Icom Airband radio switched on, yet quiet at that time of day, Paul flew the Phantom 4 Professional to capture images of the sunsets that Derby is so famous for. Conditions were perfect, and there were only a few homeward-bound kites that we needed to look out for as they returned from their hunting near the jetty. Kirstine had every intention of flying the Mavic Pro, but with the sun having set and feeling particularly unwell, she erred on the side of caution and we returned home, albeit via the Dinner Tree (a giant boab), where Paul captured a stunning image for our records.

We had been given some excellent tips for sights to see in Derby, and the beginning of the Gibb River Road beckoned to us, though our limited time means these attractions and that iconic off-road trip will have to wait until we return to enjoy dusk again in Derby.

 

Biding Time in Broome – Part 2

The Regional Manager WA/SA for Discovery Parks arranged for us to have a site at the Discovery Park Broome, while we waited for our last parcel. We were welcomed warmly as “David’s friends” and allocated a beautiful site, with views to Town Beach. The kids got some special attention, with one of the staff offering to buy them an ice-cream after they had helped us set up the Jayco and their swags.

We began the chase to find where our final parcel was, as the anticipated delivery date came and went. This was a great source of frustration for us, so it was incredibly relaxing to later take our chairs and a drink, sit on the grassy knoll overlooking the beach and watch the sun set. The kids explored on the exposed tidal flats, and Joe, one of the park managers, told us that the Staircase to the Moon was best viewed from the very spot at which we were seated. At this special time during the full moon in Broome, and select other places in north west Western Australia, the tide goes out so far as the moon rises, and the reflected light gives the appearance of a stairway to the lunar body itself.

As the dates for this event arrived, we watched the park around Town Beach fill with people filled with anticipation. We lost count of the numbers of tripods! People explored the tidal flats, left bare for hundreds of metres by the receding ocean, and the creamy moon was mirrored in the pools of water left behind by the tide. It is a truly moving spectacle, and we are extremely grateful to have been given what amount to be front row seats.

The children made the most of the tides while we were in Broome. Often already out exploring by the time Paul & Kirstine got out of bed. We lost count of how many times they came back to show us the crabs they had found near the mangroves, and even though Joe had told us that there were octopus to be found over the other side of the mangroves, the timing of the tides had changed and there was no way we were going to go searching for octopus at midnight when the tide was out. You can well imagine that the kids were keen to give that a go though!

Paul had escalated the parcel delivery issue with the relevant company, and while we waited for updates, we took a drive out to the Yawaru Conservation Park further along Roebuck Bay, where Paul flew the Phantom 4 Professional, and the kids tried to count the massive numbers of hermit crabs of all shapes and sizes, along the beach. We also went out to Willies Creek, to the free camp site near the pearl farm, to put both the Phantom and the Mavic Pro into the sky, albeit one after the other! We had seen signs pointing out that No Drones could be flown at the pearl farm, which made perfect sense due to the number of tourists, as well as scenic helicopter flights which landed there. Naturally Paul was using his ICOM Airband radio, and Kirstine was in Observer mode. There was a bit of air traffic around! We also spotted a sign to say that there had been a recent croc sighting in the area. As we surveyed the proposed takeoff/landing site nearby, we also spied a crocodile sunning itself in the distance on a sandbar. We’ve seen both freshwater & estuarine in captive environments, and freshwater crocs which come out of a pond on a property to have feed three days a week, but there is something very exciting and simultaneously terrifying about seeing one sunbaking on a beach, wild and free.

News came that the parcel was finally enroute from Sydney via road to Broome. The Discovery Park extended our stay, and even though we had offered to move to a different site, they had no problem with us remaining where we were.

As we sat watching the sunset one evening, a lady came to talk with us and meet Luna. She had left her own dogs back in NSW, so was very happy to have a big happy dog to pet. We also found out that her husband is a paramedic, and very burnt out from the pressures of his work. Seemingly, there is no down time if the first call out on a shift is an extremely traumatic one. They are simply expected to keep going to the next job, because staffing pressures and budget cuts mean that there is no-one to cover them so they can debrief and decompress before returning to duty. She finds it so hard to see her husband treated this way, so seeing first hand how a mental health assistance dog can benefit a first responder with PTSD, gave her real food for thought.

