Flights of fear

Only two major plane hijacks have been noted in 2018 and 2019, so far.
This is a far cry from May 1961 to the end of 1972 when there were 159 hijackings in American airspace. Most were between 1968 and 1972, sometimes more than one on the same day.
Flights to communist Cuba were the most popular demands of the hijackers from 1961 to 1969, followed by millions of dollars in ransom at number two.
While there was reluctance to institute tighter security, such as metal detectors at airports for fear of what passengers might think, some innovative schemes were “put on the table”.
One idea was to build a pretend version of the Havana airport in South Florida so that hijacked planes could land there instead.
The 21st Century of course saw a massive security upgrade in the airline industry, right down to limits on liquids and banning of sharp objects (even nail scissors) in carry-on luggage. Jokes about bombs were likely to lead to arrest and heavy penalty. The catalyst of course was the 9/11 hijacking attacks in the US in 2001.
Thorough security scanning of every passenger became the norm. Armed sky marshals were put on random flights, domestically and internationally.
Though the hijack threat appears to have diminished somewhat in Australia and sky marshals are no longer thought to be operating on domestic flights (confirmation is unlikely), they are still used on international flights around the world.
The first mid-air hijacking is attributed to Australia in July 1960, when a Russian migrant who had been living near Sydney seized a plane on a domestic flight and demanded to be flown to Singapore.
In the US an era of destinations much further afield than Cuba began; a disgruntled marine of Italian origin seized a plane and demanded to be flown to Rome, and succeeded, setting the record for the longest hijack flight in the process.
Hijackers rarely get away with their acts, many ending their lives (or some ending them for them) as well as taking the lives of their hostages.

Singapore bound

The first recorded mid-air hijack of an airliner happened in Australia in July 1960, a month before the first one in the United States.
Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) Flight 408, a Lockheed Electra named the John Gilbert (VH-TLB) was operating the 7.30 pm departure from Sydney to Brisbane, the last for the day, on 19 July.
On board were 43 passengers and five crew members.
One of those passengers had unconventional carry-on luggage – a sawn-off .22 rifle, a spare loaded magazine and two sticks of gelignite. Airport security screening wasn’t what it is today.
Also, he wasn’t intending to go to Brisbane. He wanted to go to Singapore.
The passenger was Alex Hildebrandt, a 22-year old Russian migrant
The crew comprised Captain John Denton, First Officer Tom Bennett, Flight Engineer Fred McDonald and stewardesses Fay Strugnell and Janeene Christie. Another TAA officer, Captain Dennis Lawrence, and pilot Warren Penny were among the passengers.
Captain Denton was preparing the plane for descent into Brisbane, when the 22-year-old Hildebrandt, an unemployed labourer, came out of the lavatory where he had assembled a gelignite bomb.
Fay Strugnell placed a dispatch bag on the vacant seat beside Hildebrandt, intending to put flight documents into it.
She looked up to see Hildebrandt pointing a gun at her head at close range. He ordered to get the captain. As she went to the cockpit, Hildebrandt pressed the call button and Janeene Christie responded. A sawn-off .22 rifle was thrust at her throat, and the Hildebrandt again demanded: “Get the captain.’’
Miss Strugnell returned with the flight engineer, Fred McDonald. While she was talking to Hildebrandt, she saw two sticks of gelignite beside him and a battery in the seat arm ashtray.
Hildebrandt then threatened McDonald with the firearm and demanded that the airliner be diverted to Singapore.
According to the Trans-Australia Airlines Museum notes, Hildebrandt had a suspended wire over a torch battery attached to a detonator linked to two sticks of gelignite, and another wire linking the battery and the gelignite.
It was not the kind of sophisticated explosives devised used in more recent times but was said to be capable of causing a major explosion that probably would have killed everyone on board.
Hildebrandt began ranting that he was going to destroy the plane and demanded the plane be flown to Darwin or Singapore. Meanwhile, Dennis Lawrence had walked up behind him after grabbing an axe carried on the plane to be used in an emergency escape and sat in the seat behind Hildebrandt.
Captain Denton, made aware of the hijack attempt, turned the plane towards the sea and kept it circling over Moreton Bay so the hijacker could not see that they were near Brisbane.


Tom Bennett left the cockpit and tried to calm Hildebrandt. As Bennett and Lawrence spoke to Hildebrandt the gun was fired. The bullet passed through the ceiling of the plane, missing Bennett for inches.
Bennett punched Hildebrandt and pulled the wires from his crude bomb.
He recalled: “I don’t know how I decided that the time was right to jump him. I know we were not getting anywhere, and I had this thought that it was time to take control.
“Then I did make my move, I just grabbed for the gelignite and threw a punch at him at the same time.’’
Captain Lawrence, rose from the seat behind the hijacker and hit him with the heavy rubberised handle of the axe.
Warren Penny helped Bennett and Lawrence restrain the would-be hijacker. Handcuffs carried on the plane were sued to keep Hildebrandt controlled until the plane landed at Eagle Farm airport in Brisbane.

Penny recalled that Captain Lawrence had given him the axe and told him, “If he moves, smash him across the skull”.
It later emerged that in the morning of the hijack, Hildebrandt’s mother had given him 18 pounds at their Riverstone, Sydney, home. He was to have used 8 pounds to pay a fine for having evaded a rail fare, and the other 10 was to have been paid off the price of a suit.
Instead, the 22-year-old used the money to buy a coat and a plane ticket from Mascot to Brisbane.
When the plane landed at Eagle Farm at 9.25pm, police were waiting.
They boarded the aircraft and Det Sgt Merton Hopgood, arrested Hildebrandt. He was charged with having attempted to murder Tom Bennett and having had an explosive device on the plane with intent to destroy it.
Det Insp Les Bardwell, a police firearms expert, found that the bomb would certainly have detonated had the second wire touched the battery.
Tom Bennett recalled that Hildebrandt insisted the aircraft should not land in Brisbane, and that he tried to persuade him it did not have enough fuel to go anywhere else.
Hildebrandt faced court in Brisbane and found guilty on 7 October.
It was revealed Hildebrandt was born at Patoka, Russia, on May 30, 1938, and was taken to Germany when he was only a few months old because his father disagreed with the Communists.
His parents spent the war years in German labour camps, and he had little schooling.
The family came to Australia under the displaced persons migration scheme in 1950 and lived in migrant camps in Victoria and NSW before settling at Riverstone, near Sydney.
Hildebrandt had worked at various jobs and had a couple of convictions for minor offences.
A lawyer who appeared for him at his trial in Brisbane claimed Hildebrandt had a persecution complex caused by his father’s ill-treatment of him. The hijacker believed he was being victimised because employers only ever gave him labouring work and he despised the capitalism system.
Psychiatrists said he had a paranoid personality.
He was found guilty on all charges. For attempted murder, he was jailed for three years; for having attempted to destroy the airliner, he was given 10 years; and on the lesser explosives charge he received two years.
But Hildebrandt went to the Queensland Court of Criminal Appeal on the 10-year sentence and argued successfully that as the plane was still over NSW (somewhere near Casino) when he armed the explosives in its lavatory, the Queensland court had no jurisdiction on that offence.
He served the three-year sentence, and as he left jail in Brisbane in February 1963 was re-arrested by NSW police and taken to Sydney to again face a charge of having attempted to destroy the airliner. He was again convicted and sent to jail for seven years.
Tom Bennet was awarded the George Medal for his actions and Captain Lawrence was commended for his part in subduing the hijacker.

Sources: Trans-Australia Airlines Museum, Courier-Mail and Canberra Times news reports.

The long way home

“Why should I feel sorry?”
That was Raffaele Minichiello’s answer to the first question he was asked when released from prison on Monday 10 November 1969 after serving 18 months of a seven years and six months sentence.
He should have felt lucky he was sentenced in Rome for his crime, not in the United States.
The crime? Hijacking a TWA jet airliner from California to Rome – 11,100 km, the world’s longest recorded hijacking.
In the US he would have faced the death penalty. In Italy he became a cult hero, with supporters demonstrating against bids to have him extradited to the US.
Raffaele Minichiello was born in Melito Arpino, Italy, in 1949.
On 21 August 1962, the hills of southern Italy, a little north-east of Naples, began shaking in one of the most earthquake-prone parts of Europe. The 6.1-magnitude quake got everyone’s attention, but it was two powerful aftershocks that did most damage.
The Minichiello family lived just a few hundred metres north of the epicenter. When the shaking eventually subsided, their village of Melito Irpino lkay in ruins. The family had nothing, and no immediate help was forthcoming.
Almost the entire village was evacuated. It was levelled and rebuilt.
Many families returned but the Minichiellos decided to move to the US and they left Italy for what they thought would be a better life in 1963.
At school, Raffaele, who spoke little English, had a tough time. He was tormented in high school because of his accent and poor grasp of the language.
In 1967, he left high school and enlisted in the US Marine Corps at San Diego.
He was shipped to Vietnam in late 1967, where he was wounded in action, before returning to Camp Pendleton with a Purple Heart award.
While in Vietnam he learned that his father was terminally ill and was returning to Italy. Minichiello had been sending money to a Marines savings fund and had saved $800. But when he returned to Camp Pendleton, he found only $600 in his account, not enough to get to Italy to see his dying father.
And so it was at Camp Pendleton that Raffaele first ran afoul of authority and began on the path to jail in Italy.
Raffaele believed his unit’s paymaster had short-changed him $US 200. His complaints got short shrift.
So, he decided upon his own course of justice and after drinking eight cans of beer for courage one night in May 1969 he broke into the Post Exchange and took $200 worth of wristwatches and radios.
He fell asleep in the store, was arrested and charged with burglary and theft. He was due to face a court martial on 29 October 1969.
That wasn’t for him and he again decided to take matters into his own hands. He would go back to Italy. But not in a conventional way of buying an airline ticket.
The day before his court martial was to begin, the 19-year-old Raffaele deserted and went to Los Angeles where he bought an M1 rifle and 250 rounds of ammunition. He did buy an airline ticket, not to Italy but on TWA Flight 85, a Boeing 707 going to San Francisco.


