In the age of pioneer aviation between the two world wars, flyers were the superstars of their time; and among them were a number of Australian and British flyers who became international as well as local heroes. Three local parks in Katoomba were named after aviators, some toured the Blue Mountains to rapturous acclaim and other place names serve as memorials.
|Bert Hinkler outside Springwood School of Arts 1928|
Hinkler Park, Katoomba
Hon. Squadron Leader Herbert John Louis Hinkler AFC DSM (8 December 1892 – 7 January 1933) – better known as Bert Hinkler, was a pioneer Australian aviator (dubbed “the Australian Lone Eagle”), inventor, first person to fly solo from England to Australia, and the first person to fly solo across the Southern Atlantic Ocean.
Hinkler was born in Bundaberg, Queensland, the son of a Prussian-born stockman. In his early life, Hinkler constructed and flew two gliders on beaches near his hometown. He became mechanic to Arthur Burr Stone, whom Bert met at a travelling show in Bundaberg and again at the Brisbane Ekka where Hinkler solved another problem with Stone’s infamous “Bleriot” monoplane. In 1913, Hinkler went to England where he worked for the Sopwith Aviation Company, the beginning of Hinkler’s career in aviation.
During the First World War, Hinkler served with the Royal Naval Air Service as a gunner/observer in Belgium and France, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. In 1918 Hinkler was posted to No. 28 Squadron RAF with which he served as a pilot in Italy.
Hinkler was an “exceptional mathematician and inventor” and “made a lot of aviation instruments which were in use up until the Second World War.” For example, “one was a gadget to correct drift as airplanes fly a little bit on their side, not straight ahead.” Furthermore, “In WWI, Hinkler invented a machine gun adaptor for air gunners. Back then, when the biplanes were flying upside down in combat, the hot, ejected shells would fall and burn the chest of the gunners as they fired. Hinkler’s invention had the ejected shells all flying off to one side instead.”
Hinkler flew the first solo flight between England and Australia, departing England on 7 February 1928 and arriving in Darwin on 22 February 1928 and back in his home town of Bundaberg on 27 February 1928. This reduced the England-Australia record from 28 days to just under 15½ days. The aircraft used was an Avro Avian, registration G-EBOV. The flight was little noticed before Hinkler reached India but then media interest intensified. One paper nicknamed the flyer “Hustling Hinkler” and he was the subject of the Tin Pan Alley song ‘Hustling Hinkler Up in the Sky’. For the flights in 1920 and 1928 Hinkler had already won two Britannia trophies and the gold medal of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
Hinkler is quoted as telling the Australian Prime Minister Stanley Bruce at this time: “You know, one day, people will fly by night and use the daylight for sightseeing.” (In 1998 Australian Lang Kidby recreated this flight in a similar 1927 Avro Avian). He was invited by the Speaker of the House of Representatives to be seated on the floor of the House in recognition of his achievement. The next time such an invitation was extended was in 1973, to Patrick White, who declined. After visiting the principal cities of Australia and returning to England, he was awarded the Air Cross for the finest aerial exploit of the year.
The Federal electorate of Hinkler, in Queensland, is named after him. In 1978 he was honoured on a postage stamp depicting his portrait issued by Australia Post. In 1983, “Mon Repos”, Bert Hinkler’s English home, was saved from demolition and relocated to the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens, serving as a historical museum in his honour until 2008.
On 8 December 2008, the $7.5M Hinkler Hall of Aviation was opened to the public in Hinkler’s home town of Bundaberg. Adjacent to “Mon Repos”, the hall continues in the role the house played as a historic museum dedicated to the memory of Hinkler; this has allowed the house to be refurbished to a more domestic state and now serves as a joint attraction with the Hall of Aviation.
Originally called Lurline St Park, it was renamed about 1935 after a suggestion by Katoomba alderman William Soper. Blackberries were removed, playground equipment installed and it was opened by Burt’s mother in 1934.
Melrose Park, Katoomba
Charles James (Jimmy) Melrose (1913-36) was born on 13 September 1913 at Burnside, Adelaide. Jimmy purchased a DH Puss Moth fitted with a powerful 120 horsepower (89 kW) Gipsy Major engine. He named the plane ‘My Hildergarde’ and in August 1934 flew 8000 miles (12,875 km) solo around Australia, reducing the previous record by almost two days, to 5 days, 10 hours, 57 minutes. A skilful and courageous natural flyer, Melrose was tall, flaxen haired and blue eyed; while conforming to the popular ideal of a hero, he avoided lionization. He exercised seriously, swimming at Glenelg where he and his mother lived; he kept early hours, neither smoked nor drank alcohol and ate ‘Oslo’ lunches.
