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The echoes of the first world war had scarcely died away when tens of thousands of young Australian men began returning from Europe, the U.K. and the Middle East; men whose wartime experiences had exposed them to situations far removed from their pre-war lives involving family and work in small towns and rural environments. For a great many the return to this life was difficult.
Among those that would return to this routine with disquiet were the aviators to whom the experience and excitement of flight had become an everyday matter. To them travel of several hundred miles in a day by air was commonplace. Aircraft, which routinely delivered performance reliability unheard of a short five years before, were the norm. Many would attempt to turn their wartime experience into a peacetime occupation, only a few – the fortunate and the determined would succeed –the road would be a hard one!
One of the first serious contenders for establishing an air transport
company was Major Norman Brearley, whose Western (later West)
Australian Airways laid claim to be the nation’s first regular
airline. His attention to detail and care of his aircraft would pay
dividends and by 1921 he received airmail contracts in W.A. which
ensured Western Australian Airways financial viability. His Bristol
Tourer aircraft were new, as opposed to many of the war weary aircraft
of its competitors, whose one-pilot-one-aircraft air service were
often short lived. Within a few years his West Australian Airways had
grown to include six Bristol Tourers and seven DH 50 and 50A aircraft
on regular services north to Wyndham, and by 1929 West Australian
Airways would extend east to Adelaide, using four DH 66 Hercules and
later two Vickers Viastras covering a route some six thousand
On the other side of the continent Nigel Love, another wartime flier, leased the land that became Mascot airfield and along with Harry Broadsmith and W.J. Warneford established the Australian Aircraft and Engineering Company. By 1920 they were flying passengers between Sydney and Melbourne. In addition, in 1921, work was commenced to build 6 Avro 504’s for the Air Force. Unfortunately, this was not enough to make the business viable and in 1923 it was forced into liquidation.
Whilst there was no lack of pilots, some found themselves ill-suited to the routine of airline flying and became involved in long distance record breaking flights, air races and barnstorming. Barnstorming consisted of an aerial circus travelling around the country, stunt flying and offering so-called joy flights to the public, a precarious existence which soon came to the eye of officialdom, and the Government introduced the Air Navigation Act in December 1920. This act called for the examination and licensing of pilots, aerodromes, mechanics and fitters involved in aircraft maintenance. The aircraft had to be inspected, registered and maintained. This governing body eventually became the Department of Civil Aviation (which had amongst its early responsibilities, the calling for tenders for airmail services throughout Australia). Such official intrusion into the lives of these pilots was strongly resented, but it did indicate the evolving maturity of the air transport scene in Australia.
However, this did not stop the determined and in 1921, the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services (Q.A.N.T.A.S.) was formed. Although initially involved in joy rides and local flights, a year later the Government asked Hudson Fysh and J.P.McGuiness, the founders of QANTAS, to fly a weekly service between Charleville and Cloncurry. Their first passenger on this service was 87-year old Alexander Kennedy. His first journey between Longreach and Cloncurry in a bullock wagon some fifty years earlier, had taken eight months; the flight he took that day over the same route took four hours and thirty-five minutes. By 1929 the service had been extended as far as Brisbane. While progress had been steady, it had not been without its trials. Several aircraft were crashed, a flying school had to be established to supplement income and aircraft leased to the Inland Mission to inaugurate the Royal Flying Doctor Service. QANTAS had flown patients for the Inland Mission medical team before, but now a DH50 capable of carrying four people was provided for medical emergencies where the doctor would be flown to the patient or the patient would be evacuated to hospital by aircraft if required. By 1930 QANTAS had moved its headquarters to Brisbane, acquired more aircraft and was financially sound. In less than a decade they had progressed from two military surplus aircraft flying local charters and joy rides to a company poised to extend its services overseas in conjunction with Imperial Airways on the England-Australia route.
The discovery of gold in Bulolo
Valley of New Guinea saw a rush of aircraft and pilots to Lae in order
to service the goldfields. Supplies, which had previously been carried
in by native bearers at prohibitive cost, could now be air-transported.
In 1926 C.J. Levien founded Guinea Airways Ltd. and began an airlift of
huge proportions. In the first 12 months of operations they carried
250,000kg of cargo and hundreds of passengers, but this paled into
insignificance when German Junkers transports were purchased by the
mining companies for the purpose of flying in broken down dredge
components. The all-metal Junkers with their corrugated fuselages were
unlike anything previously seen in Australia, but they were superb
aircraft - tough and powerful with lower maintenance requirements. The
Junkers pointed the way to the future in aircraft design, 60 flights a
day landed at Wau airport, such were the number of airline companies and
aircraft operating at this time, each Junkers made as many as five
flights a day, on 21 March 1932, a party was held to celebrate the first
day of operations of a 1100 Ton gold dredge flown in bit by bit to
Bulolo by the Junkers.
