As a young engineer, working for the national electricity supply company, I gladly accepted a posting to the substation near a small rural town. After a recent setback, I looked forward to being away from the city and to see if the country life would help me get back on my feet.
The town had only meagre amenities. I decided to lodge at the only hotel until I might find other accommodation. I was immediately welcomed by the community. Gary, my predecessor, who was to stay on for a few days to provide me with the necessary orientation, introduced me to most of the locals. The usual meeting place in the afternoon was the hotel.
Inspecting power lines, outlying transformers and smaller substations was part of my job and required a fair amount of travelling, sometimes extensive distances and over very rough terrain. For this the company provided a double cab 4x4 Isuzu with their logo on the sides.
I always looked forward to these excursions as most of the roads I travelled were unknown to me and I regarded them as adventures. Early one morning, as I was driving along a road I had not taken before, I reached the top of a rise. A valley spread out below with a river meandering along its length.
Near the winding road passing through the valley, on this side of the river, lined with lush willow trees, was a homestead. From my vantage point I could see in detail: the house nestled in a bend of the river, the outbuildings and barn. Everything looked pristine in the early morning sunlight.
At a small bridge that crosses the river, less than a hundred metres from the dwelling, I stopped just short of the entrance gate to the farm. I got out and stood next to the fence under the blue gum trees that lined the road and admired the establishment. Something attracted my attention to the open doors of the barn. Clearly visible was the nose and propeller of a light aircraft - a Cessna. This also made me realise that, what I initially thought was a road near the barn, seemingly going nowhere, was actually a landing strip. A brush against my leg startled me! It was a silky, black-and-white Border collie. It came and stood in front of me, wagging its tail. Cautiously I held out my hand. It moved forward and rubbed against me amiably. I turned the collar so that I could read the name tag, ‘Sally’.
A long, round trip, still lay ahead that day, so I had to be on my way. I patted the dog good-bye and got into my car. Moving forward slowly, I read the sign next to the gate, ‘ADAM’S BEND...Graham and Amy Cooper’. Driving away I had already made up my mind to return and meet the people.
That afternoon in the pub, having a drink with Gary and George Smith, the regional vet, I mentioned that I had seen the Cooper farm. Before I could elaborate, Gary said to me, “So, have you heard the story?” “Story, did something happen there?” I asked. “Let George tell you, he knows it the best, he actually witnessed some of it.” Gary nodded towards him.
“Okay, but let’s sit at a table… it’s more comfortable.” George got up from his barstool, took his drink and we followed him.
“Graham Cooper was in his final year at university studying journalism, when he met Amy. She was a first year student, doing the same degree. Even before Graham graduated, his father, who owned Adam’s Bend and had farmed there since he was a young man, became poorly. So much so that he and his wife had to move to a bigger town to be closer to medical facilities. Graham never wanted to farm and at first resisted, but his father prevailed and after he graduated he assumed the management of Adam’s Bend. Barely a year later, his father passed away and after only a few months, his mother.
“Eventually Graham and Amy were married. As both were not predisposed to farming he decided before long to sell most of the land and only keep the homestead with river frontage and a few hectares on that side of the river. This would be big enough for a few crops and a vegetable garden. He also wanted a landing strip so that he could take off and land with the Cessna Skyhawk he was buying with some of the money he received from the sale. Graham had taken flying lessons while at university and he had a private pilot license. He always fancied having his own plane. The runway was graded parallel to the river and about a hundred metres from the homestead. This made it easy to taxi to and from the barn where he kept the plane.
“The rest of the money from the sale and other inheritance provided a good income and they could live at leisure. Graham started writing a column for a monthly magazine and became quite involved with that. Amy, on the other hand, became quite bored. She, however, started working on a novel she had an idea for. Graham gave her a Border collie pup to cheer her up. Instead, it ignored her and was very fond of Graham, following him wherever he went. When he was away from the farm, even for a short while, the pup would pine for him.
“Although they were quite involved in the community, often visited friends and family or travelled for business, Amy’s discontent persisted and became quite apparent.
“When Sean Rothman, the new electricity grid inspector arrived, it was not long before he befriended the Coopers. He frequently visited them; partook in various activities; and attended functions with them. He often joined in flying excursions, whether just short flips with Graham or if they all went somewhere for whatever reason.
“The improvement in Amy’s demeanour was almost immediately evident. To Graham this was initially very gratifying but as the friendship between Amy and Sean flourished, he started feeling some resentment.
“When he had done his column for a full calendar year, Graham got notification that he was to receive an award for this and he and Amy were thus invited to attend the presentation ceremony. This was quite some distance away so he decided they would fly there, stay over and fly back the next day.
“On the Friday morning of their departure, Amy complained about not feeling well and asked to be excused from accompanying him. He reluctantly conceded and departed alone with Amy and Sally watching from the house.
“Arriving at his destination he had enough time to refuel and park the Cessna. He hired a car, drove to and checked into the hotel which was also the venue for the presentation. The event went very well and he went to bed very tired from the long day’s activities. However, he could not unwind and fall asleep. At about three in the morning he ordered a sandwich from room service. After this he was wide awake. He had a shower, got dressed, checked out and drove to the airport. By first light, almost three hours before the intended departure time, he was holding short at the active runway and requested clearance for takeoff.
“So far, what I have told you was gleaned from friends, associates, staff on the farm, hotel and airport records, etc. etc. What follows I actually witnessed myself. But first, what about another round of drinks?” Getting up, I said, “I’ll get them.” When I was seated again, he continued.
“Early that Saturday morning, soon after sunrise, I happened to be driving on that road. As I arrived at the top of Len’s Neck, as the hill is called, I beheld that delightful view and stopped the car. Graham was just arriving. The Cessna entered the valley from the right and flew low and slow just on the other side of the river. This would have enabled Graham to see the whole homestead and the runway further to his left, thus he would be sure there were no obstacles for landing. It would also have allowed him to see Sean’s well-known Isuzu parked at the house.
“A few hundred metres beyond the end of the runway the ‘plane banked gracefully to the left and turned, the morning sun glistening on its wings. It kept turning until it was lined up with the landing strip, levelled out and started its descent and final approach to land. When it was just over edge and only about two metres above the runway, instead of flaring to land, it levelled out, increased speed, banked and turned slightly to the left, heading away from the runway and directly for the house. The left wing clipped the barn and fuel gushed from the ruptured left fuel tank. A second later it tore into the house with a cloud of dust. Destroying walls and roof, it came to rest with the front section well inside the building.
“It took a while for the volatile fuel vapours to find a source of ignition. Then the furious combustion enveloped the entire house in a ball of flame. The inferno quickly spread towards the barn and outbuildings along the trail of fuel left after the initial impact with the barn. The drums of avgas and diesoline he had inside ensured its complete incineration.
“Eventually only the charred walls, which were not damaged from the crash, remained. The outbuildings and barn were totally destroyed.
“Graham Cooper’s body and that of Sally, who appeared to have tried to drag him from the wreckage, was burnt almost beyond recognition. So were the bodies of the other two people in the house. The heat was so severe that even the vehicle, parked outside, was almost destroyed.
“That was twenty years ago. As you must have seen, the homestead was never rebuilt. A neighbouring farmer bought and annexed the land. Where the landing strip was, is now a wheat field. Everything else is completely overgrown.
“Where did you hear it used to be the Cooper place...?
© Copyright 2016 Jay Bekker. All rights reserved.