Another couple from the Netherlands fell in love with Luna and wanted to take her to the beach to play. We tried, but our quirky canine kept taking the stick back to Paul, trying to engage him in the play as well. Apparently in the Netherlands there are organisations training Labradors as assistance dogs for epilepsy and diabetes, as well as therapy dogs for nursing homes, but dogs for mental health was new to these Dutch travellers.

Our parcel finally arrived, with great service by the local courier contractor, and we made plans to leave. Though we could have stayed another four days in Broome thanks to the Discovery Park, we let them know we would be departing early, so they could allocate our premium site to new travellers due to arrive.

Biding time in Broome was by no means a horrid way to be. The difficult part was having to constantly adjust our plans because of courier companies’ timelines, and then rethink our onward travel and rebook accordingly. We had to force ourselves to try and relax, but this was easier said than done some days. Watching the sun set, and the happy visitors surrounding us, relaxed in the warm evening air, has been a definite high, and the attractions on offer in this area will no doubt draw us back in the future. Bye bye Broome and thank you for everything!

Biding Time in Broome – Part 1

When we arrived in Broome, our stay was planned for only four days. Little did we know that this would change!

Tarangau Caravan Park identifies as “The Quiet Alternative”. Right behind the dunes of Cable Beach, this park truly is peaceful. Jamie welcomed us and asked if we were still up to saying a few words at their weekly Thursday night Happy Hour. They’d even printed up signs inviting people to come along, enjoy the live music, have a BBQ snag, and listen to us!

The kids set up their swags, as they do if we’re in one place for more than a day. Yes, we all fit in the Jayco beautifully, but using the swags mean we all have some personal space, and we don’t have to listen to Cooper snore.

It was time to catch up on blogs and sorting photos, and for the kids to do some school work. We did take a drive to Gantheaume Point to see the lighthouse with its resident nesting osprey (which was busy eating a fish when we arrived) and the casts of the dinosaur footprints, the real ones of which are underwater for all bar five days a month and are treacherous to get to.

We also met up with Sandy at Radio Goolarri, a local station which broadcasts across the country and has great traction with indigenous communities. A simple yarn about the wonderful benefits of enjoying the gorgeous landscapes, mixed with our story about working through serious mental health issues, was one of our most relaxed interviews and we had a great time.

Everyone at Tarangau was so lovely. Some travellers found themselves with “claytons grandchildren” as ours said hello, then proceeded to offer assistance in setting up caravans. It was quite amusing to see the surprised looks on faces as the kids connected sullage and water hoses, and generally made themselves useful. Very pleasing to have the only kids in the park behaving so well!

Thursday night rolled around, and visitors began to gather around the BBQ area with their chairs and beverages. The sun disappeared, and lanterns were lit, as the tantalizing aroma of BBQing onions wafted over us. George, a local indigenous musician, strummed his guitar and sang joyfully and soulfully. It was a fabulous ambience, and it seemed like most of the park visitors were there.

Paul & Kirstine spoke briefly, and it was met well by those in attendance. There were nodding heads and even voices affirming they agreed with our message. It was afterwards that many people came to talk with us, and the sharing of stories began.

A man who used to work at the same mine site as Paul, spoke about the difficult life of miners, and the safety incidents which, in his opinion, were “swept under the carpet”. It plays on the minds of many, that though they work long hours and are out of sync with their families due to rosters, that they also worry if the mining companies care about physical and mental health.

Another man came to pat Luna, and quietly thanked us for speaking and for undertaking a journey for mental health awareness. He had come back from the brink of suicide, and the tears glistening in his eyes portrayed the reality of the painful memory he shared with us.

Luna received a lot of attention from people standing around us waiting to talk, and one man told us that his dog is the only thing that has kept him alive when he has looked too long into the abyss of depression.

Another lady told us of the severe trauma a close friend of hers experienced, as he worked as a high-ranking police officer on a well-publicized child abduction, and subsequent murder, case.

As we’ve found, everyone has a story, and most are willing to share with people who’ll listen.

The next day as we walked around the park, we were greeted with smiles and nods. We suddenly felt like part of the park family and was such a fabulous feeling!

Jamie kindly extended our stay for a few more days, as the parcels we were expecting still hadn’t arrived. As it turns out, they wouldn’t arrive till after we left Tarangau, but we simply couldn’t leave Broome without them, otherwise it would be weeks before they caught up with us again.