The Late Rod C. Dyer, founder of Air Adventure Australia pioneered Ellenbrae Station in the Kimberley region of Western Australia in the 1960s and was in 2006 appointed an Official Ambassador to the Year of the Outback program.
Apart from four years in the Royal Australian Navy during WWII, flying was always a part of Rod’s life and is what led him to create a number of innovative business opportunities.
Rod was born in 1925 and grew up on a sheep and cattle property in Elmhurst, West Victoria. One of four children, Rod was introduced to farming at a young age and it was there his fascination with aviation developed. It was while he was watching the crop duster perform its aerobatic duties over his parents’ property that he decided he wanted to be a pilot.
He first tried to get into the cockpit through the air force in WWII - but was turned away for being too young. Instead he joined the navy when he was 17 and went about serving his nation putting off his dream to take to the skies until 1953 when he finally obtained his pilot’s licence.
Rod’s involvement in Ellenbrae cattle station began in 1965. He was on a study tour in the USA, and bought his first aircraft, a Beechcraft Debonair, which he used to inspect a one million acre expanse of rugged Kimberley land, at that time inaccessible by road.
Station ‘F’ as it was known then, was one of four completely virgin land allocations being released by the West Australian government to those who had the resources and necessary expertise to develop them.
Having studied at Queensland University, Rod and his business partner Tom Robertson had many innovative ideas about the introduction of tick resistant cattle to the area, along with improved pastures using modern management principals.
Their offer was accepted and it was then his task to build the station from the ground up, all infrastructure, housing, fencing, right down to aerially sowing the pastures with experimental species better suited to the high rainfall area.
Just getting access to the property proved an adventure – with no roads, Rod tried several ways via 4WD but heading in from the west came up against impenetrable rock barriers. It was some significant time later, and after yet another aerial reconnaisance, that he made his way in.
In true pioneering spirit, the first airstrip on the property was cleared using a forked tree limb pulled behind a 4WD. It was this that allowed construction on the property to begin.
With just a swag in tow, Rod set out to explore his new property. In the early days this began at a slow pace – more than six punctures a day caused by sharp acacia sticks, proved a swift reminder of the area’s harsh terrain.
However, crucial construction began across the property including that of what became locally known as the smallest homestead in the Kimberley, or the largest meat safe – depending on which way you looked at it.
As development continued, Rod decided due to the expanse and rugged nature of the station, that an aerial sow would have to take place.
In those days this of course meant, with necessity being the mother of all invention, that Rod and his crew had to build their own accessory, which they fitted to a Cessna 180 to spread the seeds. The machine was practical, fitted with a simple screw to the aircraft, and operated by the pilot with a device called a ‘pusher’, not at all unlike a stick, to force the seeds out. This proved practical enough until one day the station manager wrote off the aircraft during a flight, accidentally pushing both hands down at the same time and flying the plane into a tree.
Rod regarded the telegram from the manager advising of the accident and stating the craft was ‘unflyable’ as somewhat casual – so he gave him the task of assisting in the construction of a completely new aircraft that proved to be a reliable workhorse for years to come.
The first to introduce the hardy Brahman cattle to the Kimberley, which today is the favoured species in the area, Rod was faced with the task of catching and removing Kimberley Shorthorn from his property which proved quite an adventure given the aggressive bulls didn’t take lightly to being roped in. It took almost a decade to clear the massive property of bulls.
Over the next 14 years Ellenbrae became a successful station, running 6,000 head of cattle.
In 1979 Rod reluctantly sold the property – however today it remains on his Kimberley itineraries with Air Adventure Australia as a place of interest.
During this time Rod also operated a property in rural Victoria. Purchased in 1960, the Pleasant Hills property was 5,000 acres on which Rod ran sheep and cattle.
It was in the late 1970s that Rod first saw the potential of flying people to the outback for boutique adventure holidays.
He had been flying his friends to the Kimberley for many years as part of his regular visits to Ellenbrae. Soon it became apparent how much visitors enjoyed their trips to the outback. The peaceful and stunning landscapes combined with the wonderful characters made for a truly unique experience. The ease of getting to remote locations by air as opposed to via land gave the business great appeal – so much so, return clientele is above 70 per cent and some have taken more than 20 individual holidays through Air Adventure.
Rod passed away in 2008 aged 83.