When 11-year-old Max Day broke his leg and dislocated his hip coming off a motorbike on a remote station in the far north-west corner of New South Wales, a well-practised network kicked into action.
Emergency services were called immediately, and local volunteers from neighbouring properties and a nearby pub went about clearing the emergency airstrip of kangaroos, closing gates and turning on lights, so the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) could safely land.
While Max’s memory of the incident is hazy, he was in safe hands.
The community around the Shannon’s Creek emergency airstrip had practised for this: it came together and got the young boy safely on the plane and to Adelaide Hospital for surgery.
“All I remember is waking up and then going to sleep again,” Max said.
“I can remember landing in the RFDS plane in Adelaide and then I can remember waiting to go into surgery.”
Preparing for the worst
Collaboration and communication between government, emergency services, and community members can mean the difference between life and death.
That requires some practice runs, which is what prompted a recent emergency landing drill at the airstrip where Max was airlifted.
Justin Marr, general manager of aviation with the RFDS, said practice runs were a good way for all the parties involved in emergencies to connect.
“There’s quite a distance between some of these properties and this gives people here an opportunity to get together,” he said.
“There’s obviously a need for people to support us, and they’ve been very helpful over the years. We’re here to provide our support to them to allow us to land on this strip when an emergency requires.”
Few know the importance of having a well-rehearsed emergency plan better than the Roberts family, who have been on the land near the airstrip since 1888.
Grant Roberts said his family had called the flying doctor on many occasions.
“One time Dad was riding a bike along with no headlight and he cut his arm deeply with barbed wire,” he remembered.
“I held the torch for two hours while they put 17 stitches in his arm.”
There have been airlifts and callouts for nearly every family member along the way.
Everyone plays a part
Aside from residents, the drill also included members of the RFDS, the SES, the NSW Roads and Maritime Service which maintains the airstrip, and the ambulance service.
Ruth Sandow, president of the south eastern section of the RFDS, said local volunteers’ dedication to the drill and helping out was evidence of the community spirit in the area.
“I think it just reinforces how much people do care, how much people are prepared to work together to get the best result in an emergency situation,” she said.
“It’s part of being in the bush. I guess in the city you probably see it as well, but it’s not quite so pronounced.
“Out here it’s really an important cultural part of what we are, who we are.”
That community spirit has left its mark on Max Day too, who said after his experience he felt ready to help anyone else he could.
“Actually, being in an accident myself, and knowing how it feels now, I reckon I really would help someone if I could.”