Today was “Mail-plane-day”. Tuesdays and Fridays are special in Punmu. Those are the days we get our mail delivered. Today the plane was due at 12.30 and I was the designated mail collector.
The airstrip is about 6Km from the community and I had completed my caretakely chores so I went out early. Clear skies and a few dust devils in the distance and the warmth of the wind let me know it was a hot day. Probably around 40C. I pulled up at the airstrip gate in my dusty Land Cruiser and let the engine die.
Once again I realised the desert is never silent. The first noticeable sound is the dull roar of the wind through the spinifex, rising and falling as the wind gusts across the land. The ear becomes accustomed to that background and begins to hear the soft cooing of the spinifex pigeons. The squeaky-door calls of the zebra finch swell and fade but are always present as they scurry in flocks through the air, ground and trees in an always moving urge to feed, drink or evade the ever searching hawks.
The airstrip is hot and dusty, with just a small iron-clad shelter.
Over the noise of the desert day, yet still hidden by the hot sky haze, the aircraft is heard. Having travelled 170Km from its previous landing, and well over a thousand KM for the day, this will be just another stop for a busy aircraft.
It flies over the strip, looking for any camels which may have decided to begin eating gravel, then descends over the community to alert everyone to its presence. Turning, it flies back and is suddenly visible.
With its cliched roar the plane touches the desert strip hiding behind the spinifex and low acacias. I remember other flights arriving. Of being in the aircraft, holding it up by the seat rests. I remember helping to put out the landing strip lights at dusk as a Royal Flying Doctor aircraft was due in to evacuate a seriously ill baby. It is worthwhile looking through their website. They are an essential part of outback Australia.
After passing over the mail and allowing a pair oftourists to stretch their legs, the pilot closes up and takes off again though the heat haze for another bush airstrip about 200Km away.
As I drive away the Zebra Finches flock back to their disturbed feeding, the pigeons resume their cooing and the ever present wind continues its undisturbed journey across this vast land taking with it some of the Punmu airstrip dust.