FLYING a light aircraft at low-level, Dudley Maslen drops a newspaper and loaf of bread out the window to cyclone-devastated Gascoyne pastoralists.
It was March 1998, and ferocious ex-Tropical Cyclone Vance had flooded the region, destroying homes and causing widespread havoc.
Mr Maslen, a former Carnarvon pastoralist and politician, and then Pastoralist and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) president, Barry Court, had been delegated to co-ordinate the cyclone recovery for stations in the North West pastoral region.
More than two decades later, Mr Maslen's efforts - and longstanding service to the Carnarvon community - has seen him awarded a medal in the Order of Australia (OAM) in the Queen's Birthday Honours.
A humbled Mr Maslen said the award was totally unexpected, particularly as it was for simply doing something he loved.
"Nothing is work unless you'd rather be doing something else," he said.
"I put in some long and hard days, but I never considered it work as such, because it is what I enjoyed doing."
Growing up on Mardathuna station, west of the Kennedy Ranges, there was no doubt Mr Maslen was destined for station life.
As a kid, he loved where he was and never wanted to leave.
His earliest memories involve hunting and gathering bushtucker with Aboriginal women and children at the station.
"Much to my mother's dismay we wouldn't feel like dinner because we had a big feed of bardies and cocky eggs during the days," Mr Maslen said.
"She didn't have a problem with it because she grew up along the same vein being born in Carnarvon.
"I also remember going out on the ponies and making a nuisance of myself behind a mob of sheep.
"When you live on a station you start work and grow into it, then one day you wake up and you're an adult and it all comes naturally to you.
"You certainly start your apprenticeship from a very early age."
Mr Maslen was educated by correspondence before boarding at St Patrick's College in Geraldton and Guildford Grammar School.
In that time, the then 16-year-old secured his student pilot's licence and became a full private pilot.
Like most country kids, Mr Maslen got the jack with city-life and returned to the bush as soon as he graduated.
"I went jackarooing at Sturt Meadows station, north of Leonora," he said.
"They were the best years of my life.
"It was great fun and a great experience."
In 1970, Mr Maslen was appointed Cooralya station manager, after his father purchased the property, which neighboured Mardathuna.
Admittedly, Mr Maslen was never there because he was busy mustering more than 40,000-head of Merinos across the two stations.
It was a full-time gig and - as a pastoralist - moving into aerial mustering was one of the biggest changes he seen in his time on the station.
"When we started everything was done on horseback, even some of the mill runs were through the sandhill country," he said.
"Then in the early 1970s, John Raulston, who was a pilot, started a small charter company in Carnarvon.
"He and the Bain brothers - Laurie and Alan - from Woodleigh and Mt Clair (stations) stumbled across the fact you could work stock - mainly cattle - with an aeroplane.
"That was the start of aerial mustering."
The family enterprise purchased Boologoroo in 1975, which was run by Mr Maslen's brother George.
He and brother Richard purchased Eudamullah station in 1980.
In 1987, Mr Maslen was contacted by Upperhouse member Phil Lockyer to put his name forward for the Liberal's local seat - the old seat of Gascoyne.
Initially he wasn't keen on standing, despite serving as a Shire of Carnarvon councillor from 1975.
"It was half past four in the morning and I was waiting for daylight to take off, so I could go up in the plane and muster," Mr Maslen said.
"Phil Lockyer phoned me and said, 'Ian Lawrence is resigning and I want you to put your name in for the pre-selection of the Liberal party'.
"I told him to bugger off, as I was far too busy."
Six weeks later, Mr Lockyer phoned him again, looking for an answer.
Mr Maslen was firm in saying it was the same.
"Don't talk to me again," Mr Lockyer responded.
"You always have an opinion, you are always telling everyone what to do and you won't put your hand up when you get the chance, so bugger you."
Mr Maslen gave in and put his name forward - thinking he wouldn't get pre-selected - mainly to get Mr Lockyer off his back.
"Of course I bloody got elected in a by-election," he said.
"I went to Parliament, I was the opposition whip and the member of the joint house committee for the 14 months I was there.
"It was a very interesting time as it was the time of WA Inc."
The stint was short-lived, after the seat of Gascoyne was abolished in 1988.
Given, a path into politics wasn't something Mr Maslen had originally planned, it was an exciting experience.
And he decided to give it another crack in 1989, when he ran unsuccessfully for Northern Rivers.
