LIFE IN THE AIR
St George’s 23-year-old living the dream as a pilot
HE’S only 23 years old but Jack Poplawski has seen parts of Australia most people never will.
Like Wallal Downs in Western Australia’s Pilbara, where the outback’s red dirt meets the crystal-clear aqua wasters of Eighty Mile Beach.
Or the striking white salt flats at Lake Carey.
And then, there are vast vistas of agriculture in action, like 8000 head of sheep being yarded at shearing time on the Nullarbor.
The helicopter pilot, originally from St George in southwest Queensland, was amazed with views like this.
In the hopes of sharing some of the magic he sees from the air, he captures pictures and shares them to his image platform, Whirlybird Photography.
This week, Jack, who was enjoying days off on the Gold Coast before the mustering season ramps up again, caught up with the Rural Weekly to talk flying, photography and what his family thinks of him becoming a chopper pilot.
On May 6, 2016, Jack received his helicopter licence.
He calls himself lucky as he picked up work fairly quickly under Weldon Percy at Fortescue Helicopters, based at Newman in Western Australia.
It was his mum, Denise Poplawski, who suggested he learn to fly.
“Mum asked me what I wanted to do when I was in Year 12 and I didn’t really know,” he said.
“So she said ‘why don’t you go and get your helicopter licence?’
“I have never looked back. “I think she might kind of regret it though,” he joked.
Moving just about as far west as you can go, Jack’s workplace last year spread right across the Pilbara and down to the Nullarbor.
“I was on Warrawagine, Mulga Downs and Limestone – that’s just to name a few. I had numerous jobs over there,” he said.
He said it was hard to put into words what the best part about his job was but he said flying made him feel “free”.
“You get to see so much land – hidden and remote parts of Australia a lot of people will never get to see – and you meet so many people. Everyone has a different story so you meet some interesting people.”
He said the most challenging part of his role was ensuring a clean muster.
The properties Jack worked on in school holidays around St George were up to 24,000 hectares (about 60,000 acres). In Western Australia, he is in charge of making large aerial cuts of places bigger than 404,680 hectares (1 million acres).
“I just got back from Rawlinna on the Nullarbor. It’s 2.5 million acres,” he said.
The photography started after a nudge from Jack’s dad, Eddy, who prompted him to buy a decent camera.
“I stared taking photos with my iPhone when I started flying and then it just progressed from there,” he said.
Nowadays Jack generally has his Canon 5D safely tucked around his neck, and if the moment presents itself he shoots a picture from the air.
However, a few things have to line up before that can happen.
“Obviously safety comes first, and livestock comes first as well... so, if I can, I quickly snap a photo and put the camera back down,” he said.
With the incredible landscapes Jack floats over, and his natural knack for shooting pictures (he is self-taught) he has built himself a solid following on Facebook and Instagram.
“My partner (Monique Williams) said I should make a calender, so I did for 2018. I ended up selling just under 400 copies,” he said.
“Apart from that, I get requests from all over. People buy images for photo frames or canvases, for birthdays or Christmas presents.”
The striking photo of Wallal Downs, where the bush meets the beach, is one of Jack’s favourite locations to photograph.
“Obviously I am a country kid, but I love my ocean and fishing, so it’s kind of a two-in-one package there,” he said.
“I haven’t seen a crocodile but there are sharks and giant stingrays.
“About the time I took that photo there were turtles laying their eggs on the beach; this is just some of the stuff you get to see when you are flying around.”
Jack said it was important to him to continue showcasing Australian agriculture, to show what the industry is all about and has to offer.
Entering the industry came with a financial burden of paying off the fees for obtaining his licence.
Jack was thankful he was able to get a family loan from his dad, which he has paid back, but his ticket to fly didn’t secure his first job. It can be a challenge for some pilots to find work.
“I have got mates who did the licence with me and they have gone back to uni,” he said.
“For one thing, they didn’t get a job, and another, down the track they were worried they wouldn’t at some stage pass the medical, which we are required to do.
“But for any young guy or girl who is looking to do their licence, I would say go for it. It’s the best thing I have ever done.”
Jack was well aware his job was renowned for being dangerous.
“Mum always worries. Every time I leave home she tells me ‘make sure you come back’,” he said.
“It hits home when she says that. But we take pride in our work and our machines. They are always up to scratch and running at 100 per cent. We would never put ourselves or anyone else in danger.”
Search Whirlybird c Photography on Facebook to see more of Jack’s work.
Jack Poplawski DETERMINATION: day skies every takes to the land he loves. capturing the
Yarding 4000 merino ewes and lambs for shearing at Rawlinna Station, Nullarbor, Western Australia this year.
Limestone Station’s black angus, Marble Bar, last year.
Moving 8500 merino ewes and lambs into the laneway at Rawlinna Station.
Pilot Jack Poplawski, the man behind Whirlybird Photography.