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Circumnavigating mainland Australia in a Microlight?

Pippy Canon | Birds In Schools Coordinator

Circumnavigating mainland Australia in a Microlight? Amelia (Milly) Formby is doing that now!

“Flying Storyteller and Bird Nerd” is how Milly describes herself. However, she is so much more than that. An Artist, Zoologist, Adventurer and Pilot among many talents, Milly is an inspirational force full of optimism for the future of shorebirds.

Thanks to crowdfunding and a couple of big donations, Milly decided to spread the word, in the Australian school community, about migratory shorebirds in order to raise awareness about their plight. When at home, Milly works for Birdlife. The plan is to eventually fly the whole East Asian-Australasian Flyway to and from the shorebirds’ breeding grounds. For many shorebirds this is a round trip of at least 25,000 kms annually. To begin with Milly is circumnavigating Australia.


I first met Milly and her ground crew at the turf farm near Wrights Creek. Cairns Birder, Shane Kennedy, had arranged a carload from Cairns Birders and I had arranged the meeting with Milly and Grant.

Milly and her Team didn’t have the Microlight in Cairns. It was housed in Townsville and would be flown to Atherton next. Please see ABC iView, “Wing Threads” for a fabulous ten minute documentary. Hope comes alive through the work of dedicated volunteers reclaiming wetlands among other activities. Paul Fisk has a small band of volunteers in Cairns who recognise the importance of the synchronised shorebird counts he and Sally Sheldon organise.

Milly had a great repertoire for primary school children. School holidays were looming, so only a few local schools showed interest. I attended Machans Beach State School with Milly where Years 3–6 students were an extremely captivated audience. The school had purchased a copy of the book, “A Shorebird Flying Adventure”, illustrated by Milly and written by Jackie Kerin. This is available through the CSIRO publishing arm, or from the Wing Threads website. The children were prepared, and one very keen teacher had done some shorebird counts.

Cover of the children's book, “A Shorebird Flying Adventure”, written by Jackie Kerin and illustrated by Milly Formby.

Milly showed the children the Microlight (a type of hang-glider) in detail, and photos with herself flying the machine. The East Asian-Australasian Flyway and the plight of the shorebirds was discussed in detail. Year 3 students loved flapping their arms imitating a migratory wader, but Year 6 was a bit ho-hum about this activity. The presentation was kept upbeat and encouraging.

The Red Knot slide showed a slim, non-breeding Knot with the next slide being a fat Red Knot in breeding plumage, ready to depart on its epic journey. This caused much hilarity. The Year 6 boy sitting next to me suggested the Knot be put on a diet.

To finish, Milly stood at the white board and showed the children and teachers how to draw a Red-Necked Stint. This was a very popular activity and all the kids drew beautifully. Milly made it seem easy. Just to have the undivided attention of so many students of varied ages two days before the end of term was no mean feat!

Milly shows the Machans Beach State School students how to draw a Red-necked Stint. Photo by Pippy Canon.

Milly is inspirational and judging by what I saw, a lot of children will be forever influenced by her.

The weather and cloud cover are extremely important as to when Milly can fly the Microlight. Some airport landing fees are very high, or hanger space expensive, which can also influence where the Microlight can land and be stored in a safe hanger.

Milly couldn’t commit to a date for a talk here in Cairns due to the weather. She did however have plenty of radio interviews.

They spent three days with me planning their next move before returning to Townsville to collect the ‘flying machine’. It was so exciting to have such a positive and hopeful young person in the house that I too feel better about the future.


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