Slipping the surly bonds of earth for 80 years

A recent opportunity for a road trip with much needed family time led to aeronautical adventures, a trundle of tractors, wartime history, great burgers and wonky train tracks.

Cunderdin is 160 kilometres east of Perth and one of those great communities between Perth and Kalgoorlie that more often than not we just drive through.

This year, the Cunderdin community got together to support the Cunderdin Gliding Club who are celebrating 80 years of riding the thermals.

The Fly-in and Open Day was held at the Cunderdin Airport and featured displays and exhibits and history tours of the wartime era hangers but most importantly there were planes and helicopters in the skies and on the ground.  

The RFDS was on hand with one of their amazing aircraft and you could look inside and imagine the drama of those flights. There were small gyrocopters and ultralites and other assorted light aircraft.

An opportunity for me to slip the surly bonds of Earth and dance the skies on laughter silvered wings in a glider was too good to miss. 

The president of the Cunderdin Glider Club, Stuart Usher, not only was in charge on the day, he was in charge of me – booking me onto a flight and making sure I was taken of throughout the process. Hanging around Stuart was an amazing experience in itself.  Every time we would try and talk about the day’s activities, there would be a tap on the shoulder from someone requiring his help to sort something out.

The complexity of the day was added to with the event being a ‘Fly-In’, meaning that aircraft were welcome from all over the state to fly up and exhibit their aircraft and stay the night at a range of accommodation on the airport and around town.

I haven’t flown in a glider below and what sets your senses reeling is the closeness to the tarmac and being pulled into the sky by an aircraft with a strong rope … a very strong rope.

Releasing the tow released a wave of emotion.  Looking for thermals to retain height and lift and length of flight was beyond my skill so I resorted to looking around, looking below, and quoting John Magee’s poem High Flight … “And while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod, the high untrespassed sancitity of space, put out my hand and touched the face of God”

Flying a glider is an ethereal flight experience. There’s a lightness, a delicate and fragile existence that you’re a part of, void of the mechanical violence of jets or propellors. 

My pilot allowed me to take the controls and while I don’t think I would have been much use in the Battle of Britain, I think I showed the delicate touch required to perhaps think of taking more lessons.

Our tour of Cunderdin takes in the completely remarkable Cunderdin Museum which is located in and around the old pump house for the water pipeline to Kalgoorlie.

From bits of original pipeline, a tiger moth hanging from the ceiling, a trundle of tractors and sunshine harvesters and a Meckering room which lets you experience the shivers and shakes of the 1968 Meckering earthquake to wartime use of the local airport by enormous American B24 Liberator bombers and the training of hundreds of pilots on little yellow Tiger Moths, which can still be seen in the skies above Perth.

Our drive back to Perth, just an hour and half away, wasn’t what I expected.  Instead of being absorbed in each passengers’ devices, we talked about the pipeline history, the twisted tracks in Meckering, a great burger from a country roadhouse and we talked about old airfields and strong communities and perhaps, just perhaps, I got to tell my story of flying a glider! And you can too. Get to Cunderdin and take to the skies!