Profile – Almost Full Circle
Chances are that if you had asked Martin Hughes if he could see himself behind the controls of an aeroplane in the next century, he might have thought it to be stranger than fiction.
Martin Hughes’life story didn’ begin in Australia –born in 1943, his roots go back to the other side of the world in the United Kingdom. Flying even back then was a family trait. His father flew Short Sunderland aircraft with the Royal Air Force (RAF) Coastal Command during the Second World War in the North Atlantic.
From an early age Martin knew that he wanted to fly and showed a keen interest in aircraft. Fate, however, was to temporarily hijack his destiny. A childhood injury almost placed him out of contention when he accidentally stuck a pair of scissors in his eye. The recovery prognosis was not altogether pointing to a bright future in the sky –in fact, Martin was to abandon his plans to join the RAF –but, on achieving a place at St Johns College, Cambridge, his father convinced him to once more consult an eye specialist. It was then discovered that Martin’ eyesight was well above average. One further obstacle for Martin was that his Science knowledge was not at the level required since his studies had taken him into the humanities with English , French and Spanish. However, a crash course in Physics and mathematics resolved this problem. At about the same time, his parents and his siblings emigrated to Australia, eventually to establish the Silver Brumby Lodge in Thredbo over 1961-62.
Martin attended the RAF College, Cranwell for three years before being posted in 1964 with a commission and his pilot's wings and qualifications as an interpreter in French and a linguist in Russian. His first posting was to RAF Valley in Anglesey for advanced jet training, making his acquaintance with a small jet he came to know well and loved flying –the Folland Gnat, a transonic jet trainer. “This aircraft was a delight to fly. It could go supersonic in a dive, gave the pilot an excellent command of view and handled beautifully.”
Having completed this training, he was posted to No.13 Photo Reconnaisance Squadron on PR9 Canberra aircraft which took Martin to the Near East, Middle East and the Far East. “That was a great tour,” he commented. Eventually, Martin found his way back to Folland Gnats, this time as flying instructor where he spent 2 years training students and 3 years training other instructors.
His RAF career concluded with a posting to Berlin in 1972 and as this was during the Cold War era, his brief was to do a refresher course –predictably in Russian and with this, all his flying activities came to an end. At this time, Martin’ father then suggested that he might like to join his parents running the Silver Brumby in Thredbo. Opting for voluntary retirement, he then departed the UK for Australia in 1973.
Thredbo was a revelation for Martin. At that time, club lodges and privately run larger lodges were the order of the day. The European village atmosphere had been successfully cultivated in Thredbo with a charm all of its own that had made it unique. Additionally, there was a notable absence of the concrete and glass conglomerations that dominate the village landscape today. “I saw many changes and Thredbo saw its heyday in the 1960s and 70s while I was working at the Silver Brumby from 1973 until 1984. The main busy times were the summer trade which was Christmas, January and Easter and of course, the winter. Otherwise we had the resort at our fingertips –the nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, the river and pretty well the entire place to ourselves because in those days, the permanent population was only around 200 residents”.
It was in Thredbo that Martin met his wife Sally in 1974 and together they ran the 45 bed lodge, catering for up to 60 people at peak times. Somewhere in their busy lives they managed to think about raising a family and in 1977, daughter Alex was born, followed by Jessica in 1979.
Aviation was by this time well and truly a distant memory; “Flying was more or less out of the picture by this time, there was simply no time to fly at all –and by then, I’ let my Pilot’ Licence go, as every spare moment was spent learning about running a lodge.”
In 1979, the steady, insidious encroachment of bureaucracy began to make itself felt. The Board of Fire Commissioners began enforcing regulations and lodge owners were compelled to upgrade their facilities in order to satisfy revised fire safety standards. The costs were enormous and therefore difficult for most lodge owners to absorb in their running costs according to Martin. Four years later in 1983 the whole scenario was repeated and for Martin’ father, this was the last straw. He made the decision to place the Silver Brumby on the market.
In 1984, Martin, Sally and the family had left Thredbo and taken up residence across the Tasman running a motel at Lake Hayes near Queenstown and Arrowtown in the South Island of New Zealand. “Back then it was a quiet backwater and we operated the business for one year until we decided that New Zealand was not our future. So, we decided to pack up and return to Australia, ending up Canberra because we wanted to be somewhere that offered good educational facilities and activities for raising our children”.
Being no stranger to the hospitality world, Martin and Sally then became involved in a restaurant near Civic which meant catering for government and embassies. Their work then evolved into entering a management arrangement with a private music school in Canberra which offered tuition to students ranging from pre-schoolers to retirees. “Doing this really wasn’ so strange”, he says, “because you operate using the same basic principles as you do running any business in terms of administration.”
The restaurant business quickly began to pale and the long-ignored urges to take to the air had begun to reawaken and reassert themselves. “At the age of 44 in 1987, I decided to start the process of selling the restaurant. I contacted the Ministry of Defence, got in touch with a Wing Commander and enquired if there were any opportunities for Flying Instructors. I was informed after having been asked my age, that the Defence Force retired people from active flying duties at 45 at the rank at which I would be rejoining. It was the biggest disappointment”.
In 2000, Martin approached Brindabella Airlines to see what career possibilities could be pursued. This involved several hours of refresher flying training, culminating in a flight test and theory exam. It all seemed far too expensive and enormously over-regulated and not very stimulating. It became obvious to him that what he was now considering was going to be something of an anticlimax. So he dropped out of the course and put flying back on the burner.
In 2004, after 20 years in Canberra, an opportunity arose for them to buy a property on the Murrumbidgee River near Michelago and build a home. At this point there were no plans to do anything in particular –just to retire there but it wasn’ long before all this began to change.
One of the things about moving into and becoming involved in a new community is that contacts are inevitably made. With Martin, this was no different. Having joined the local community association and the rural fire brigade and established other contacts locally, Martin was asked to represent the community by standing as candidate for local elections for the Cooma-Monaro Shire Council. He was duly elected in 2008. In the process, he met another candidate, Michael Apps, the Chief Flying Instructor and owner of the Polo Flat based Snowy Aviation Academy. He then discovered Recreational Aviation –something he knew relatively little about. “Mike convinced me to come out and see what Recreational Aviation was all about and I then completed my R/A licence and the Instructor’ course and now I’ a Senior Instructor with Snowy Aviation”.
Having also joined the Jindabyne Aero Club, Martin is keen to see opportunities for flying training with the Jindabyne satellite as a viable component. Now he’ back behind the controls of an aircraft and all this in the spectacular scenery of the Snowy Mountains area which he knows so well from his past. It’ funny how things sometimes catch up with you. Who says you can’ have your cake and eat it?