Monday, September 11, 2006

New England Australia - Aviation

Photo. New England Airways Avro parked at Archerfield, Brisbane c 1933.

New England has had more than its fair share of pioneer aviators. Unfortunately, like so much of New England's history, this has become submerged in the mists of time.

When I started at TAS (The Armidale School), a former senior prefect Sir P G Taylor was one of the school hero's.

Taylor was involved with flying since at least 1916. Perhaps his most famous exploit came in 1935. The story that follows is drawn from Keith Isaacs' ADB entry on Taylor given in the previous link.

Taylor was Kingsford Smith's navigator in the Southern Cross for the King George V jubilee airmail flight (Australia-New Zealand). After flying for six hours, the heavily-laden aircraft had almost reached half-way when part of the centre engine's exhaust manifold broke off and severely damaged the starboard propeller. 'Smithy' closed down the vibrating starboard engine, applied full power to the other two, turned back to Australia and jettisoned the cargo. The oil pressure on the port engine began to fall alarmingly.

Climbing out of the fuselage, Taylor edged his way against the strong slipstream along the engine connecting strut and collected oil from the disabled starboard engine in the casing of a thermos flask. He then transferred it to the port engine. With assistance from the wireless operator, John Stannage, he carried out this procedure six times before the aircraft landed safely at Mascot some nine hours later. For his resourcefulness and courage, Taylor was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal.

This episode was portrayed in Ken Hall's 1946 film, Smithy, a film I saw later in the TAS Assembly Hall where films were held every Saturday night for the boarders. I was one of a small number of day boys, but always used to go.

The first New England based airline that I have found was called, appropriately enough, New England Airways. It appears that there have in fact been three New England Airways at different points in New England's history.

Headquartered in Lismore, the first New England Airways (NEA) was formed in 1931 by George A Robinson with Sydney solicitor Arthur Allen as chair.

In August 1931 NEA began a bi-weekly Lismore-Archerfield (Brisbane) service, later extended to a Lismore-Mascot (Sydney) service, thus creating a Brisbane- Sydney service. The popularity of the service was such that NEA purchased a tri-motor Avro 10 and extended the service to a daily one.

Flying had real dangers in these early days of civil aviation. On 18 September 1932 an NEA Puss Moth flying from Sydney to Brisbane crashed near Byron Bay. Among those killed was the pioneer Australian aviator Leslie Holden.

The industry was also very unstable in financial terms, with companies emerging, closing or merging all the time. G A Robinson took advantage of this, acquiring other airline assets including those of Murray Valley Aviation as well as Australian National Airlines' (the airline founded by Kingsford Smith) Mascot hangar and workshop and one of its planes. With broadening horizons and national ambitions, New England Airways was renamed Airlines of Australia in 1935. Then, in 1942 the second ANA formed by the Holyman family in 1937 acquired Airlines of Australia, giving ANA a dominant position in Australian civil aviation.

As we shall see later, this first New England Airways established what was to be the dominant pattern in New England civil aviation, regional growth followed by broader expansion, acquisition, and ultimate disappearance.

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