Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

History revisited – introducing a flying history

I wonder how many readers know of the significant role that New England has played in the history of Australian aviation? These are just some of the airlines with New England connections: New England Airways (Lismore), East-West Airlines (Tamworth), .Eastern Airlines (Tamworth), Aeropelican (Newcastle), Oxley Airlines (Port Macquarie) and Impulse Airlines (Newcastle).

The story of those airlines begins in the very early days of commercial aviation and continues to the present time. It is one of struggle for survival, of expansion, takeovers and collapses, of crashes. It is also one of political fights and fierce lobbying, of dreams lost and won.

The story has determined who flies us, but also links to the rise and sometimes fall of a whole variety of associated businesses. This column is the start of that story.

The first airline, New England Airways, was founded in 1931 by George A RoNew England Airwaysbinson, part of the North Coast’s Robinson transport family. Lismore based, New England Airways began with a bi-weekly Lismore-Brisbane service, later extended to a Lismore-Sydney service. This created the first and very popular Sydney-Brisbane link.

The photo shows passengers from one NEA flight. Weren’t they dolled up?!

The airline grew, acquiring the assets of the bankrupt Kingsford Smith founded Australian National Airlines. Reflecting its new role as .a national carrier, the airline was renamed Airlines of Australia in 1935. In 1942, it was acquired by the second Australian National Airlines (ANA) and effectively vanished from view.

The next major New England airline, East-West Airlines, was founded in 1947 by local grazier and entrepreneur Don Shand. The airline had intended to fly from Moree to Inverell to Grafton, but quickly found that the routes to Sydney were highest traffic.

East-West Airlines early days were rocky. It was difficult to make money. Still, by 1955, a passenger in Armidale had a choice of regular scheduled services to both Sydney and Brisbane.

East-West had to contend with more than simple economics. Its growth was also restricted by Federal Government policies that mandated that there be no more than two national carriers.

In 1961, a huge political fight broke out when Ansett Transport Industries tried to take over East-West Airlines.

Central to that fight was pressure on East-West by Civil Aviation Minister Robert Paltridge supported by Prime Minister Menzies. Don Shand was told that East-West, must accept the Ansett bid. Shand went public with the pressure, the Minister denied it.

White and shaking, David Drummond as Member for New England rose in the House to confirm the airline’s story. The Government was on a knife edge, with a one seat majority. The House was empty as Drummond began to speak. As he spoke, the benches and gallery filled.

No one could deny Drummond’s honesty. With support from the NSW Labour Government, the airline was saved.

I will continue the story of New England aviation in my next column.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 26 March 2014. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014.

These are the following posts in this series:


Anonymous said...

East West flew converted Hudson Bombers. Just back from Temora Warbirds(travelled on the Southern Aurora - great fun). Saw a Hudson fly. Only a tiny handful left, now.

Jim Belshaw said...

It did indeed, JCW. Feel very envious of that Temora trip. I was too young to remember the Hudsons, just the DC3s.

Mike g Stanley said...

I'm Michael Stanley, we lived close by to your family home, in Armidale, down the hill at 100 Mossman St. My father was Jack Stanley who was ASM Armidale Railway - we had a big family of nine kids, all alive today.!!!

I have greatly enjoyed your blogs over many years, I clearly remember your father, mother and brother, coming or going as I walked past to Keith Chants house behind your house to collect our daily milk!

I remember Paddy McDonald at his window, opposite your house, white haired, staring, not speaking..possibly still suffering from ww1 service,
You revive so many memories for me, but always I discover history about our town or personalities new to me. Thank you.

Reading about Don Shand...In 1973/4 I was around 22 years old...and was waiting to board a flight from Sydney to Armidale ( I worked for Thos. W.Green hide and skin merchants Armidale in those days). I sat next to a rather large gentleman, a bit "jowly" around seventy or so. He was wearing a pith hat, large jacket and had a cane. I said "hello, and talked in general terms about wool, hides etc.... then I said " we are lucky to be able to get to and from Armidale so easily these days". He looked at me and said " Yes, I know, I started East West Airlines in 1947".....
I don't think I believed him, however I was a "callow youth"....what a simply amazing man!!!!

In later years I remember my father saying Don Shand pinched some corn while he was in America....?
There is a photo taken in 1946 of him on the Armidale aero club site, standing by a Tiger moth....( not very clear, but certainly a big man)

I hope to read much more reading now I'm just retired, after switching to the Police Force years ago.
You are a worthy historian, keeper and conveyor of the knowledge,
Great research, great writing, and greatly appreciated by me.


Jim Belshaw said...

That was a lovely and much appreciated comment, Michael. I remember the house and you all as faces and street patterns! Good to see Peter get that "senior citizen" award last year for his musical contributions. I have put senior citizens in inverted commas because I'm damned if I will admit to it! In fact, I detest the thought!

I don't know whether or not that story with Don is apocryphal. I heard the same story - helped start his seed company. Shand Selected Seed? A very typical story.

I really am glad that you like the writing. I am always looking for ways to bring the past alive. You keep reading and I will keep writing! But now that you have more time, have you ever thought of doing your own research?