SKY'S THE LIMIT: the RAAF Roulettes perform above Canberra. Photo: Andrew Taylor
Like the Bananas in Pyjamas the members of the RAAF's six-man elite formation aerobatic display team, the Roulettes, are called by their numbers. On Tuesday Roulette Seven (also known as Flight Lieutenant Shaun Rajzbaum) spoke about this Friday's Roulettes display above the heads of everyone at the evening's Australia Celebrates Concert. From 8.05pm, for 10 awe-stoking minutes, the Roulettes will hurtle to and fro, their aircraft only three metres apart, at speeds of up to 550 km/h.
Those of us who watch the Roulettes marvel at what they're able to do and the extreme danger of it all, but Roulette Seven (like him the other six are all Flight Lieutenants) stresses that each pilot is a super-experienced flying instructor with, just to start with, 1000 hours of flying the contraption (the PC-9/A) the Roulettes use. Only then can they aspire to graduate onwards and upwards from ''safe solo to display'' with that clearance only ever given by ''high-ups'' with those ''high-ups'' looking on and examining, like hawks. He says that sometimes the examining high-ups do their examining from right there beside the examinee, for the PC-9/A has two seats.
We wondered if there were things about Canberra's topography and layout that made any special preparations for flying at Canberra necessary, but here Roulette Seven's language became a bit RAAF-ish, dry and technical for a columnist to follow. He said that the Roulettes may perform ''50 shows a year'' and that the 50 venues were ''all individually risk-mitigated'' using ''very detailed maps''.
Hidden gem ... H. Septimus Power's 1913 painting of the federal capital site at Canberra. Photo: Supplied
Here all hopes that Roulette Seven might wax poetical about Canberra's uniqueness (something Canberrans have come to expect this year) were dashed by what sounded like his extremely professional preoccupations.
The Roulettes are stationed at RAAF Base East Sale in Victoria, but will come here before the display, flying to and from the airport at Canberra for Friday night's 10 minutes of aerobatics and flypasts in their single-engined turboprop aircraft that are used for advanced flight training in the Australian Defence Force.
A.E. McDonald's painting, Early Canberra 1913.
Power of canvas keeps vista alive
Monday's column was flatteringly decorated by A.E. McDonald's 1913 painting of the federal capital city site. The sight of it alerted reader Greg Cornwell, a former Speaker of the ACT Legislative Assembly.
Today that spacious, gracious and atmospheric painting is displayed in the Canberra Stories gallery at the Canberra Museum and Gallery. But once upon a quite recent time, in 1996, Cornwell says, ''as Speaker I tracked it down in Queanbeyan where it languished as 'damaged' - a couple of small holes! - in an admin services warehouse''.
As reported in Monday's column, McDonald's masterpiece, sheep-rich and with St John's church (now in Reid) featuring prominently, was one of 10 finalists in 1913 for the federal government's £250 prize for the best painting of the federal capital site at Canberra.
Cornwell, with the valuable help of Dr Christine Fernon of the ANU has tried to track down the 10 but four have disappeared. Cornwell says that, worryingly, Louis McCubbin, painter of one of the lost four, died in 1952 after having ''directed that his inferior works be destroyed upon his death''. Was his painting of Canberra, an object that would be treasured today, one of those?
Meanwhile, with Cornwell's advice, this columnist has tracked down the whereabouts of perhaps the most seldom-seen of the known-to-survive six of the 1913 paintings. All of my considerable aptitude for grovelling was invested in begging the custodians for the right to show it in this column, and here it is. This isCanberra, the Federal Capital Site, the entry by New Zealand-born Harold Septimus Power (1877-1951), who became an official war artist for Australia in World War I. The painting's custodians, pleased to allow us to show the work, have sworn us to secrecy about who they are and where the painting is.
Monday's column mentioned how a scoffing Bulletin columnist had said in 1913 that the Canberra site was too dry for any artist entering the competition to find any water to put in the picture. But as we can see, Power has proved her wrong. His vantage point, perhaps on Mount Pleasant, has given him a good view of a stretch of the Molonglo and that river makes a big contribution to the overall, site-flattering idyll of the lovely work.
How beautiful that Canberra was! What a beauty spot it might still be if only the Bulletin had got its way and the federal capital city had been built instead at deserving Dalgety!