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Meet The Adelaide Hills Aero Enthusiasts Living The Motorkite Dream

Microlights - Cath Leo
Catherine Leo

4,000KM OF DESERT
4 AMATEUR ADVENTURERS
2 SECOND-HAND FLYING MACHINES
AND THE LARGEST ISLAND ON EARTH…
WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Filmmaker Charlie Hill-Smith and remote area nurse Aidan Glasby are old mates.

When Aidan suggests flying tiny microlight aircraft south to north across Australia, in a daring journey crossing 5 deserts, 20 Aboriginal language nations and 4,000km in 8 weeks, he asks Charlie to come make a film of it. Charlie agrees on the spot.

Second pilot Daryl is a web-designer and the fly-boys are joined by their fiancées Lexi and Elsie as ground support. It’s their last hurrah before marriage and kids. Under the guidance of Aboriginal elder and rock royalty Carroll Karpany and his mate Bart, the flying circus ventures deep into the spiritual heartland of Australia in a noisy, ridiculous bucket of fun and revelation.

After three years in the making, the film is finished and the lads are making their debut on the red carpet. Click here to watch the trailer.

 

In our winter 2013 issue, James Howe met Daryl and Aidan at the very beginning of their adventure. This is their story…

Microlights - Cath Leo

A couple of likely lads from the Adelaide Hills are setting off on a flying adventure of a lifetime, crossing the Australian interior by microlight. The TV cameras are ready, the ground crews are poised, even their girlfriends are getting used to the idea. It’s a just a pity they haven’t got their pilot’s licences… James Howe reports.

It’s a Saturday morning on a scrubby Aldgate backstreet: one week till take off. Daryl Clarke – a long-haired, unshaven freelance IT consultant – emerges from the shower, stretches into a ragged t-shirt and dons a pair of parachute pants with a broken fly. He cracks a Red Bull and lights a rollie. Aidan Glasby – a remote area nurse with trim hair and a clipped beard – is Daryl’s best mate. He pulls up in a 4WD with fiancé Lexi, having made the short drive down the freeway from Mount Barker. In his pinstripe shirt and brown trousers, he looks like he could be Daryl’s social worker. But when you’re suspended 2,000 feet high above the remotest, harshest and most unpopulated part of the country, no one really cares about your fashion sense.

In exactly a week, the wheels of Aidan and Daryl’s microlights will bump clear of the ground. For two months, the continent of Australia will be theirs. Their runways will be salt lakes, paddocks and bush tracks. They’ll sleep where they land and eat tinned food and freshly shot game. By the time they touch down in Broome, they will have covered 5,000km, crossed five deserts and spent $70,000.

Microlights - Cath Leo

The challenge, says Aidan, will be trying to avoid getting carried away entirely. “We’re worried, because these little machines are just a total temptation to break every rule,” he says. Aidan lifts a red tarp off the craft that will carry him from Hindmarsh Island to Broome. “It’s the closest thing to an upgraded billy-cart from when you were six years old,” he says. 

He’s not joking. There’s nothing but two seats – in a front-and-back formation – a two-stroke engine and a rear-mounted carbon-fibre propeller. In true billy-cart fashion, Aidan and Daryl recently replaced the spindly front wheel with a robust unit from a wheelbarrow. “Where we’re going we’ll be doing a lot of sand and salt-lake landings,” says Aidan, “so we want fat tyres that won’t sink in.”

Microlights - Cath Leo

The buggy is suspended from a large hang-glider wing by a single bolt, known as the ‘Jesus bolt’. This bolt – which gets x-rayed for defects prior to sale – costs $20 and needs to be changed every 50 hours. “You’re virtually a pendulum at the bottom of the wing,” says Aidan. “It’s a weight-shift aircraft, so where you shift the buggy in relation to the wing is how it flies.” Control is maintained via a triangular handle, which connects the pilot to the wing.

Each plane burns 24 litres of petrol per 100km, which amounts to about 1,200 litres between here and Broome. Aidan and Daryl will carry extra jerries on board, landing to refill where necessary. But they don’t get bogged down in the details, in fact for hard-core adventurers, they’re incredibly laissez faire. With one week until take off, for example, neither Daryl nor Aidan holds a pilot’s licence.

Microlights - Cath Leo

“I’ve got a couple of hours of flying left, and an exam to sit,” admits Daryl to a roar of laughter from Aidan. “It’s totally possible, it can happen in a morning – it just needs the right weather to get up between now and next Saturday. I think Aidan’s got less than an hour left to fly. So we’re right on the edge…”

On the face of it, the trip looks like the ultimate lads’ adventure; indeed, Daryl and Aidan had originally planned for it to be a higher-octane version of a motorbike trek they’d previously completed with a third friend. “After that we all said, ‘Let’s go get licences and fly rather than ride motorbikes!’” says Daryl.