Dressed in camouflage clothing, Minichiello bypassed the little security there was in those times by flirting with some hostesses, charming them into letting him board the plane early with them. His carry-on luggage included the disassembled rifle and ammunition. Just 15 minutes into the flight and after downing two shots of Canadian Club he assembled his gun in a lavatory, pointed it at a hostess and demanded to be flown to New York.
Trans World Airlines flight 85 began its schedule for the day in Baltimore before calling at St Louis and Kansas City.
Under the command of captain Donald Cook, 31, the flight landed in Los Angeles late at night and departed still in darkness. Next stop was to be San Francisco.
Flight attendant Charlene Delmonico began tidying the galley in the back of the plane with Tracey Coleman, who had been with TWA for only five months.
The passenger dressed in in camouflage clothing appeared in the galley.
He handed Delmonico a 7.62 mm bullet to prove the rifle was loaded and ordered her to take him to the cockpit to show it to the flight crew.
Among the passengers were members of Harpers Bizarre, an American pop band of the 1960s, perhaps best known for their cover version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).”
Band member Dick Scoppettone was stirred from his sleep by movement in the aisle and saw a man with a gun walking Delmonico towards the front of the plane.
Another band member, John Petersen, turned to Scoppettone from a few rows in front and said: “Is this really happening?”
Delmonico knocked on the cockpit door. She told the crew there was a man with a gun behind her. Minichiello stepped inside and pointed the rifle at each of the three men inside the cockpit: captain Cook, first officer Wenzel Williams and flight engineer Lloyd Hollrah.
Minichiello directed the crew to fly to New York. From there they would be going to Rome.
First, going to New York was a problem; the plane had only enough fuel to fly to San Francisco. And if Rome was to be the next destination, none of the flight crew was qualified to fly internationally.
Minichiello agreed to let the captain land in Denver to get enough fuel to reach the east coast. Cook alerted air traffic control for the first time that the plane had been hijacked.
Minichiello then said he would let 39 passengers get off in Denver if there wasn’t any trouble but insisted one of the flight attendants stay.
The members of Harper’s Bizarre called their manager and by the time they were cleared through the terminal a press crew was waiting for them. “It was the best publicity we ever had, by a mile,” Dick Scoppettone later told the BBC.
The plane left Denver with five people on board: Cook, Williams, Hollrah, Tracey Coleman and Minichiello.


The plane landed at John F Kennedy airport late in the morning where about 100 FBI agents were waiting.
Captain Cook warned the agents to stay away from the plane. Soon a shot rang out. It was later determined that Minichiello did not intend to shoot. Just outside the cockpit door, he is thought to have nudged the trigger of his rifle. The bullet pierced the ceiling but did not penetrate it or the plane’s fuselage.
Two TWA captains who were allowed to fly internationally, Billy Williams and Richard Hastings, boarded the plane past a ring of FB I agents.
“The FBI plan was damned near a prescription for getting the entire crew killed,” Cook later told the New York Times.
“We sat with that boy for six hours and had seen him go from practically a raving maniac to a fairly complacent and intelligent young man with a sense of humour, and then these idiots… irresponsibly made up their own minds about how to handle this boy on the basis of no information, and the good faith we had built up for almost six hours was completely destroyed.”
With the new pilots aboard and with the confusion surrounding the shot that was fired, the plane took off quickly, without enough fuel to get to Rome.
Within an hour TWA85 put down in Bangor, Maine, where it took on enough fuel to cross the Atlantic. Without further incident, the plane took off again and headed towards international airspace and Shannon, on Ireland’s west coast. There, in the middle of the night, TWA85 refuelled again.
Outwardly, there was relative calm on the flight. But the remaining crew on board held an underlying fear for their safety.
Minichiello chatted with various crew members along the way, teaching one how to play the card game solitaire.
On the way to Ireland, 31 October became 1 November, Minichiello’s 20th birthday. The was no celebration though.
TWA85 circled Rome’s Fiumicino airport early in the morning.
Minichiello demanded that the plane be parked well away from the terminal and that he be met by an unarmed police officer.
Pietro Guli, a deputy customs official who had volunteered to meet the hijacker, walked up the steps to the plane with his hands up. Minichiello met him.
The hijack was over, 18-and-a-half hours after it had started over California.
“So long, Don,” Minichiello told the captain. “I’m sorry I caused you all this trouble.” Minichiello asked for Cook’s address so he could later write to him and explain what had happened after the hijacking.
Minichiello directed his new hostage to drive towards Naples. They were followed by police but lost them – and themselves. Minichiello then abandoned the car and ran off.
Police launched an extensive search with officers, dogs and helicopters in the hills around Rome.
Eventually a priest found the hijacker. Minichiello had sought shelter in a church after getting rid of his camouflage clothes and hiding his gun in a barn. He was recognised by a church official at Mass.
The police caught up with Minichiello outside the church.
As he was led away after an interrogation in a Rome police station, a reporter asked: “Why did you do it?”
“Why did I do it?” he replied. “I don’t know.”
Minichiello’s father, by then living near Naples, knew what caused his son to hijack the plane. “The war must have provoked a state of shock in his mind,” Luigi Minichiello told reporters who tracked him down. “Before that, he was always sane.”


Minichiello became a folk hero in Italy, portrayed as an Italian boy who would do anything to return to his motherland, even though his mother was living in the US.
About -300 demonstrators bearing placards reading “no to extradition”, “the executioner will not have Minichiello”, began gathered at Avellino in southern Italy, fearing that Minichiello would be extradited to the US and face the death penalty.
The villagers of Acqua-fredda Di Melito Irpino, Minichiello’s birthplace, raised money for his defence.
As it turned out, he was prosecuted in Italy only for crimes committed in Italian airspace, mainly weapons possession and kidnapping.
Three judges deliberated for three hours and 48 minutes. Minichiello, who had retained Italian citizenship, was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison.
At the trial, his lawyer Giuseppe Sotgiu, portrayed Minichiello as the poor victim of an unconscionable foreign war: “I am sure that Italian judges will understand and forgive an act born from a civilisation of aircraft and war violence.
His sentence was reduced on appeal and he was released from prison on 1 May 1971, saying to waiting media ‘Why should I feel sorry?”.

Minichiello settled in Rome where he worked as a bartender. He married the bar owner’s daughter, Cinzia, with whom he had a son. He once owned a pizza restaurant named Hijacking. A career as a nude model and actor fell by the wayside.
In 1980, a magnitude-6.9 earthquake struck southern Italy, its epicentre about 30 km from the one in 1962 and the most powerful earthquake to strike Italy in 70 years. The quake caused massive damage across the Irpinia region. Around 4,690 people were killed and 20,000 homes were destroyed.
It was reported that Raffaele Minichiello was among the hundreds of people who went to the region east of Naples to distribute aid.
Standing in the ruins, reporters noted that Minichiello appeared repentant: “I’m very different now to who I was,” he said. “I’m sorry for what I did to those people on the plane.”
In February 1985, his wife Cinzia was pregnant with their second child. After being admitted to hospital in labour, she and her newborn son died. Medical malpractice was alleged and Minichiello was enraged, let down by authority again. He planned to attack a prominent medical conference outside Rome to draw attention to the negligence that had cost his wife and son their lives.
While he plotted, Minichiello struck up a friendship with a young colleague, Tony, who introduced him to the Bible and read him passages out loud. Minichiello took heed and called off his plan.
In 1999, Minichiello decided to return to the US for the first time since the hijack after learning that there were no outstanding criminal charges against him there.
Because he had fled a court martial, he was given an “other than honourable discharge” by the Marines.
His former platoon comrades have been fighting to get this reduced to a general discharge, to reflect his service in Vietnam, but they remain unsuccessful to this day, even with letters to President Trump.
If his discharge is not amended, he will be ineligible for treatment for PTSD, and he will not receive any other veterans’ benefits.
In August 2009, Minichiello and his former platoon held a reunion in Branson, Missouri. He invited the crew from the hijacked plane to meet him. Williams and Delmonico accepted.
The atmosphere was tense for a while. But as more questions flowed, and Minichiello began to explain what had happened to him, the group grew closer.
Before they left, Minichiello handed them both a copy of the New Testament. Inside, he had written:
Thank you for your time, so much.
I appreciate your forgiveness for my actions that put you in harm’s way.
Please accept this book, that has changed my life.
God bless you so much, Raffaele Minichiello.
Underneath, he added the words Luke 23:34.
The passage reads: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
More recently, it has been reported that Raffaele Minichiello divides his time between Washington state and Italy, flies a home-made plane for fun and curates a YouTube feed dedicated to accordion music.
It is believed he has signed a film deal about his life story.

Sources: BBC News (Roland Hughes), Trove newspaper archives, People.com (Leonora Dodsworth, 1980).

Harpers Bizarre broke up in the mid-1970s. Dick Scoppettone went on to host a local radio show in Santa Cruz, California.



They jumped or fell from planes – and lived


Korean airline hijack – 11 people still missing after 4 decades



The daring deeds of two men
named Gilbert Cory

No, this is not a story about split personalities. It is a story about two Australian men who shared the same name and made their mark in Australia’s fighting services.

GILBERT ERNEST CORY was awarded the Military Cross after leading two platoons of soldiers on a daring raid on a Japanese camp on the north coast of New Guinea in 1945 that threw the Japanese into chaos and inflicted heavy casualties.

GILBERT RICHARD ISLER CORY was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in operations in New Guinea with 5 Squadron, also in World War 2.

They probably never met, but their deeds in New Guinea during World War 2 are part of Australian military history. Both men had links to the Armidale area of the Northern Tablelands of NSW.

Gilbert Ernest Cory, originally from Saumarez near Armidale,  was involved in controversy before and after his war service, finding himself entangled in legal issues that saw him first disbarred as a solicitor in 1929 and more than 20 years later after a distinguished career in the military, charged then acquitted in 1953 of three counts of having uttered forged endorsements on promissory notes.

It was during the 1953-54 case that his wartime heroics emerged.

Cory’s counsel, Mr A.G. Brindley, told the Central Court of Petty Sessions that his client had been mentioned in despatches 15 times, was wounded 9 times and was commissioned on the battlefield.

Cory was alleged to have failed to honour promissory notes to the value of 270 pounds he gave to Clement Emerson Rich. He pleaded not guilty and claimed he was owed money by Rich “for work done.”

The borrowed money was said to be related to Cory’s attempts to regain registration as solicitor.

Neville John Harris, a grazier, of Brewarrina, said he had known Cory for 25 years. He had seen Rich about a fortnight previously and offered to pay him the money that Cory owed him but, he said, Rich refused to take it.

The magistrate set the matter down for trial. On 19 May 1954, at the direction of Judge Stephen, a Quarter Sessions jury acquitted Gilbert Ernest Cory, 46, salesman, of Edward Street, Bondi, on three charges of having uttered forged endorsements on promissory notes.

Gilbert Cory’s story is related in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Gilbert Ernest Cory was born on 23 December 1906 at Saumarez, son of Frederick Ernest and Blanche Cory. Frederick was the son of Gilbert and Charlotte Cory.

