Rising to the occasion
For 25 years, Rob and his wife Sandy have owned and operated Otway Helicopters – an aerial spreading and spraying business. Using the latest technologies, the Otway team help farmers to avoid damage to pastures and soil to deliver the
Seated behind the controls of his Eurocopter AS350BR Squirrel, Rob Martin hovers above south-west Victoria’s rolling green hills. Day in, day out, the experienced pilot spreads urea and fertiliser blends over some of the nation’s most productive farmland. Arguably, he has the best office in the state. “It’s a real workhorse, it’s built to lift,” says Rob. “It’s not just a passenger helicopter.”
For a quarter of a century, Rob and his wife Sandy have owned and operated Otway Helicopters. Aerial spraying, seeding, baiting, spotting. The Martins do it all. While Rob takes care of business in the clouds, his wife Sandy manages operations from below. The pair have known each other nearly their entire lives. Growing up on neighbouring properties, agriculture runs through their blood.
“We were raised on dairy farms in the district. I left school at 15 and learnt everything from family,” says Rob. What began as a childhood friendship soon blossomed into romance when Rob found himself working on the same cattle station as Sandy in his early twenties.
“WE PRETTY MUCH GOT THE BUG FOR IT AND WENT IN. BOOTS AND ALL. WE DECIDED IF WE WERE GOING TO DO IT, WE WERE GOING TO DO IT PROPERLY”
“Sandy’s family went north to work on cattle stations, and I got called up to do helicopter work, looking for lost cattle in the red gum country for Sandy’s boss. I guess it was fate,” says Rob. “Our lives rekindled, we moved back down south, got married and started a family together.” The couple returned to familiar territory, starting a dairy farm in Victoria’s south-west. But life on the land comes with its share of hardship.
“We worked in the dairy industry for about a decade,” explains Rob. “But the drought at the time almost finished us off. It was so tough.” The year was 1997. With two young children, Rob and Sandy were determined to find a steady income. Armed with a helicopter licence and a lifetime of farming expertise, the pair started Otway Helicopters.
“We pretty much got the bug for it and went in boots and all. We decided if we were going to do it, we were going to do it properly,” recounts Sandy. And they did. Otway Helicopters has serviced Victorian farms from the skies for the past 26 years. It’s work that requires lots of coordination.
“These helicopters are very expensive to run, so you have to make sure everything is in place,” says Rob. “It requires lots of organisation. I couldn’t do it without Sandy.” “No, he couldn’t,” Sandy laughs. “Lee, our youngest, runs the trucks and track loaders while I fuel trailers and run operations,” says Sandy.
“We send the trucks off in the morning, and we’ll fill the trailers with the exact amount of fertiliser required per hectare. “One truck will go straight to the first job and the second truck will meet with the next farmer down the road. That way everything is ready to go as soon as Rob flies in.” The operation is smooth and seamless. Helping keep the job on track is the Martin’s arsenal of Kubota machinery.
“Having the Kubota skid steers has made our operations flow,” explains Rob. “It means we can move from farm to farm quicker. We’ve got three of them now.” Rob and Sandy attribute the success of Otway Helicopters to the relationships they have forged along the way, especially with the Warrnambool community. “We’ve worked with some of the same families since the very beginning,” says Sandy. “We’ve seen their kids grow up and they’ve seen ours.”
For many people, seeing a much-loved family member jump into a helicopter day after day would be a worrying prospect, but it doesn’t bother Sandy. “I suppose it’s like anything, you get used to things when you do it that much. It becomes second nature. “Rob’s doing what he loves – and I could never stop him from doing that, even if I tried!”