My Time On The Planet
Updated: Sep 14, 2022
Russell 'Rusty' Carrington is a popular character on RFTTE and not a bad scribe when it comes to writing a book either. Brought up on Planet Downs cattle station near Burketown in the Gulf Region of North Queensland, he has a fascinating family history and even more incredulous stories of his time as a Ringer and Helicopter Mustering Pilot.
Rusty is 64 now and although his health is not as good as it once was, he is taking it easy replacing a cyclic stick with a pen, having semi-retired in Proserpine amongst friends and a supportive community.
I'm currently reading his latest book RUSTY'S TALE, and it's a cracking yarn - more high's and low's than an R22. Here is an excerpt from the book, but let me tell you there are plenty more mustering stories and others in the book too... (NB. I don't get a 'Brass razoo' from promoting Rusty's book, it's one hell of read and I'm only too happy to share his yarns).
Take it away Rusty...
In 1985 I met a girl while I was working at Lawn Hill Station. She was staying with her Aunt and Uncle who were old friends of mine; they operated a Cessna Aircraft on local Charter Operations north of Lawn Hill. This girl had a little six month old son with her. Cupid’s arrow struck deep for me anyway and I was sorely smitten. We set up house together and were married in October 1986. I loved her so very much.
I actually don’t have all that much education as I wasn’t even able to achieve a Junior Pass and left the world of academia behind not long after my 15th birthday. Life ain't easy for a boy named Sue as Mr. Cash maintains and I struggled with my identity and place in the scheme of things as I worked back at Planet Downs, QLD for my domineering and at times abusive Father and Uncle.
This potpourri of life was a powder keg of emotion and highly volatile.
Time moved on and the property was sold. I had always had an interest in Aviation and was working towards a Helicopter Pilots Licence. I had been training in Fixed Wing Aircraft as I could afford it and had progressed myself from Student Pilot to Restricted and Unrestricted levels of Fixed Wing Private Pilot Licence.
Various images below at Planet Downs amongst other stations.
As Planet Downs had been sold I had taken a job at Gregory Downs (the neighbouring property and now owned by Paraway - the station is near Burketown in the Gulf Region of North QLD) as a Grader Operator. The manager of Lawn Hill Station at the time offered me the Pilots job of flying their Hughes 300 Helicopter for the 1985 season.
I still have my Log Book from then and find that what they entrusted me with was phenomenal. I have had a long and not very successful career in Aviation being the Chief Pilot of four Operations at different times, Operations Manager of a large outfit of 46 machines and the HAAMC as well as Low Level Check and Training, Mustering Training and Checking, SAR controller and god knows what else. There is no chance that I would let a Pilot of my tender experience loose like they did but thanks to Terry McCosker and Aramis Patti Maia I was away.
So over the following wet season I trained for a Private Helicopter Pilots Licence in Melbourne. I went solo at 9 hours and received my licence at 41 hours Total Helicopter time and returned to Lawn Hill. By the time I had logged 43 hours total Helicopter time I was mustering and putting feral cattle into Portable Yards.
How I never crashed in those early days I do not know. I had my first emergency at 247 hours total time when the helicopter engine failed as I yarded up into a Portable yard. A successful autorotation was carried out with the added bonus of the cattle I was working still going into the yard. I guess it was actually due to good training and a good attitude.
I was not a mug lair and flamboyant flying has never impressed me.
I worked very hard for them and had I think one day off in 9 months. But the result of all this was that I was treated with a lot of respect and the road to my future was a little clearer.
Unfortunately for my wife and growing family my heart kept drawing me back towards Planet and the Gregory district. I lugged them all over northern Australia trying to find a spot where I could feel settled.
Images below: Various shots of Rusty at work in the NT and one at the end is with Rusty's Grandmother in R22 at Riversleigh Station, QLD | © Images by PJ Knight and Scott Bridle.
We had some happy years at Gregory Downs and Riversleigh Station. This came to a savage end with me crashing my Helicopter and being severely injured.
I had flown for 16,000 hours by then and apart from one other minor accident had never damaged an Aircraft so I sure blotted my copybook. It was a comedy of errors like most accidents. Previous to this my oldest son had a motorbike accident while visiting a school friend. He had been knocked into a coma and had to learn to walk again and was still in Townsville General Hospital recovering. My wife was still by his side. I had stayed with them in Townsville for a while and then returned to Riversleigh to keep the business going alone. I was very worried about him and the factors relating to this all contributed to my weariness and state of mind.
