Former grazier takes to skies

Retired Millicent grazier John Stuckey may have turned 93 but he is close to achieving his aim of piloting a light aircraft.

Every few weeks, he drives himself 330km to the Murray Bridge airport for an hour-long flying lesson with an instructor.

Mr Stuckey is drawing closer to proficiency in taking off and landing and other aspects of flying.

“I want to get to the stage where flying for me becomes automatic like when driving a car,” Mr Stuckey said.

“Due to a medical condition I will never be granted a licence, but I can fully take controls of a light plane as long as I am in the company of a licensed pilot.

“The impetus for flying came from my children when they gave me a joy flight from Mount Gambier last October for my 93rd birthday.

“My friend David Botting came with me and the 90-minute joy flight took us to Lucindale, Kingston, Beachport and over my former farm called ‘Kopje’ at Rendelsham.

“This stirred my instincts to fly.

“I then decided to take flying lessons with the closest place to Millicent being Murray Bridge.”

Mr Stuckey has not always been at ease in the air or on the water.

However, a successful course of acupuncture 40 years ago cured him of his air sickness and sea-sickness.

There is another remarkable strand to a nonagenarian taking to the skies as it evokes a family action over a century ago.

His late father Robert Stuckey had already carved his name into the history books during World War I as a commissioned officer and pilot with the pioneering Australian Flying Corps.

“Dad was born at the Mount Burr Forest headquarters in 1896 where my grandfather Stuckey was the district forester,” Mr Stuckey said.

“He won the Vansittart Scholarship to St Peter’s College in Adelaide and later the family moved to a farm near Dubbo in New South Wales.

“At the age of 20 in 1916, he enlisted in the Light Horse and fought the Turks in Palestine.

“He was then chosen to be a cadet with the Australian Flying Corps and trained in a single-engine B.E.2.E bi-plane at Cairo around the pyramids.

“Dad was commissioned and presented with his AFC wings.

“The war ended a short time later and dad did not fly any operational missions.

“After the war, dad attended a few AFC reunions with famous pilots like Sir Ross Smith and Sir Keith Smith.

“He made a successful career in banking and became the ANZ Bank assistant general manager.”

The uniform and associated personal items of Second Lieutenant Stuckey are now displayed in the National Trust Museum in his hometown of Millicent.

Meanwhile, Mr Stuckey well remembers an historic event from exactly 90 years ago.

As a three-year-old, he was carried on the shoulders of his late father across the newly-built Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932.

The public was welcome to walk across the bridge before its opening to trains and vehicular traffic.

“We were living at Roseville at the time and we caught a train into the city,” Mr Stuckey said.

“My mother was with us along with my sister who was a few years older.

“All I mostly remember is the vast number of people.”

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