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 Robinson, 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: