Pioneer pilot thanked for 49 years of outstanding service

Fire bomber pilot Keith Davidson spent 49 years navigating the skies of Stawell protecting residents from nearby bushfires. 

The 2015-16 fire season was his last, accumulating 21,430 flying hours throughout his career.

Mr Davidson received an official thank you from the Northern Grampians Shire Council for his outstanding service on Monday with a letter under seal from mayor Cr Tony Driscoll. 

The pioneering pilot said he never had any training in fire, only an idea about it from growing up in the country.

“I came off a small farm in Wando Bridge, 15 kilometres north east of Casterton and there was not enough land for one brother, let alone two, so I decided to do some flying,” Mr Davidson said.

“In the early 1950s, my father grew linseed and the caterpillars got in that bad that we needed to spray with DDT from Tiger Moth aircraft.

“The caterpillars and the Tiger Moths kept returning, and with it my urge to fly.”

His professional association with the Stawell aviation community began in March, 1971 when he took up employment with AG Airworks.

He helped to contribute to the growth of aerial agricultural practices, including spreading fertiliser, spraying insecticides and herbicides and sowing crops.

Mr Davidson developed his skills at flying in low level and mountainous terrain during this time, so he became involved in aerial firefighting in the 1970s, working closely alongside forestry and fire agencies to help combat fires across the region.

The 1974-75 fire season was Mr Davidson’s debut as a firebomber – he dropped his first load on fires burning near Werrimull in the Mallee scrub.

He then played a leading role in defending homes and the Stawell airport, which came under direct threat from serious fires in the 1990s.

Colleague Rob Boschen said Mr Davidson’s legacy would live long in many areas of aviation, none more so than the many pilots he mentored.

“Keith would always do what needed to be done and other pilots would see and learn,” he said.   

“Keith’s is an ability not many pilots had then or have now – It’s the ability to look at a situation, no matter how serious or desperate it is, and provide a solution.

“He’s never rattled – that is what has kept him safe. He moves with purpose, not with haste. He’s made an enormous contribution.”

Mayor Cr Driscoll said Mr Davidson deserved not only the gratitude of the Northern Grampians Shire community, but also the gratitude of other communities across Victoria. 

“Keith is someone who never seeks praise for the outstanding service he provides to our community, but he is certainly someone who deserves it,” he said.

“For more than four decades, Keith has shown unwavering commitment to ensuring our region is kept safe from fire, and for that, we thank him.”