Microlights - Cath Leo

But there were several complicating factors. First, the third mate pulled out. Then, as plans continued to progress and tens of thousands of dollars began disappearing into equipment and training, hostility started to rise in the fiancé camp. “I think both of our fiancés carried a bit of resentment to the project just because of how time-consuming and how financially demanding it’s been,” says Aidan.

Daryl admits it’s partially eclipsed his own marriage plans. “Elsie and I have been engaged for quite a while – I just haven’t done anything about it,” he says. “I think part of the reason for that is this trip has just sucked every penny I’ve got.”

Microlights - Cath Leo

But there’s an easy fix: with the third mate out of the equation, Daryl and Aidan decided to invite their fiancés to come along. Elsie and Lexi will travel by road, maintaining radio contact with Daryl and Aidan and meeting them at impromptu landing sites. Lexi (who’s three months’ pregnant) and Elsie will have the essential role of carting food and gear – including two 44 gallon drums of petrol – in a trailer. But there will also be plenty of opportunities for them to climb aboard the planes when the mood takes them. “For us to be able to share that with our partners is totally beautiful,” says Aidan.

There are other things that elevate this trip above a boys’ pursuit of thrills and oxidised fuel. For starters, Aidan and Daryl plan to raise $50,000 for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. They also hope to raise funds for Western Desert Dialysis, a mobile dialysis service for Aboriginal people with chronic kidney disease.

Microlights - Cath Leo

But there’s an even bigger goal: Aidan and Daryl will try to use the journey to throw a spotlight on the stories of outback Australia. 

“What you often see on mainstream media is quite a negative spin on the outback: the drink-driving, car crashes, drunken brawls, all the fights and family feuds. But there’s a whole lot of wicked stuff going on out there, and some incredible characters whose stories are, from my experience, totally inspirational,” says Aidan. “We’re not denying that the trip is going to be great fun and an adventure, but we’re also going to use it to put a positive spin on outback Australia and show the diversity of characters out there.”

Microlights - Cath Leo

Enter Charlie Hill-Smith. Charlie – a Melbourne-based journalist and film maker – specialises in making hard-hitting documentaries, such as his recent Strange Birds in Paradise, which involved smuggling cameras into West Papua to cover the Indonesian persecution of tribal people. He plans to take a film crew in a separate 4WD to document the entire trip. The footage will be cut to make a film and a six-part TV series.

“This film will be a terrific vehicle to tell a story that broadens the understanding of remote and Aboriginal Australia,” says Charlie. “We’ve got a cavalcade of big, fascinating characters, from Coober Pedy miners, to traditional owners, to Western Desert painters, to desert rock bands to cattle men. It’s a huge variety of people and places that should make for an extremely colourful and fascinating film.”

Microlights - Cath Leo

And Aidan and Daryl as TV stars? “It’s a bit awkward,” says Daryl. “I don’t so much mind being on camera, it’s more talking to it: I feel like every word I’m saying needs to be some sort of delivery to the United Nations. But give it a week with 10 cameras in your face, you stop holding back your language.”

Of course, they’ve got bigger things to think about: they’ve got a bunch of fundraisers to attend before next Saturday, and they still have to trick out the 4WD and test-fly the planes. And – weather permitting – they’ve got to finish getting their licences.

But, when they wake up at sunrise on a salt lake 1,000km from anywhere, with fiancés at their sides and two aeroplanes ready to go, it’s a good bet they’ll think it’s all been worthwhile.

Microlights - Cath Leo

Watch The Motorkite Dreaming Trailer:

 

The Two Of Us

Microlights - Cath Leo

Daryl on Aidan: I met Aidan when I was working in a little computer shop in Mount Barker. He walked in one day wanting a hand with a website. It turned out his website was for an NGO that he and his sister had set up in Ethiopia. That got my interest up!

Aidan and I are both very pragmatic and practical and we both like simplicity – I think all those things are very important in adventurous endeavours. There are some differences between us though: for example, Aidan’s very uncomfortable in a pub, whereas I play in bands and quite enjoy a big social life.

Something that pisses me off is Aidan doesn’t listen – he just does what he wants. He’s not a very good compromiser. But I like his brutal honesty: if he doesn’t like something you’ve done, he’ll let you know. His other quality is he gives everything to a conversation with anyone. He’s accepting and interested in everyone’s story.

Microlights - Cath Leo

Aidan on Daryl: When I met Daryl, he was a scrappy-looking dude working behind a computer. I was asking for a hand with a website, and he offered to help out. I told him about a motorbike trip me and another mate were doing, and said we needed a support car. He said, ‘Well, I’ve got a 4WD…’ So we went off to the desert for six weeks together.

Daryl and I are both passionate about supporting people, and we both value human relationships. We’re also at a similar stage in life, and share similar values.

Daryl’s a bit of a Pooh Bear: he’s warm, friendly and likes sitting on the fence. He likes to keep everyone happy – it can be a beautiful quality, but it can also be a painful one when it comes to decision making. He’s very laid back, and he loves sleeping in so he can drag his arse a little bit. It doesn’t worry me; it just means I’m going to have to kick him out of bed in the morning.

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