He was educated at Maitland East Boys High School and worked on the land for a year before being articled (1926) to Moree solicitor William A. Cole. He later enlisted in the AIF (2nd/3rd Battalion). Citations for the DCM and MC listed him as being from Bendigo, Victoria.

According to the Australian War Memorial, the 2/3rd’s first campaign against the Japanese was the advance along the Kokoda Trail to the Japanese beachheads between September and December 1942. It fought major engagements at Eora Creek (22-28 October), Oivi (5-12 November), and on the Sanananda Track (21 November-19 December). The battalion spent 1943 and 1944 training in northern Queensland. It’s  last campaign of the war was the operation to clear the Japanese from the Aitape-Wewak region of New Guinea between December 1944 and August 1945.

Adjutant Captain (Acting) G.E. Cory 
with Major L.E. Powling at Mission Point,
New Guinea, in October 1945.

The 2/3rd Battalion disbanded on 8 February 1946.

Ian Grant, writing for the Australian Dictionary of Biography in 1993 records: “On 17 February 1931 in St Thomas’s Anglican Church, North Sydney, Gilbert Cory married Helen Louie Annie Vaughan. He was admitted as a solicitor on 13 March.

“In early 1939 a friend who had lent him money abruptly asked for repayment in full. Unable to comply, Cory was issued with a bankruptcy notice. Without disclosing his financial affairs, he obtained a loan from a client of his employers. Rather than defending his conduct in court, Cory fled to Canberra and adopted the alias ‘Graham’. He was struck off the roll of solicitors on 18 May. During this period his marriage broke down. After working as a motorcar salesman at Uralla, New South Wales, on 2 November he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He was posted to the 2nd/3rd Battalion and on 9 January 1940 embarked for the Middle East. From February to July 1941 he saw action successively in North Africa, Greece and Syria, and was mentioned in despatches.

“Returning to Australia as a sergeant, in September 1942 he went with his unit to Papua. On 28 October at Eora Creek he led No.14 Platoon in an assault against a strongly-defended Japanese position. When the platoon lost most of its non-commissioned officers, Cory moved between sections and directed operations. Although shot in the face and temporarily blinded, he continued to take charge until he was evacuated. Awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, he was promoted lieutenant on 1 February 1943. His wound required extensive plastic surgery in Australia, and it was not until July that he re-joined the battalion at Wondecla, Queensland. By January 1945 he was involved in the fighting east of Aitape, on the north coast of New Guinea. At Long Ridge on 1 February Cory commanded two platoons in a daring raid on a Japanese camp; the attack disorganized the enemy and inflicted heavy casualties. For his deeds he was awarded the Military Cross.

“Promoted temporary captain in June 1945, he transferred to the 67th Battalion in October; he served on Morotai Island and from February 1946 with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force at Kure, Japan. He was repatriated in May due to ill health. Following postings in the Sydney area, he left the army in February 1949 with a disability pension.

“On 16 September 1950 Cory married Florence Alvin Joy Pugh with Methodist forms at Concord West. They lived at Bondi. He had found a job as a managing clerk in a solicitor’s office but was bitterly disappointed when his application for readmission as a solicitor was rejected in November 1960. With his wife, he retired to South West Rocks in 1972. Survived by her, he died of emphysema on 4 September 1977 at Kempsey.”

Gilbert had two brothers and two sisters.

The NSW Government Gazette records that Gilbert Ernest Cory was appointed to the NSW Housing Commission as a clerk on probation in 1960 and appointed to the Housing Commission division of the Public Service Board in 1961.

The tabloid press made a great play of Cory’s divorce proceedings with his first wife in 1940. A divorce was granted.

Gilbert Richard Isler Cory was born on 2 August 1910 at Copmanhurst, near Grafton, NSW.

His father, George Gilbert Cory, left the family home at Paterson in the Hunter Valley area of NSW to become a jackeroo at the Rockwood property near Armidale where he arrived in 1891. He eventually became manager of the property.

Gilbert was one of George and Estelle Jean Cory’s 10 children. George Cory fought in the Boer War and married Estelle (nee Wiseman) in Bundarra, west of Armidale.

Records of Gilbert Richard Isler Cory’s early days are scant, but the register of The Armidale School, (private school known as TAS) shows he was there from July 1924 to June 1928 and was a chapel warden. It appears he moved around with his father who managed various properties from the Armidale area, Grafton and the north coast and finally the granite belt of Queensland around Warwick and Stanthorpe. Warwick is given as his home address in official war records.

The National Archives record that Flight Lieutenant Gilbert (Gil) Richard Isler Cory was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and mentioned in despatches in 1942.

His place of enlistment is given as Brisbane and his next of kin as Elma Cory (nee Bale). Birth notices indicate at least one child, born in 1943.

No. 5 (Army co-operation) Squadron RAAF
and AIF personnel at Torokina, Bougainville,
in January 1945. Flt Lt Gil Cory is second from the right.

Much of the Gil Cory story that’s in the public domain is told in the book, Great Air Escapes, by Robert Piper, published by Pagemasters in 1991, in a chapter titled “Santa’s Sleigh was a Wirraway.”

This is how several newspapers of the day introduced the story on 23 January 1945: “Bougainville – This is a strange tale of a couple of Flying Santa Claus, who went out on Christmas Day with a plane load of presents for Australian troops and crash-landed into a fortnight of adventure, says an announcement by the Directorate of Public Relations of the Australian Military Forces. From the moment their Wirraway hit a mountain at dinner-time on Christmas Day scores of their RAAF and Army friends on Bougainville Island followed their progress through the Jap-infested jungle, across razor backs and down streams, until they reached home this week, with sore feet and their story.”

Four men attached to No 5 Squadron thought it would be a good idea and morale-booster for frontline troops to have a Christmas celebration. The instigators were said to be Cpl Jack Webb of Orbost, L/Cpl Ray Thompson of Marylands, Pte Noel Derbyshire of Preston and Pte Aubrey Hain of Glen Innes.

Christmas fare was gathered by pilots and ground crew – puddings, cakes, smokes, books, packs of cards and mail – ready to be flow to the soldiers on the ground around the Torokina Peninsula on the west coast of Bougainville.

Christmas morning saw two vehicles loaded with the goods that were stashed in “storepedos” under the wings of a Wirraway.

A “storepedo” is fitted to a Wirraway at Torokina

In control of the Wirraway was Flt Lieutenant Gil Cory with Flying Officer Bill Tucker. They were ready to go when a photographer thought it a good idea to snap a picture.

That, Gil Cory was to comment later, was the start of the trouble. He was quite superstitious about having his photo taken before a mission. Bill Tucker was similarly wary.

They put those thoughts aside to get on with the job and took off in weather that wasn’t good.

As they flew up a valley the Wirraway’s engines spluttered to a halt. There was no time to find a suitable landing spot and Cory put the plane on to a flat 30 ft by 60 ft (9 m by 18 m) ledge on the side of a ridge. Some were to refer to the crash as a “miracle landing.”

The plane was smashed but the two men were able to crawl out, though injured. It was later found that Cory had four broken ribs. His leg was badly gashed. Tucker’s legs were cut and bruised, and he had a broken hand.

The two men didn’t know where they were – they could have been near the enemy or they could have been in the midst of unfriendly natives.

As it turned out they were discovered by friendly locals who came to their aid and in return were invited to share the Christmas fare that had been on the plane.

Back at the squadron’s base, search parties were organised when contact had been lost and the Wirraway hadn’t returned. The weather worsened and the Wirraway and Anson search planes were grounded for days.

The locals took Cory and Tucker to their village further up the mountains and fed and sheltered them.

A bow-and-arrow troop was sent out to tackle Japanese soldiers known to be just a few miles away.

Some of the natives spoke a little pidgin so Cory and Tucker were able to communicate with their rescuers who were able to beat off a Japanese patrol that strayed too close. Contact was made with other Australians and searchers identified the likely position of the two airmen.

Wirraways eventually defied the bad weather to drop supplies to them and their rescuers.

An Australian search party reached the village to find Cory and Tucker in good care.

The rescuers and the rescued were still able to get to some of the Australian troops and deliver their much-appreciated Christmas mail.

It was then time to get back to base. This involved a trek through swampy jungle and crossing the Jaba River. On January 6 they reached a commando headquarters on the Takessi River. From there they travelled down river in a collapsible boat to Brigade HQ on the coast for a launch ride back to Torokina.

The Canberra announcement of the award of the DFC to Flt Lt Cory said: “Flt Lt. Cory has completed three arduous operational tours. As second in charge of No. 5 Squadron his example has been an inspiration to personnel. His aerial reconnaissance work has been of a high standard. His cool control and direction of 40 RNZAF Corsairs on a bombing and strafing mission in close support of Australian troops, was admirable, and the subject of congratulations from the New Zealand Army Brigade Commanders, Cory’s boundless enthusiasm and tireless energy have served as on inspiration to the squadron.”

After the war, Cory returned to his property, Glentanna, at Dalveen in Queensland. A report said he died in 2010 aged 99.

Bill Tucker, a school teacher from Bundaberg, died in 1973.

Exploring the North – Cory to the fore

Cory is a surname that occurs regularly in historical references to the Paterson area of the Hunter Valley, the New England region of NSW and the Darling Downs of Queensland from the early settlers to this day.

Many share the surname and it is often the middle name that determines just who is/was who.

For example, there were more than two men named Gilbert Cory.

For instance, there was Gilbert Gostwyck Cory, born in Vacy, NSW in 1839. His parents were Gilbert and Jeannette Georgianna (nee Rens) Cory, of Vacy, and his grandparents were John and Mary Cory.

After completing his education at The King’s School, Parramatta, NSW, aged 19, Gilbert Gostwyck Cory (pictured above)  travelled to Brisbane, then on to Toowoomba on horseback.

Vacy is a village in the Dungog Shire local government area of the Hunter Region, NSW, between Gresford and Paterson. It was founded in the 1820s as a private town by John Cory, the beneficiary of a large land grant. Vacy began to prosper in the 1850s and was a busy town by the 1870s. It remained a private town until it was sold in 1927 by the Cory family.

Gilbert Gostwyck Cory (1839–1924) became a station manager after arriving in Toowoomba in 1858.

He and his wife Ann Sophie (nee Taylor) lived at the place they named Vacy Hall for 50 years from 1873 to 1924. The stately home was a gift from her father, Hon James Taylor.