Meanwhile, in the southern regions of the Australian continent there were several aviation entrepreneurs attempting to establish viable air transport operations. Gaining the backing of Sir McPherson Robertson, later famous for his sponsorship of the centennial Air Race, another ex-A.F.C pilot, Horrie Miller, purchased a DH61 and formed MacRobertson Miller Airways operating the Adelaide-Melbourne route. The service rapidly expanded to include Mt.Gambier, Whyalla and Kangaroo Island. Affectionately known as Mickey Mouse Airways, the operation extended into Western Australia when Norman Brearley sold his West Australian Airways to the newly formed Australian National Airways, who declined to service some of Brearley’s W.A. routes.
On the eastern coast, New England Airways began a bi-weekly service in 1931. The popularity of the service was such that a tri-motor Avro 10 was purchased and a daily service inaugurated. G.A. Robinson, the head of New England Airways, travelled to the U.K. and America in 1934 and realised that the lead in aviation design was passing from the U.K. to America. The new all-metal, twin-engined monoplane airliners of Boeing and Douglas were considerably more suitable for the distances being travelled in Australia. However, during the economic depression that hit Australia in the early 1930s, the government had brought in restrictions on the importation of American aircraft in favour of those built in the U.K. It was 1936 before the Government lifted those restrictions and the Holyman Brothers’ Tasmanian Aerial Services imported two DC2 aircraft. The Holymans had been in the Bass Strait shipping business for generations and the brothers Ivor and Victor, had been to sea and obtained their Master Mariner’s certificates, but with the outbreak of the First World War, Victor Holyman joined the Royal Flying Corps. Post war he became a keen supporter of aviation in Tasmania.
There had been some air transport services between Melbourne and Launceston before the Holymans won the government tender to provide new DH86 aircraft for the service. However, ill fortune hounded the venture with the airline losing both DH86s within twelve months. One was lost off Wilson’s Promontory with Victor Holyman, his co-pilot and ten passengers on board and the other off Flinders Island. Ivor, who had taken over management of the airline, was then able to replace them with DC2 aircraft more suitable to the sometimes-rough weather of Bass Strait.
By the mid-1930s, the advantages of aerial transport were obvious and the reliability of new aircraft from Boeing, Douglas, Junkers etc., were attracting more and more passengers. Not only were established airline companies flying the main routes between state capitals, but also such routes as Eyre Peninsula to Adelaide using the redoubtable Junkers. Reg Ansett, later to become a major force in Australian aviation, ran a service between Hamilton and Melbourne with a Fokker. Other companies, such as North Queensland Airways serviced huge areas in the far north to Rabaul in New Guinea. QANTAS had entered into an agreement with Imperial Airways of the U.K. in 1834 that would see QANTAS fly the Brisbane-Singapore leg of the service that extended from the U.K. to Australia. Agitation for such a service had been growing for several years and increases in aircraft performance, range and carrying capacity made long range passenger and mail services possible.
QANTAS would purchase five new DH86 aircraft for the Darwin/Singapore section of this route; this involved almost 1100 kilometres of over-water flight and was of great concern to those involved. Passenger numbers were restricted, a high–speed launch was based at Darwin as a Rescue service and the government established weather and radio stations to back up the aircraft in their long flight over the Timor Sea. Within a few years QANTAS upgraded the aircraft on this route to large, four-engine flying boats built by Short Brothers of the U.K. and the service by QANTAS/Empire Airways extended from a base at Rose Bay on Sydney Harbour, through Singapore to Europe and terminated at Southhampton in England.
While QANTAS was extending the reach of their operations in the north of Australia, significant forces were at work in the southern regions, in the form of a group of shipping companies which had come to appreciate the competition to their operations by airlines whose services were eating into their passenger lists and revenue. By 1936 this group, which included Adelaide Steamship company and the Orient Line, acquired Norman Brearley’s West Australian Airways and Australian National Airways was formed incorporating Holymans Bass Strait operations and Adelaide Airways, other companies with airline operations on the east coast being acquired later. Here was a well financed operation under the management of Ivor Holyman, equipped with several DC2 aircraft. A.N.A. survived the coming war and went on to become one of the major competitors in Australia’s post war aviation expansion.
Not even twenty years had passed
since the hesitant inauguration of Brierley’s West Australian Airways
with its single-engined wood and fabric Bristol Tourers droning across
the harsh landscape of northwest Australia. The intervening years had
seen many names such as Miller, Fysh, deHavilland, Kingsford-Smith,
Holyman and Douglas prominent in the advancement of commercial aviation
and many more had fallen by the wayside. By 1939 there were over 300
pilots employed by various Australian airlines, thousands of passengers
were being transported annually and the wood and fabric planes were
giving way to sleek, metal Lockheed and Douglas airliners.
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