From mustering to flying the Queensland Premier to writing poetry, Peter Doyle is a man who doesn’t sit still for long. Add a bicycle, some golf balls and a spot of backpacking and you have the elements for an afternoon of interesting stories, as Gay Liddington found out!
by Gay Liddington
Scuba diving for golf balls was a means by which Maleny’s Peter Doyle self-funded flying lessons and forged a career in the air. A pro shop paid Peter fifty cents a ball.
Married with two children, Peter worked as a linesman with the PMG, now Telecom. However, his dream of flying began in childhood.
“When I was about 15 I used to ride my bike out to Cowra Airport and watch the planes. One day I asked a pilot if I could get a ride. He said I had to have a note from my parents. The following weekend I had my first flight in a Tiger Moth.
“It was amazing. The pilot did some aerobatics and asked if I liked it. I just told him to do it again.
“After that I used to go out to the airport every weekend to help them refuel and clean.”
At that time, Peter believed flying was only for Air Force graduates. Physics was a key subject but not taught at his school. He attempted a correspondence course but to no avail and the idea of flying was shelved for 20 years until the late 70s.
“We lived at Brunswick Heads. There was an aero club at Tyagarah near Mullumbimby. It was there I learnt to fly in a Cessna 150. The rate was $16 an hour. That’s when I started diving for golf balls to help pay for lessons.
“I secured my private licence, then commercial and went onto multi engine aeroplanes. In 1980, I completed a helicopter conversion course in Sydney.
“I advertised for work and was successful with a company in Mt Isa. After completing low flying and mustering training I worked all around Cape York.
“The stockmen rode out with a mob of coachers which are domesticated cattle. I flew a five-kilometre radius and pushed the wild cattle into the coachers.
“The men lay down on their horses. Dogs were held behind. If the wild cattle saw a man on a horse they would bolt. They had to be brought in downwind otherwise they’d pick up the scent of the men. This makes it difficult flying for a helicopter as it takes a lot more power.
“The conditions were rough but it was exciting. We often slept in swags on the ground. It felt like we were in the pioneering, pack-horse days.”
After a season of mustering Peter took up a position with City and Country Helicopters in Caloundra. He trained as an instructor. This role led him to teach the then Premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
“It was 1981 when the government bought its first rescue helicopter, a Squirrel. Joh and his personal pilot Beryl Young were assigned to me for lessons.
“Joh was easy to get along with. He mentioned that his security guard said he should ask me about my politics. I told Joh it was a good thing he didn’t ask.”
Peter with Sydney’s Channel 7 News helicopter – 1982
In 1982, Peter and family moved to Sydney where he took up a position as Chief Flying Instructor (CFI). He also did relief work for Channel 7 News flying a journalist and cameraman to the scene.
Sunny Queensland enticed Peter back to Caloundra. The CFI travelled Australia with engineers to service helicopters and facilitate check rides with pilots. He also went to the US and completed a safety course on Robinson Helicopters.
Contract work including flying tours in New Guinea, and Brisbane’s World Expo ’88 kept this career pilot in the air.
“After Expo, I started my own business, a training school in Caloundra. At the same time, I was a lifesaver and broke my leg in an IRB (Rubber Ducky). That put me in plaster for five months.
“That’s when overdrafts went up to 21% interest. I had an overdraft on the chopper but we survived. Then I hired my helicopter out to a company for mustering.
“I was doing relief work for Channel 7 News in Brisbane. While I was there, I decided to sell the chopper. When they were bringing it back, the pilot hit a power line between Longreach and Emerald and wrote it off. He was okay but a court case followed.
“We moved to Maleny from Kings Beach in 1994. I loved the greenery, the energy, and lots of weirdos like me…people who think outside the square.”
One of Peter Doyle’s interests is writing poetry. One that put a smile on my face was ‘It is Strange on the Range’. The second verse reads:
Had we contact with the universal force Or in reality, had we gone off course? There were healers and dealers of all types And lots of new age look-alikes.
Three years after moving to the range Peter and his wife June decided to traverse the globe and went backpacking for several months. Southern Ireland and wild parts of New Mexico were standouts for Pete.
Contract work until 2005 led Peter to the Torres Straits for a couple of years then back as CFI with Chopperline, Caloundra until he retired last year.
Pilot, poet, world traveller, Peter Doyle now faces the unknown. Perhaps this next statement is a metaphor and a message.
“I’ve had five total engine failures in helicopters but I’ve always been in the right place at the right time. A lot of people think that if a helicopter has an engine failure it’s all over…but it’s not.”