Gilbert Gostwyck Cory entered local politics and was the mayor of Toowoomba, Queensland in 1891. He served as an alderman on the Toowoomba City Council from 1889 to 1894 and was also active on the Shire of Jondaryan Council, serving as chairman in 1894 and 1895 and an alderman in 1883-1919. He died on 8 August 1924.

The names Gostwyck and Vacy appear often, too, usually for properties taken up by the Cory family as they relocated.

The Cory name is traced back to Devon, in England and it is possible that all those with the surname share a common ancestry.

The appearance of the Cory name in Australia generally is traced back to the Hunter Valley, the Paterson area in particular.

In terms of Northern Tablelands of NSW history, the more widely known Cory name is Edward Gostwyck Cory.

Silhouette portrait of E.G. Cory
by Richard Dighton.
From State Library of NSW

The Gostwyck (sometimes Gostwick) name is traced to Edward’s father John Cory, grandson of Sir William Gostwyck, of Willington, hear Bedford in the UK.

Edward Gostwyck Cory was the first of his family from Devon, UK, to become interested in the fledgling Colony of New South Wales.

Regulations at the time offered free land in proportion to the capital a settler was prepared to invest in the Colony, on condition he supported one convict for every 100 acres granted. In December 1822, Edward applied to the Colonial Secretary in London for the necessary letter to present to Governor Brisbane, stating that it was his “intention to employ a capital of about 1,500 pounds in agricultural pursuits” and to arrive with “three free servants to superintend such convicts as may be placed under my care”.

Before sailing, he married Frances Johnson, the daughter of Elizabeth Johnson, a widow. His father, John Cory, his wife, Fanny and his three servants, William Chapman, Thomas Lang and Mary Hosegood made up the party that set sail from England in April 1823 on the Allies. They arrived in Sydney five months later. Edward was joined later by two brothers, John and Gilbert. The father returned to England after four months.

Any links between the families that shared the Cory name and were associated with the Northern Tablelands are not immediately obvious, even though the names Gilbert, Gostwyck and to a lesser frequency Richard, Edward and Ernest appear in various family genealogy threads.

The chapel at Gostwyck,
near Uralla

The settlement not far from Armidale, that still bears the name Gostwyck has its origins in the property established by Edward Gostwyck Cory, acknowledged as the first white settler in the Uralla area and whose party of would-be settlers were the first to make the climb over the Moonbi ranges from the Peel Valley as they headed north looking for suitable grazing land.

Little was known of the region although John Oxley, explorer and surveyor, travelling eastwards from Dubbo reached the southern end of the tablelands and followed the Hastings River to its mouth, which he named Port Macquarie.

Botanist Allan Cunningham, sent by Governor Darling to explore the interior, travelled along the western edge of the tablelands to reach the Darling Downs Toowoomba area) in Queensland in 1827.

The acknowledged first arrival in the region was Hamilton Collins Sempill, who took his flock from the Hunter valley and settled in the upper Apsley Valley near Walcha, on the south-eastern edge of the tablelands in 1832. Cory was the first settler to make it into the tablelands-proper. After that there was a steady stream of squatters arriving from the Hunter region.

John Cory senior (The Elder) was granted 800 acres of land on the Paterson River in 1824 where they set up home.

Edward Gostwyck Cory and his brother Captain John Johnston Cory, a British naval officer who joined the family in NSW in 1833, received land grants at Paterson (near Dungog), and named them Gostwyck and Cory Vale.

According to Elizabeth Guildford, writing for the Australian Dictionary of Biography in 1966, moves by the Australian Agricultural Co. to expand its properties in 1832 through the Hunter into the Liverpool Plains and Peel River by appropriation of other holdings threatened to displace many of the early squatters, including Cory, Dangar and Warland. A drought in the Hunter Valley helped force their hand in seeking greener pastures.

A report held by The Royal Australian Historical Society noted: “After the return of Oxley from his journey across country to the coast at Port Macquarie, pastoralists lost no time in following his trail, and the Liverpool Plains became largely occupied prior to Allan Cunningham’s journey, by way of these plains, to the Darling Downs in 1827. Five years later, in the same region, twenty-three squatters were displaced by the Warrah and Peel River exchange grants of the Australian Agricultural Company. Among the affected holdings listed is Wollomal and Waldoo in the names of  William Dangar, E. Gostwyk Cory and W.H. Warland.”

The report noted: “The above persons were all well-known landholders in the settled districts, and were unauthorised occupiers of Crown lands beyond the ‘limits of location’” (more commonly referred to as squatters).

Settlers were not allowed to receive grants or to lease land beyond the set limits, however, it turned out the police and the military did not have the numbers to stop the push into new areas by lists (the so-called squatters in all directions outwards from established settlements. Even though settlement was not permitted beyond the ‘boundaries’ grazing rights were allowed.

Facing loss of his holding on the Paterson River, Cory and a small party set out to the north.

Mr. J. F. Campbell in a paper written for the Royal Australian Historical Society, noted: “Edward Gostwyck Cory, a settler, also from the Hunter district (Page’s River and the Patterson, and a squatter on the Page’s River, about where Tamworth is now situated), is said to have passed over the Moonboy (Moonbi) Range, along the route of the Great Northern Road from Tamworth, which route, it is also stated, was previously discovered by him, and, proceeding northerly, he camped for a time on one of the upper tributaries of Carlyle’s Gully. This tributary streamlet still bears the name of Cory’s Camp Creek, and where the camp stood may be seen in the Dog-trap paddock of Rimbanda. A memorial of his ascent to the tableland is also to be seen in the form of a rock at the foot of the second Moonboys, known to the present day as Cory’s Pillow.”

Cory’s track across the Moonbi Ranges became the route later followed for construction of the Great Northern Road. Cory found no suitable grazing country until he reached the tablelands of the Salisbury Waters, just east of Uralla. This area proved excellent for sheep, and Cory took up large tracts of it, establishing stations at “Gostwyck” (1832), “Terrible Vale”, and “Salisbury Plains”.

Cory’s “Gostwyck” grazing rights comprised about 80,000 acres, and was sold in 1834 to William Dangar, who subsequently sold them to his brother Henry Dangar.

Cory retained “Terrible Vale”, and eventually sold it to the Dangar brothers.

The western side, or homestead area, retained the name “Gostwyck”, whilst the eastern side which still has the historic octagonal woolshed, was re-named “Deeargee.”

The unsual woolshed at Deeargee (see endnote)

In 1851 Henry Dangar held all his land under licence, but under the 1847 Land Act and subsequent legislation he and his family were able to buy land, and they did so on a large scale. In 1885 parts of their holdings were resumed for closer settlement, and this process continued over the years until 1959, when the remaining family holding was 12,300 acres, in two properties, one retaining the name “Gostwyck” and the other named “Deeargee”, derived from the old “Gostwyck” wool brand, DRG, for “Dangar, Gostwyck.”

Cory’s other holding was sold to Robert Ramsay Mackenzie in 1837.

A newspaper reported that John Johnson Cory took up property in the Glen Innes district in 1839 and named it “Wellingore” after the Gostwyck family home in England. A subsequent owner renamed it “Wellingrove”.

Edward Cory returned to his “Gotswyck” property at Paterson. He became a Justice of the Peace and served as District Magistrate.

“Gostwyck” on the Paterson River.
Lithography by George Rowe
at the State Library of NSW.

It is noted in reports about the bushranger Thunderbolt who frequented the Hunter and Northern Tablelands regions that in his role as a magistrate at Paterson he dealt with a woman named Mary Ann Bugg, sometimes referred to as Mary Ann Ward, as she was said to be the “lady” of the bushranger Frederick Ward (aka Thunderbolt).

Mary Ann Bugg and Frederick (“Thunderbolt”) Ward

Mary Ann Bugg was charged with having in her possession goods suspected of being stolen (calico, derry and tweed cloth).

Unable to provide proof of purchase, she was sentenced by Mr Cory to three months imprisonment in Maitland jail. While there, a merchant came forward and identified Mary Ann as among a group of women who had purchased cloth from his store and eventually she was set free. She remained a key figure in the activities of bushranger Thunderbolt.

According to the Paterson Historical Society, Edward Gostwyck Cory was spoken of as the “King of the Paterson.”

Edward Cory died in Paterson on 7 or 8 March 1873, aged 76. His wife Frances died in 1870. The couple had no children of their own but raised Emma Chapman, the eldest child of their servants Mary and William Chapman, as their adopted daughter.

By 1970, only 13,000 acres remained of the original Northern Tablelands Gostwyck holding, divided between the two granddaughters of Henry Dangar who each held 6,500 acres.

Although his stay in the region was brief, Edward Gostwyck Cory’s discovery of a route across the Moonbi range and exploration north of Tamworth, contributed much to the early settlement of the Northern Tablelands of New England.

The derivation of the name “Terrible Vale” (sometimes referred to as “Terrible Valley”) station, about 20 km south-east of Uralla, remains the subject of speculation.

According to documents held in the University of New England archives, the most widely accepted story is that “Terrible Vale” took its name from Cory’s head stockman, “Terrible Billy”, a somewhat apocryphal figure who was said to possess “rough and ready habits … with his employees” and an unremitting “fierceness against the blacks”. There is another school of thought, probably less likely given timing, that attributes the name to the Turrubul tribe of Aborigines who frequented the area before European settlement.


Originally part of Gostwyck Station, Deeargee Station and its unique octagonal woolshed gained their name from the old Gostwyck wool brand, DRG, which stood for “Dangar, Gostwyck”. The woolshed was built in 1872 replacing an earlier shearing shed that had been destroyed by fire.

Designed and erected by Alexander Mitchell, who also built McCrossin’s Mill in Uralla, the woolshed is erected on brick pillars with successive roofs of galvanised iron. The side walls contain large amounts of glass. The woolshed has all facilities required for shearing, pressing, bailing, sorting and other operations. It even has a lightning conductor.

The Deeargee Woolshed is still in use today and can be seen from the roadside.

Today the Gostwyck and Deeargee properties are known for producing some of Australia’s finest wool. Both are 11 kilometres from Uralla on the Gostwyck Road. – Uralla Visitor Centre.

 SOURCES: Trove archive of newspapers, Royal Australian Historical Society, Australian Dictionary of Biography, the Australian War Memorial, State Library of NSW, various genealogical web sites including Ancestry and Wiki Family Tree, Uralla Visitor Centre, Paterson Historical Society, Vacy Hall boutique hotel Toowoomba.

