Flight, light and Kraftwerk


I flew home from Sydney recently with my son and experienced, as if for the first time, the magic that is passenger flight. It’s not that my son hasn’t flown before, he’s been lots of places, but children are better than adults at seeing magic for what it is, and flying is almost certainly magic. My son’s good at reminding me of that.

You can study the physics of flight, thrust and drag, weight and lift, but the facts I like best are these: you are 80,000 kilograms of metal, humans and cargo moving forward through nothing but air. You watch the city you’re leaving become less distinguishable, people and cars and swimming pools and houses mere patterns in the landscape as you lift high above the earth, the Opera House sails about the last thing you understand of the place you’re leaving. The coast, the sea, rarely whales. And high in the air, perhaps the early morning or evening sun creating a golden light that infuses the entire cabin with love. Or the moon risen, or stars. You’re in cloud, or above cloud, fat or smeared or storm cloud, or it’s cloudless. You don’t exist in time. There’s nothing else quite like it. I have my best ideas up there; always have had.

It’s hard to believe that less than a hundred years ago, passenger flight as we understand it was unheard of. The Wright Brothers had their 59 seconds in the air at Kitty Hawk in 1903. But planes weren’t built in earnest until the first war, after which passenger flight was a next step, hampered only by the lack of someone thinking it was a good idea. Then came Lindbergh, then Amelia who, as it turned out, wasn’t half the aviator of our own Lores Bonney. Earhart had better public relations and she disappeared, but Bonney flew from Brisbane to London in 1938, five times as far as Earhart’s trip across the Atlantic. After the second war, passenger flight took off, then became ubiquitous. We take it for granted now, but my grandmother never flew and my mother flew a handful of times. I fly every month. And I hate it when people bucket Qantas, our own airline, just for the sake of it. Qantas came from Winton to the world, a success story if ever there was one.


We’d been in Sydney for the Vivid Festival where lights and images were projected onto harbourside buildings every evening over two weeks. We were there to see Kraftwerk, the German seventies technerd band, which, frankly, I had low expectations of, friends mostly looking at me oddly when I told them that’s what we were doing – my husband’s the fan, I’d add quickly. But like flight, it was magic. In a show first staged at the Tate Gallery in London, the four members of the band, dressed in quadlined bodysuits, stood behind four identical keyboard frames, playing that strange, timeless music, enveloped by 3D video images. I listened and watched as the technology of autobahns, trains, pocket calculators, robots and spaceships floated before my eyes. It was art realised perfectly.


When the show finished, I stumbled down the stairs as if in a dream. I looked behind me as the Opera House sails lit up first as Luna Park, then as records flipping onto a turntable, and then a rainbow. Across the harbour, giant cubes of purple bounced up and down slowly on the front façade of the Museum of Contemporary Art. A cruise liner in dock was an aquarium. Green bats flew up the façade of a city building. That night, I slept in a big hotel bed and in the morning kicked a soccer ball around the Botanic Gardens with my son, watching the deep blue harbour drift by. And then to home. I was ready for magic.

We flew, all 80,000 kilograms of us, as if we weighed no more than a tiny bird. When we came in over Brisbane, my son looked out, his eyes wide, and said, “It’s the world coming back to us. Look.” And he was right. I saw the glittering sprawl of my city at night, the black snake of a river, the Story Bridge written in orange lights. Magic.


Based on the column published in The Courier-Mail Qweekend  on 15 June 2013. I write mainly about writing, education, birth, health and the thrill of parenting. You can Get in touch,  tick the box to receive emails, Like Writer Mary-Rose MacColl on Facebook or follow MaryRoseMacColl on Twitter. Have a great day!