On his twenty-first birthday he left Parafield, Adelaide in the Puss Moth for England, reaching Croydon in a record 8 days, 9 hours. At Mildenhall he joined the Melbourne Centenary Air Race as the youngest entrant and, in spite of an emergency landing at Darwin, came second in the handicap and was the only solo flyer to finish. Awarded second prize of £500, he established a monoplane fund for the Aero Club of South Australia. In October 1934 he set a South Australian altitude record over Gulf St Vincent; two months later he made the first non-stop Adelaide-Tasmania flight, followed by a record time from Launceston to Sydney.
In January 1935 Melrose studied navigation and blind flying in England at the Air Service Training Centre, Hambling; returning to Australia in a new Percival Gull, he joined in the unsuccessful search for Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. His first accident involved a forced landing at Penrose, New South Wales. On recovering from injuries he went to England, bought a five-seater Heston Phoenix monoplane, and in April 1936 used it on a goodwill flight home to publicize South Australia’s centenary; a crowd of 8000 greeted him at Parafield. Later he started air taxi work, once flying the premier to a country meeting.
On 5 July 1936 Jimmy began a charter flight from Melbourne to Darwin. Over South Melton, Victoria, in turbulent conditions with low visibility his Heston Phoenix broke up, killing both pilot and passenger, A. G. Campbell, DSO. The cause of the accident was established as structural failure. Australians joined Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, in mourning their ‘chivalrous young knight of the air’. Funeral services were held simultaneously in Melbourne’s and Adelaide’s Anglican cathedrals. Schoolchildren lined the route from St Paul’s to Springvale necropolis, as planes circled overhead. In Adelaide both Houses of parliament suspended their sittings and St Peter’s Cathedral was packed, mainly with women, who had idolized Jimmy. Three Royal Aero Club Moths flew over as the service ended. Jimmy was 22 years old.
Melrose Park between Camp and Fitzgerald streets in North Katoomba was reserved in 1883 and named after the aviator in 1936.
Kingsford Smith Park, Katoomba
Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith MC, AFC (9 February 1897 – 8 November 1935), called Charles Kingsford Smith, or by his nickname Smithy, was a well-known Australian aviator. In 1928, he made the first trans-Pacific flight from the United States to Australia. He also made the first non-stop crossing of the Australian mainland, the first flights between Australia and New Zealand, and the first eastward Pacific crossing from Australia to the United States. He also made a flight from Australia to London, and set a new record of 10.5 days.
This area was originally known as Hudson’s Gully when Katoomba Council resumed the land in 1935. After removal of the blackberries and rubbish, it was landscaped, according to a plan drawn up a Mr Kerr of the Sydney Botanical Gardens. The labour force was composed of men on unemployment relief and the stone for the many retaining walls was carted in from the surrounding bushland.
The first name given to the park in 1935 was Jubilee Park, for the Silver Jubilee of King George V. This however was changed only a year later to Kingsford Smith Memorial Park and Playground, in honour of the pioneer Australian aviator.
In 1928, Kingsford Smith, in the aircraft Southern Cross, with co-pilot Charles Ulm, Harry Lyon and James Warner, had made the first trans-pacific flight from San Francisco to Brisbane, with refuelling stops at Hawaii and Fiji. Leaving Oakland Field on 31 May, they crossed the coast over Ballina at dawn on 8 June and turned north along the coast for Brisbane to refuel.
They then flew south to Sydney on the same day, where they were welcomed by a crowd of 300,000 people. Smith and Ulm had spent over 83 hours in the air in an open cockpit, lashed by storms, without sleep and deafened by the engine noise. On 8 November 1935, Smithy, at the age of only 38, crashed and died in the Bay of Bengal while making an attempt on the England-Australia speed record, only the nose wheel of his plane was ever recovered.