Related articles:

FEMALE BUSHRANGERS: https://floggerblogger.com/the-female-bushrangers/

WIRRAWAY WAR BIRDS: https://floggerblogger.com/2018/02/11/the-wirraway-warbird/

FOOTNOTE: Every effort has been made to verify family links and details based on information in the public domain. Corrections are welcome via feedback.


M: The Ghosts of Abraham Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln never enjoyed the executive coach “United States” built in 1865 exclusively for his use; he refused the opulence.

But when eventually he did ride it, he was unable to enjoy the deluxe accommodations, as it was his funeral journey, a slow circuitous trip over 13 days from Washington DC to Springfield, Illinois, with the exhumed body of his son Willie also aboard the “Lincoln Special” funeral train.

Willie died in 1862 at the age of 11, apparently from typhoid. Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln stayed at the White House because she was too distraught to make the trip.

The train carrying Lincoln’s body travelled through 180 cities and seven states on its way to Lincoln’s home state of Illinois.

Scheduled stops for the special funeral train were published in newspapers. History.com records that “at each stop, Lincoln’s coffin was taken off the train, placed on an elaborately decorated horse-drawn hearse and led by solemn processions to a public building for viewing.

In cities as large as Columbus, Ohio, and as small as Herkimer, New York, thousands of mourners flocked to pay tribute to the slain president. In Philadelphia, Lincoln’s body lay in state on in the east wing of Independence Hall, the same site where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Newspapers reported that people had to wait more than five hours to pass by the president’s coffin in some cities.

The engine on the train as it set off was known as the Nashville.

The train consisted of nine cars. A guard of honour accompanied Lincoln’s body. Lincoln’s son Robert also was on the train. A portrait of Lincoln was fixed to the front of the locomotive.

Thousands lined the tracks during the 13-day 2,736 km trip that took the train through major US cities including Baltimore, Maryland, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Buffalo, New York, Cleveland, Ohio, Indianapolis and Indiana, reaching Springfield on 3 May1865.


Abraham Lincoln became the 16th President of the US, in 1861, his notable act being to issue the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy in 1863.

He won re-election in 1864, as Union military triumphs heralded an end to the civil war.

Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and a Confederate spy from Maryland, on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, while attending the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre as the American Civil War was ending.

The assassination occurred five days after the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Lincoln was shot in the back of the head at close range and died on Saturday morning, April 15, 1865.

Instead of a state funeral that now might be the norm, it was decided to take Lincoln’s body “on tour”.

During the two weeks there was much speculation in the press on the status of the corpse.

The macabre episode apparently didn’t end at Springfield where Lincoln was laid to rest on May 4, 1865, after what has been described as the greatest funeral in the history of the US.

As reports have it, a phantom Lincoln funeral train rolls on each April in a ghostly anniversary of the President’s death. It was against his wife’s wishes that officials decided that Lincoln’s body would be displayed on a funeral train stopping at various towns through the northern part of the US on its way to Springfield.

Along the route from Washington to Illinois people lined the tracks to bid farewell to the President who fought and won the Civil War.

The funeral train comprised nine cars. The ninth car, built to take the living president and his family on rail trips, was the one in which the caskets of Lincoln and Willie were carried.

The train’s route passed through Albany, New York. For several years, around the anniversary of Lincoln’s final journey, Albany-area railway workers reported seeing a phantom version of the funeral train travelling along the rails.

On the evening of each 27 April, people began making their way to the line in hopes of seeing the ghost train passing.

A newspaper report from 1883: “I believe in spirits and ghosts,” says a night watchman on the New York Central Railroad at Albany. “I know such things exist. Come, the night of the 27th of April, and I’ll convince you.”


He then told of the phantom train that every year comes up the road with the body of Abraham Lincoln. Regularly, he says, on the night of the 27th of April, about midnight, the air on the track becomes very keen and cutting. On either side it is calm and still. Every watchman when he feels this air, steps off the track and sits down to watch. Soon after, the pilot engine, with long black streamers and a band of skeletons with instruments, all playing dirges, grinning fleshless spectres sitting all about on the locomotive and the catafalque and funeral train, pass along noiselessly. The track ahead seems covered with black carpet, and the wheels are draped and muffled. There is no clatter. All about the coffin of the murdered Lincoln, in the air, above the train and behind it, are numbers of blue-coated men in soldier uniform, some with arms, some with coffins on their back, some leaning on them. “It has always seemed to us” says the watchman, “that all the vast armies of men who died in the war were there escorting that train.”

More than 150 years after Lincoln’s death, some paranormal enthusiasts believe Lincoln’s ghost train still rolls through Albany, perhaps even making the entire journey from Washington to Illinois, replicating the procession of the actual funeral train. But it never turns up in Springfield.

While the President himself is not seen (there’s a coffin covered by an American flag), his ghostly remains are guarded by the spirits of soldiers dressed in Union uniforms.

The train is said to emerge from a cloud of thick, black fog, towing its dark cars. Its arrival makes the air noticeably heavier and colder.

Folklore has it that as the ghost train passes, nearby clocks and watches stop and lose six minutes of time.

According to “witnesses” a blinding light coming from the unmanned train helps to guide the haunted steam engine through the thick black fog.

There were several odd experiences in Lincoln’s life. His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, is said to have dabbled in spiritualism, believed in omens, and held séances trying to establish contact with her dead son Willie.


Lincoln’s death also held mystery.

A friend who was present when Lincoln discussed with his wife a dream he had three days before his murder recounted the conversation:
“About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. I saw light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers, ‘The President,’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin.’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.”

There were also reports that Lincoln received regular visits from the ghost of his dead son Willie.

So did Mary Todd Lincoln.

According to the National First Ladies’ Library, Mary Todd Lincoln confided to her sister that she frequently saw Willie. “He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of my bed with the same, sweet adorable smile he has always had.”

Lincoln’s ghost appears also to be a frequent visitor to the White House. National Geographic reported: “The 16th President’s apparition reportedly has been seen at the White House by a long list of people, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands to President Reagan’s daughter Maureen.”

People also claim to have seen Lincoln’s ghost at Ford’s Theatre, where Booth assassinated Lincoln. Others claim to have seen Lincoln at Fort Monroe in Virginia, or at his tomb in Springfield, Illinois.

End note: a prairie fire near Minneapolis in 1911, Minnesota, destroyed the train car that had so famously carried Lincoln’s body to its final resting place.


Bill Taylor: Wing man for
Kingsford Smith

Six hours into a flight carrying mail from Australia to New Zealand on a King George jubilee anniversary trip on 15 May 1935, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith’s Southern Cross plane was in dire trouble.

The plane had taken off from Richmond, north-west of Sydney, around midnight, heading for New Plymouth, on New Zealand’s North Island, 2100km away.

But somewhere over the Pacific Ocean,  a loud bang brought the flight into great peril. A piece of exhaust pipe fractured, smashed a blade of the starboard propeller on the Fokker tri-engine plane, knocking one engine out.

The strain on the remaining two engines was immense – the port engine began to run out of oil and the plane began to lose speed as it battled 160 km/h wind.

On board the Southern Cross with the legendary Smithy was Captain Patrick Gordon (Bill) Taylor.

There was one obvious option – turn back to Sydney. But could they make it?

Bill Taylor was the co-pilot and navigator. He turned out to be the man who saved the day.

Smith’s Weekly,15 April 1939, takes up the dramatic story:

“Taylor picked up a small suitcase and pushed into his pocket the Thermos flask in which they had brought some coffee.

“Opening the little window of the cockpit, he climbed out against a wind of 100 mph.

“The Southern Cross was a monoplane, with its side engines under the wing. The only way of reaching the dead starboard engine was by a slippery, narrow strut.

“Along this Taylor climbed in his socks. When he reached the engine, he held on to the strut with one hand, and with the Thermos in the other hand drained oil out of the sump into the suitcase.

“He crawled back into the cockpit, then out along the strut on the other side to pour the oil into the port engine.

“As the suitcase would carry only enough oil to keep the port engine going for a short time, Taylor made his climb along the struts again and again (six times in fact).

“(John) Stannage, the wireless-operator, threw overboard the fourteen bags of mall, while Kingsford-Smith masterfully handled the sick plane.

“Each time the port engine was being fed by Taylor it had to be switched off, and the plane lost height. As soon as the oil had been fed, Kingsford-Smith climbed to prepare for the next fall.

“The plane came once within 25 feet of the grey Tasman Sea. They got back to Sydney.”

Taylor’s heroics – reported so matter-of-factly – in Smith’s Weekly resulted in him being awarded the Medal of the Order of the British Empire for gallantry, converted later to the George Cross, the highest civilian bravery award and equivalent to the military Victoria Cross.

Bill Taylor made many more memorable flights, including the first trans-Indian ocean flight from Port Headland to Mombasa via Diego Garcia aboard a Catalina flying boat, the Frigate Bird II.

                    Frigate Bird II at the
                    Powerhouse Musuem, Sydney

He was the first to survey the central Pacific air route, from Acapulco to New Zealand via the Marquesses and he pioneered the Southern Pacific air route, from Australia to South America, leaving from Grafton and flying to Valparaiso, Chile, via Suva.

On the return leg of that trip, he had a narrow escape from disaster at Easter Island when the sea became extremely rough and the Catalina almost didn’t get airborne.

But his reputation remains as one of Australia’s great aviators – he was modest and shunned the word hero, believing it to be a short-lived reputation after seeing what had happened to others.

Writing his own book, VH-UXX, some years later he referred to his exploits on the New Zealand flight in one paragraph: “After considerable difficulty in working the machine she finally staggered in to reach the coast.”

Patrick Gordon Taylor was born on 21 October 1896 at Mosman, Sydney, third son of Patrick Thomson Taylor, manufacturer’s agent, and his wife Alice Maud(e), née Sayers.

As a child he disliked his christian names and called himself “Bill”.

He and his older brothers went to school at the prestigious Shore school in Sydney but Bill wasn’t happy there and he was sent to board at The Armidale School, in northern NSW.

There, he excelled at sports and joined the school choir, camera club, became an assistant librarian and editor of the school magazine. He did well at Latin and was elected a senior prefect.

When war came in 1914 Bill, and many of his school mates were keen to enlist.

He applied to join the Australian Flying Corps. Surprisingly, he was rejected so he went to England where in 1916, he successfully was commissioned as a pilot into the Royal Flying Corps.

He flew as a fighter pilot with 66 Squadron Royal Flying Corps, later with 94 and 88 squadrons. He was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in July 1917 and promoted to Captain. His citation read:

2nd Lt. Patrick Gordon Taylor RFC. Spec Res.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has taken part in over forty offensive patrols at low altitudes and under heavy fire from the ground. He has always shown exceptional dash and gallantry in attacking large formations of hostile machines, setting a very fine example to all his comrades.