I was mustering on Aug 18th 2000, at Gregory Downs, ironically on the Planet Downs half of the station.
I reversed into a tree and the tail rotor had struck a small branch, dislodging the plug of weight in the end of the blade causing a massive and instantaneous vibration. This had the effect of causing the tail casting to crack through and fall off almost instantly. The Helicopter then flipped inverted and struck the ground while rotating at speed.
My memory of these events are hazy to say the least but I recall regaining consciousness, struggling to escape from the wreck as I hung badly injured over the seat belt. I had to cut the seat belt with my knife and passed out again as I slumped to the ground. I came to after a while and was able to drag myself out of the wreck with my forearms as my legs would not work having broken my pelvis.
Unfortunately I managed to spear myself in the back of my right hand with the knife but it was minuscule in the big scheme of things.
I guess I was at the wreck site for a couple of hours before help arrived. I can mostly only recount my saviour’s tales now as it was around 4 weeks before I was conscious again. As said earlier I had broken my pelvis with consequent internal bleeding. The old heart was still working pretty well and was pumping all my blood into my abdomen, crushing my lungs and anything else that was in the road. I do remember really needing to pee or poop but was terribly embarrassed by it and could not bring myself to let go while surrounded by my rescuers.
I remember being very worried about the work bookings that I had and went to some trouble to make sure that the clients were advised and alternatives suggested. I believe it took about 5 hours before the RFDS could get to me to take me for my second flight with the Flying Doctor. They had to open my abdomen to release the pressure and I believe to get me to Townsville took 36 units of blood.
They kept me in an induced coma for 3 weeks. The doctors had to cut my healthy leg bone and draw the leg away with a large weight to give them enough room to get inside and repair my pelvis. Unfortunately I caught Golden Staph and that leg bone had to be cut again as the doctors had to go back into me 3 times in total to remove all the metal to get rid of the Staph Infection. They taught me to walk again but it wasn’t easy.
I came out of the Hospital needing a crutch to help me walk. The loss of the sciatic nerve in my left leg caused by damage from the broken pelvis meant that I needed a foot drop splint to assist with my walking as well as a compression stocking. I can not say enough good words about the nursing staff at the Townsville General Hospital and the life saving care i received there.
Thank you so much Malcolm McKinnon and all of your wonderful off siders.
I learned a lot of humility in Hospital. If I got to feeling a bit sorry for myself I did not have to look very far to find someone worse off. The love and care from my wife, family and many friends got me through it. It’s all a long time ago now, things have changed and my mind is not as clear as it once was.
I crashed on the 18th August 2000; I spent around 6 months in Hospital and by July 2001 I had regained my full commercial Licence.
I returned to Lawn Hill alone and did the 2001 second round of mustering. As I have said earlier I do not have a lot of education, I had 4 children in Boarding School and needed a substantial income to keep things happening. The only way that I could see for that to happen was for me to keep flying. So I continued to fly for another 5000 flying hours. Life as a working pilot in those years was extremely hard for me. The physical difficulties were immense and I also struggled with the decreasing of love and affection from my wife.
On the 26th January 2006 my world fell apart when I discovered my wife’s unfaithfulness, no doubt the years of following me around and suffering through my recovery had taken its toll on her as well and she had made her own arrangements. But like any cuckolded husband I was devastated. It turned out that her lover was the biological father of my oldest son, the little boy that she had when I first met her.
I believe that my relationship with my son, indeed with all my children is still as strong as it ever was and that we are strong together.
So I left her then and moved to another state to a different type of job and lifestyle. They say in life that when one door closes another one opens and that’s basically what happened to me.
I moved into a position as the Operations Manager for a large and complicated company. I filled lots of roles at this Company being at various times either independently or together the Chief Pilot, Operations Manager and HAAMC. I felt an enormous responsibility for the 40 odd pilots under my care and treated them like they were my own children.
I guess the pressure of my life took its toll eventually and I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease so I took the opportunity to take things easy for a while and I have semi retired now.
© The Copyright is held by Russell Carrington, the Author of this Story. You can read the full story (and at $18.90 it's a worthy yarn!): https://ozbookstore.com/products/rustys
Rusty's other book is Rusty's Tale and Past Imperfect, which is combined with the autobiography of Rusty's mother, Pat Carrington: https://www.amazon.com/Rustys-Tale-Imperfect-Russell-Carrington/dp/0645351121
(NB. I don't get a 'Brass razoo' from promoting Rusty's book, it's one hell of read and I'm only too happy to share his yarns).