On 7 March 1938, Lord Wakehurst, Governor of NSW, dedicated the entrance pavilion with a slate plaque, the lintel bearing the words ‘Kingsford Smith Memorial Park’. This was topped with a hemispherical metal dome showing a relief map of Australia, with a two foot scale model of Southern Cross, constructed by Mr Evan Cork of Randwick, mounted above it. In 1939 Katoomba Council constructed the band rotunda and public lavatories at a cost of ₤329 in time for the official opening on 1 January 1940, by the Hon. L. O. Martin, KCMG, Minister for Works and Local Government, a brass plaque on the pavilion commemorates this.
The park is one of many memorials to this courageous pioneer aviator, an unparalleled breaker of long-distance records, a trailblazer and remarkable visionary, and a man who could drink a glass of beer while standing on his head.
The inaugural Carols by Candlelight were held 8.00 pm to midnight on Christmas Eve 1947, under the auspices of radio station 2GB with proceeds going to Blue Mountains Hospital. By then the park had an ornamental pond and a children’s playground.
Over the next 40 years, the park gradually fell into disuse and disrepair until local residents began to lobby Council to fund improvements and maintenance. In July 1987 high winds tore the dome from its base on the entry pavilion; it was repaired and replaced in December. At the same time an aluminium sheet profile of Southern Cross replaced the scale model, which had been vandalised and removed some years before.
In 1991 a Friends of KSP group was formed and a Carnivale and parade were staged. Restoration of the gardens and rotunda was commenced in 1993, and since the inception of the Winter Magic Festival in 1994 and the Blue Mountains Music Festival in 1996, it has regained much of its earlier popularity as a music venue and picnic spot, weather permitting.
In 1998, a landslip caused by a leaking water main resulted in extensive damage, and a $300,000 repair bill. Around this time, there were also numerous complaints from nearby residents, of anti-social behaviour and drug dealing in the park, which were addressed with tree and foliage thinning, security lighting and police patrols.
In 2001 the entry pavilion became unstable and was dismantled and re-erected on new foundations and reinforced pillars with a rebuilt retaining wall.
Amy Johnson CBE, (1 July 1903 – 5 January 1941) was a pioneering English aviator. Flying solo or with her husband, Jim Mollison, Johnson set numerous long-distance records during the 1930s. Johnson flew in the Second World War as a part of the Air Transport Auxiliary where she died during a ferry flight.
Also flew in the 1934 MacRobertson Trophy Air Race accompanied by her husband Jim Mollison in a DH.88 Comet ‘Black Magic’. From Karachi, Mollison lost his way, and landed at Jubulpur. No high-octane fuel available, filled up with petrol. Engines “burned out” on flight to Allahabad.
Johnson achieved worldwide recognition when, in 1930, she became the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia. Flying her ‘Jason’ Gipsy Moth, she left Croydon, south of London, on 5 May of that year and landed in Darwin, Australia on 24 May after flying 11,000 miles (18,000 km). Her aircraft for this flight can still be seen in the Science Museum in London. She received the Harmon Trophy as well as a CBE in recognition of this achievement, and was also honoured with the No. 1 civil pilot’s licence under Australia’s 1921 Air Navigation Regulations On 31 May 1930 the Blue Mountains Star newspaper reported the Katoomba Municipal Council discussion regarding a suitable response:
“In a special minute presented at Tuesday night’s Council meeting, Mayor A.E. Packer referred to the thrilling flight of the heroic English girl – Amy Johnson.
He also stated that Miss Johnson would pass through Katoomba on her way to Jenolan Caves.
Needless to say Mayor Packer is taking every step to get Miss Johnson to break her trip at Katoomba, for a civic welcome.
When the minute was being dealt with Ald. Bailey contended that Katoomba should ask Blackheath and B.M. Shire to join forces and give ‘our famous Johnny’ a rousing, united welcome.”
However it was decided to leave the matter in the hands of the Mayor. The minute was as follows:
“England – Australia Air Flight
On behalf of the citizens of this municipality, I forwarded to Miss Amy Johnson, a telegram of welcome to Australia and congratulating her on her great feat.
This unique performance, which might easily have eclipsed Hinkler’s wonderful record, has won for Miss Johnson the unstinted admiration of us all.”
The civic welcome did not eventuate but press articles continued:
“Photographers have had a hard time at Mascot, trying to keep their cameras still whilst photographing our Johnnie amidst the surging crowds of 50 to 60 thousand.
One in particular was very unlucky, his ladder broke and he had a forced landing.