He was credited with shooting down five planes. He became and instructor at the end of the war.

Taylor returned to Australia in 1919. During the 1920s he flew as a private pilot, worked for the De Havilland Aircraft Co. in England, completed an engineering course and studied aerial navigation. He operated a Gipsy Moth seaplane from Sydney Harbour (1928-32) and also flew as a captain with Australian National Airlines Ltd (1930-31).

He served as second pilot or navigator on pioneering flights with Charles Kingsford Smith and others, setting records around the world. Kingsford Smith (Smithy)  and Taylor completed the first Australia-US flight, via Suva and Hawaii (21 October – 4 November 1934) in the Lockheed Altair, Lady Southern Cross.

In 1943 he was commissioned as a flying officer in the  Royal Australian Air Force, transferring to the Royal Air Force in 1944. During the Second World War Captain Taylor served as a ferry pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA).

After the deaths of his friends Charles Ulm and Kingsford Smith in separate accidents, Taylor was recognised then as Australia’s greatest surviving aviator, pioneering vital new trans-oceanic air routes and receiving a knighthood in 1954 in honour of his services to flight.

 The Man Who Saved Smithy (by Rick Searle) is the thorough account of Taylor’s life and achievements, and his role in saving Smithy and the Southern Cross.

His own records of his experiences were published: Pacific Flight (1935), VH-UXX (1937), Call to the Winds (1939), Forgotten Island (1948), Frigate Bird (1953), The Sky Beyond (1963) and Bird of the Island (1964).


Bill Taylor settled at Bayview on Pittwater, where he sailed a 35-ft (11 m) sloop and in 1947 established Loquat Valley School for his daughters. On 4 May 1951 he married Joyce Agnes Kennington.

He was chairman of the family firm, P. T. Taylor Pty Ltd, and a director of Trans Oceanic Airways Pty Ltd that operated the Sandringham 7 flying-boat Frigate Bird III from Sydney on Pacific island cruises from 1954-58.

Sir Gordon Taylor G.C. died after a heart attack at the age of 70 in Honolulu on 16 December 1966.

His daughter Gai Taylor, then living in Lismore NSW, told a newspaper: “He was cremated in Honolulu and his ashes were scattered over Lion Island at the entrance to Broken Bay and Pittwater (Sydney). This is the place he learnt to sail and fly float planes (the Moth on floats) and where his family had a holiday cottage. Probably the second most loved place for him after the South Pacific and particularly Honolulu.”

His wife, their son and two daughters survived him, as did the two daughters of his second marriage

Sources: Various newspaper reports via TROVE, Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Smithy and Ulm disappear
1934 and 1935

Two famous Australian aviators disappeared within a year.

Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm were a record-setting partnership in aviation feats, including the first crossing of the Pacific.

Kingsford Smith, knighted in 1932 for his pioneering aviation feats, set a number of daring flying records from the 1920s to the 1930s.

In 1928 with Charles Ulm he made the first flight across the Pacific Ocean, flying a 3-engine Fokker named the Southern Cross. They left Oakland, California, with two American crewmen on 31 May. They reached Brisbane via Hawaii and Fiji on 9 June, after 83 hours and 19 minutes flying time. The journey made Ulm and Kingsford Smith popular heroes and both were awarded the Air Force Cross and given honorary commissions in the Royal Australian Air Force.

Also in 1928 they took the Southern Cross on a non-stop flight from Victoria to Perth, the first transcontinental crossing, and made the first trans-Tasman crossing from New South Wales to New Zealand and back.

In 1929 Smithy, as he was affectionately known by then, flew from Australia to London in 12 days 18 hours and in 1930 flew from London via Ireland to New York and San Francisco. Later that year he brought the solo record for London to Australia down to less than 10 days. Three years later he had reduced it to 7 days 4 hours.

His record attempts were to promote the idea that planes had a future as airliners on major routes around the world.

With J. T. Pethybridge he took off from England on 6 November 1935, aiming to make one more record-breaking flight to Australia. The plane and both fliers were lost. It is assumed they crashed into the sea somewhere off the coast of Burma while flying at night towards Singapore.

Ulm was Kingsford Smith’s co-pilot on many adventurous flights and joined him in establishing Australian National Airways in December 1928 to operate unsubsidised passenger, mail and freight services.

Ulm also set records of his own. In 1933 he flew from Australia to England and on the return flight broke the record with a time of 6 days 17 hours and 45 minutes. In 1934 he carried the first airmail between New Zealand and Australia and then returned to New Zealand with the first official airmail to New Zealand.

Hoping to establish a trans-Pacific service between Australia, Canada and the United States, in September 1934 Ulm formed Great Pacific Airways Ltd and bought an Airspeed Envoy, Stella Australis (below), with long-range fuel tanks. On 3 December 1934, with a crew of 2, Ulm flew from Oakland for Hawaii. Stella Australis failed to arrive. Despite an extensive sea search no trace of the plane or crew was found.



The rise, demise and
rise  again of Meccano

Meccano, Hornby, Dinky … all names familiar to many men, and possibly women, too, from their childhood toy boxes.

The man behind these iconic names was Englishman Frank Hornby.

Today, many toys carrying these names from the early 20th Century are collectors’ items, selling for many hundreds of dollars.

In 2015, a collection of 3,000 toy cars, trucks and trains which was built up over 50 years sold at auction for £227,000 ($A 405,340).


Retired car dealer Raymond Hainsworth, 78, said he did not expect to make a fortune on the sale as he had paid top prices for the highest quality toys that included Dinky, Hornby and other famous brands that were not “play worn”.

In Australia rare Dinky toys in reasonable condition are selling on E-bay for anything up to about $800. Condition is the key and if there’s a mint condition box as well, the price goes higher.

Of course, back in the day when they went on sale many of the toys were just that – things meant to played with.

They were the brainchild of Frank Hornby, who as a youngster disliked school with a passion, played truant often and ultimately left school aged 16.

He died a wealthy man on 21 September 1936, aged 73. He was born in May 1863 at Copperas Hill, Liverpool, the only son of three children of John Oswald and Martha Hornby. When he left school, he went to work in his father’s provisions merchant business as a cashier.

Hornby had a home workshop and in 1899 be began creating toys for the amusement of his two sons. He had no formal training, but that wasn’t a bar to his innovative skills.

He used sheet metal to build trucks, bridges, cars and other items. He realised that if he could build interchangeable parts, one set of pieces could be used to build any number of toys. He made holes in the pieces to fit in the nuts and bolts to join the parts together, and these also served as an axle or pivot to arrange the pieces in any shape or form.

When his father died in 1899 the family business closed and Hornby became a bookkeeper in a meat importing business owned by David Elliott.

Historytoday.com tells how he began in the toy industry: “Hornby recalled that he had read Self-Help by Samuel Smiles over and over again and it inspired him, but for the moment he made little progress and after various clerking jobs he became a bookkeeper at a Liverpool meat importing firm.

“By the late 1890s Hornby was married with two small sons. He made toys for his boys at home in his garden shed. An inspired moment came when he thought of making them out of identical parts that could be fastened together with screws and nuts to assemble whichever model was wanted. The separate parts were metal strips half an inch wide with holes for the fastenings at regular half-inch intervals. They came in three standard lengths. The only tools a boy needed to assemble the models were spanners and a screwdriver. Early in 1901 Hornby took out a patent after borrowing £5 from his boss (Elliot) for the fee.”

 Meccano patent

Elliot encouraged Hornby to continue working on his ideas. Elliot even allowed Hornby to use the premises next to the office to set up a work space and eventually joined him in a partnership, Mechanics Made Easy, in 1902.

Their  first sets went on sale at 7s 6d (equivalent to £30 or more today), each with an instruction leaflet explaining how to make 12 models. The first profit was achieved in 1906.

The trademark was registered in 1907 and the Meccano Ltd Company began operation in 1908.

Meccano sets were exported around the world. In 1920 the Hornby range of clockwork trains was introduced and by 1930 were outselling Meccano sets. Dinky Toys cars, trucks and buses were introduced in 1933.

Hornby himself did extremely well financially and owned a large mansion in Maghull outside Liverpool.

He was also Conservative MP for Everton for a brief period in the 1930s.


After receiving a positive endorsement from professor Henry Selby Hele-Shaw, then Head of the Engineering Department at Liverpool University for his construction toy, Hornby made contracts with outside manufacturers to supply parts and “Mechanics Made Easy” sets went on sale in 1902.

Each set had only 16 different parts with a leaflet detailing the construction of 12 models. In 1903, 1,500 sets were sold, although no profit was made. New parts were continually being introduced and in 1904, six sets, packed in tin boxes, with instruction manuals in French and English, became available. In 1905 two new sets were introduced and in 1906, for the first time, a small profit was made.

By 1907 Hornby’s part suppliers could not meet the demand. This prompted Hornby to quit working for Elliot and find suitable premises to begin manufacturing his own parts. He secured a three-year lease on a workshop in Duke Street, by Dukes Terrace in the Rope Walks area of Liverpool, and with the help of a loan granted to Hornby and Elliot for machinery and wages, they began manufacturing their own parts by June 1907.

Elliot decided not to join the Meccano company that was formed in 1908, leaving Hornby as the sole proprietor. The Meccano factory was relocated to West Derby Road in Liverpool. Meccano Ltd’s turnover for the 1910 financial year was £12,000.

Meccano was exported to many countries and in 1912, Hornby and his son, Roland, formed Meccano (France) Ltd in Paris to manufacture Meccano. An office was also opened in Berlin, Germany and Märklin manufactured Meccano under licence. Hornby also started importing clockwork motors from Märklin.

Demand continued growing and a new factory was built in Binns Road, Liverpool. By September 1914 the Binns Road Factory was in full production and became the company headquarters for more than 60 years.

In 1942 the production of toys stopped and the company, along with many others, switched to manufacturing to aid the war effort.

Despite the bombing of Liverpool during the war, the Binns Road factory was not damaged. The production of Meccano, Dinky Toys and Hornby Dublo resumed after the war in 1945, interrupted only when the supply of metal was restricted.

In 1960 Meccano Ltd purchased Bayko, a Bakelite building model construction toy, from Plimpton Engineering in Liverpool, and moved all its production to Meccano’s factory in Speke, Liverpool. The construction sets were updated, and polystyrene was used instead of Bakelite. Manufacture of Bayko continued until 1967. Meccano Ltd also manufactured Kemex (chemistry sets) and Elektron (electrical sets).

