Walking on Air – A Parachuting Documentary with Ian in his Youth.

Back when we were all young.

It was 1981, I had just completed my Pattern Making apprenticeship at the Toowoomba Foundry and the previous Christmas holidays, while at the Australian Parachute Nations meet a beautiful young lady who I thought was worth chasing all the way to Sydney. Little did I know at the time that would introduce me to my daughter some 10 years later. Time to leave home, to cut my family and childhood ties, to go it alone and see what life may hold for me. So, with everything I had inside my trusty EH Holden Station Wagon and my bike on the roof, to Sydney I went…

On my way to Sydney

On my way to Sydney

During the week we worked in Sydney but on weekends we drove the three hours to the Hunter Valley and the Newcastle Parachute Club (NSPC), where we would spent most weekends making friends and falling through the air. A sport like parachuting is one of those activities where people bond in a special way and  I quickly found my place as one of the regular instructors. By then I had already been instructing for two years but this was back in the static line days of round parachutes and a good decade before tandems would change the sport into the massive commercial operation that exists today.

Jas was the man!

One of the main personalities amongst many on the drop zone was Jas Shennan. Charismatic club president and instructor who worked as a film editor, primarily on television documentaries and always one of the last standing beside the fire, with beer in hand on a cold Saturday night.

Around the time I entered the scene Jas had decided it was time for a doco about parachuting for TV, to show what it’s really like and some of the personalities. Over the course of a year or so he corralled the footage, often using ex-military 16 mm gun cameras for the free fall footage, augmented with ground shots to fill in the story. There were no mini GoPros back then!

I was only 21 years old.

As it turned out, on the day when Jas arranged a film crew to capture the ground based activities, I was instructing a group of students and a brief part of my youth was captured for me to fondly look back on, all these 33 years later.

This is how you exit a cessna.

This is how you exit a cessna.

Back then you could have classes of up to 20 people, all keen to do a first jump. I remember actually saying I wouldn’t instruct classes of more than 20 students as it was the maximum I felt I could train appropriately and there were times when groups were split up due to their size. Back then ground training and theory took a full day, with the first jumps happening the next day.

In Walking on Air we see snippets of what goes into the training and what’s expected of student skydivers in the early 1980’s, before the Accelerated Freefall Programme and piggyback student equipment. It’s fun to see students practicing landing rolls, something which is barely taught today with the ease of landing square parachutes. It’s now all changed but this is the way I learnt parachuting when I started in 1978 at Gatton in South East Queensland and the way I instructed for many years.

Historical snapshot of parachuting in Australia.

As it turns out Walking on Air has become somewhat of a time capsule of where parachuting and skydiving were, not only for NSPC but also as a snapshot of the sport in the early ’80’s. It’s also turned out to be a significant moment in my life as a 21 year old and an incredibly important part of my early adult life.

Watching Walking on Air, I still see in my minds eye everyone as they were. None of us have aged and we’re having the fun of adventure and friendship we all shared.

Working on the post production.

From the time of moving to Sydney to the release of Walking on Air I had gotten to know Jas well and eventually found myself offered work at a small post production facility of Dubbs & Co, (where Jas worked on his own projects), as a trainee with sound mixing, editing etc. I have fond memories of the time helping syncing rushes, operating the back room in the sound mixing studio and dubbing sound effects for clients from records onto tape. This was in the days of analog, long before digital where everything was film and magnetic tape. Thinking back I didn’t take full advantage of the opportunities offered to me, but alas, we all make errors in life and if I could send a message back to my 22 year old self, I would offer advice which no one at the time knew I needed.

I did however learn a great deal and I often wonder how much of those early years have crept into what I’ve done with Your Story and Create Your Life Story. I’m sure there is an echo of Dubbs & Co. which creeps into what I produce today, maybe it’s as simple as not being afraid of the microphone.

Full of memories for all of us.

I remember Walking on Air being an arduous process for Jas to complete. When you have a passion and it’s self-created, you have to find the resources both emotionally and financially to complete the task and I have the vaguest memories of his dogged determination needed to complete the film, eventually to premier at the Sydney Opera House with a jump-in by some of the members of the Prometheus skydiving team.

Walking on Air is for me a reminder of the first flowering of my adult life, where I had only just left home, still naive and immature, deeply in love and excited by life, not knowing what I was doing but grabbing opportunities where I could and learning a great deal. It’s a snapshot of my youth which I can share with people in my life as I age and reflect on how much of that 21 year old still lives in this person watching an old documentary about a group of friends, when we were all young and had no idea of what was to come for all of us over the the following 33 years.

Thanks Jas, for saving our memories.

2 thoughts on “Walking on Air – A Parachuting Documentary with Ian in his Youth.

  1. Not so much these days, most people have left jumping and moved on, though FaceBook has created some reconnections.

I'm sure you've got some ideas about this? Eh?