Peter Cook was catching feral deer on the snow-capped southern tip of New Zealand when he realised he wanted to become a helicopter pilot.
He was 17 and working in the country's remote region of Fiordland, trying to make some extra cash.
"I was there for weeks at a time surviving off the land. Every week the helicopter would come in and any deer I had caught and penned, they'd take it to be sold to deer farmers," Mr Cook said.
"It was great fun and exciting. But it did occur to me I'd rather be the guy that sits inside the helicopter, than the lackey that has to jump out and wrestle animals to the ground.
"I couldn't get that I wanted to be a pilot out of my mind."
The dream persisted throughout a science degree and a string of jobs in Sydney, in which the former Kiwi worked as a labourer and fitter.
Mr Cook put all his earnings into a piloting licence, pursuing the freedom that, 40 years later, he still says only a chopper can provide.
"I love the feeling of lifting an aircraft off the ground. I know the physics of it and everything, but it's still like a magical thing. One minute you're on the ground and the next you're hovering like a bumble bee," Mr Cook said.
"Properly piloted and controlled, you can literally go anywhere and land anywhere. It's just an amazing feeling in your life."
For the past three decades Mr Cook has used that love of complete liberty to help others come home safe and sound.
In 1989, returning to Australia after two years in Papua New Guinea, Mr Cook landed the opportunity to work for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service in Broadmeadow.
"Now rescue has become the mainstream thing for helicopters, but it certainly wasn't the case thirty years ago," Mr Cook said.
"Helicopters weren't really a career path back then, we were considered a bit cowboy-ish I suppose, and there was some truth in that. Many pilots spent their life ten foot above ground chasing cattle.
"I was so lucky to fall on my feet and begin here. We started with one small, single engine helicopter and heavily relied on volunteers," Mr Cooks, who is known affectionately as "Cookie" by his crew, said.
"Now it's a fully professional service. And the level of professionalism is just extraordinary. We're flying superb, state of the art machinery. And I believe we operate at a level above some airlines. Aviation is very risk averse, in that regard we're constantly moving forward."
Over 30 years and more than 5000 hours in the saddle for the medical search and rescue service, Mr Cook has served as a pilot, chief pilot, and is now a training and check pilot responsible for educating and testing the service's air crew. He also continues to fly missions.
The 59-year-old said he felt "so grateful" to have remained at the service during a period when aviation technology has progressed so fast.
His favourite jobs today are those that would have been impossible in the service's original VFR helicopters 30 years ago.
"Now we can go faster and further, way out to sea, where you can't just stop for somewhere fuel and you also need fuel to complete the job," Mr Cook said.
"It's not uncommon we get called out to cruise boats miles and miles out, where someone has fallen ill and we winch people off those vessels. We'd never have thought about doing that years ago," he said.
At the celebration of Mr Cook's 30 years working for the rescue service, Mr Cook thanked the "highly skilled and motivated" team of doctors, paramedics, pilots and aircrewman he works with, as well as the many people who have supported the service.
"The community has bought and paid for the facilities and aircraft we have. Basically every Hunter business has helped fundraise for us at some point," he said.
"I know everyone I work with has a common goal of helping the people of northern NSW, and improving technology and our attitudes to best fulfil that mission and aim."
He said he was "definitely closer to the end" of his career than the beginning but that he was still "having a good time".
"The service will be in great hands when I do move on," Mr Cook said.
"Cookie is a true professional and has the trust and respect of all who have flown with him," Robert Jenkins, the service's operation manager, said. "He is highly regarded in the aviation community and a good friend to many."