Financial problems beset the company in the early 1960s and Meccano Ltd was taken over by Lines Bros Ltd (owners of the Tri-ang brand) in 1964.

In 1971 the Lines Brothers Tri-ang group went into voluntary liquidation and Meccano-Tri-ang was eventually sold to Airfix industries in 1972, the company name reverting to Meccano Ltd. General Mills, a US toy manufacturer, bought out Meccano France, renaming it Miro-Meccano

The emergence of other toy manufacturers and television advertising saw Meccano’s market share reduced markedly.

 Binns Rd factory

To cut their losses, Airfix closed Meccano Ltd’s flagship Binns Road factory in Liverpool in November 1979, ending three-quarters of a century of British toy making. The manufacture of Meccano, however, continued in France. Airfix was liquidated two years later and in 1981 General Mills purchased Meccano Ltd UK, giving it complete control of the Meccano franchise. It shifted all Meccano and Airfix operations to France and completely revamped the Miro-Meccano construction sets.

Meccano went through various French, American and Japanese ownerships in four decades and by 2010 was wholly owned by a French company, based at a factory in Calais set up by the original British company in 1959.

Meccano kits were updated to include radio-control, robotics, sound and lights. But French and Chinese-made Meccano kits retained the same metal shapes, and the same hole spacing and sizes, which Frank Hornby created in 1901.

Sales boomed in the early 21st Century.

“We lost out for a while during the computer-game boom,” said factory manager, Mattei Théodore. “But there seems, all over the world, to be a return to traditional values, and traditional kinds of toys.”

The first Meccano components were a metallic silver colour. They later became blue and gold and then red and green and then blue and yellow again. There are now more than 100 colour shades in the Meccano range.


Frank Hronby began with 0 scale clockwork model trains.

By powering models with electricity, he set in train the development of Hornby Dublo (00 scale) electric train sets.They were launched in 1938, after Frank Hornby’s death. They were a cheaper and smaller scale electric model railway than had previously been available in Britain.

The brand thrived again after the war but by 1964 the Meccano company was on its knees.

The Hornby railways brand name was taken over by Lines Brothers and despite various of business setbacks, Hornsby Railways is today based in Kent, now a wholly British company owned by Phoenix Asset Management (PAM), with much of its production in China.

Many of the company’s famous model locomotives were put on display at the Hornby Shop and Visitor Centre in Margate when it opened in 2010.

Hornby became the market leader in 00 scale model railways, however recent years haven’t been kind to the company’s fortunes, and a new management team was brought in in 2017.

There are more than 650 items in the Hornby product range.

Hornby subsidiary brands include Airfix, Fleischmann, Corgi Classics, Arnold, Lima, Jouef and Rivarossi.

An attempt to build the world’s longest model railway formed the final episode of James May’s Toy Stories. May, who had identified the train set as his “absolute favourite”, hoped that a train would run successfully along the length of the Tarka Trail, a disused 60 km railway line in North Devon.

Hornby was heavily involved, providing the track and the prototype of their OO gauge British Rail Class 395 Javelin train. The train which travels at only .6 km/h failed just short of Bideford station.

In April 2011 James May tried again, challenging a German team. All the trains reached their destinations and the British team won.

Today the Frank Hornby heritage centre in his home town of Maghull houses an impressive collection of Hornby models and Meccano, including the first Meccano set Frank Hornby made. There’s also a working model railway.

The brand’s appeal is ongoing. In 202, after more than 50 years, the Hornby Railway Collectors Association boasted thousands of members.


In early 1934 Meccano Ltd introduced Dinky Toys, a line of die-cast miniature model cars and trucks under the trade mark “Meccano Dinky Toys”.

The company also introduced a construction toy for younger children called Dinky Builder. It comprised rectangular and triangular hinged metal plates that could be easily assembled. The parts were painted jade green and salmon pink to try to attract girls into the otherwise boys-only toy market.

Rare examples of the original Dinky toys – ranging from cars to planes – today can command four-figure fees at auction. The brand is now owned by the American toy company Mattel but the name is rarely used.

Additional source: Wikipedia.

H: The super secret war heroes

Z unit – triumph and disaster

 The Operation Jaywick crew

In March 1942 an offshoot of the British Special Operation Executive (SOE) was established in Australia. In London the new organisation was known as Special Operation Australia (SOA) but it was given a cover name in Australia, the Inter Allied Services Department (IASD or ISD).

Some SOE British officers who escaped to Australia from Singapore formed the nucleus of ISD at its headquarters in Melbourne. In June 1942 the Australian service personnel in ISD were administered by Z Special Unit. The unit was sometimes incorrectly referred to as “Z Force”.

The Z men, many of them mavericks from Australian military units, were trained in explosives, camouflage and silent killing behind enemy lines. They carried cyanide pills in case of capture.

They are best known for a 1,800 mi (3,000 km) voyage on a daring 1943 raid called Operation Jaywick. Seven ships were sunk in enemy-held Singapore Harbour, but a follow-up mission, Rimau, was an abject failure with all 23 participants killed.

Z Special Unit was assembled from mainly Australian, British, Dutch and New Zealand members but it also recruited fighters of Timorese and Indonesian heritage.

The unit is said to have carried out 284 missions in the Pacific, sneaking into places such as Timor and New Guinea. By war’s end, 32 men from Z Unit were in Borneo, working in four areas against 30,000 enemy soldiers.

Sworn to secrecy, Z veterans were not allowed to tell anyone of their experiences until 1980.

In 1943 some officers of the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) wanted to strike the Japanese in their secure strongholds.

Then Captain Ivan Lyon, 28, of the Gordon Highlanders, teamed up with Australian Bill Reynolds, 61, and hatched a plan to attack the Japanese in Singapore harbour. They would launch collapsible canoes carrying commandos who would attach limpet mines to the Japanese shipping. The Plan was approved by the top brass and Operation Jaywick, with a 14-man force, was launched.

Their secret training base was established just out of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory.

Reynolds owned a battered Japanese coastal vessel 68 ft by 10 ft (21.3 m x 3.3 m) called the Kofuku Maru, in which he took scores of refugees out of Singapore. He renamed the vessel the Krait.

 The Krait

The triumphant Operation Jaywick raid on Singapore Harbour in September and October 1943 is recorded for the Australian War Memorial magazine (2003) by Brad Manera:

“Operation Jaywick was a raid on shipping in Japanese-occupied Singapore harbour between September and October 1943. The raid was carried out by members of Special Operations Australia (SOA) from Z Special Unit. The team comprised of four British soldiers, and 11 AIF and Royal Australian Navy personnel, commanded by a British officer, Major Ivan Lyon.”

Engine trouble

Disguised as Malay fishermen, Lyon’s team travelled from Exmouth in Western Australia to Subor Island, 6.8 mi (11 km) from Singapore, in the MV Krait. The Krait was a slow-moving, wooden-hulled vessel and suffered engine trouble for the duration of the voyage.

 Commemorative plaque near Exmouth WA

Reaching the island three-and-a-half weeks after leaving Australia, the team launched three two-man collapsible canoes (folboats). Lyon and five others then paddled into Singapore harbour. Arriving at night they split up and slipped from ship to ship attaching limpet mines, paddling another 45 mi (80 km) to rendezvous with Krait six days later on 2 October.

When the mines exploded, seven ships were sunk or badly damaged. The Krait recovered the canoeists and sailed back to Australia.

Over the course of the war, the Krait was said to have sunk more shipping than any other ship in the Australian navy.

In a subsequent mission, Operation Rimau, the raiding party was detected by the enemy, hunted down and executed. Seventeen of them are buried in Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore.

Seven members of Operation Jaywick, including Ivan Lyon, took part in the Rimau raid, which was also directed at shipping in Singapore Harbour.

This time, the unit comprising 23 men planned to use one-man motorised submersible canoes after being delivered close to the harbour by submarine. They were to capture a fishing boat and sail it into the harbour.

They left their base near Perth on 11 September 1944 aboard the British submarine HMS Porpoise.

The raid went according to plan until a coast patrol spotted their commandeered junk. The Australians fired on the patrol boat but its crew was able to report what they had encountered. It was decided to abort the raid and make the rendezvous with the rescue submarine HMS Tantalus that was standing by.

One of the Z crew reportedly made it into Singapore Harbour and destroyed three ships before fleeing. Eighteen of the raiding party made it to Merapas Island. There they were attacked by a Japanese unit and fought the Japanese off with the loss of two men.

The men from the unit split into two groups, one setting off to meet the rescue submarine on 7 November. But the submarine wasn’t there. It was hunting enemy shipping, it was later revealed, and was not made aware of the urgency for picking up the raiding party.

The rescue submarine did not reach the rendezvous area until 21 November. The deadline for picking up the raiding party was 7 December and when that passed the survivors tried to make their own escape, island hopping through enemy held territory from Singapore back to Australia. Members of the raiding parties were captured, killed in firefights or drowned.

The captured men were put on trial for espionage by their Japanese captors, found guilty and beheaded on 7 July.

Z unit is credited by the Australian Army as the basis for the modern Special Air Services Regiment (SAS).

Operation Menzies

The history of Z Special Unit is recorded in Silent Feet, (G.B. Courtney, MBE, MC, Slouch Hat Publications).

Operation Menzies, described in the book, involved a group of six men. A former member commented to his family: “It’s accurate as far as it goes”. The comment reflected the secrecy that still surrounds much of the force’s wartime activity. This veteran wasn’t even able to tell his immediate family precise details and wasn’t allowed to talk of his service at all until 1980. He told of training for the operation on Fraser Island off the Queensland coast. He spoke highly of the Dutch submarine crews, the DC-3 pilots who dropped supplies to the troops in the danger zones and the Fuzzy Wuzzies, the name given by Australian troops to Papua New Guinean people who during World War II assisted and escorted injured Australian troops down the Kokoda trail.

Operation Menzies took place in Dutch New Guinea. A Dutch submarine carried the six operatives from Darwin to the Vogelkop Peninsula area where they went ashore in folboats. Their mission was to observe and report enemy activity on aerodromes at Samate on north-east corner of Salawati Island, on Jefman Island in the Sele Strait and at Sarong on the north-0east tip of Vogelkop.

The mission was fraught with danger as they were close to Japanese troops all the time. The six men spent 100 days in the jungle during the wet season. They reported on Japanese bomber movements daily and discovered an airfield that was camouflaged by day and used by the Japanese by night to avoid American bombing raids.

