Following flying dream
If man was never meant to fly then whoever was responsible for the saying forgot to tell Horsham’s Denis Grosser. Flying has become a passion and part of life for the 80-year-old former businessman and farmer who enjoys nothing more than setting off on an adventure to farflung parts of the country.
Friends, relatives or acquaintances often join him on trips to destinations such as the Birdsville Races or Lake Eyre.
On occasions, since 2007 and as part of the charity Angel Flight Australia, his passengers have been remote country people needing non-emergency access to specialist medical treatment.
Many in the Wimmera-mallee and beyond would know of Denis and his son Kym through successful business Irwin Motors, now Traction Ag, and connections in the north-west Wimmera.
But few might be aware of how much passion Denis has for venturing into the sky to what he describes as ‘a different world’.
“It’s the same world but it is completely different – you get an entirely different perspective from up in the air,” he said.
“It’s the freedom and the wonder of it all.”
Denis revealed he had developed an interest in aircraft when he was a toddler on his family farm at Custon near Wolseley, South Australia.
He said he would marvel at the aircraft flying from Nhill training air base during the Second World War.
“You could see them go through their paces from our place, which was about 40 nautical miles away. It intrigued me. I always wanted to fly,” he said.
Yet it was many years later when he was 52, an age when some might consider a lifetime dream little more than a fantasy, that he seized the opportunity.
“When National Service was the norm in the early 1950s I tried to enlist in the RAAF, but my mother would not sign the form. She said it was too dangerous,” he said.
“Over the years I talked about how I wanted to learn to fly many times but it kept getting put off by the everyday pressures of raising a family, paying off the home and so on.
“Talking to Kym one day while he was still in the RAAF, he told me about his intended father-in-law John Colbert, who at 50 had just graduated as a primary school teacher.
“I was admiring his efforts and during the course of discussion something came up about me learning to fly. Kym looked at me and said ‘dad, I’ve heard you say that too many times – your philosophy is do it now, do it now, do it now’. So I did.”
After selling the farm, Denis shifted to Gippsland to manage a Moe Co-op farm store. He ended up with agribusiness New Holland and moved back to Horsham.
After 14 years he was chief executive at Sunnyside Lutheran Rest Home and ultimately took on Irwin Motors.
“When I worked for New Holland we would have annual performance reviews,” he said.
“The boss would sit us down and ask us our goals, and they always wanted to hear about how we would sell more products.
“My goals were that I wanted to own a Mercedes diesel car, learn to fly and have constant access to an aeroplane.
“His response was ‘what on earth has that got to do with the business’ and I said I would have to work by butt off to achieve my goals. He took the response to the rest of the group and said ‘Denis has the bestand-fairest award’.
“Incidentally, I achieved all those goals and more. In fact Sir Bruce Small from Malvern Star bicycle fame said his main lifetime regret was never thinking big enough.
“While I’m happy with what I’ve achieved, I believe the same thing.”
Denis now climbs into a four-seater Piper Arrow aircraft and has flown to every state except Western Australia.
Despite Denis’s love of flying and flying now being such a big part of his life, he has never been able to convince his wife Cynthia to share his passion.
“I’ve managed to get her into the aircraft twice,” he said. “Once when I was going to Brisbane and I had to taxi the plane for about 100 yards to the bowser to fill up.
Her response was ‘that’s enough!’
“The only other time was to help check the brake pedals in the hangar and I didn’t even get the plant out of the shed.”
Denis, who has now clocked up more than 1700 hours of flying, keeps fit by playing competitive table tennis and since retirement has a side interest running a small farm at Drung.
“I was born 80 years ago but really only feel 67,” he said.
Denis Grosser at the controls of the four-seater aircraft he enjoys flying to remote parts of Australia. Picture: DEAN LAWSON