Aeroplanes, or at least just one, have always been in David Russell’s life.
He was born in the same year his father bought the much loved and admired workhorse in the sky, a Cessna 182 with call-sign Romeo Kilo Whisky for duties based on the family’s Budda Station, Tilpa.
In 1962 the late Tom Russell headed to Sydney’s Bankstown airport to pick at his new plane from Rex Aviation. He had been flying an old Auster high-wing taildragger and wanted to update.
Tom had gained his pilot’s licence in 1952 and bought the Auster in 1956.
Upon taking delivery, he headed over to the control tower to lodge his flight plan, and according to the story told to David, when asked where he was going, he said about four hours west.
“Do you know how to get there?” asked the controller.
“Well, I’ll meet the Darling somewhere between Wilcannia and Bourke, then turn either left or right and I’ll be home tonight.”
Aeroplanes are vital pieces of machinery way out west and Tom Russell flew with some of the best pilots including his friends Max Hazelton (Hazelton Airlines), Bill Davey (Davey Air Services) and even Nancy Bird Walton.
David Russell remembers the plane well. He spent lots of hours in it.
“In the back seat, the front seat, pulling out seats to fit a motorbike or a crutching plant, and dogs,” he said.
“But never the left-hand seat.”
This year celebrates Budda Station in the hands of the Russell family for 100 years. It was originally a part of the Nelyambo a spread of one million acres (404,858 hectares) at one stage but broken up in the early 1900s.
David remembers his great-aunty Jessie talking about remembering as a small child Breaker Morant when he worked at Nelyambo.
“In 1976 when the gas pipeline went through, we moved the house down to where it is now on Budda,” he said.
“When Nelyambo was subdivided in in the late 1970s dad was fortunate enough to gain 10,000ha to 12,000ha of the river portion.”
Now in the hands of David and Gail Russell the 25,000ha property of western lease country currently being transferred to freehold, is located 79km north of Wilcannia and has a 20 kilometre frontage along the eastern bank of the Darling River. It is currently running and hand-feeding 300 Santa Gertrudis and Droughtmaster cross breeders.
“Gail and I changed the stocking to cattle for easier management because both of us were working on and off the property and in Cobar for much of the time,” David said.
Up to the end of October it had received only 25 millimetres of rain for the year.
“That compares to 100mm last year,” he said.
The family also operate the Cobar-based Landmark Russell stock agency and real estate, hence Mr Russell’s need for air transport. The flight from Budda to Cobar takes 45 minutes against a road drive of two hours.
“I can sometimes get up early and do a water run (checking troughs and tanks) at home before flying to town,” he said.
David said they lost 3000 Merinos in the 1990 flood and droughts following plus interest rates upwards of 23 per cent took their toll on the family with his father having to sell two-thirds of the property and his beloved Cessna in the late 1990s.
David took over in 1999 and has since regained more land.
On a chance trip to Coonamble in 2011 when a buying agent, a client flew him into Sandy Camp, Coonamble, for a property inspection.
“Owner, Steve Blackburn and a friend, Tony Howard, had bought the Cessna from dad and Tony had it in Bathurst," David said.
“Tony knew the plane well, so he flew them out to Budda to take delivery.”
Tony Howard flew many hours mapping NSW for the NSW Mapping Authority, and 12 months later contacted David saying he had first offer as the plane was for sale and when David said he was interested, they sent him some photos.
Purchasing the plane in 2012, the Cessna had turned a full-circle and returned to Budda Station.
“When I bought the plane I didn’t have a pilot’s licence, so I had an instructor from Bathurst take me through the process, then we flew to Cobar where I finished my licence,” David said.
“Dad flew about 3000 hours in the old bus and it had done a further 200 hours out of the family until my purchase.
“What is also special about this plane is that Dad bought it from Rex Aviation which was in Cootamundra in those days.
“It was run by David McKenzie who owned South West Aviation, now run by David’s son, Terry, who worked on the aircraft years ago.”
Once purchased the Cessna went through a full rebuild including new engine, a swap from single to three-bladed propeller, radio equipment update and a new paint job.
“We had it resprayed in blue and white colours and it’s now in top order,” he said.
“So it’s done the full circle and is still serviced back by the original company dad bought it from.”