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How Outback Patrol Began...
Back in 1961, the Nixons tackled the enormous Australian inland, with a plane to fly in and a Bible to teach from, and a Christian zeal to win people to Jesus Christ. They belonged to a church, but they were not there to build churches.
They struggled with severe dust storms in the plane, were lost across deserts more times than they'd admit and they ran out of money.
"Troubles are only another name for opportunities dressed up in other clothing."
A savage dust storm destroyed their C182 at Alice Springs airport in 1968; the De Havilland Dragon was moved a hundred yards in winds at Charleville overnight; dragged backwards out of a bog at Kyabram; when FSS missed their cancel SAR at Eucla WA in '63 sparking off a major search; Nixon fought surging heat currents and cross winds landing at Griffith with several overshoots and go-arounds and received a hero's reception on landing; Martha prayed him through a night landing without lights later at Cunnamulla. These are a few of the adventures with planes that could have closed them down; even taken their lives.
Les was away outback longer than he wished to be and it cost him more than he could afford to pay, and Martha stayed at home raising their three boys, holding the mission office open, and appearing on Christian spots on the new TV.
It was a lonely way to bring up a family. It was back-breaking and heart rending. Les spent too much time on aerial photography to pay for the plane when he preferred to be evangelising. It's was the price to pay to stay solvent......................But, it was fruitful.
"I'm your friend,'' he said!"
Even when eggs and tomatoes were dumped on them in open-air meetings, and that crazed drunken ringer challenged Nixon to quit his preaching at Thargomindah. When the staggering 6'6" stockman approached, Nixon's trembling hand reached up and he simply placed it firmly on the swaggering shoulder and shouted for all to hear, "I'm your friend'. The dazed drunk flung his arms around Nixon's neck and slobbered, "Your the best friend I ever had!"
Many homes were changed and lives revitalised by the glorious power of the living Lord Jesus Christ, through the Nixon songs and testimony in the first days of Outback Patrol.
Tibooburra people recall the night the stranger wandered into the CWA hall, heard the accordion playing, and demanded that Nixon 'play my favourite hymn!' After half an hour of feeble attempts, Nixon gave up and the stranger admitted it was his fault as he forgot anyway!
But a few moments of persistence, and Les played out a tune on the accordion which triggered old memories. "That's it," the stranger yelled. "It's The Old Rusted Cross!" That opened doors and hearts. An hour later, another stranger came to "The Old Rusted Cross", lay down his burden there, and came into the glorious knowledge of forgiveness.
The Birdsville people were a worry for Martha one Anzac Day celebration. The projector was screening away one of the films, and the team played and sang Gospel songs while the reels were changed. But several impatient men began hurling cans of lager at the screen during the interludes, with several near misses and one or two hits while Martha was singing her song. She never forgot the fear of what may emerge from the dark and interrupt the music. For some reason, she does not think happily of those days and events.
However, twenty-five years later, they received a phone call from one of the women of the time, now living in South Australia, saying she never forgot that night, when she heard of Jesus' love and was trying to live up to the decidion of that meeting, and her desire to follow Jesus as Her Saviour!
Only eternity will reveal the true results of witnessing for Jesus Christ in difficult places.
"Let me put some words together"
David Stanfield's family gave them beds and tucker for a while at Cunnamulla in the 60's, and later, sceptic David published these words in his book of poems:
Let me put some words together, in a crude and humble style;
So, with stories gathering like that, the Nixon's persisted, and here's something of the story of the beginnings of what is now called Australia's Outback Patrol.
Back in 1961, the Nixons tackled the inland.
1950's – Church Missions
That was after Padre Les and his Gospel singer wife Martha had conducted United Missions with Churches all over the country during the 50's—and following six-months working with Billy Graham in the '59 Australian Crusades.
1960's – flying with the Gospel
They borrowed a British-made Auster from Wal Job, at Yeoval. A single-engine four-place fabric-and-stick airplane it was, and they headed west to respond to a Macedonian call, 'come-over-and-help-us'. Tibooburra, the target town, was the farthest place west in New South Wales—1000 kilometres from the coast and Sydney, and in the midst of the notorious inland deserts of Australia, that had taken a toll on aviators and travellers for many years.
On the trip, the plane penetrated a flock of wasps at Bourke, ingested one or two and lost the ASI. It rode a massive dust storm on the Bulloo Overflow that pushed them miles off track, and landed next to a mob of sheep 'in the corner'. Then it almost ground-looped on a flat tire at Tibooburra, and Nixon eventually repaired it without one offer of assistance from the sceptic locals who watched in ridicule—but took joy rides later, when they realised it was going to be a blast.