How many private photographers will have the same trouble when the ‘Lone Flyer’ comes through Katoomba?
Let us live in the hope that she will prolong her stay in Katoomba.”
Blue Mountains Star, 14 June, 1930
Death of a Flyer
On 5 January 1941, while flying an Airspeed Oxford for the Air Transport Auxiliary from Blackpool to RAF Kidlington near Oxford, Johnson went off course in adverse weather conditions. Reportedly out of fuel, she drowned after bailing out into the Thames Estuary. Although she was seen alive in the water, a rescue attempt failed and her body was never recovered. The incident also led to the death of her would-be rescuer, Lt Cmdr Walter Fletcher of HMS Haslemere.
In 1999 it was reported that Tom Mitchell, from Crowborough, Sussex, claimed to have shot the heroine down when she twice failed to give the correct identification code during the flight. He said: “The reason Amy was shot down was because she gave the wrong colour of the day [a signal to identify aircraft known by all British forces] over radio.” Mr. Mitchell explained how the aircraft was sighted and contacted by radio. A request was made for the signal. She gave the wrong one twice. “Sixteen rounds of shells were fired and the plane dived into the Thames Estuary. We all thought it was an enemy plane until the next day when we read the papers and discovered it was Amy. The officers told us never to tell anyone what happened.”
Sir Ross Macpherson Smith KBE, MC & Bar, DFC & Two Bars, AFC (4 December 1892 – 13 April 1922) was an Australian aviator, who, along with his brother, Sir Keith Macpherson Smith, became the first pilots to fly from England to Australia, in 1919.
His father migrated to Western Australia from Scotland and became a pastoralist in South Australia. His mother was born in Western Australia, the daughter of a pioneer from Scotland. The boys boarded in Adelaide, at Queen’s School and for two years, in Scotland.
He enlisted in 1914 in the 3rd Light Horse Regiment, landing at Gallipoli 13 May 1915. In 1917, he volunteered for the Australian Flying Corps. He was later twice awarded the Military Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross three times, becoming and air ace with 11 confirmed aerial victories.
In 1919, with his brother Keith, Sergeant Jim Bennett and Sergeant Wally Shiers, flew from Hounslow, England, on 12 November 1919 in a Vickers Vimy, eventually landing in Darwin Australia on 10 December, taking less than 28 days, with actual flying time of 135 hours. The four men shared the £10,000 prize money put forward by the Australian government.
Ross Smith was killed, along with recently commissioned Lieutenant Bennett, while testing a Vickers Viking amphibian aircraft which crashed in Byfleet soon after taking off from Brooklands on 13 April 1922. The bodies were transported to Australia and Smith was given a state funeral and later buried on 15th June at the North Road Cemetery, Adelaide.
The great Australian cricketer Keith Ross Miller was named after Smith and his brother.
Ross Smith visited Katoomba in 1920 and was afforded a civic welcome in front of a large crowd at the top of Katoomba Street, near the site of the present roundabout and former railway crossing.
Wirraway Ridge, Wirraway Hill, Aeroplane Hills
Two small hills and a ridgeline located 3.2 km southwest of Hazelbrook, accessed via Kings Tableland and Ingar Picnic area. It was named after the Wirraway trainer which crashed on this ridge line in heavy fog on 1st August 1940, killing Pilot Officer Harry Thomas Hopgood and Sergeant Vincent Charles Monterola. The wing struts and fuselage still remain at the crash site.
Images from top:
1. Hinkler Park, the Children’s Paradise, photo by Hary Phillips c.1930, Blue Mountains City Library
2. Hinkler Park, Katoomba, photo by Wal Green 1938, Blue Mountains City Library
3. Bert Hinkler outside Springwood School of Arts 1928, Blue Mountains City Library SHS79
4. Jimmy Melrose, State Library of South Australia: B12725
5. Kingsford Smith Park, entrance pavillion, photo by ‘Wal Green 1938, Blue Mountains City Library
6. Kingsford Smith Park, rotunda, photo by Wal Green 1939, Blue Mountains City Library
7. Amy Johnson, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amy_Johnson
8. Sir Ross Smith at Katoomba, Blue Mountains City Library
9. Ross Smith over the Three Sisters, 14/2/1920, postcard photo by E. Gordon Garrett, Katoomba, Blue Mountains City Library – this may be a photo montage.
John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian,
2013 Blue Mountains City Library