The long, delirious, burning blue

A first-hand account of skydiving in Western Australia

Words Chris Parry

What a great battle we’ll have this summer as India and Australia battle it out for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. It’s a great shame for me that in Western Australia we have Optus Stadium, the newest and most beautiful stadium in all of Australia, but we haven’t secured a test between Australia and India for this summer. I’m still confident that if travel is able to resume after the Covid-19 crisis then we will see large numbers of Indian cricket lovers fly into Perth before travelling to our other cities to follow the cricket. If you’re coming to Perth, I’ve got the perfect start to your Australian experience.

If we’re going to battle it out to see who is on top of the world for cricket rankings then you should start your Australian adventure by starting at the top of the world – by skydiving off the Western Australian coast and landing on one of our most beautiful beaches. Disappointment – Now that’s a strange emotion to have in the middle of a skydive from 15,000 feet. The parachute opened, ending my freefall. I felt disappointment. It was a mixed emotion to be sure. I would have been more disappointed if it hadn’t opened. The freefall had been an explosion of enjoyment for a full minute. I’d smiled for the Go-Pro, whooped for joy and as my cheeks were being blasted, I looked skyward, drenched my face in the sun and quoted some lines from one of the most beautiful poems ever written, High Flight, by John Magee.

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth…
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue…
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God…”

John Magee was a Canadian who joined the Royal Air Force in June 1941, wrote High Flight in August and was killed in December. He was 19. In 1969, astronaut Michael Collins had a copy of this poem on the Apollo 11 mission and looking down on Earth had remarked that if Magee could write such a poem from the cockpit of a Spitfire, imagine what he would have written from a rocket ship in space.

As I swung in my harness, linked in an embrace of clips and straps to my tandem partner Dan, I looked around. We were high enough that there was curvature to the horizon and I could see the islands I had explored as a child; Penguin Island, Garden Island and Rottnest Island looked just about as they appear on a map, from a top-down view rather than the view from shore.

The beautiful blue sky, the ‘delirious, burning, blue’ as Magee described it, contrasted against the darker blue of Cockburn Sound, Shoalwater Bay, Safety Bay and the vastness of the Indian Ocean beyond.

Skydive Australia is an adventure tourism company that is catering to adrenalin junkies as old as 91 and as young as 12. They started pushing people out of perfectly safe aeroplanes in 2013 and on my jump, 13-year-old Brandon-Lee had been told that morning, as a surprise birthday present, that he was going skydiving. I would have loved to have got a wonderful quote from Brandon-Lee about how he felt about the experience but like you have to be when you’re a surly 13-year-old boy, it’s all about actions, not words. He didn’t say much but he can say he jumped out of an aeroplane.

Arriving at the office on the foreshore at 0630 the level of staff enthusiasm was closely matched by the level of professionalism. While all the while smiling and asking how I was feeling, the paperwork was being checked and signed, scales confirmed I wasn’t lying about my declared weight and fitment of the harness and a firm introductory handshake with Dan, my tandem jump instructor, were all accomplished without fuss. After the short drive to the airport, there’s no mucking about, we walk straight out to the aircraft which I’m told is an old crop duster from New Zealand. After we take off, Dan sits behind me and spends the next few minutes clipping buckles and pulling straps.

I was about to ask him some question I’ve since forgotten when all of a sudden the two people in front of me just disappeared, they’d jumped out. Gone. No scream. No final questions to determine if you agree to fall at 9.8 metres per second towards the ground below.

Suddenly Dan is pushing me towards the door. He reminds me to put my arms across my chest before exiting the aircraft. The funny thing is, I’m already hanging suspended outside the aircraft. He’s still with me strapped on the front of him. Suddenly the plane isn’t there anymore.

Freefalling, or skydiving, only really became achievable once aircraft were able to operate at a high enough ceiling to allow time for a person to fall before the deployment of the parachute.  While jumping out of aircraft with parachutes and cloth buckets (not recommended) has been going on since not long after the Wright brothers first took to the skies, it wasn’t until the end of World War II that skydiving became a pursuit for adventure. Surplus aircraft and parachutes become available and ex-military parachutists wanted to do it for fun rather than being shot at as they descended.

As I’m falling, I’m doing what Dan has taught me, my arms are held out to keep my position stable. There’s not much else I have to do but enjoy the ride. I’m confident that Dan is checking his wrist-mounted devices that show our height and speed, which is about 200 kilometres per hour. I’m travelling faster than my Subaru Outback can go. After the parachute has deployed Dan grips my hand and tells me what a great job I’ve done. I’ll take praise most anywhere, most anytime but over the skies of Rockingham, I found this a bit too difficult to take. Coming from the man who has literally shouldered the responsibility for our lives, it’s a great gesture to congratulate me but all I’ve done is smile and quote a 75-year-old poem.

I’m given the opportunity to take the controls and I pull down hard on the right to begin our slow spiral towards the beach below. I focus on the dots below that I know are my family. I knew where they would be standing and I knew the colours of their clothing. With every second I drop closer to them. Dan snaps me to attention and reminds me to lift my legs up so that his feet touch down on the sand first. I stuff up. I don’t quite get my legs up high enough and as we hit the sand we end up in a tangled mess. Not the elegant landing we were both expecting. As Dan unclips me from his harness our tethered relationship is at an end. As I leave his arms I am back in the arms of my family. I introduce them to Dan like he is God himself. “Family, this is DAN!”

Shortly after, at a nearby café overlooking the beach, I sit with my family. With fresh, warm muffins and a great coffee, I regale the family with my skydive experience. The staff in the café have seen it all before. They’ve heard the descriptions and seen coffee cups go flying as gesticulating arms get out of control in the storytelling moment. Well, I’m having my moment. “So, kids, what did you think when you saw me coming in to land?” 

ESCAPE PLAN

Covid-19: Australia is currently not open to international tourism and Western Australia has very tough restrictions on all travellers, including isolation periods. Restrictions are currently being eased and constantly reviewed. Check out the website link in this Escape Plan for regular updates if you’re planning to travel to Western Australia.

Getting Here: Once the world is back to normal you can expect Air Asia flights to get you to Perth via Kuala Lumpur in under 10 hours.

Staying Here: For a luxury stay try Perth’s newest hotel with the best view, the Ritz-Carlton Perth, which is on Elizabeth Quay overlooking Kings Park and the Swan River. From the front of the hotel you can catch a ferry to visit Optus Stadium. 

While You’re Here: Visit Rottnest Island for a snorkel at the Basin, a hot Aussie meat pie at the bakery, sunbathing seals and a selfie with our famous quokkas. 

More Information:
www.wa.gov.au/government/covid-19-coronavirus
www.skydive.com.au
www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/australia/perth 
www.rottnestisland.com

 

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