And the people turned out for the meetings in the old tin hall, with Jo Ann Rysdyk playing a borrowed old pump organ and out-of-tune piano, and Graham Barnett singing Gospel opera like they'd never heard before. Nixon's talks were short and pointed, and filled with his accordion songs, as the frowns and interjections from the ringers at the pub was enough to discourage the most robust of missionaries.
They stood their ground.
Matron Nell Mills and Vera Ager, dressed to a tee with Sunday-go-to -meeting hats, and hostel children gathered around, who'd sent out the call, stood their ground, and called the evangelists to return again. Nixon the Baptist had to return to counsel the converts, and teach the children.
Mills and Ager couldn't handle it alone.
After that most inglorious beginning, the Nixons returned west for 34 more years of adventures like that—right up to 1995! Happily without the misadventures in the plane, as pilots learn quickly, or perish. When they saw that the people are in a land as big as the continental USA, which England could easily fit into dozens of times, they knew they had to conquer the tyranny of distance with aviation by faith, and trust in a loving God.
Martha happily tells of the Western Queensland dogs whose ears were irritated by the sounds of Les's accordion, and who yelped in pain each time he played Onward Christian Soldiers! It was a sight to see them howling while he tried to complete his song. But then, Les gladly reciprocates when he talks of the days infant David was left sleeping in the velvet covering of the accordion case behind the meeting platform, and David slept so soundly, he was left there an hour after the meeting closed and the lights turned out, till someone remembered!
The boys enjoyed the plane rides, but tiny Jonathan could not figure it out, so he'd quickly dropped off to sleep in someone's lap. That Dragon plane did the same to others. All except Bonnie Bartlett. She claimed it would never put her off; but it did. She and the Dragon were not good friends, and she'd always have her slimline tupperware handy for those awkward moments when stomach parted with it's contents.
After three-long-months of bush flying—all the way to Darwin and back—Les tells of lining up to land at Broken Hill at the end of one of those hot, dreary days, and saw Bonnie dozing away to the drum of the engines. Martha did too, but for her it was a normal. The plane wheels kissed the ground at Broken Hill while the engines happily droned away—and Bonnie instinctively jumped in her seat thinking we'd hit something in the air. At last, we were even!
Nixon learned to avoided those summer peaks and dangerous weather spots and focussed on the best time for the people and the places. Outback Patrol is grateful to God that in all these years, they've never suffered major incidents flying, loss of people in a tragedy, or catastrophe associated with desert and remote places. Those who know how to pray are invited to keep praying for that kind of Divine protection, as in Isaiah 43:19 and Jeremiah 33:3.
Fifty-five of those isolated places.
These days a dozen volunteer pilots and their Christian entertainers fly to families in fifty-five of those isolated places, to carry on the Gospel work taken up in 1961. The daily Scripture classes on Schools of the Air now, continues in the 90's, a recent addition to their innovative ministry.
'The world's first flying parson'
Nixon took his inspiration from Anglican Missionary at Wilcannia, Rev. Len Daniels, a WWI pilot in India, who flew a De Havilland Moth after 1929, a gift from Lord Castrol. Daniels opened up the west, and as 'the world's first flying parson', accompanied Nixon on several sorties before he died peacefully in 1991, aged 91. He had commented, 'the work goes on and is in good hands'. John Flynn was the Presbyterian who, tho' not a pilot himself, created the first flying Doctor work in 1929 or so, at Cloncurry, in consultation with Daniels.
Brother Francis of the Bush Brotherhood, an Anglican order, was another inspiration. His 'Gasping-Gertie' Auster left smoke trails over the west in the 50's, and Francis's witness built the Churches in the Territory and Bourke for years. And of course, Australia's famous Salvationist, Captain Vic. Peterson at Darwin and Katherine, and his adventurous crashes, won his way into a hundred stations after WWII. He flagged Nixon on during meetings in 1965 and said, "Carry on the work, Les".
About the same time, Tassy farmer Esrom Morse and his patient wife Val and their small family began a similar work based at Longreach, far west Queensland. These two men longed for the times they'd be together and spun all kinds of bush yarns of their exploits in the west. Morse's work was carried on by Les Batterham and George Deane in recent years, with the Christian Brethren there, and has been most fruitful.
Perhaps the most famous of the early flyers was the Sky Pilot himself, Keith Langford Smith, who flew his Tiger Moth through the Northern Territory with the Anglicans. That was in the 30's and 40's. He eventually retired to Sydney, where Nixon fed on his challenges, which formed much of the inspiration for Outback Patrol. His radio programs came Nixon's way, as his is custodian of those valuable tapes, which tell out marvellous adventures and conquests for the Gospel in those days. Also, his books, 'Drakes Drum' and the like are now collectors' items.
