Young Billy Hayes: A tribute to a great cattleman
WHEN someone dies suddenly, it is often the case that there are matters left unattended from life, or issues unresolved.
This was not the case for young Billy Hayes, 46, who died last Tuesday after the mustering plane he was flying over New Crown Station came down sometime before 1pm in the very north of South Australia for unknown reasons.
As the family gathers at Alice Springs ahead of the funeral - expected to be held on Friday - sister Jenny Hurn spoke of Billy's past few years, when "everything seemed to be going right."
"My feeling is that all his relationships were settled," says Jen, 48.
"He recently had really special times with his boys, his brother Matt.
"Not long ago he rang me up and said: 'Wanna meet for coffee?" We never did that. So we met for breakfast and coffee and just sat and really caught up.
"He seemed happy; and I guess I am happy that he had that."
The Hayes family is an Australian pioneering legend, five generations in the Centre after William and Mary Hayes arrived at Alice Springs (then Stuart) in 1884 with steel telegraph poles to replace the wooden poles used on the original Overland Telegraph Line.
A few years later, the pair established Deep Well Station, about 80km south-east of the town, and it has remained in the family since.
The outpouring of grief at Billy's unexpected death has been nothing short of phenomenal, as Central Australians, Territorians and others took to the phone and social media to express their feelings for Billy and to offer support to the family.
In a statement posted to Facebook last Wednesday, Billy's former wife, now chair of the NT Cattleman's Association, Tracey Hayes wrote: "We feel the arms of the NT wrapped around our four boys, his mum Jan, sister Jenny and brother Matt and extended family and friends."
Tracey had flown to Alice Springs from Indonesia and is now with her children.
For mum Jan Hayes, 73, young Billy's death has come close on the heels of that of her late husband, outback legend Billy Hayes Snr, who died in a quad bike accident while mustering in 2011.
Old Billy and young Billy had been together that day on Deep Well.
Two years earlier, Billy Hayes Snr had been inducted into the Stockman's Hall of Fame at Longreach.
Last Tuesday, after hearing the news of her son, Jan Hayes had a heart attack.
Last Friday, she was recovering in intensive care at Alice Springs Hospital, where I spoke with her, Jenny, Matt, Billy's niece Laura and also Billy's recent partner, Marissa, with whom he had shared so many good times of late.
Billy leaves four sons: Luke, 21, Tom, 19, Sam, 13, and Harry, 11.
Youngsters Sam and Harry had been staying at the stock camp from which Billy was operating when the plane came down.
From her ICU bed, and through a flurry of tears, Jan said: "I got a text from Luke this morning, saying 'Nan, I'm gonna pick up where Dad left off and be the man of the family.'
"It just broke my heart," says Jan. "He's the sixth Bill Hayes, eldest son of an eldest son."
Billy and his two youngest had stayed with Jan at her home in Alice Springs the night before travelling to New Crown station for the muster.
That day, Billy had foregone using a helicopter - which he would normally have used to muster - instead flying a Cessna 150.
"He was a very competent pilot," says Jan. "He had been flying for years; first started when he was 18."
Ever one to be fussing over others, Jan will most likely go to Adelaide for further treatment of what for now she explains as a "broken heart", something that is "not as bad as everyone's making out".
But she is stable, smiling from time to time and remains strong-willed, the matriarch still directing family matters; Jan was expected to go into a ward bed later that day (last Friday).
The conversation around Jan's bedside was given over mostly to recollections of an extraordinary man.
William "Billy" Hayes was born September 16, 1969.
He was a quietly spoken man, with "big, big eyes," an infectious laugh and a "wicked" sense of humour.
Words and phrases like loyal, trustworthy, fun, good father, happy, reliable confidante, came thick, fast and with great ease from a family fiercely proud of their Billy.
"I defy you to find anyone who you'd call an enemy of Billy's," says Jan.
In fact, many of Billy's childhood friends have remained close throughout his adult life, including childhood governess of five years Leonie Shanahan, who came back to the Centre to attend Billy's wedding to Tracey Napier in 1993.
"He was always a very loving boy; as he still was," Jan says."To see him with his children; he was amazing with those boys."
By all accounts Billy was a knockabout youngster, none too fond of School of the Air, eager instead to be outside working or camped out with his dad.
But running Deep Well station, where young Billy grew up, meant Billy Snr was often on stock camp for many months of the year.
That meant that young Billy, Matt and their older sister Jen would help muster with their father.
"He and his dad were the best of mates," says Jan. "He was shattered when dad went."
In his sister's footsteps, Billy attended boarding school at Scotch College in Adelaide until Year 10.
"It was good for him," Jan remembers, "his life was reasonably isolated until then. Although he'd come into gatherings for School of the Air."
"They used to go away; Tasmania one year," Jen pipes in. "He was really good mates with Ben Heaslip from Bond Springs: Bill and Ben, flowerpot men."
After school, Billy booked into a two-year course at Katherine Rural College, certain that his future was on the family station.
"But at the end of the first year he rang up and he just didn't want to be there," Jan recalls.
"I said 'Well I'll talk to Dad and we'll see'. Unbeknownst to me he got on the next bus and he was home."
By this time, Billy's love of his pushbike had turned to motorbikes.
"He's always been a petrol head," Jan explains. "He loved his bikes. Then it got to airplanes.
"And he loved music," adds Jen. "He was a really good singer."
As an adult, Billy was an active supporter of the Finke Desert Race, in which he placed outright third at the 1998 event.
So Billy was immensely proud when eldest son Luke finished outright sixth this year.
But what he loved almost as much as family, says Jan, was flying, especially over the bush country of the Centre.
"When he first started flying," she says, "he flew along the James Range.
"There's a lot of waterholes down there, and he was just so thrilled.
"Looking down from that plane was the thrill of his life."
After a short break at his brother Matt's at Mildura early this year, the pair flew together back to Alice.
Matt was thankful for the time.
"We sat at about 4000 feet," says Matt, 41. "When you're stuck in a plane with someone for six hours, you have a good old yarn and catch up on the last few years when our lives went different ways.
"He said to me: 'I've always wanted to fly south. I've spent 20 years flying round in circles, it was good to get out and have a good run'."
While Billy's death is tough on family and friends, it seems an impossible task for a mother to farewell a son under such circumstances.
"There's a million things you'd like to say," says Jan.
"There's a huge hole that will never be filled. And there is a hurt across the community," says Jen. "People are sending us lots of support. Everyone is thinking of the four boys.
"But of Billy, we will always have happy memories."
After his father died in 2011, young Billy placed a big stone at the spot where the old man had gone. There, the son fixed a plaque for the father lost, which reads: "Doing what he loved on the land that he loved."
A tragic loss to Australia, pastoral history, and gone before his time, it seems young Billy has done the same.