Black Death

Skydive Elderslie used to be my home DZ when I lived in Sydney.  It’s an awesome place and is going through a bit of a renaissance under CI, Robbie McMillan. 

Black Death is the club’s flagship event and the 44th edition is just around the corner on 11th February.   I asked Robbie to put a few words together about the history of the event for the blog and this is what he said.   

The Newcastle Sport Parachute Club is the the oldest club in Australia and the Second oldest in the world that still exists in the largely commercial world of skydiving. From the earliest of days, Elderslie was well renowned for the ‘place to be to learn modern skydiving techniques’ from some of the best jumpers in the county. A lot of the early RW jumps were done at Elderslie and in the Hunter Valley. Many of the early Australian Parachuting teams were NSPC members in the 60’s though to the early 2000’s. The very first two Masters of Sport Parachuting, Col King and Andy ‘Skies Call’ Keech were both founding NSPC members and were both very influential in the foundation of this legacy.

Black Death is derived from the saying ‘Blue Skies, Black Death’. There may be many varied meanings and origins of the term including a reference to the learning curve in the bad old days…if you were lucky enough to get past the first 20-30 jumps you were in! Fatalities for low time jumpers were higher back then. Now-a-days students are looked after and the fatality rate for them is very low. So in the bad old days once you knew you shit it was blue skies all the way!

Another way of looking at it is to ‘celebrate the blue skies’ by jumping with your mates and having a bloody good time while you are at it, and toast to the ‘Black Death’ of lost friends that once graced the skies but are no longer with us.

In the mid 1990’s someone tried to make the event politically correct by changing the name to Valentines Scrambles as the event is always normally held around mid Feb (Valentines day). This didn’t last long and was shot down in flames by locals and ‘Black Death’ has remained.

Black Death is a 4 way RW Scrambles and this year will be the 44th consecutively time it has been held (the longest in Australian History). Teams are allocated randomly on the day from a pool of 4 experience levels. So each team is fairly balanced with a mixture of rookies and experienced jumpers. Points are awarded for Freefall formations built in a 35 second window. In years passed points were also awarded for the number of CRW two stacks built after breakout and also for accuracy landings. So it was a true test of how much of an all rounded team you had. Even if you weren’t the best in freefalll you could always make up more points by sticking a landing in the pit. This year we will be reintroducing the Accuracy component to encourage jumpers to focus on skills that are important but often overlooked.

Winning a Black Death Gold medal is held in very high regard among skydivers Australia Wide. The ability to come together as a team who may never have jumped with each other before and to encourage and develop the skills of the junior team members to win a medal is reward enough in itself. However as many former Australian Team Members will testify, winning a Black Death Gold Medal means more to them than wining one at the Nationals or World Meet. There are some that still haven’t achieved this goal and will forever long to bathe in its glory.

This year we are also starting another tradition thanks to Steve Dines. He has assembled a trophy cabinet of 5 black Death Skull Mugs. The Team crowned champions this year will rise to the podium and receive their mugs from which the will drink free beverages all night hand delivered by anyone else not in possession of the trophy. 

So please come and enjoy the hospitality of the NSPC and Elderslie DZ and participate in a fun event that encourages grass root skydiving.

Cheers Robbie! 

If you’d like to get involved (and you definitely should) you can check out all the details on the official event page.

And if that wasnt enough to convince you, the day after Black Death, Sky Blue and Melissa Harvie will be hosting a female focused bigway event at Elderslie – Ladies Get In Formation. You can check out all the details here.

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