The Kiteflier

Monday, February 8th, 2016
  • Occy the octopus kite

    Anthony Keillor loves kites and today he’s flying two at Royal Park in Melbourne, one of which looks like a giant octopus swimming in the sky.

    “It’s Occy the octopus that Lives at Royal Park and comes on nice breezy days,” he tells me as we stand on the sun-scorched grass looking skyward at his impressive flying octopus kite. At thirty-five meters long and two and a half meters wide ‘Occy’ is no small kite, but Anthony assures me it’s by no way one of the biggest either.

    At sixty-eight years old Anthony is a very experienced kite flier with something like fifty years of kite flying under his belt. From the one he built and flew as an eight-year-old, he’s clearly never lost his boyhood fascination and passion for kites. “To see something that can defy gravity and stay up there in a nice breeze is just a magical thing to witness,” he says.

    Anthony is a friendly fellow, a proud Australian with a strong handshake probably developed from years of holding the lines of kites that strain for a moment of freedom. Occy is tethered to the ground with a strong kevlar cable that is clearly capable of taking the immense amount of tension the giant kite is exerting on it. He’s never lost a kite, but he’s had to run after a few that have made a bid for freedom over the years. “You’ve got to sprint after them very quickly. I’m nearly as fast a Usain Bolt,” he says with a laugh.

    As we talk passers-by stop to take pictures of the giant octopus while it gently swirls in the breeze high above us. There is no denying that kites hold a certain magic, but it’s not a magic everyone appreciates. “Some people admire them, some people detest them,” he says. Dog walkers at the park have complained to the ranger about Anthony’s kites, and even the helicopter pilots from a nearby hospital have spoken to him about them, but the complainers are undoubtedly outnumbered by those who gaze up at Occy, and the other kites, in appreciation and awe.

    The serenity of this kite flying seems a long way from my boyhood memories of running along the village green desperately trying to get my little kite to take flight. Those breathless sprints from one side of the green to the other were always worth it once the kite caught the breeze and lifted into the sky. I’d stand there squinting into the sunlight pulling on, then releasing the line as my colorful little kite climbed higher and higher.

    In his own words, Anthony is “too old and too experienced” to run across the field in order to get his kite to fly. Occy is an inflatable kite that works on the ram air principle that allows wind to naturally inflate the kite. Once it’s inflated he gently lets out the line and eventually tethers it to the ground. After that the kites generally take care of themselves, allowing Anthony to just enjoy them for as long as he likes.

    When I ask him how long he typically flies his kites he smiles and asks, “How long is a piece of string?” After fifty years of flying kites, he hasn’t yet grown bored of them so obviously, he’s not watching the clock when he’s out here. “Not too many people can fly kites,” he says. “I do it because I can, and because I love it.”

    Stand in Royal Park using Google Street View (not much of a view though!)