After Mr Maslen's defeat, he joined the National Party and contested the WA Legislative Council in 1996 and 2001 and the Senate in 1998.
In this time, Richard Court was the Premier of the WA, and in March 1998 ex-Tropical Cyclone Vance hit.
"The cyclone wiped out all the stations down the line from Exmouth to the Gascoyne Junction momentarily," Mr Maslen said.
"I was very much involved with the PGA and agri-politics lobbying.
"Barry, Richard Court's brother, was the president of PGA and we were mates.
"He phoned me and said, 'Some of our members are in a bit of strife - can you get to Exmouth?'
"I said, 'bloody hell, Barry it's like flying through the sea at the moment, it's bloody pissing rain."
The next morning, Mr Maslen was flying to Learmonth in a Cessna 172 to pick up Mr Court and a WA news reporter.
The group zig-zagged along the cyclone's path from Exmouth to the Gascoyne River, using an aerial mustering radio to communicate with station owners.
"I'd tell them we were coming and they'd respond, 'Fair dinkum, you can't be mate, you can't see past the verandah out here'.
"I told them to listen out because if they couldn't see us, they'd be able to hear us."
Flying at low-level, the group dropped a copy of the newspaper and a loaf of bread out the window at every station property on the route.
Having mustered at many of the stations, Mr Maslen knew the area and the individual stations all too well.
"We were also able to land at a couple of properties and speak to people," he said.
"When we landed at Middalya station the news reporter, who wasn't feeling the best, managed to get a flight back to Karratha.
"It went down really well and I think there was only one newspaper, which was stuck in a tree and recovered a week later."
Returning from their trip, Mr Maslen and Mr Court were asked by Richard Court to help with the cyclone recovery for pastoralists in west Gascoyne.
A deal was struck, after Richard agreed to shout the pair breakfast or dinner.
"It was a bloody disaster - there was a fair bit of wreckage," Mr Maslen said.
"But it worked really well, everything we did was with people, who wanted outcomes.
"We were able to identify where problems were and use the influence given by the government to shake up insurance companies.
"We had direct contact with the Premier and could bypass the bureaucracy, so things got done."
The clean-up was finished in about three weeks.
In 2003, Mr Maslen moved from the station to town.
His wife passed away unexpectedly in August the same year.
Between them they have four children Burke, Ben, Alexandra and Edwina, as well as daughter-in-laws Brooke and Alexandra, and son-in-laws Rob and Nick.
Upon moving, Mr Maslen immersed himself totally in the administration of the Shire of Carnarvon.
After his wife passed, he also reconnected with Susan Richardson, who was Carnarvon's magistrate at the time and the first female country magistrate to go on circuit.
The pair had known each other since the 1960s and after meeting up, a relationship developed and they eventually married.
"She was a great support to me at that time and still is today," Mr Maslen said.
Ms Richardson had three high-achieving daughters - Claremont veterinary hospital veterinarian and part-owner Danielle Catania, doctor and anaesthetist Kate Haines and general practitioner Sarah Phillips.
Today, between their seven children, Mr Maslen and Ms Richardson share 20 grandchildren.
Over time, Mr Maslen has dedicated just under 20 years to the Shire of Carnarvon, eight-and-a-half of years, which were as president.
He was at the forefront of regional recovery once again in 2010, after Carnarvon experienced a year's worth of rain in one day.
It was the Gascoyne's worse flood in 50 years and Mr Maslen was a resident through the disaster.
His extensive portfolio has also seen him hold many positions including - the inaugural chairman of the Carnarvon Regional Advisory Committee - vermin control, Pastoral Lands Board deputy chairman, Carnarvon Chamber of Commerce president, Carnarvon Transport director, Gascoyne Water Cooperative chairman and member and Gascoyne Racing Association inaugural chairman.
Nowadays, he and his wife run a plantation, which produces limes, peaches, nectarines and mangoes.
They are the most northern stone fruit growers in WA.
While it is a far cry from station life, it is something the couple have embraced.
And Mr Maslen will always be connected to the bush and the people he met along the way.
"We had a lot of relations in the back country and people who were like relations, but weren't actually blood related," he said.
"The pastoral country was like that you all caught up once or twice a year, whatever the pivotal point was.
"Everybody looked after each other and everybody knew each other - we were one big great family.
"I have been privileged to live in an area and era where I've had the support of my community, a wonderful wife and extended family."
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