As Qantas nears its 100th birthday, we celebrate the people who help make it the spirit of Australia. This month: Sally Hackelton, QantasLink flight attendant and NSW firefighter, talks about the ties that unite her two great loves.
“I’ve been a QantasLink flight attendant for 15 years and with Fire and Rescue NSW as a retained [on-call] firefighter at the Helensburgh station, south of Sydney, for eight years. In mid-November I was called up to be part of Task Force Romeo, to assist with the devastating fires in the Port Macquarie area. It was the first time I’d been to a big fire. I remember driving out there and thinking, ‘How bad can it be?’ Then I looked out the window and it was just like Armageddon. The bush was completely gone.
We protected the house of a man in his 80s and his son. At first we were sitting there thinking, ‘This is fine.’ Then the fire came up the hill. We had to call for backup. It seemed unstoppable.
I was only there for a week but I felt privileged to help out with the fire effort. People honked their horns and waved at us out of their windows. When we were filling up the truck one morning a woman ran up and just hugged me.
My daughter once said to me, ‘Mummy, do you prefer being in the aeroplane or in your fire truck?’ I thought that was a good question. At the heart of it, they’re both about community.
With regional flying we’re dealing with country people and passengers who have never flown before. I’m not in the big planes. It’s similar with Fire and Rescue NSW; Helensburgh is a little town.
I wanted to work on international flights but I ended up getting into QantasLink. It’s great. I’ve had two children while I’ve been here and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Regional flying feels like you’re getting on a bus in the morning and everybody knows everyone else. You’ll get an elderly couple who’ve lived on a farm their whole lives and who’re going overseas for the first time. We’re not taking them overseas but it’s the first step for a lot of our passengers.
Everybody has a story when they fly. People are going somewhere and the stories they tell you can be amazing. I met an older couple going out to Lord Howe Island just before Christmas and the wife had dementia. The husband said it was where they went for their honeymoon so he wanted to take her back there. Stories like theirs make it so rewarding.”