Tribute to Tragedy on the Cooper Lake Eyre
by Graham Wilson
(Sydney, NSW Australia)
We are seven tourists who were at Cooper Creek the day the ABC helicopter went down and have written a blog about our travels through the outback and have written a tribute on this blog to this event.
I have extracted the text of this below as follows:
We were there that day too. We did not see them or meet them, but we met the same people they met and saw the same sights they saw.
Out on the Cooper, life is cheap and vastness is everywhere. In the early morning light we caught a boat up the river, playing tourists. It is a river almost beyond comprehension, this river from nowhere to nowhere, misnamed a creek. That morning it was a living river, a wealth of waterbirds of innumerable numbers feasting, on nature’s bounty, while the light shimmered and danced across the water, and a cold wind and cloudless blue winter sky heralded the end of the dawn.
It is now about six months since the rain fell in Queensland that became this river, now here in South Australia. It has flowed across and soaked the earth of countless millions of kilometres of Australia; bringing new life to millions of creatures each day as it passes.
Yet is has also brought death; death which has passed us very close by, almost brushing against our souls. Last night in Broken Hill we heard the news, "Chopper Down in Lake Eyre", and listened with that strange interest which is almost morbid – viewers of someone else's tragedy. Our first concern was for the pilot, Paul, the one who had taken all our party but me flying across the same places where this chopper was on that same day. It was a mingling of relief and regret when we got enough pieces of the story to realise it was not Paul's chopper, but the ABC one, that brought the film crew that I blogged about yesterday. The tragedy is just as great, only we don't know the players.
So I try to imagine this last day of theirs. As I do a strange transformation happens for me, sadness still but something else. While I can feel the edges of the grief of those who knew and loved them, I can also walk a bit in their shoes on this last day and feel some of their joys.
Peter, our tour guide and river boat captain, would have given them a wealth of information about this wonderful place, the dozens of different waterbird species which inhabit it, the Sheep's Bridge where 130 years ago a drover, Stuart Field, built a floating platform and walked more than 10,000 sheep across 200 metres of fast flowing river. Built for 47 pounds, it saved two months of travels. Now only a stone cairn remains. So many lives have passed through this place, both black and white.
In the late evening these ABC people, replete with the stories and sights of the day headed out, to a new destination. No doubt their heads were filled with the many wonderful images and stories when it happened, seen as a flaming fireball, and now just a charred wreck. I see this picture clearly myself in the eye of my imagination, flying in, what my old helicopter pilot friends called, the dead man's zone, both too high and too low when something goes wrong. A split second or two is probably the only warning they got if it was a sudden engine failure . Then impact and a sudden flare in the last glowing of sunset.
I am sure they were brave men, but felt a flash of fear, just as I did many years ago when the crocodile came for me. But I also felt the wonder of life and it's richness. I sense and hope they had similar feelings and thoughts in the final fleeting seconds. I was lucky, they were not. But in the final moments luck and bravery are like irrelevancies in this land, too vast for human imagination.
However in their passing I sense that something of their essence remains, somewhere out beyond the sunrises and sunsets, resting between the land and sky of our beautiful terrible land.
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