Ballina, Australia – success at the third attempt!

I’ve recently received from Australia Section Chair Rob Hanneman this account of their super-fun meeting in Ballina, New South Wales. Hear all about it in Rob’s own words below.

It was a long time coming but finally, on Friday 7th October 2022, the very elusive Fly In destination of Ballina, New South Wales, was “actually” happening. After an aborted attempt due to Covid and a following couple of cancellations due to devastating flooding it was quite a relief to finally arrive. Despite being a small family of 16, what we lacked in numbers was made up for with enthusiasm and fun.

Participants had come from Melbourne and Sydney in the South to Townsville and Hervey Bay in the North and more locally from Toowoomba, Southport and Lennox Heads, with three aircraft flying in. Mike and Sali McFarlane from Melbourne in their Cirrus “MSI”, Fred and Erin Carter in another Cirrus “FJD” and Rob and Angela Hanneman in their 182 “YRA”. Mike and Sali taking the opportunity to come up a week earlier to spend some time with their son who is working on the Gold Coast on a new movie “Nautilus”. YRA and FJD arrived just after lunch on Friday after a short hop down from Toowoomba. We were very surprised to have welcoming party of our IFFR friends who had already arrived at Ballina earlier that day. I immediately thought I hope my landing passed all the scrutiny!

Parked up at Ballina

With our lifts into town organized for us we got settled into our accommodation which was very handy to the hotel organized for pre-dinner drinks and the restaurant for dinner. Throughout all the organization and failed attempts to get to Ballina previously, the local Rotary club members led by Col Lee and Jodie Shelley have been remarkable with their help in organizing the venues and activities for the weekend. It was fantastic to finally meet them in person after all the emails and phone calls.

Pre-dinner drinks at the Rouse hotel got things under way (conveniently coinciding with happy hour), so the odd ale and red were consumed, not to mention the “sparkling”. All to soon we had to pack up (well drink up) and head across the road to The Cove. A wonderful restaurant owned by a member of the Ballina on Richmond Rotary Club. The food was fantastic as was the company of our fellow IFFR friends and our new local Rotary friends.

Out to Dinner with our Ballina on Richmond Rotary friends on Friday Night

Following breakfast we boarded Bill Burnett’s coach (charter and honorary member of the Richmond on Ballina club) for our day tour. First stop was the Zendveld’s coffee plantation. Judy, Bec and John opening especially for us to sample delicious Australian grown and roasted coffee and a tour of the farm and processing facility.

And then ready for our coffee sample

Stop two was the Duck Creek macadamia farm just up the road. Farm manager Trevor gave us a very educational explanation of the process of growing and maintaining macadamias. This was followed by a look at the chocolate coating process with plenty of product on hand for us to try. And sample we did!!

Then it was on to the Stone and Wood brewery at Byron Bay for Lunch and a tour of their brewery.

Finally, it was back on the bus for a sightseeing tour of Byron Bay and the coast road back to Ballina. We had a couple of hours free time before meeting up with more of the local Rotarians and members of the Ballina Anglers club. A very authentic and rustic venue on the banks of the canal. We were spoilt with copious amounts of freshly caught and cooked calamari, fish and chips.

Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more out came the steaks and snags. All this food did nothing for the weight and balance for the trip home. Our guest speaker organized by Coralie and Eli was Lismore local Nathan Parker. Nathan was a flight instructor at Lismore Aero Club (his last day being the day we were there). Nathan has an inspiring story to tell of his life and its challenges. Nathan was living his lifelong dream of becoming a fighter pilot with the RAAF before being involved in a horrific accident while on a training exercise. His motivation presentation of how he overcame the obstacles (with the help of his Lismore Aeroclub buddies) has led him to continue his passion to fly. I think Nathan will have plenty to add to his story as he was off early the following morning to start work with Matt Hall as a commercial pilot and pursue his passion for aerobatics.

Guest speaker Nathan Parker at the Saturday Night Angling Club Dinner

We also had the opportunity to look at the local Rotary Donation In Kind Shed. The use of the shed was made possible by the Ballina Anglers, and I think a great example of two organizations working together to help those in need around the world. Wayne from Ballina on Richmond is a very passionate donation in kind volunteer and gave us a great insight into the work they do there. After we could eat no more Bill gathered us back onto his bus and delivered us back to the motel safe and sound.

Sunday morning we had a bit of time for a walk around the area we were staying and we came across our Rotary friends back hard at work setting up their catering stall at the Seafood Festival. These people are dedicated! We were back on Bill’s bus at 9am – destination Evans Head. A reasonably sleepy seaside village with an incredible air force aviation history. The airfield was set up for training during World War 2. There is only one remaining Bellman Hangar remaining from that era. It is fully restored and houses the last ever F111 that ever flew for the RAAF. Simon gave us a very informative overview of the aircraft and its history as well as how everything works on it. Fascinating machine. We also had the grand tour of their Caribou and the chance to look at the rest of the aircraft they have on display. Sadly, the Aerodrome itself is planned to be turned into residential lots and is certainly looking unloved.

The locals tell us you can still land there but very few do due the landing fees charged. You would also need to be wary of the Roo’s that seem to have taken up residence on the airfield in the dozens. The Bellman Hangar will remain as it is heritage listed but the museum and its aircraft will be moved to Lismore at some stage in the future. It certainly left us feeling very sad that the history and what just a few years prior such a fantastic and busy little aerodrome will shortly be just another piece of suburbia.

We had lunch at the Evans Head RSL before a scenic trip back up to Ballina. Bill pointed out levels of the recent floods and some of the tragic stories of what had occurred in the many small towns we passed through. We could still see the devastation as there are many homes that still untouched since the floods with many more in various stages of repair.

Our final part of the tour was to the Ballina Maritime Museum. A big display of all things boat related from a raft that was sailed across the Pacific from South America to Warships, and the businesses that serviced a huge maritime industry in recent decades. Sunday night we had our final dinner together at the Evans Head RSL, with meals serve by a “robot”.

A great way to end the very long awaited IFFR Fly in of the Ballina District. It was great weekend of wonderful IFFR fellowship made all the better with the inclusion of the local Rotarians.

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