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Pioneering aviatrix now a passionate LifeFlight volunteer

LifeFlight volunteer and inspirational aviation professional, Mary Earnshaw, has been a trailblazer and source of true inspiration in the world of aviation and shows no signs of giving up on her greatest passion any time soon.

Mary has a remarkably diverse background in aviation, having worked in the industry as a pilot, flying instructor, recruitment branch manager, operations manager, marketing and public relations manager and now volunteer.

She has over 20 years’ experience in teaching people to fly and more than 10,000 hours of flying under her belt.

Mary will speak at the Quota International Women's Day Breakfast at Gunabul Homestead, Gympie tomorrow, March 8.

Mary had her first taste of aviation at an early age when her father built an almost life-sized replica of a Tiger Moth aircraft for her younger brother, who was interested in flying.

Little did her father know there were two aviation buffs in the family.

The two siblings spent hours in the backyard pretending they could fly, and Mary’s interest in all things aviation began to soar.

Mary had her first real chance at flying years later, when a local speedway meeting offered a lucky entrance prize of a "Free trial flight at the Bunbury Aero Club", south of Perth.

Unfortunately she didn't win the golden ticket, but the next day she was out at the airport with $10 in hand (the cost of a test flight at the time) ready to experience what it was like to fly an aircraft.

“The adrenaline was racing through my body, the nerves were trying hard to catch up and my sensible mind was saying - no you can't afford another lesson!” Mary recalls.

“At that point I think I fell in love with flying, not knowing it was to become the next and greatest chapter in my career.”

A stark contrast from workplace anti-discrimination standards of 2017, Mary faced a much different set of challenges as a woman planning to pursue a career in aviation during the 1970s.

The profession was considered inappropriate for the ‘fairer sex,’ as Mary describes it, and women in the cockpit were few and far between.

Despite this obstacle, Mary made the life-changing decision at the age of 20 to follow her dream and eagerly signed up to take flying lessons every Sunday at 1pm for the 30 weeks it would take to earn her Private Pilot Licence (PPL).

Costing $26 a lesson, the young aviatrix took on several jobs to support her new ambition.

Mary describes her first solo flight as one of the most exhilarating moments of her life.

“Learning how to fly was really quite difficult because I couldn’t tell anyone what I was doing. So why was I becoming anti-social? Why wasn’t I out going to the movies and doing things with my friends? I couldn’t tell them,” Mary said.

“Until I did my first solo flight – after that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.

“It was just the most wonderful feeling. I don’t think there’s a pilot out there who couldn’t tell you about their first solo flight.”

After completing this first step into the world of aviation, and unsure of what was in store for her future career, Mary made the decision to continue her training and earn her Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL).

“After many hours of tears and sleepless nights, lots of frustrating flying and a hole I kicked in the wall of the Bunbury Aero Club (still there today with a patch over it), I gained my CPL in 1982 and then went on to complete my instructor training,” Mary recalls.

After gaining her instructor rating, Mary went back to the Bunbury Aero Club to teach people from all walks of life to fly.   Her students ranged from the farmers and station people from remote north Western Australia, through to young adventurers who, just like Mary, saw aviation as their career path.

She took on a collection of roles at the Bunbury Aero Club – as receptionist/bookkeeper, casual charter person, dishwasher, and aircraft cleaner - anything that could keep the aviation enthusiast around aircraft and in the air.

As well as gaining her certifications, Mary also completed her Diploma of Business Human Resources and Diploma of Occupational Health and Safety and went on to teach OH&S part time at Perth TAFE.

In 1987, Mary was appointed as the first female Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) in Australia, causing quite a stir among the male dominated industry at the time.

“I have met some incredible female pilots throughout my career and to name them all would take far too long,” Mary said.

“However those that I have the greatest respect and admiration for are those that did not see themselves as female pilots. They viewed themselves simply as pilots and got on with the job of flying.”

While working as operations manager for a company called Slingair, Mary fell in love with a helicopter pilot named Pete, who worked for a sister company named Heliwork.

Due to their ever-changing careers, the couple relocated several times in the years that followed - working in regional areas such as Kununurra, a town in far northern Western Australia located at the eastern extremity of the Kimberley Region.

Mary and her husband Pete then moved to the Sunshine Coast in 2006, where Mary instantly went on the hunt for her next career challenge.

She stumbled onto the Sunshine Coast Helicopter Rescue Service base in 2012 purely by chance. Mary was introduced to a valued and vital local community service, which in 2013 merged with CareFlight, now known as LifeFlight.

The organisation’s commitment to saving lives resonated with her instantly and she has now been volunteering for the lifesaving charity for over five years.

“I am passionate about my work at LifeFlight not only because I have the opportunity to put many of my skills and life opportunities learned along the way into practice once again, but more importantly because I can contribute to the vital service that has saved so many lives,” said Mary.

LifeFlight has over 200 passionate volunteers all around Queensland, who dedicate their time to the lifesaving organisation that relies on the support of inspirational women like Mary to continue providing the highest quality of medical care to the community.

As a leading Australian charity, LifeFlight operates 13 rescue helicopters and three air ambulance jets across 12 locations. LifeFlight crews have flown over 45,000 critical rescue missions in the last 35 years.

To volunteer or donate to LifeFlight, visit www.lifeflight.org.au