Lockyer Valley man recalls his bird’s-eye view of the world

HAPPY TIMES: Don Neumann’s career in the Royal Australian Air Force took him all over the country and overseas before he returned to the Lockyer Valley where he grew up.
HAPPY TIMES: Don Neumann’s career in the Royal Australian Air Force took him all over the country and overseas before he returned to the Lockyer Valley where he grew up. Tom Threadingham

Gliding high above land and sea for more than two decades, Don Neumann had the opportunity to embrace a unique view of the world as part of the Royal Australian Air Force.

It's wasn't just a birds- eye-view of Australian landscapes the veteran became familiar with, but also the rolling hills and tree-topped soils of foreign lands across the world too.

Born in the Toowoomba General Hospital on September 23, 1928, early life growing up on the family dairy farm in Ma Ma Creek was a far cry from the skies he would find himself later in life.

"In my days you lived on the farm and as a kid, from when you were old enough, you always had jobs to do and it was never all fun and games," he said.

"You learnt to milk at a fairly early age.

"We used to have up to five people milking. We had about 80 cows. But then some of my family got married and moved out so we ended up getting milking machines in to replace the people who milked by hand.

"We supplied cream to the Grantham Butter Factory with milk to the pigs."

Don attended Ma Ma Creek School until he was 13, before continuing his work on the family farm.

"It was one of the bigger schools and when I was going, it had about 45 to 50 pupils with two teachers," he said.

"I finished primary school at Ma Ma Creek with what they called a scholarship in 1941, because the war was on.

"We were 10 miles out of town and had four gallons of petrol a month. That was your ration. You couldn't live in town because the Yanks and army had taken up everything."

Seeing a winged wonder fly over his town as a child sparked a passion and desire to one day hit the skies himself.

"I left home virtually the day I turned 18, and I joined the air force," Don said.

"I was aeroplane mad from the day I first saw a Tiger Moth go overhead up to Toowoomba.

"To begin with, I was an armourer then I became what was called a fitter armourer, which was superior in trade to an armourer, and you did all the repair work and that sort of stuff.

"Then I became an air gunner. I did six years as an air gunner and then I changed over to become a signaller in the aircrew.

"I stayed as a signaller for the rest of my career."

As a gunner, Don flew in Lincolns and in the transport squadron and he took to the skies in C-47 Dakotas.

"From there they sent me to the aircraft research and development unit," he said.

"And there I flew anything that had wings and two seats.

"I flew in the navigator's position as a flight test observer in the Canberra bombers and I also flew two-seat T35 vampires among many others."

Logging more than 4000 hours, Don has also travelled to Malaya, Vietnam and Japan during his time in the air force.

"In 1948 I went to Japan in the occupation forces. I was armourer with the 77 Squadron," he said.

"We disarmed the army and air force and our job was to help them destroy all their weapons.

"I've actually been to Hiroshima while I was there too.

"When we were there, two to three square miles of the place was absolutely barren, just levelled and in the epicentre there was the ruins of one building still standing, which was the aiming point.

"There are things you wouldn't believe there."

After 26 years in the air force, Don had to call it a day, but he had enjoyed his time in the region's skies.

"The thrill of flying lasted the first half a dozen flights and after that it just became like getting in a car," he said.

"But you certainly learnt your geography. Everybody was supposed to be aware of where you were and what you were doing. You always followed map reading and basically read your way across the country.

"I retired on September 23, 1973, when I was based at Richmond in NSW. I was an officer by that stage, a flight lieutenant.

"I'd reached the age of retirement for rank and mustering at 45 years old.

"You are not aware of how much you've slowed up by that time. You might be competent at what you are doing, but for military flying you are too bloody slow."

Upon retiring, Don was quick to move his family, including wife Enid and five children - three boys and two girls - back to the Lockyer Valley.

To keep busy, Don started his own business.

"I bought a taxi service in Gatton at the end of 1973," he said.

"I was looking for something to do once I left the air force and it was available.

"I only had one car, a Holden Kingswood HQ."

After two years of driving the region's roads, Don was forced to close the service.

"I closed it down because one of the biggest jobs for the taxi service at the time was the Gatton Ag high school and college. You'd do, on a weekend, 30 to 40 trips to the college because all students were under 18, and they'd all come in to town for the pictures at the School of Arts building.

"In 1975, they closed down the high school and made it a college, and they were all over 18 and all had cars.

"It literally died, and there wasn't enough money going around."

Charging about a dollar a kilometre at that stage, Don also remembered race days at Burgess Park as busy times for the business.

After closing down his taxi service, Don worked at Beaurepaires as a sales representative for a couple of years and then for Dickson's transport for four years.

After retiring, Don became actively involved in the Gatton Historical Society.

"I was a general labourer for a while and in 1987 I became president and stayed president until 2004," he said.

"I always was interested in history of various types and I helped a bit in the air force with the historical side of things, too.

Don even helped publish a book on the history of Gatton in 2014.

Topics:  air force

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