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Tuesday, 10 March 1998
Page: 911

Mr COBB (10:55 PM) —Last Saturday, 7 March, in front of a gathering of about 100 people, I had the singular privilege and pleasure of opening the sealed strip of the aerodrome at White Cliffs. I wish I had the words to convey adequately what a great day this was and just how important this event was to the people of White Cliffs and the surrounding district. Above all else, it means that, no matter what the weather conditions are like from now on, they will at least have a transport link to the outside world.

Over 99 per cent of the rest of Australia, I guess, takes for granted their bitumen roads and airstrips, but that is not the case at White Cliffs. In the early 1970s there were at least three occasions when the road was cut, the strip was too wet and the town was isolated for periods of up to three weeks. In 1988, the Royal Flying Doctor Service aeroplane was bogged on the strip. This does not happen very often in a town that has a nine-inch annual rainfall; nevertheless, the sealing of the strip will give great peace of mind to the citizens of that town and to the surrounding land holders.

I particularly congratulate Di Hoffman, the President of the White Cliffs Community Association, for her organisation of the event on the day and for helping, along with her team, to prepare the meal at the community hall afterwards. I congratulate Councillor Graham Wellings and his wife Maxine, who run the White Cliffs Motel. Graham has put out the flares alongside the old dirt strip for much of the last 30- to 40-odd years during which the dirt strip has been open. I also congratulate the Central Darling Shire, particularly Mayor Robert King, from Wilcannia, who was there, and Deputy Mayor Clive Linnett and his wife Fay, who had driven up from Ivanhoe—the best part of 300 kilometres—to be there for the occasion.

The shire has invested much money and used the interest over the years to finance the $200,000 needed to seal the strip and the $100,000-odd to seal the road out from the town to the aerodrome. There were also two pipers there from the Cameron Pipe Band from Broken Hill. Pilot Blue Scott and parachutist Doug Knowles put on a great display of skydiving.

David Jackson, from Caradoc Station nearby, gave a gyrocopter display which was watched with great interest. He has a property of 135,000 acres, and runs Collinsville blood sheep. He has a $20,000 gyrocopter, which saves him employing another man on his property. It has a Rotax Austrian 80-horsepower engine, with 26-foot span aluminium blades on top. He is in this gyrocopter for up to five hours a day. He told me that in a couple of hours he can do the equivalent of half to one day's work, checking fence lines, mustering sheep, spotting feral goats, and those sorts of jobs. The gyrocopter uses only 13 litres of fuel an hour. A person can fly it after 15 hours tuition, on average. It is revolutionising pastoral practice in remote Australia.

I also spoke to Don Campbell, who is the chief RFDS pilot there, and his lovely wife Denise. He flies into White Cliffs on average about twice every three weeks and he would probably have an emergency flight into White Cliffs about once every six weeks. He told me that a King Air, under another pilot, had recently got bogged at the Hungerford airstrip when turning around at the end of the strip. The propellers came within two inches of the dirt strip. Had they touched the dirt strip, it would have cost $300,000 to overhaul each engine. But that amount of money alone could seal the strip at Hungerford. I note that it is not only Hungerford which does not have its strip sealed yet; also, Menindee does not, Louth does not, and only part of the Tilpa strip is sealed. So there is still a lot of work to be done.

White Cliffs, for those who do not know, is about 1,100 kilometres from Sydney and is 122 metres above sea level. Opals were discovered there in 1880. The township was established in 1890. In 1897, there were about 1,000 people living there. There are only about 200 there today. They produced £140,000 of opal in 1902. Bill O'Reilly, the famous spin bowler, was born there on 20 December 1905. Electricity was connected only four years ago.

There is great spirit in the town. They hold an annual dinner-dance, which I usually attend, to raise money for the RFDS. It is amazing that it has taken 2¼ centuries since Captain Cook sailed into Botany Bay to seal the strip there. But they can look forward to the 21st century with this basic job completed. (Time expired)

Question resolved in the affirmative.