WESTERN AUSTRALIAN AVIATION HISTORY

One of the major roles of the Bull Creek Collection is to encourage the understanding of Western Australian aviation history. Many of its aeroplanes and displays contribute directly to doing this.

Western Australia is a very large state covering almost a million square miles (2.5 million square kilometres) and occupying a third of the continent of Australia. It's vast area and small population has made transport and communications very important for its inhabitants and so aviation has been a very important feature of its development.

There were recorded balloon flights in Western Australia dating from around 1890. The first major sustained flights in Australia took place in Western Australia's capital, Perth, in January 1911 in a Bristol Boxkite flown by J J Hammond. Unlike earlier short flights in Australia these were sustained and controlled. During the longest flight the pilot got lost in cloud and returned to ground after nearly three quarters of an hour with his fuel almost exhausted.

Developments overseas inspired Western Australians to construct their own aeroplanes. The most successful was the Kalgoorlie Biplane. It made a series of flights in the skies over Kalgoorlie and Perth before being put into storage when its makers became involved in the events of World War I.

In July 1919 Norman Brearley returned from the War with two Avro 504s and set up one of the first aviation businesses in Australia. In the following year and a half he successfully toured the settled areas of Western Australia and made several excursions into the pastoral areas, travelling as far north as Onslow and as far east as Kalgoorlie.

      MajorBrearly and Avro 504 at Kalgoorlie       MajorBrearly's Avro504       Major Brealey's Avro504 in flight 1920

In 1921 the Commonwealth government awarded the first contract for a subsidised weekly air service in Australia to Brearley. On 5 December 1921 his airline, Western Australian Airways, began Australia's first scheduled airline service between Geraldton and Derby in the Kimberley Region, a return distance of just under 2 400 miles. (The Bristol Tourer replica in the Bull Creek Collection represents one of these first Australian airliners.) In 1924 the route was extended south to Perth and in 1930 it was extended north to Wyndham in the east Kimberley.

In 1925, the Bristols were becoming obsolete and Brearley purchased two de Havilland DH 50 aircraft that could carry four passengers. They were so successful that Western Australian Airways negotiated a licence agreement with the makers and constructed three more in their own workshops, later purchasing two more from England. In 1930 the service was extended to Wyndham in the north-west and two de Havilland DH61 eight-seaters were acquired to handle the ever-increasing traffic over the total route of nearly 3,000 kilometres.

           WA Airways 1928               Dragon-Moth-DH50-DH61 at Maylands 

Meanwhile the company was having success in another direction, winning a 1928 tender to operate a subsidised aerial mail service between Perth and Adelaide in South Australia, a distance of 2,400 kilometres. This meant the company operated from Wyndham to Adelaide, a total of over 5,300 kilometres, making it the premier airline in Australia and close to the longest in the world.

To operate this service the company purchased four giant de Havilland DH66 Hercules airliners, each capable of carrying 14 passengers and considerable weights of mail, at a speed of 160 kilometres per hour. Under the terms of the contract Brearley was forced to buy aircraft from Britain, as there was a ban on American aircraft entering Australia. While the Hercules were the best available at the time, they were slow, difficult to maintain and expensive to operate.

                               Hercules 1929   Hercules1929   

In an attempt to improve the service, Brearley turned again to Britain and in 1931 bought two Vickers Viastra all-metal aircraft capable of 230 kilometres per hour. They were even less successful than the Hercules.

                                                       vickerviastra1931

In 1929 Brearley's airline won the contract to provide a weekly return air service linking Perth and Adelaide in South Australia. It was Australia's first trans-continental air service and the West Australian Airways services from Wyndham to Adelaide via Perth was one of the world's longest scheduled air routes.

          Hercules 1 July 1930   Hercules over Ceduna 1929  Forest Hotel & Airstrip

Dinner at Forrest Airstrip Hotel1939   Ceduna Hostel for Breakfast 1929

In May 1934, West Australian Airways Ltd (the name had been shortened in 1926) lost the north-west service to MacRobertson Miller Aviation and soon afterwards was told that the East-West service would no longer be subsidised by the Government. Two Hercules had already been sold to Imperial Airways and the remaining Hercules were used to operate the Perth to Adelaide service until two de Havilland DH84, Dragon VH-URE  aircraft could be obtained. It was hoped that these would prove more economical to operate and could enable a non-subsidised service to run at a profit. One was sold in 1934 and replaced by a de Havilland DH89 Rapide, VH-UUO.

DH Dragon1933-36   In 1935 the ban on American imports was lifted and the first of the all-metal, 320 kilometre per hour Douglas DC-2 aircraft were reaching the east coast airlines.

