Victoria’s Goldrush Ballooning has added something different to its hot-air experiences: mid-year flights over blooming canola fields.

Story Terri Cowley  Photo Goldrush Ballooning

It’s taken about half an hour to unpack the trailer and set everything up in an open paddock owned by the gun club in the tiny northern Victorian town of St James. Bullet casings crunch underfoot as champion hot-air balloonist Paul Gibbs spreads out a canvas envelope beside an up-ended basket. Before long he has turned on 2 gas burners, sending striking flares of orange light between the silky layers of fabric, which begin to magically float above the ground in the muted light of an early winter morning. Soon there’s enough hot air to pull the canvas towards the hazy sky and the cumbersome basket follows, standing upright. Two other hot-air balloonists are also getting ready, so they can depart together on sunrise and take in the breathtaking fields of golden canola and ripe wheat.

It’s just another weekend flight for Paul, who has been involved in hot-air ballooning for more than 30 years, including earning numerous titles as Australian champion and a bronze medal at world-championship level. This time, with passengers in the basket, he gently elevates the aircraft off the ground, basket dragging behind slightly, then it’s up over the road and the adjacent farmland, stomachs momentarily left behind as first-time balloonists adjust to the unusual sensation of flying with just a bit of wicker beneath their feet.

“We’re looking at the beautiful canola fields, which are just now coming into bloom,” Paul explains. “The countryside out here is starting to look spectacular. This is one of our regular canola flights that we do at this time of year over north-eastern Victoria."

This story excerpt is from Issue #154

Outback Magazine: April/May 2024