I’m not entirely sure what made me spend a small fortune on tickets to the Australian International Airshow; possibly the combination of a nagging nine year-old, the desire to encourage procrastination from real work, and a deep-seeded obsession with aviation, for which the bi-annual Australian International Airshow is generally acknowledged as the ultimate outlet. I would have at least thought some PR trout might toss a media accreditation lanyard my way.
Yes, the mighty air show. Serious av-geeks only to apply, please. I tick that box on account of knowing the difference between a 737-700 and 737-800 (and the question did come up at the air show, I’ll have you know). But if the line of cars streaming out of Melbourne’s outer suburbs and heading down that tediously long road to hell and Geelong (same thing, really) is anything to go by, then air shows have really hit the mainstream. There’s nothing like gridlock on a Sunday morning to help you unwind on the weekend.
We were spat out into a paddock roughly the size of South Australia, demarcated with makeshift parking bays and attended to by volunteers in fluorescent bibs and bum bags, expectantly taking $10 off every driver for the honour of parking on a patch of yellow grass and cow shit. I’ve known from years of experience attending country horse-racing meetings that if you say you have no cash they have no choice but to wave you through. Another good one is to hide your mother in the boot with a towel over her head, but that’s probably a story for another day.
Above our heads helicopters thwacked through the hot air and RAAF jets made an unholy racket swooping the crowd like demented magpies. Good stuff, I thought. Yawn, said my nine-year-old, whose only desire was to go inside an actual plane and have a nosy. I felt like saying, “You’ve been in a plane a million times, you privileged little shit,” but of course we instead obediently joined a lengthy queue to walk inside a fat, grey military plane so nondescript I didn’t even note down what it was (but from memory it was an A-SS Viper).
What a day. We engaged in more standing round than your average welcome to country ceremony, but there was the occasional distraction, such as another bibbed volunteer working the line with a clipboard, taking customer satisfaction surveys from a captive audience. “And how would you rate your standing round experience, today?” she asked, pen clicked and poised. “Below average, met with expectations or exceptional?”
We stood round to order food from a caravan. We stood round to find a patch of grass to plonk ourselves down to eat the food. Then, joy of joys, we found a patch of grass to sit round and watch a glorious display of flight from all manner of planes, including a close-up view of a Jetstar A320 taking off for Sydney, bewildered passengers’ faces up against the window, wondering why the hell grandstands were assembled to view their departure.
But there was something missing from this air show. Where was the fiery crash? I’ve seen enough news reports of air shows to know that at some point two planes are going to misjudge trajectories and collide head-on at fifty thousand kilometres an hour, sending fat, waddling families running for cover as debris rains down. Oh, well.
We drove home, sat in the back yard and took our dust-coated shoes off. A flock of welcome swallows tore up the air and pulled umpteen g-forces, a blur of precision flying, catching insects on the wing. White-plumed honey eaters darted between them and a wattle bird hopped from clothesline to fence and back like a mad thing, just like it had the night before. We stood round happily until sunset – a crowd of three – thinking what a shame it was we only got an air show every two years.