American Douglas DC2 "Bungana"

Brearley made a last ditch effort to keep up with the changing times, placing provisional orders for two Lockheed Electra aircraft, but when an offer was made by an eastern states consortium to buy his company, he took the easy option and sold out in June 1936 to Adelaide Airways.  Two months later, the new owners became part of Australian National Airways Pty. Ltd., sold off all the aircraft except the Dragon and the Rapide and by November of 1936, the first of the new Douglas airliners, the "Bungana". was servicing the Perth to Adelaide route and West Australian Airways faded into history. It was their proud boast that in 15 years of operation they had not killed a single paying passenger on their regular air services. A claim that few, if any, other Australian airline has ever been able to match.

The 1930s saw other major aviation developments in Western Australia. They included aerial surveys by the RAAF and Western Mining Corporation over thousands of square miles, the development of several small charter and scheduled air service operators, the development of Flying Doctor bases at Wyndham, Port Hedland and Kalgoorlie and the establishment and growth of the Royal Aero Club of Western Australia. In 1938 the Royal Australian Air Force established its first permanent air base in Western Australia at RAAF Base Pearce just north of Perth. (The Avro Anson in the Collection is the type the RAAF first operated in Western Australia.)

During this period there were also several notable adventures. In March 1929 Kingsford Smith and Ulm's Southern Cross became lost over the remote Kimberley region during an attempt to fly from Sydney to London. The aeroplane and its crew were found 12 days later after an extensive air search of the Kimberley and the crew and aeroplane were successfully saved. In May 1932 a Junkers W33 flown by German aviators Bertram and Klausmann became lost and made a forced landing on the Kimberley coast of Western Australia. A large scale search by air and land followed but the airmen were not located for well over a month and did not reach Wyndham until almost two months after their forced landing. (The Junkers W33 replica in the Bull Creek Collection represents Bertram and Klausmann's aeroplane.) Flight into Hell

During World War II thousands of young Western Australians joined the RAAF and served overseas in all theatres of war. Western Australia became home to many flying training bases where pilots and other aircrew destined for the war learned their skills. Western Australia also became home to a number of Australian and United States combat squadrons which took part in the air war against the Japanese. Operating from bases in the north of the State long range bombers and patrol aeroplanes carried out intelligence gathering flights into the Indian Ocean and flew attacks against Japanese positions to the north. In their turn the Japanese flew over Western Australia and carried out a number of air raids against places including Broome, Corunna Downs and Wyndham. From 1943 Perth also became the Australian base for the QANTAS civil long range flying boat service linking Australia with Britain through India and the Middle East. The Catalina flying boats flew non-stop direct from Perth to Ceylon, a flight time of well over 24 hours.

After the war aviation developed strongly in Western Australia. Many Dakotas and Ansons which had served in the war found their way into civil fleets and for many years they flew with MacRobertson Miller Airlines providing regular air services to hundreds of remote locations across the length and breadth of the State. As well as this vast networks of air routes Western Australia was home to the shortest scheduled air service in the world, the 20 mile route between Perth and Rottnest Island just off the coast. This service was provided by Jimmy Woods in ex war Avro Ansons which became a familiar sight over Perth. (The nose of the Avro Anson 'Islander' in the Bull Creek Collection is a reminder of these happy days.)

The jet age came to Western Australia in the 1960s when MMA took delivery of its first Fokker Friendship. These fast, pressurised and comfortable aeroplanes revolutionised flying in the State and brought its far flung towns much closer together. Similarly, when the major national airlines took delivery of Boeing 727s, the flight times between Perth and the eastern states were drastically reduced. Flights which had taken up to 10 or 12 hours in piston engined aeroplanes became 4 hour flights and the much larger aeroplanes could carry so many passengers that, for the first time, air travel became the most popular way of crossing Australia. At the beginning of the 1970s MMA began taking delivery of the pure jet Fokker F-28s which bought the same speed and comfort to people flying within Western Australia.

FokkerF28

Advances in aviation also made possible the immense mineral mining developments which took place in Western Australia starting in the 1960s. Corporate jets, specialised aerial survey aeroplanes and charter aeroplanes of all kinds began filling the skies. These fleets made it possible for managers, engineers and workers to reach very isolated places quickly. The development of petroleum and gas fields off the north west coast brought the helicopters needed to ferry men and machines far out to sea to work on the platforms. Light aeroplanes and helicopters made possible the quick and efficient exploration of Western Australia's vast areas to find its hidden wealth.

Western Australia has also been long involved in aerospace activities. In 1922 a scientific party established in remote Western Australia to observe a solar eclipse was visited regularly by Western Australian Airways aeroplanes. More recently NASA set up a tracking station on the Western Australian coast at Carnarvon for its early manned space missions and also conducted other activities in Western Australia. When John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, passed over Perth at night in February 1962 the city turned on its lights so he could see it, and became known as the 'City of Light'. (The NASA tracking radar and sounding rocket in the Collection mark Western Australia's involvement with the exploration of space.)

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