William Creek and the Women Pilots Who Work There

Jono calls out over the intercom in the cabin of the PC12, asking me to put my headphones on. As I do, I immediately tune in to the tail end of a radio call made by a girl with a strong Eastern European accent. “Zdenka!” I laugh, “That’s her for sure. She sounds like Svletjana. I wonder if she was inspired by her when she was younger!”

We descend into William Creek and join third in the circuit – 10am is a busy slot, with the morning tours coming back in and the next lot departing. Stepping out of the aircraft into a surprisingly stiff, midday desert wind, our eyes squint and we purse our lips against the sand whipping and swirling against us as we walk from the apron towards the pub.

Elevation 300ft

Additional information

1. Beware of mustering aircraft in the area

2. Beware of birds on runway

3. Increased traffic in the area when Lake Eyre has water

The ERSA will tell you most of what you need to know to fly in. What it won’t tell you is what a veritable institution you’re destined for. Nestled on the western side of Lake Eyre, William Creek seems a shanty town – but it’s an established one. It’s a deep side of our continent… a place even the average Australian would have difficulty imagining. Earlier this year I spent four days in the heart of the Australian Outback and it was one of the most profound experiences of my life so far. The perspective I’ve gained and the connection I felt with the land is unequivocal – my renewed purpose in life is to see that as many young Australians experience this sooner rather than later.

Laura Koerbin says, “I look back at my time living in WMC with great fondness. Most people were a little alarmed when they realised where I was moving to when I got the job with Wrightsair – and even today if it comes up in conversation – people exclaim, “but what was there to DO out there!?”, she laughs. “The answer is that I was never bored – there was always something to do, and it was some of the busiest (and most fun) times of my life! Moving to William Creek and working for Wrightsair was the best thing I could have done to kick off my aviation career, and I highly recommend that any aspiring commercial pilots seriously consider working in the Outback – it will sort you out.”

Ellodie Penprase has lived it since February this year – “It’s a different atmosphere, a different planet. I never imagined it, and somehow – I’m here”… she says. “There’s definitely variety – jumping in all different planes. And if you’re not flying you’re doing odd jobs – taking out the rubbish, or working in the office. I’d never used power tools, but now I’ve got the mask and the goggles and everything!” Today, it’s picking up plumbing from one of the boys who used to do it as a trade… “You learn so many more skills than just flying. Every day is filled.”

A typical workday in William Creek consists of waking up an hour before dawn to pre-flight, refuel, manifest, try and squeeze in brekky and coffee – then flying as soon as it’s light enough. Wrightsair are best known for scenic flights around Lake Eyre and surrounds, but Laura also did a lot of airwork such as aerial baiting (for feral dogs/cats/foxes), tracking (research) and photography, day tours, charters, maintenance or ferry runs… the list continues. It meant that she traveled a lot and she counts herself fortunate to have seen every corner of South Australia – landing at all sorts of amazing, isolated, unique and often challenging locations.

When you’re flying in the outback, it quickly becomes clear how insignificant you feel. It’s a big place, but in a way, you can experience a release – it genuinely feels like nothing bad can happen to you out here.

“The beauty of the Outback is that you are so removed from the outside world. I had no idea what was going on, in the cities, with politics or whatever – the only thing that mattered was our 3 km radius – in the middle of the desert – and it was a really nice feeling. It made me realise that I love living remote and I love Outback flying. It solidified my career goals and motivated me to keep working towards the end-goal of the Royal Flying Doctors Service, because now I truly see how important their work is after living in the Outback.”

Laura ended up spending fourteen months full-time out in William Creek and still maintains that, with the right attitude, the pros far outweigh the cons of living so remotely in such an incredible location. In fact, upon moving home to Moruya in NSW for a brief stint, she even experienced what she refers to as a ‘reverse culture shock’ – noticing how much noise a real town makes, how much advertising there is everywhere, how busy and rushed everyone is. “I felt very out of place back in civilisation…  it was a strange feeling to go from a small, tight-knit community, back to a town where everyone minds their own business and stays in their own bubble. The only things I’d really missed (besides my family and friends, of course) were fancy restaurants, the cinema and the ocean… but we’d had plenty of social life with our workmates – who became our family. And if we ever felt like getting away, we’d just drive up the road and have a bonfire.”

If you’re thinking of flying into William Creek to experience it yourself – perhaps as part of your own Outback adventure – you can find everything you need on the website (www.williamcreekhotel.com). There’s ripper pub meals in one of Australia’s bucket-list watering holes, accommodation for every type of budget – hotel rooms, self-contained accommodation, even camping ground, information about flying in and lists of things to see and do while you’re there (which must include a scenic flight over the Painted Hills and a visit to the Dalhousie Hot Springs). It’s an iconic stop along the Oodnadatta Track surrounded by the largest cattle station in the world, and the closest town to the thumping heart of our country, Kati Thandi-Lake Eyre. You will not return unchanged.

Photo by (@amanda.deed1)

Originally published as ‘Destination: WILLIAM CREEK, SA’, Issue 266 Airnews Magazine, 2019. Words by Bronni Bowen, many thanks to Laura Koerbin (@laurakoerbin), Ellodie Penprase (@ellodie_penprase) and Amanda Deed (@amanda.deed1) for their interviews and photos

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