From Dusty Runways to Night Landings

The Yalgoo Auction Flight


Peter Pickering

3/9/20246 min read

Our return journey marked a change in course, first heading towards the coast to Geraldton, then turning south to follow the coastline down towards Perth and Jandakot. As dusk turned to night, my instructor, seemingly more interested in his Playboy than the impending darkness, casually reclined his seat fully. Navigating at night, unlicensed for night flying and alone at the helm, was both exhilarating and daunting.

The coastal lights from Geraldton to Lancelin, Yanchep, and finally Perth were beacons in the night, guiding us home. When the glow of Perth became visible, I nudged my instructor awake. Taking over for the final stretch, he guided us in for a landing at Jandakot.

On the 17th of May, 1978, an adventurous spirit and a hunger for the skies led me to a unique opportunity. As a budding pilot, I was eager to accumulate cross-country navigation hours for my Unrestricted Private Pilot license. In my other life as a real estate speculator, the universe seemed to conspire in my favour when I read about a land auction, for non-payment of rates, in Yalgoo, a town nestled in the heart of the Murchison region, hundreds of kilometres north of my flying base at Jandakot.

Yalgoo, more an outpost than a bustling town, with its sparse population and modest amenities, was the epitome of the outback. Rugged, raw, and resplendent in its isolation, it was the perfect destination for my dual mission.

The journey was not just another entry in the logbook; it was a meticulously orchestrated flight that bore the weight of anticipation and potential. My instructor and I had meticulously calculated every aspect, from fuel consumption to wind speeds, ensuring that 'Tango Victor Echo', our trusty Piper PA28, was more than just a means of transport — it was our ticket to an unfolding adventure in the skies.

As we climbed into the cockpit, the familiar rush of pre-flight checks and the hum of the engine coming to life signalled the beginning of our quest. Our estimated time of arrival was carefully timed to precede the start of the auction, a critical element in the grand scheme of my plans. With a final check, we exchanged confident nods, our silent agreement speaking volumes of our shared experience and trust in each other’s capabilities.

Our flight path was a direct line that cut through the heart of the landscape, taking us over the rural expanse of Moora. As we left it behind, we headed northwards, towards the remote and less-trodden paths leading to Yalgoo. Below us, the earth stretched out in a vista of rugged beauty, a mix of arid land and sparse greenery, typical of the Australian bushland. This expanse, viewed from above, offered a unique perspective, a reminder of the vastness and the raw, untamed nature of the land.

The journey to Yalgoo was serene, almost meditative. Apart from the steady drone of the aircraft's engine and the occasional crackle of radio communications, our voyage was marked by a profound sense of solitude and liberation. Here, above the earth, away from the constraints of everyday life, we found a rare kind of freedom. It was a journey that transcended the mere physical distance; it was an escape, a brief respite from the world below, offering a moment of reflection and a deep, soulful connection to the expansive landscape beneath us.

This uneventful passage, devoid of any notable incidents, was not a shortfall but a blessing. It allowed us to soak in the uninterrupted view of the land below, a landscape that told stories of time, survival, and the silent endurance of nature. It was a prelude to our mission, setting the stage for the endeavors that awaited us in Yalgoo, grounding our spirits in calm before the anticipated flurry of activity that the auction promised. The tranquil journey was a necessary counterpart to the potential hustle and excitement that lay ahead, balancing our adventure with moments of quiet contemplation amidst the vast, open skies.

As we touched down on Yalgoo's airstrip, the environment immediately transported us to a scene straight out of an old western - stark, untouched, and overwhelmingly silent, except for a few curious goats that had made the runway their temporary haunt. We scattered them with a low flyby, their puzzled faces turning to blurs as we made our smooth, practiced landing. The sun beat down relentlessly, its rays more intense than any welcome party, as we disembarked into the searing embrace of the Australian outback.

The walk into the heart of Yalgoo felt like stepping through a portal to another era. Main Street lay before us, deserted and silent, as if time itself had paused, waiting for something or someone to break the stillness. Buildings that had stood the test of time bordered the road, their stories etched into the weathered facades. I half expected a tumbleweed to come rolling down the street.

Our sanctuary from the oppressive heat and haunting quiet was the town pub, a beacon of rustic charm in the sparse landscape. Inside, the air was cooler, the light subdued, offering respite and a stark contrast to the glare outside. The pub was the epitome of outback authenticity; its simplicity and bare essentials spoke volumes of the rugged environment it served. Here, luxury was found not in decor but in the refuge it provided from the harsh world outside.

The atmosphere of the place was momentarily disturbed by the town's most charismatic inhabitant - a local dog with the confidence and air of a seasoned politician. With comedic timing, he sauntered in, surveyed his domain with casual arrogance, and humorously anointed the pool table as his own. This brief, amusing interlude injected life into the silent space before he trotted off, leaving behind a trail of chuckles and bemused glances.

This introduction to Yalgoo was a vivid reminder of the enduring spirit and unique character of Australia's outback towns, where every element and every resident has a story, adding layers to the rich mosaic of life in one of the country's most unforgiving landscapes.

The inhabitants of this secluded part of the outback were the epitome of what one might expect in such a remote locale: individuals embodying a mix of inquisitive glances and an unyielding, almost impenetrable demeanour. Their lives, deeply intertwined with the land, had imbued them with a sense of resilience and an unspoken understanding of the harshness and beauty of their surroundings.

My arrival in Yalgoo was impeccably timed, mere minutes before the start of the auction – a serendipitous precursor to what would unfold as an unexpectedly lucrative day. The auction items, humble quarter-acre plots of land, lay unpretentiously under the vast Australian sky, their value underestimated by many but ripe with potential in my eyes.

As the bidding commenced, I found myself swept up in the moment, my hands raising almost autonomously. The bids I placed were modest, yet in the grand scheme of things, they were mere tokens, ranging from $60 to $240. To my astonishment, each quarter-acre town lot was secured at these minimal amounts, turning the event into a monumental success from a financial standpoint.

However, amidst this unexpected bounty, the reactions of the local onlookers were markedly subdued. Their glances, devoid of any real surprise or admiration, conveyed a depth of unspoken thoughts. Perhaps in their view, the land held a different kind of value, one not measured in dollars but in memories, hardships, and an enduring bond with the earth.

Their cool, measured looks served as a silent yet potent reminder that my windfall was but a fleeting moment in the timeless expanse of the outback. Sensing the undercurrents of sentiment and respect for the land that pervaded the local ethos, I realised it was prudent to make a discreet exit. My departure was swift, leaving behind the dust and the silent, watchful guardians of this remote community, taking with me not just newly acquired land but a profound reminder of the complex web of life and values in the Australian outback.

As we descended, the black tarmac was shrouded in darkness, a void that tested my sense of depth and skill. It was a lesson in trust and perception, a precursor to my future night-time landings. The landing was executed flawlessly.

Reflecting on that day, I had not only logged valuable flying hours but also secured a treasure trove of land titles. It was an adventure that underscored the essence of seizing opportunities and embracing the unknown. In the sky and on the ground, I had found my fortune, affirming that indeed, fortune does favour the bold.

© Peter Pickering 2024.

(The pub image is merely a humorous illustration with no disrespect meant to current owners of the Yalgoo Hotel-Motel, since 1993, Stan & Valerie Willock.)