"Honey, I'm just taking the plane out for a spin."
Amazingly, this is pretty much how 63 year-old Warwick Woinarski lives his life. He's one of the lucky few who manage to make a living doing what they love.
Warwick did not excel academically but this didn't hinder his passion for flying. Without the piece of paper needed to fly commercially he decided to get into a plane and start flying anyway.
He grew up in Melbourne and was sent to Melbourne Grammar School, but trouble with his stepfather - "I wasn't happy with home life," he briefly reveals - prompted him to leave home at just 17 years of age. He went off jackerooing, getting as much work on the land as he could to save money.
"But my parents found me, felt bad and put me through agricultural college in Geelong," he recalls. Unfortunately for his parents, the college was next to an airfield. Instead of completing his schooling, he mowed the college lawns for 78c an hour, making $8 - 10 a week, to pay for his flying lessons (which, in the late-60s, cost $11.20 an hour).
He eventually clocked up enough flying hours and at 19 he received his student license, with a private license arriving just a year later. At 22 he had his commercial pilot's license and flew night freight, worked in New Guinea and "did all the hard yards." At the time, the industry needed pilots and his experience alone got him his first commercial airline job with TAA in 1982. "I don't think they worried about whether you finished year 12 or what red wine you drank like they do today," he offers. "It's a whole different ball game."
He flew happily for TAA for seven years. "I enjoyed it. Was a great airline," he remembers. Unfortunately, the Australian pilot's dispute effectively ended his career in 1989. Eighty percent of Australian pilots lost their jobs as a result of that dispute which turned out to be one of the most expensive and far-reaching industrial disputes in Australia's history.
Through the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) local pilots campaigned for better pay and working conditions to bring them more in line with other employee groups. Their employers,
however, would have none of it. According to Alex Paterson, one pilot affected by the dispute, an alliance was formed between Ansett's joint Managing Director, Peter Abeles (along with Ansett's joint owners TNT and Newscorp), Abeles' close friend the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, and "to a lesser extent" senior people associated with the Hawke Government, the ACTU, the Industrial Relations Commission, and senior airline management from both the major domestic airlines.
Abeles apparently refused to recognise the pilot's union and, with significant support from the Hawke government, offered individual employment contracts which most of the pilots found untenable. "There was no negotiation. Nothing went anywhere," Warwick remembers. When eighty percent of the pilots left, the airlines recruited new pilots from overseas.
Warwick also recalls the profound effect on the tourism industry: "[TAA and Ansett] came to a stand-still. Nothing flew in this country for six months. It crippled the tourist industry. It crippled small business. It just went right through the community. It nearly brought Australia to its knees. It was a great stuff-up."
Warwick was left out to dry. He is still sore about Hawke's role in the debacle but recognises it was a long time ago.
His beloved Tiger Moth aircraft was acquired when he was just 23 from a farmer in South Australia purely for fun but also to get flying experience. "I was only a young bloke and I needed to get some hours up and I just thought I'd buy a Tiger Moth and that'd be a good way of doing it." It cost him $4000. He's also a keen motoring enthusiast. "You could've bought a GT Falcon for four grand!" he notes.
The de Havilland DH 82 Tiger Moth is a 1930s biplane and was used as a training aircraft for the Royal Air Force. Somewhere between 1,100 and 1,300 Tiger Moths were made in Sydney from 1940 to 1945 with original British plans but using Australian materials. General Motors Holden made the engines under license. "They're actually better than the British ones. There's just something about our metallurgy that was just a lot better."
Following his career piloting commercial airliners, he reconditioned Jaguar car engines and fixed Jaguar motor cars. In 1996 he took his iconic Tiger Moth and created his own business, Antique Airways, as a way to continue monetising his love for flying. The area around the airfield where he's based in Kippa-Ring is uncontrolled airspace, so no communication with Brisbane air traffic control is necessary. He can virtually fly whenever he likes. A clearer definition of freedom you will struggle to find.
His wife Sue helps with the business which he maintains from Wed to Fri and most people fly on the weekend so that's his peak time. "I just come here on Saturday and Sunday and play. It's not work. I look forward to it."
Demand doesn't slow during the year but the cooler months are his favourite time to fly. "It's brilliant. The air's crisp. It's bloody beautiful." And does he have a preferred time of day to fly? "Not really. Flying's flying."
When asked about strange requests he said he doesn't get many, but some people do use his service to honour dead relatives. "We throw a lot of ashes out."
He performs aerobatics for some of his customers but is quick to clarify that they're not nauseating. While I didn't experience that thrill, I did get to fly with Warwick and it was glorious - smoother than I expected, even on the steep banks. The small aircraft has the luxury of flying very low which offers a unique view of the Redcliffe peninsula.
He's flown up British comedian and actor Dick Emery and sites Douglas Bader, Chuck Yeager and Howard Hughes as aviator heroes. "Howard Hughes did a lot for aviation. A lot of people don't realise that aviation probably wouldn't be where it is now, because he had the money he could throw at it, and he could think outside the square."
Business is booming with expansions currently underway at his Kippa-Ring hangar. Consequently, he doesn't actually get to fly on his own much any more. He suggests he might retire on his 66th birthday. "But everybody knows me better than that, that'll probably never happen."
Antique Airways offer scenic flights at www.joy-flights.net or phone 3204 1933 or 0417 727 660.
This article was originally written for the Outback City Express newspaper May - Jul 2013 edition.
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