Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Star of Townsville Attracts Big Crowds - 1930

When the Star of Townsville flew into the city for the first time in March 1930, thousands of locals flocked to see the aeroplane that would reduce the time it took to travel from Townsville to Brisbane to just one day.

First flight of the aircraft Star of Townsville on arrival at Ross River Plains aerodrome in Townsville, March 1930.
Photo: State Library of Queensland.
The Queensland Air Navigation Company Limited’s Avro 618 Ten - named the Star of Townsville - was a tri-motor monoplane capable of carrying eight passengers and two crew between Townsville and Brisbane, with stops at Mackay, Rockhampton and Bundaberg.

When it arrived in Townsville around 11am on Monday, 17 March, excited crowds were gathered at the newly constructed Ross River Plains aerodrome to see it land.
Refuelling the Star of Townsville, an Avro 618 Ten, circa 1932.
Photo: State Library of Queensland.
The following day, her “sister” plane – the Star of Cairns – a smaller, five-seat Avro, commissioned for the Cairns to Townsville route, landed in Townsville and taxied into position beside the Star of Townsville.

The Star of Cairns, an Avro 618 Five, c. 1930.
Photo: State Library of Queensland.
Once both planes were in place, the Mayor, Alderman W.J. Heatley, was invited to christen the Star of Townsville, something he was pleased to do, as he felt that “aviation was soon going to be a big mode of travel in Australia”.

A propeller on the Star of Townsville was decked with flags and a bottle of champagne, which the Mayor duly broke with a decorated hammer. Champagne streamed over the nose of the plane and splashed over several men on the lorry, much to the amusement of the onlookers.

Later in the day, locals were able to take a half hour flight over the city in the Star of Townsville, and that weekend, an air pageant was held at the aerodrome that attracted 10,000 people.

One of the Star of Townsville’s passengers on its inaugural flight to Townsville, was a businessman named Charles Hoffman, who told the Townsville Daily Bulletin that he was determined to use the service as often as possible, as it was such a time saver.

“The sense of security in air travel was real, the comfort excellent, and above all the one day journey means much to those who need fast transportation,” Mr Hoffman said.

But as exciting as this new mode of transport may have been, commercial air travel at this time still had its risks. In May 1930, the Star of Townsville went missing for half a day when the pilots were forced to make an emergency landing due to heavy fog on the journey from Mackay to Rockhampton.

They put the plane down safely in empty countryside roughly 180km north-west of Rockhampton, but knowing they would be missed, walked for hours in the hope of being able to communicate what had happened.

When they failed to find any trace of human habitation, the pilots returned to the plane and decided to attempt to take to the air again, which they did, without incident. According to one newspaper, it was a “thrilling experience” for the passengers.
Crash of the Star of Cairns, in Maryborough, December 1930.
Photo: State Library of Queensland.
Tragically, on 31 December that year, the Star of Townsville’s sister plane, the Star of Cairns, crashed in Maryborough killing the pilot, 32 year-old Dudley Percy Davidson, and 24 year-old Townsville Daily Bulletin journalist, Ian Henry Higgens.

Spectators who saw the plane take off from Maryborough said the plane had only just cleared the airfield when the engine stopped. The pilot tried to turn back, but the plane stalled and crashed into a nearby road.

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