Indigenous pilot's career takes off
V-Australia pilot Robbie Simms is living proof that Indigenous Australians can soar to any heights if they are given the chance.
Robbie, who is descended from the Eora People of La Perouse and the Murrumburr People of Kakadu, has the daunting responsibility of flying the company’s flagship aeroplane, the $250 million, 360-seater, Boeing 777.
Not bad for someone with no history of aviation in the family and who, by his own account, was not a natural student.
Robbie says his ambition to fly was formed when he was a boy growing up at Panania in Sydney, after he was taken for joy flights by a boarder at his home, David Bergus, who was studying to be a pilot.
“He used to take me for rides and so I had the flying bug at a young age,” Robbie said.
“I pursued that at school, took the right subjects - like maths - and then was interviewed for one of two scholarships a year available for Aboriginal pilots from the Department of Education. After I took that scholarship it all went from there.”
After graduating, Robbie’s first job was piloting single-engine light aircraft around the remote islands of the Arafura Sea northeast of Darwin, near his mother’s ancestral homeland.
“I was the only Indigenous pilot up there in those years and it was a big deal with my own people,” Robbie said. “They thought that was great to have one of their own flying them around.”
“I flew light aeroplanes in that area thinking I could possibly stay there for my entire career. It is often who you know not what you know that matters in aviation so I never thought that top opportunities could arise for me but then Warren Seymour gave me a lucky break.”
Warren Seymour, who was then owner of National Jet Systems, offered Robbie the opportunity to make a major step up to First Officer on 50-seater Dash-8 turboprop planes.
Robbie took the job and wound up staying with the company for 13 years before stepping up again to fly as First Officer on the 100-seater BAE 146 Jet for Qantaslink. He then returned to the Dash-8 as a Captain, the BAE-146 as a Captain, and flew the 120-seat Boeing 717 as a captain until 2008 when he joined the international arm of Virgin Blue, V-Australia, as the first Indigenous Senior First Officer on a Boeing 777.
Robbie’s next goal is to become the first Indigenous Captain of a Boeing 777.
Robbie’s achievement is all the more remarkable as there are only five Indigenous pilots in Australia.
Robbie believes that Australians don’t do enough to help Aboriginal kids get a foot on the career ladder and he has been active in trying to inspire them to follow their dreams.
“I spend a lot of time speaking to kids and I’ve done that all throughout my career,” Robbie said.
“I tell them study is really important. I found it hard at school but you just have to keep going and keep trying until you get there. If you work really hard then with all the hard work comes reward - one day you’ll get that lucky break.”
"If you've got your preparation you’ll find good luck will come your way and you’ll be able to follow your dreams and goals."