Everyone who knows anything about aviators in Australia knows Boris, otherwise the Dick Roberton of Derby, WA. His charter work became famous, not only for remote flying but training MAF students for New Guinea, and the missionary fields of the world, etc., Dick hosted the Nixons often, and was house guest in Sydney many times. Now retired, his adventures included extreme tropic flying and precise survival, etc., His charters opened up the Kimberley's, and held it together most days of the year, not Sundays, he'd say, except in emergencies. It is the Lord's Day. The work is carried on today by son Andrew, an equally experienced aviator/engineer, with Christian virtues.
A Flying Doctor De Havilland DH84A Dragon
Armed with useful experiences, Nixon stepped out in faith and bought an ex-Flying Doctor De Havilland DH84A in 1961, Dragon by name, VH-SNB, and full of vices by nature, for the sum of Twelve Hundred Pounds. He paid for it by doing aerial photography with a war disposal aerial camera, and fifty foot long rolls of Kodak film. Many of those black and white enlargements still adorn stations and homesteads, hospitals and schools, far afield and all over the place.
SNB flew continually until '75 and was replaced by modern Cessna's, Piper's and Beech, since. The Dragon now sits in an Aviation Museum in E. Lothian, Scotland, to the admiring oos and aaahs' from tourist, marked as Nixon's plane with Australia's Outback Patrol.
Schools, Seminars and Concerts
But generally, most weeks of the year, teams fly into townships to teach the children the Gospel, distribute supplies and literature, counsel parents and families in seminars, and stay overnight for a concert or service. Bibles, videos, tapes and books keep the clubs supplied and the people interested in the Gospel.
In the 90's this imaginative work is supplemented by a monthly magazine for Schools of the Air, Explorers Club, with classes every day by radio from Patrol HQ in Sydney. And workers train in the three-months Institute courses at Patrol HQ, too. More than eleven hundred adult Christians have graduated from the courses, and are now teaching, serving, winning others to Christ. Ask for Nixon's Institute text on 'Jesus, the Master Teacher,' and 'Relationships and Communicating the Gospel,' and he'll gladly send you one.
Radio to the Nation
Also, Les Nixon's hour-long radio program goes out every week from an FM station at Georges Hall, not only to local listeners, but by satellite Monday nights to 134 FM Public Service Stations across the nation. It's called "Fly-N-Hi," just like the registration plate on his car. The Nixon style of missionary outreach is more far-reaching now than ever.
Nixon is a university trained,(BA MA MMis), ordained minister in the Baptist Church, approved by the Australian Baptists, as 'in other service'. He and Martha are members in good standing in their home Church—Narwee Baptist, suburban Sydney. Pastor is Dr. Darcy Taplin, on the phone at 02 534 2699, and always glad to hear from interested people. Outback Patrol is part of their missionary outreach.
Names are not too important, but they are helpful. Pilots and workers are drawn from every Christian denomination in Australia with only one vital criteria—they witness as 'born-again' disciples and followers of Jesus Christ, with audience proven skills and talents to share their faith with others.
Beginning days saw pilots Captain Rob Hopkins (Ansett), Phil Hartnell (NZ) and Jim Tarrant (Farmer, Victoria) and Rod Cuthbertson (Qantas) helping. Canadian Teen Ranch Founder Mel Stevens even toted up a hundred flying hours in the Dragon in his days with Sydney's Teen Ranch. Yodeller Richie Gunston was built for the Dragon and it for him. He sang his way through NSW, Queensland, the Territory, Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria, comfortably carried in front row seat #I in the Dragon. They placed him right on the Centre of Gravity!
He talked to hundreds of men in those days and prayed with some of them, as they came to Christ. Mel filed and shoed horses on all kinds of stations before his trombone came out and he played 'Joshua fit de battle of Jericho' for the people. With Nixon's accordion, the guitar and horn, these three worked their way through many remote places, and one day they say, may even write a book on the strange adventures of the day.
'Cross my palm with a gold coin'
Like the time with the Afghan camel-herders at Marree, South Australia, staged a concert for the hospital with these three from Outback Patrol to turn on the music. Before trains and roads, their camels were the burden carriers of the inland. For the concert, admission required passing a dark palm with a gold coin, and hot-blooded Afghans know what's not gold. Not till that tin hall was packed to the rafters, and a hundred sweaty bodies yelled to begin, did the Afghan's flag OK! Yet, families to this day recall that night as the time they heard the riveting story of Jesus Christ and His Cross, and claim they may not have changed religion overnight, but they did accept Him as their Lord from that moment on.
