Jaca Festival No.71 is up, up and away in a beautiful balloon
By JULIA ILES
FLOATING through cloudscape in a hot air balloon at 10kmh is an exhilarating way to spend a morning.
But as the balloon I was in ascended, I realised my life rested upon an oversized picnic basket with a gigantic balloon attached to it.
Up, up, up, and the lull of early morning bird calls became fainter while houses, cars and swimming pools increasingly looked like pre-schoolers' toys.
The 30-minute joyride was conducted by members of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), who are in Grafton this weekend as part of the Jacaranda Festival.
Today, they will give tethered hot air balloon rides to people at the Grafton Showground.
"Some people expect it to be a thrill ride, but it's more a beautiful and unique experience," Squadron Leader Ian Richman, who steers the balloon, said.
Based in Canberra, the former pilot now works full-time giving hot air balloon rides to people, mainly at charity events.
"I get a lot of funny reactions when I tell people I am a hot air balloonist; they go 'what is your real job?'" he said.
During Jacaranda, Squadron Leader Richman will be supported by three ground staff ? Flight Sargent Brett Baker, Warrant Officer Geoff Dorward and Corporal Helen Russell.
During yesterday's flight others in the basket chatted, but I silently drank in the sights, afraid to miss an angle of the river, or a Jacaranda corridor. We landed on private property south of the Pacific Highway. No-one was at the nearby house, so in the age-old tradition Mr Richman left a bottle of champagne on the doorstep.
Hot air ballooning has been around longer than gliders and airplanes.
It was invented by two aristocratic brothers in France, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier. They successfully tested their contraption in an unmanned run and placed a duck, sheep and rooster in the basket.
"If animals can successfully drive a hot air balloon it doesn't give me much credit," Squadron Leader Richman said.
The first manned ride was on November 12, 1783 with a balloon which was built from silk and paper.
It was launched from the centre of Paris at the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
The ride lasted for 22 minutes and ascended to 500 feet.
When it landed miles away in vineyards, local peasant farmers were extremely suspicious, believing the balloon was a demonic, fiery dragon. They poked it with pitchforks and to placate them the Montgolfier brothers gave them champagne.
When the trip was over yesterday, my first thought was, 'I'd really like to do this again'.