Dick Smith's historic trip celebrated

SKY’S THE LIMIT: Dick Smith and John Wallington with a balloon made by school students for the 21st anniversary of their first hot air balloon crossing.
SKY’S THE LIMIT: Dick Smith and John Wallington with a balloon made by school students for the 21st anniversary of their first hot air balloon crossing. Rodney Stevens

TABULAM turned out in force on Saturday to mark the 21st anniversary of Dick Smith and John Wallington's landing in the town after their epic first crossing of Australia by hot air balloon.

At 5.12pm on June 18, 1993, Mr Smith and Mr Wallington touched down in a paddock out of Tabulam in their Rosiere balloon after a 3867km, 40 hour and 23 minute flight from Carnarvon in Western Australia.

More than 200 people waited eagerly for Mr Smith and his co-pilot to arrive, as cloudy skies threatened to spoil the occasion.

When the men arrived they candidly told fascinated locals about their journey, which started as a race with former ballooning champion Phil Kavanagh to see who could cross the country first.

Travelling at up to 140km/h while enduring temperatures down to minus 30, at altitudes of up to 18,000 feet, Mr Smith praised his co-pilot's skill during the journey he described as frightening.

"I was frightened most of the way and when I looked down at Tabulam and saw that there wasn't too much wind I thought gee, we might get out of this alive," he said.

"It was one of the best feelings to come in over the valley and see the calm conditions on the ground after a pretty stressful flight," Mr Wallington added.

Both men also reflected on the media circus surrounding their landing and being surrounded by nine helicopters in the skies above Tabulam before they touched down.

"We thought we were going to land somewhere in the Hunter Valley, so the Sydney media sent their choppers there and when we ended up further north the Brisbane media sent their choppers down here," Mr Smith said.

Kyogle Mayor Danielle Mulholland showed the two adventurers plans for a roadside marker and information bay opposite the balloon's landing site.

Cr Mulholland said it was fantastic that Mr Smith and Mr Wallington could mark the 21st anniversary of their achievement by returning to Tabulam to celebrate.

Retired Bonalbo Central School music teacher Dave Tucker and students entertained the men and Mr Smith's wife Pip with a song he wrote called "have a crack" about his experiences on the day of the landing.

While Mr Smith was enjoying lunch prepared by local TAFE hospitality students, Cr Mulholland told him of the students' plan to reopen the Jumbulum kitchen, their struggle to obtain funding, and Tabulam Blueberry Farm owner Ridley Bell's generous offer of $2750.

Mr Smith offered to match Mr Bell's contribution, leaving the smiling students with $5500 toward their dream.

Both Mr Smith and Mr Wallington agreed they would return to Tabulam in 2018 for the 25th anniversary of their historic voyage and to see the finished information bay.

Topics:  balloon dick smith editors picks

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