Nick Clarke admits he is copping some light-hearted ribbing as he counts down to his 17-day charity flight across rural and remote Queensland.
Someone has stuck a Biggles pilot poster on the door of his office at Redland City Council, and the General Manager of Organisational Services has been fielding all types of random questions from colleagues.
“Someone wanted to know about toilet stops,” Nick said ahead of the 10,000-kilometre journey that departs Caboolture on August 12 with co-pilot and University of Queensland professor, Mike Levy.
“We will be sure not to forget to go before we take off.”
The pair’s first pit stop to raise funds and awareness for Angel Flight will be Toowoomba and they will visit towns as widespread as Thargomindah, Burketown and Cooktown as they tick off visits to 42 of the State’s 73 local government areas in their Foxbat light aircraft.
Angel Flight assists rural and remote Australians to overcome the tyranny of distance when they find themselves in need of access to major hospital and treatment centres.
With almost 30 per cent of Australians living outside metropolitan areas, the problems of potential health risks and higher mortality rates are more common than they may initially seem.
Nick said that he first heard about Angel Flight when he served as President of Local Government Managers Australia (LGMA) in Queensland, which also supports the organisation.
The more he learned about the positive impact Angel Flight has on those living in remote areas, the more committed he became to the cause.
His commitment was strengthened when he met Angel Flight pilot Stephen White at a flying school in Redcliffe.
“I was touched by the generosity of pilots like Stephen across Australia who donate their time and their planes to alleviate the discomfort of patients travelling long distances by road to receive medical help at major treatment centres,” Nick said.
“But what really inspired me to take on this project was understanding for the first time that very sick men, women and children living in remote communities have to deal with travelling long distances to major centres and when you’re not feeling well, that’s the last thing you want to do.
“On top of that I realised that most of them don’t have enough money to travel and pay for accommodation. But what hit me emotionally was when I discovered that Angel Flight actually helps to keep families together – for instance if a daughter is ill, her mother can travel with her for treatment and often be back home the same day.”
Besides his high-flying fundraising efforts, Nick is also one of nearly 3,800 Earth Angels across Australia who provide support to patients and carers by using their own cars to transport them to and from airfields and medical facilities.
Money raised from this mission will help pay for aviation fuel and occasional commercial flights when short notice requests for transport are made or when poor weather prevents light aircraft from flying. It will also assist in the running of the Angel Flight national support centre in Brisbane, which is operated on small infrastructure with just six fulltime paid coordinators.
“Hopefully, we can make a real difference not only in raising money to support Angel Flight but also to build awareness in the communities that Angel Flight is there to help in times of need,” Nick said.
Founder and chairman of Angel Flight, Bill Bristow AM, said he was grateful to people like Nick for supporting Angel Flight with such a generous gesture.
“I am really thrilled to have the support of someone like Nick who is so connected with rural areas to be out spreading the word and creating awareness in regional Queensland that our service is available to them,” Mr Bristow said.
“Nick has a very real understanding of how the charity works and we are very appreciative of the major effort that he is making on this trip around the state and we will keep in touch and give a helping hand along the way where needed.”
Nick first took to the skies at age 16 after growing up under a flight path into Heathrow Airport in London. Through his involvement with Local Government Managers Australia he undertook a similar flight in 2009 and raised $68,000 for Make-A-Wish Australia. The highlights of that trip included getting “up close and personal with crocodiles” at Wujal Wujal in the State’s north, as well as handling exhibits at the dinosaur museum way out west at Richmond.
For this trip, Nick and Mike will share the flying duties and encourage local council managers and staff to support a great cause. Professor Levy is a part owner of the aircraft and, like most pilots, will do almost anything and go almost anywhere as long as he can fly.
The penultimate stop of this trip will be Dunwich, North Stradbroke Island at 12.45pm on Wednesday, August 28.
Donate at www.angelflight.org.au or follow the flight on Facebook at LgmaCharityFlight2013.
You can also keep up-to-date with Nick’s progress by liking the LGMA Charity Flight 2013 Facebook page.