When Charles Humphry flew a small plane over the Statue of Liberty during a trip that crisscrossed North America, it was the fulfilment of a long-held dream. Charles, now 97, had wanted to be a pilot since he was a lad, growing up on a citrus farm in country Victoria during World War II, but life delayed his plans. Charles was 53 by the time he had his first flying lesson.
Charles grew up on his parents’ 80-acre citrus farm in northern Victoria. The youngest of four, he was pulled out of school in his final year of primary school to help on the farm after his older brothers volunteered to fight in World War II.
‘I was always going to join the air force when I could but, about a month before I'd have been old enough, I got a letter from the government to say I had to stay where I was because I was in a reserved occupation.’
So, Charles embraced citrus farming, taking over a property at Whirlpool Bend, on the Murray when his father retired.
‘I developed that 125 acres into one of the best citrus groves in Victoria. It was definitely the biggest in those days. I ended up selling my property for $1.25 million. Not bad for a sixth grader.’
Active in the community
As well as being active in the citrus industry, Charles was a Rotarian for 44 years and a Master Mason for 54. At various times, Charles was chairman of Murrabit’s tennis club, golf club, and the hall committee.
‘Before the TV came on, there was no entertainment at Murrabit – we are talking about the late 50s – so I organised the Community Pictures with another good committee, and we got two 16-millimetre projectors and put on films every Friday night.’
It was Charles’ idea to create a new golf club for the town on the disused town common, a plan that was quickly embraced by the locals.
‘The day we started to set up the ground to plough it and grade it, we had 15 tractors there.’
Being a leader in his local community had its benefits, including sparking a romance with Kay, the mother of his two daughters. ‘I was president of social club, and she became the secretary and naturally, you know what happened…you fall in love.’
A dream to fly
Flying was one of Charles’s greatest joys and proudest achievements, particularly his trip throughout North America as part of a 15-plane safari with 50 other Australian pilots.
‘I flew up the Hudson River, over where that chap (Captain Sully) put that aeroplane in. You couldn't pick a better spot. I'm looking at the Statue of Liberty and I'm thinking, “No way! A bloody Australian who learnt to fly at a little flight club in Swan Hill”.
‘We flew from Los Angeles to Alaska, down to Anchorage over the Rocky Mountains, over glaciers. Magnificent.’
‘If I had another life, I'd live exactly the same as I've lived this one,’ Charles says.
Reviewed 25 July 2023