Have you ever had a role model in life, who might have played for your team, yet was forever positioned at the far end of the field which thus prevented your paths from ever crossing?
Someone you held in high regard, yet they never even knew you existed?
Have you had a distant admiration for someone, based only upon the trail of evidence and reputation which they left for you to find along your road of life?
Someone you were never quite able to catch up with. Ever.
That person in my life was a man called Ian Rowles.
Physically, the closest I ever got to him was soon after my posting to the tiny outstation at Pindiu in Papua New Guinea in 1972.
He came, very briefly, to within about ten feet of me.
"Rowlesy" was piloting his single-engined taildragger Cessna 185 when he sneaked between treetops on the 5000 foot high mountain behind my house, cut his throttle and dive-bombed a group of us standing beside the airstrip, before heading off directly to his home in the remote Kabwum valley.
Ian Rowles will probably be remembered by most Australians who knew him, or knew of him in PNG, for his irresponsible and reckless aviation exploits. Thinking about him always causes me to recall the old aviators saying;
"There are old pilots, there are bold pilots, but no old bold pilots."
After just a few years of flying which notably included a string of accidents which were often a result of grossly disregarding Civil Aviation Regulations, Ian was killed, along with 6 passengers, a pig and a dog, when his plane was involved in a horrific fiery crash near Sialum on PNG's north coast.
I think the year was 1974.
He was just 34 years old.
But I choose to remember Ian Rowles for something else.
He had another life before aviation and private enterprise.
He was my predecessor in the position of Rural Development Officer at Pindiu which I had just recently occupied.
The job involved trekking to each of more than 100 villages in the area, across some of the steepest, most broken terrain on earth permanently populated by humans, to find ways of helping the people achieve their economic and social development aspirations.
Many weeks of each year were spent camped out in the villages with pleasant evenings sharing stories around cooking fires in the thatched houses of the host families who invariably "adopted" us for the duration of our short stays.
During my seven years of walking around the Huon Peninsula highlands I would hear, wherever I went, almost identical stories of admiration for "Masta Ian".
The Didiman who shunned any notion of racial superiority (which was common amongst expatriates in PNG at the time,) and selflessly devoted his time, expertise and prodigious energy to helping people wherever he could.
This was not just another man from the Government full of piss and wind who failed to honour his promises. He was their friend. A real friend, a hard worker, and an advocate for ordinary people living in the bush. He was one of them.
Although my feet were many sizes smaller, I once walked in your footsteps.
Noni kike hatage boyopepo.
It was one of the greatest privileges of my life.
P.S. There is a vivid first-hand account of the amazing exploits of Ian Rowles (here) written by his friend, Patrol Officer Paul Oates, who also documents his own unenviable, gruesome and emotional task of overseeing the removal of bodies from the crash site.