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On his around the world flight Dick Smith’s helicopter was shot at somewhere over Greenland. Dick only discovered this fact when a pre-flight inspection the following day revealed several bullet holes. One of the bullets had passed through the cockpit inches from Dick’s head. Could this happen in Australia? Would an Australian shoot at a passing aircraft?
Jim is a vet with a pilots license, a Tiger Moth, a keen sense of adventure and a bit of an attitude. A bloke people either love or hate and who can call a spade a spade, Jim is not opposed to ruffling the feathers of anyone. A fiery redhead, Jim has friends in Animals Liberation (good vets should have), is an avid conservationist and can have a bit of a militant attitude.
Jim often does a little low flying in his Tiger Moth but rather than flagrantly disregard aviation laws Jim discovered that low flying can be legal if there is a reason and a letter is written to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) seeking low flying approval. Jim drops lollies on the school fair in his home town and does a little aerial photography when time permits. CASA have alway obliged with Jim’s written low flying requests and have readily issued permits for flight below 500 feet AGL as required. Jim, for his part, always behaved according to the issued low flying permit.
Jim is from Tasmania. Tasmania is a state of contrasts. On one side there are the forestry folk, hunters and miners, on the other side the conservationists. There is not a lot of middle ground. Tasmania has a high rate of gun ownership and a very keen bunch of hunters who believe gun ownership is a right. The conservationists believe that hunting should be outlawed and private gun ownership should be relegated to the past.
Duck hunters in particular are a vocal group. Their view is that they have been hunting ducks since colonialism, duck hunting is their right and they should have unhindered access to the hunting grounds whenever they like. Duck hunters in Tasmania operate with the representation of the Sporting Shooters Association which carries some political clout. Middle road Tasmanians think duck hunting is OK but should be limited to a season and to specific breeds of duck. It goes without saying that the majority of conservationists think the whole duck hunting practice is barbaric, should be banned and the ducks should fly free. Mix in with the conservationists some animals liberationists and some anti-gunners and it is quite easy to see that around duck season tempers can flare and confrontation can occur. Duck season starts around March and runs for around 6 weeks. The most popular duck hunting time for some reason has always been on the opening day.
Moulting Lagoon is a peaceful stretch of water, at least for 99% of the year. Located on the boundary of the Freycinet National Park on Tasmania’s East Coast, the average tourist driving past could be excused for thinking that it is just another peaceful waterway. Moulting Lagoon does have another side. It is Moulting Lagoon that has been the forefront of the anti-hunting brigade versus the duck hunters. Confrontations happen every year when the duck hunters converge on the opening day of duck season to carry out their practice of shooting ducks, dumping lead into the waterways, camping and drinking. On the opening day of duck season the anti-duck hunting brigade turn up at Moulting Lagoon in an often vain attempt to disrupt duck hunting and save ducks. Tempers flare but, by and large it is difficult to disrupt hunters with guns who access shooting hides by boat in the darkness before dawn and whose activities are largely away from easy access.
On the opening day of duck season a few years back the anti-hunting crowd deployed a special weapon against the duck hunters, namely one low flying Tiger Moth piloted by our red headed friend Jim, hell-bent on causing as much disruption as is possible to the duck hunters. It was in the cold clear dawn air over Moulting Lagoon that Jim carried out a one man aerial protest. So successful were Jim’s flying activities that for a period of several hours not a single duck met their maker. Jim later described it as being like rounding up sheep. Apparently it was easy to herd the ducks, swans and other aquatic bird life away from the hunting hides and into the nearby Freycinet National Park. Several tanks of avgas were expended and once cleared the birds took their time in returning to the hunting grounds. Jim disrupted the opening day of duck season at Moulting Lagoon like no other protester has ever managed before or since.
Of course the hunters were incensed. By the end of the day the Tiger Moth was peppered with gunshot marks, small holes in the fabric and pellets stuck in the wooden struts. The duck hunters had reams of video evidence of Jim’s aerial transgressions, namely flying operations well below the 500 feet minimum that must be adhered to when weather permits. The day was clear and blue. The duck hunters through their representative body, The Sporting Shooters Association made a huge fuss and presented all the evidence they could muster to CASA demanding prosecution of this errant pilot, surely Jim and his Tiger Moth had deliberately breached air navigation law?
CASA of course were in complete agreement with the duck hunters, clearly a breach of aviation law had taken place that must be prosecuted. Less than a week later, CASA sent four of their best representatives into Jims vet practice, bearing video evidence and witness statements, with their hackles raised and itching for a prosecution. Flagrant low flying Jim – you’re busted!
Jim, however was totally unfussed by this entourage. He simply produced a letter from CASA, requested several weeks earlier, that entitled him to fly as low as 100 feet over Moulting Lagoon. The low flying permit was dated (coincidentally of course), on the opening day of Tasmania’s duck season. The letter clearly stated that the pilot was to be Jim, the flight was to be in Jim’s Tiger Moth and that no passengers were permitted on the low sorties. On that day, of course Jim had flown solo and not descended below 100 feet. Jim also produced a few photographs taken on the day so clearly (in Jim’s mind at least) no law had been breached. Rumour has it that the CASA representatives refused Jim’s offer of coffee and left with red faces. Jim returned to veterinary activities.
As a curious footnote to this story, several weeks later the Sporting Shooters Association, discontent with CASA’s inability to prosecute Jim, launched a private court case against Jim for “disturbing wildlife with an aeroplane” (no kidding). Jim turned up at court to face the charges in board shorts, thongs and a singlet top with the specific intent of representing himself. The Sporting Shooters looked at who they were up against and dropped the case after a very brief hearing. Jim has never asked for another low flying permit.