Pushing the blues away

A zeal to revive a vintage classic and deliver it a new purpose drove Sergeant Michael Dellaca to wipe 10 years of dust off a billy cart that sat in a shipping container.

CAPTION: 26 Squadron Mechanical Equipment Operations Maintenance Section (MEOMS) team with the F/A-18 Hornet billy cart. Story and all photos by Corporal Melina Young.

When the dust settled, a spark ignited and wheels where in motion to not just push the cart, but to push mental health awareness.

The billy cart, made from workshop scraps and FA/18 panels, and modelled off the fighter jet was pushed from RAAF Base Williamtown to the old World War 2  RAAF Base Rathmines on November 12.

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CAPTION: The F/A-18 Hornet billy cart is carried off the Stockton to Newcastle ferry.

Thirty one members from 26 Squadron Mechanical Equipment Operations Maintenance Section (MEOMS) trekked 52km, raising close to $8000 for Beyond Blue.

The team averaged 6km per hour as shoulders, quads and glutes burnt. Their jaws clenched as they peaked heartbreak hills and relief took over on smooth runs.

Within the cockpit sat the lightest of the team members, pushed by three people, and flanked by a safety vehicle, mobile workshop and a bus. Members swapped out when the hurt took over.

Tailor-made physical training sessions aided the team’s anaerobic fitness. One month of pushing weights uphill, and a month of practice runs meant the team was ready.

The crew’s motivation was reinforced as onlookers clapped, horns tooted and heads turned when the billy cart powered along streets and footpaths. It was transferred onto the local ferry, then zipped past weekend strollers along the Newcastle foreshore.

Initial hills were met with ease, but the heat, distance and gradients turned legs to jelly.

“In the hottest part of the day, everything was burning, the sun is on you, your legs are burning, you just want to swap out with the next person,” Leading Aircraftman Nathan Camilleri said.

The charity and sharing the experience with workmates were the driving forces for the team.

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CAPTION: Corporal Daniel Gatehouse pilots the F/A-18 Hornet billy cart with the team from 26 Squadron MEOMS.

“What powered me was doing it for the person next to me. The event’s theme, ‘no one should have to battle alone’, really resonated for me,” Corporal Daniel Gatehouse said.

The challenge tested the team’s resilience, but their eyes remained focused on the finish line.

Ten hours and 30 minutes after departure, the team arrived at the Catalina Club (the old RAAF Base Rathmines), met by family and friends.

“The strength of the team is the individual member, and the strength of each member is the team,” Sergeant Dellaca said.

Sergeant Dellaca created the event after seeing the mental health challenges COVID-19 caused.

Family members struggled when MEOMS members deployed on COVID Assist – left alone, some unemployed, some having lost businesses and separated in lock down.

Several unit members suffered anxiety and sought assistance from Beyond Blue.

“I felt the phone call stopped the free fall I was in and supplied me the ladder to climb out of the hole,” person A said.

“It was like talking to your best mate who just listened and made you feel like they will ride anything alongside you to make sure you’re OK.”

To donate to the 26 Squadron MEOMS Billy Cart Push Challenge, visit: https://fundraise.beyondblue.org.au/26sqnmeomsbillycartpushchallenge

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CAPTION: The 26 Squadron team and the F/A-18 Hornet billy cart receive community support on the final stretch of the charity push.


 
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