The first flying lesson David Mullen ever took ignited a passion that never left him.
With just $10 in his pocket, the University of Canterbury student readily pounced on the opportunity for a $5 flying lesson.
As he described to his son, Jesse, years later, when the Piper Cherokee 140 took off, the sense of freedom was like nothing he'd experienced before. Flying over Christchurch's alps, he connected with nature and "was hooked."
It planted the seed for a 41-year aviation career, a love of adventure and reinforced an enduring connection with the environment. They were among the qualities that typified a rich and well-lived life, as his wife, Pauline, reflected this week.
David Ion Mullen died on September 10, following illness. He was seventy-two. He was well known for his community involvement in the Goulburn to Crookwell rail trail bid, Goulburn's street tree working party and heritage issues.
Born in 1948, he was the seventh and youngest child of former three-time Goulburn City mayor and longtime solicitor, JB (Jack) Mullen and wife, Doris. David was educated at Saint Brigid's School, Saint Patrick's College and Sydney's Waverley College, and according to Pauline, had an ingrained sense of fairness and the environment from young.
As a child, he loved visiting his parents' Range Road cattle property, The Retreat. Together they enjoyed the outdoors and a cup of boiled billy tea was never far away.
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Farm life prompted David to enrol in an agricultural science degree at Armidale's New England University. Driven to study overseas, he furthered his agricultural studies at New Zealand's Canterbury University in Christchurch.
It proved fortuitous. Pauline, an Arts degree student, moved into a flat David shared with others.
"That's where I met him. We were flat mates and friends for years and if anyone had told me I would later marry him, I wouldn't have believed them," she said.
After university, they went their separate ways. David, by this time a qualified flight instructor, returned to Australia in 1977 and continued his aviation passion with Union Air and Air Niugini. Pauline's travel bug, took her to the UK where she worked in arts and photography.
Ever the one to keep in contact, the two linked up again in 1981 when Pauline returned to Sydney. They married in 1983 and moved to Papua New Guinea for his work with the national airline. Pauline commuted to Sydney, continuing her film and television work.
"As a captain, David could give the most amazing commentary of anywhere he was flying because he was really connected with the country and wanted to pass that one. I loved that about him," Pauline said.
"He had such a calm nature that someone once said being on his flight was like sitting back in an armchair."
Patience was his great virtue and for this reason he was handed the 'hardest' flight students to teach.
Sons Jack, named after his grandfather, and Jesse, came along in 1985 and 1988 respectively.
Coming back 'home'
A year later, David landed his "dream job" as a Qantas pilot. The family relocated from Cairns, which had a Air Niugini base, "home" to Goulburn. The couple moved into a house in Hurst Street, almost opposite the one in which David had grown up.
The farm was never far from his thoughts and when not commuting to work or spending time with his family, David ran the property he'd inherited from his father. 'JB' had died in 1995.
"When the property sold earlier this year, someone commented it was one of the best run farms in the district," Pauline said.
"He was so passionate about soil science and getting grants for soil and pasture regeneration. He retired doing his first career."
Retirement from Qantas freed up more time for community involvement.
The keen cyclist collaborated with the late Peter Mowle to develop 20 routes on less trafficked rural roads around Goulburn for a tourist website. Visitors came from Sydney and Canberra. Soon, they conceived the idea of a Goulburn to Crookwell rail trail, using the disused 56km corridor.
David had been inspired by the Otago Rail Trail, which he rode with Pauline in 2013.
Mayor Bob Kirk came on board with the local concept and Goulburn Mulwaree and Upper Lachlan Shire Councils funded a feasibility study.
"One of the things David loved about it was being able to connect with and meet farmers (along the route) and a whole range of people to help make it a reality. He was totally committed," Pauline said.
Cr Kirk said he would have loved to have secured funding for the trail's development by now. The result of grant applications will be announced in coming months.
"If it all hooks up it will be the icing on the cake, an economic and tourism driver for the area and a wonderful legacy of all David and Peter's work since 2014," he told The Post.
The former pilot was equally passionate about street trees after witnessing Essential Energy's 'pruning.' David again approached the council and the Street Tree Working Party was born.
Together with four others, he mapped and assessed every Goulburn street tree for a database. Cr Kirk described it as a labour of love over five years that resulted in the council employing a fulltime person to oversee the trees' management. Separate tree planting projects, such as the Avenues of Remembrance, were the offshoots.
The mayor said he shared many conversations with the man he was proud to call a friend.
"He was a lovely bloke, very sincere, great company and intelligent in so many ways," he said.
"...David was a thoughtful and considerate man who didn't waste time and words. He was a person who didn't just make suggestions but came up with solutions."
In the same vein, he stood up for Hurst Street heritage when number 22 was proposed for demolition. Pauline said her husband was aghast that anyone could think of demolishing the 1889 house but for him it came down to "due process."
"It was possibly the influence of his father's legal background but he was all about fairness," she said.
David also lobbied the council to list Hurst Street as a heritage precinct.
Though ill for some years, it didn't deter his enthusiasm, sense of adventure and love of travel. Four years ago he tackled the Dusky Track with good friend, Wal Smart. He continued bike riding and holidays and loved nothing more than those at Rosedale on the south coast, kicking back with good food, wine and company.
"He didn't let his illness define him," Pauline said.
"..He lived his life. It was about leading by example and just going out and doing it."
Tributes have flowed for the man many regarded as "gentle, kind, patient, nurturing, generous with his time, intelligent, humble and just a good mate."
David bonded closely with his sons. Jack said the word 'gentleman' encapsulated his father as he interacted with every walk of life. As he always told his children - "just be yourself."
Pauline said her husband was not afraid of dying because he'd done everything he wanted. David died peacefully at home.
"He inspires me in life and death...His calmness, connection to nature, nurture and environment created such strong love," Pauline said.
"...I feel privileged to have had the most adventurous life with him. It's been wonderful and exciting. I'll miss him so much, as lots of people will, but what wonderful memories we have to share."
David is also survived by sons Jack and Jesse, granddaughter Lilly and his sister, Dorothy Brewer. His parents and siblings - Pat, John, Frank and Ruth predeceased him. Sister, Margaret Maguire, passed away just four days after him.
A private family service has taken place at Craig's Hill chapel. A memorial service will be held at a future date.
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