And the time of the unceremonious landing Nixon and Gunston made at 'Snake Creek Bore' in the far north of South Australia in '67, when compasses went haywire due electrical interference from ground ore and wild dust storms. A major search was mounted from Adelaide and Alice Springs to save these intrepid flyers, but they were able to fly their way out when a distant cattleman rode into their location. They travelled on untroubled around Australia in scores of grand meetings and functions, and did not see the newspaper headlines, till months later when they returned home. FSS claim the matter became a copy-book example of how to behave when forced down in the outback!
King and Lasseter
Often they fly past the bore where Burke and Wills perished on their ill-fated expedition walking south to north in the 1860's; and Harold Lasseter's frantic search for an imaginary gold reef near Ayers Rock in 1932. It's the most inhospitable land in the world, but made for flying over, if you're careful. Frank W. Boreham said that the only survivor of the Burke and Wills expedition was the scientist, King, who had a Christian sister in Melbourne, praying for him every day!
World conqueror Smithy flew it in 1928 on his way to England, and before when he flew charter from Perth. Sir Charles Kingsford Smith that is, who flew the Pacific first in 28. Those who made it, lived to tell the story. Others died in the attempts.
Stevens and Gunston were the men who'd never take no for an answer. They'd plant the movie projector in the middle of the street to flash the movies onto the wall of the community hall, as it was too hot to go inside. People would inhabit the shadows and sit in cars to hear the Gospel, and while the men looked like they were talking to themselves, they knew a hundred hungry souls were out there, listenning.
Another of those distant hearers was a Dutch lad, who'd jumped ship in Melbourne to find his fortune in Australia. Months later he heard the Nixons at Mary Kathleen, the uranium township near Cloncurry. The music got him in. After a week of meetings, he stepped out to confess Jesus as Saviour, but Nixon knew that he was a fugitive, and the police were watching him, too.
That young man not only got his life staightened out, but it left an impact on the reports the police were keeping, so when he applied for Australian citizenship, it was granted on the basis of his change of life. His name was Hans Volk. It was about the year 1965.
Those who dedicate their time and talents to fly
These days Steve Ward flies a C206 or a Saratoga; Phil Crocker in his Bonanza, Garry Thompson in VH-XGT, his C210, former WWII Lancaster chief, Milt Fludder in his PA28; Garry Fielder a Qantas Steward in a Cherokee 6 between trips; Phil Lamb from Bedford College in the Saratoga too; Plumber Peter Wells from Yass; George Kinscher at Dubbo in a C210, David Maddock the CFI in anything atall are only a few of those who dedicate their time and talents to fly the workers on Outback Patrol.
What makes Outback Patrol click?
Take a look at an Australia map, then look up our pilots when you click on Pilots Page. They give their time, pay for the plane, follow up their contacts and return again and again. That's what makes Outback Patrol click.
Why not include Australia's Outback Patrol in your prayer and stewardship, too?
Why? Because it is a time-proven, outback-tested Christian mission, supported the stewardship of the Lord's people. No Church or business funds it; no benefactor endows it. No Government subsidy supports it; Nixon likes it that way. Only God's provision daily keeps them going.
Sponsor a team member to go outback.
Costs? Yes. Your $500 investment could sponsor a pilot or team member to go outback for Christ and the people; subsidise the cost of Explorers Magazine for a thousand people or keep a worthy student at Patrol Institute for a year.
It's a volunteer ministry, but needs funds to subsidise the workers.
It counts on people like you to take a share.
With the amazing advances of travel, education and communication outback, the population is growing faster than in the cities. There are more families inland now to reach for Christ, and more workers are needed to go there.
You stop, they drop!
So—what the Church has been unable to do due the tyranny of distance, lack of funds and shortage of workers, Outback Patrol tries to make up with dedicated volunteers.
And it works.
Write to Les and Martha and tell them they can count on you.
So, what began with a WW2 training plane in 1961 and a new chum green 70-hour pilot seeking God's guidance, is now carried on by young men and women with heart's desire to continue God's work with families, in the far reaches of Australia's outback.
Donald Prout wrote about it, too.
Well known journalist Donald Prout wrote lyrics about this, to the tune of "Take me out the Ball-Game', and he sings it every chance he gets. It goes like this:
Remember: 'Don't back out on the outback!'
Opportunity down under Go to our opportunity down under page.
Home Page Back to Outback Patrol's Home Page.