27 December 2023

Cape York icon uses helicopters to save Biboohra neighbours

| Matt Nicholls
Start the conversation

Luke Quartermaine and his daughter Bella.

Luke Quartermaine.

You’ve probably heard the name, or know the face.

He’s a Cape York legend, having grown up on Watson River Station and is known all over the Peninsula through his appearances at rodeos and other community events.

Well just like Magoo (Page 5), Luke has been a life-saver at his new home at Biboohra on the outskirts of Mareeba.

Situated on 35 acres near the Barron River, Luke and his wife Ally watched the flood water rise and rise on Sunday.

“We looked at it in the morning and thought it wasn’t too bad because it wasn’t that high,” Luke told Cape York Weekly.

“But it just wouldn’t stop raining. It just rained constantly. I reckon we had 200mm in a couple of hours.

“It got to just after lunch and we realised we had to get serious about doing something.”

Luke is a long-time helicopter pilot and has two R22 choppers at his disposal, which was handy because his neighbours soon found themselves in need of evacuation.

“They all rang the SES but no one turned up,” he said.

“The SES didn’t even tell them they weren’t coming … if I didn’t get them out of there then I’d hate to think what would have happened.”

Luke rang fellow pilot Jack Pantovic and they immediately sprung to action to help the neighbours.

“There was a small break in the weather which allowed us to get the choppers up and start evacuating people.”

Luke in his prime at the Laura Rodeo.

In total, Luke and Jack moved out 19 people – 10 kids and nine adults. They no doubt saved many of their lives.

On Monday, Luke and Ally returned to assess the damage.

“We were the luckiest out of a lot of people,” he said.

“Some water has come through the house but our neighbours’ houses are totally gone.

“We lost a lot of our sheep but our horses and cows are OK at the moment.”

Luke and Ally then went for a walk to check on their neighbours’ properties and to help feed the remaining animals.

“Everyone has lost something … a lot of stock, especially sheep are gone,” he said.

“It’s bloody sad.”

An experienced mustering pilot, Luke said he had heard criticism of emergency services for not providing more aerial support during the disaster, but explained the challenges of flying a chopper in bad weather.

“When it’s raining heavily, you can’t see a thing,” he said.

“And you have to be really careful about powerlines.

“We landed at Jack’s place because it was higher and we knew where the powerlines were. They are really dangerous if you are in a helicopter.”

A chopper takes off to retrieve people.

The Quartermaines are now in clean-up mode and were without power when they spoke to Cape York Weekly.

With his family safe, he was mostly concerned about the state of his drinks fridge.

“I can go without food but I won’t last long without cold beer,” he said with a smile.

He’s certainly earned a cold one.

Start the conversation

Cape York Weekly

Subscribe to get the latest edition of Cape York Weekly in your inbox each Monday.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Cape York Weekly's terms and conditions and privacy policy.