After noting greatly increased Japanese activity in the area, they six were taken by PT boat to Sansapor where it was decided they should be returned to Melbourne. They returned without serious injury or illness, a good result when it is remembered that the first two parties sent to the area on such missions reportedly disappeared without trace.

The 600 or so members of the Z Special Unit never congregated as a whole force. Members only came together when nominated for particular missions.                

Many of the war records of Z Special Unit members remain in sealed envelopes.

Apparently soldiers who joined Z Special Unit were offered 5 shillings a week danger money.

Z Special Unit was the subject of an SBS documentary series Australia’s Secret Heroes which featured interviews with original Z members — and put descendents of the operatives through the unit’s arduous training.

The missions and bravery of Z Special Unit are commemorated at the Australian War Memorial. The plaque was unveiled by Jack Tredrea, 96, of Adelaide.

Mr Tredrea was a member of the Z Special Unit that as part of Operation Semut in Malaysian Borneo, that involved parachuting into the jungle with weapons and cyanide pills.

Operation Semut involved four “squads” each of eight men. By the end of the war, Operation Semut had made more than 2,900 kills and taken more than 300 prisoners.

  • This article first appeared in Elite Special Forces by Chris McLeod, Wilkinson Publishing, 2015



The day two men
attacked a
picnic train

More than 100 years ago Broken Hill saw an event of the kind that still shocks Australians today – a terrorist attack.

On New Year’s Day in 1915, two men, later found to be Turkish migrants, fired on a train carrying about 1200 picnickers from Broken Hill to Silverton.

The attack just near Picton saleyards on the outskirts of Broken Hill left four train travellers (a woman and three men) dead and six wounded, including four women.

After the attack on the train a motorcyclist was shot dead near a hotel. An elderly man was seriously wounded when he answered his door to the two men.

The Turks eventually were cornered by police, military personnel and local residents, including camel-drivers from the local camp. One of the camel-drivers found himself being shot at by both sides amid the confusion that followed and was rescued by police officers. A policeman was seriously wounded in the gunfire that lasted almost an hour.

One of the attackers was shot dead on the spot and the other died of gunshot wounds while being taken to hospital. They were identified as Gool Mahomed and Mulla Abdulla. One was a butcher, the other an ice-cream seller, both from Broken Hill.

Their bodies were found side-by-side, with their rifles nearby and revolvers and sheath knives attached to their belts.

They travelled to the railway line in an ice cream van carrying a Turkish flag.

It was later revealed that the two men left letters revealing their action was driven by a hatred of the British because they were at war with Turkey.

One letter – apparently written for Gool Mahomed by Abdulla – found at the rocks where the pair made their las stand was translated: “I am a poor mar and belong to the Sultan, the Sultan Abdul Hamid, in whose country I have been four times to fight. I have got no chance now to fight. I have got a paper from Abdul Hamid, with his seal. The paper is in my belt. ‘Fight and kill your people, because your people are fighting my country.’ This I am doing, because I feel it so much, I have no enemies among you, and nobody (else) has told me to do this. I have told nobody, as God is my witness, and nobody knows except us two.”

A second letter was translated as follows: “Signed by Abdulla. I am a poor man, and a sinner. Only we two know what we are doing, I have been worried because I have been fined, and I have brooded over it. At the court I asked them to forgive me, but they did not, and I have worried, and been a very sorry man. As I was thinking over it Gool came to me, and I told him my trouble. He told me his. When he told me his troubles, it eased my heart. Then we both prayed Allah that he was no more use to us. No man has interfered with us except at the court, and we have no enemies, I have never worn a turban since the day some larrikins threw stones at me, and I did not like it. I wear the turban today. No one except God knows what we are going to do, and I swear to God that is true.”

The war-time attack prompted an angry response from locals. They marched on the German Club in Delamore Street and set fire to the buildings.

As the flames burnt the people cheered and sang patriotic songs, according to a newspaper report.

Donald McLean, who had been a passenger on the train recalled events for the Sydney Morning Herald in 1948:

“We picnickers of Broken Hill were to go apleasuring in open ore trucks on that sunny New Year’s Day. As we sat waiting for the train to start an ice-cream cart drawn by a bony roan horse went past the station, and we waved to the two swarthy foreigners in it. They whipped up the horse and ignored us.

“When the train began to move it was a gay sight. It carried 1,200 happy men, women, and children in forty trucks and two brake vans.

“As it approached a low bank a couple of miles from town we saw the ice cream cart drawn up by the side of the road. But a red flag, with the white star and crescent of Turkey, now fluttered from the canopy and two red-coated figures crouched behind a bank of earth.

“Nobody was quite sure what it all meant until rifles began to crack. Then the smoke of powder and the whine of bullets made the meaning so clear that screaming women began pushing children down to the cover of the trucks’ steel sides and puzzled men shouted to the attackers to ‘stop fooling or someone will get hurt!’

“We knew it was no fooling when a girl in the next truck screamed that she had been hit and continued to scream while blood oozed and spread from her shoulder through her white picnic dress to her waist. Before the train stopped, other shouts, and groups clustering to help, told of casualties in trucks ahead of ours.”


Japan wary of our
‘national character’

Japan did not intend to invade or occupy Australia during its territorial ambitions in the Pacific during World War II.

An assessment prepared by the Japanese Imperial General Staff in 1942 explained why:

If the invasion is attempted, the Australians, in view of their national character, would resist to the end. Also because the geographic conditions of Australia present numerous difficulties in a military sense, it is apparent that a military venture in that country would be a difficult one. To alter the plan already in force, and to employ a force larger than the one employed in the southern area since the outbreak of the war, to suddenly invade Australia which lies 4000 nautical miles away would be a reckless adventure, and is beyond Japan’s ability.

So why attack Darwin?

On 19 February 1942, Japan launched two air raids on Darwin harbour with 188 planes.

Planes in the first wave were launched from four Japanese aircraft-carriers in the Timor Sea. The second wave comprised 54 land-based bombers. The carrier battle group also included two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, seven destroyers, three submarines, and two other heavy cruisers on distant cover.

Australian hardware casualties were 30 military planes and nine ships. Most of Darwin’s military and civil infrastructure was also destroyed.

The attacks were under the direction of Mitsuo Fuchida, the commander who had 10 weeks earlier plotted the massive and devastating attack on Pearl Harbour.

The attacks on Darwin claimed around 250 lives and injured from 300 to 400 military personnel and civilians.

The Japanese lost four planes including two Zero fighters. One of the fighters crash-landed on Melville Island to Darwin’s north, and its pilot was captured by a local Aboriginal man, to become the first prisoner of war taken on Australian soil.

What was behind the attack?

Apparently, Japan wanted to invade Timor. They did so on 20 February, the day after the attack on Darwin. The Japanese believed Darwin would be the base from which aid could be sent to Timor. It was therefore considered a good idea to take out Darwin’s supply capability to Timor and even PNG.

The air raids would demoralise the Australians.

The thinking for the Pearl harbour attack was similar – take out America’s Pacific Fleet to allow Japan to advance its territorial ambitions unhindered.

The Japanese eyed a lot of the Islands in the Pacific region – New Caledonia, Fiji and Samoa – and wanted to establish a seaplane base in the Louisiade Archipelago, 240 km south-east of New Guinea which they already held.

But taking PNG had stretched Japan’s military resources. Invading Australia would probably not have been possible anyway. The Battle of Milne Bay saw Australia inflict considerable pain on the Japanese effort – it was their first loss in a land battle.

The first attack on Darwin happened just before 10am on 19 February. The targets were the harbour and town, the Royal Australian Air Force, civil aerodromes and the army hospital.

Ten US Kittyhawk fighters were the only aerial defenders in Darwin; all but one were shot down before they could engage the attackers.

A second wave of Japanese bombers arrived just before noon and bombed the RAAF base.

The air attacks across northern Australia continued until 12 November 1943, by which time the Japanese had raided the Top End more than 200 times.

The last enemy plane was shot down over the Territory in June 1944. During the war other towns in northern Australia were also the target of Japanese air attack, with bombs dropped on Townsville, Katherine, Wyndham, Derby, Broome and Port Hedland.

The National; Archives fact sheet on the Darwin attacks records the aftermath of the attacks as follows:

“In the hours following the air raids of 19 February, believing that an invasion was imminent, some of Darwin’s civilian population began to stream southwards. Approximately half of Darwin’s civilian population ultimately fled. The panic in the town was paralleled by confusion at the RAAF base, where personnel were directed in difficult circumstances to other areas in great numbers. Looting and disorder, and impact of the first raids, subsequently led the government to hurriedly appoint a Commission of Inquiry led by Mr Justice Lowe, which issued two reports, one on 27 March and the other on 9 April 1942.

However, within a few months, Darwin was mounting an even more credible defence, which grew to a coordinated response involving fighters, radar, and searchlights. The response grew steadily to involve counterstrike from bombers, largely manned by US forces. Other squadrons involved Dutch and British aircraft joining the Australian effort, and naval units continued to operate against the enemy. By the end of 1942 the tide was beginning to turn and the Japanese started to be pushed back from the lands they had taken in what is now Indonesia and Timor”.


How Jack Archer and his
little plane 
beat the odds
to make history

Pilot Officer John S. (Jack) Archer, 4 Squadron RAAF, holds a unique place in Australian warplane history.

PO Jack Archer

His Australian-made Wirraway recorded the only known air-to-air kill of a Japanese plane by a Wirraway in World War 2.

The plane (A20-103) was the last combat aircraft from World War 2 in service, used for flight training for cadet officers at Point Cook until retirement. The plane has been preserved and is displayed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

PO Archer, with observer Sergeant J L (Les) Coulston, both from Melbourne, were flying a tactical reconnaissance mission out of Berry airfield , Bomono, over a Japanese ship wrecked off Gona on 26 December 1942 when they spotted an enemy plane – thought to be a Zero – 1000 ft (304 m) below them.

 Coulston and Archer

Taking advantage of his position Archer dived on the Japanese plane, firing a long burst with his two Browning .303-inch guns. As they pulled away, the Australians saw their victim crash into the sea.

They returned to Popondetta airstrip in Papua and an excited 24-year-old Archer reported to a disbelieving Control Officer that he had shot down a Japanese Zero.

Archer described the incident and soon telephone calls from observers from the Gona area confirmed his story.

 Official confirmation

The November 1958 edition of Flight Magazine recorded Archer’s account:

“I was at 1000 feet when I first saw the Zero. It was angling towards shore below me and about half a mile away. I knew that if he ever saw me I was a dead pigeon. By the law of self-preservation I had one shot for my alley. It was a deflection shot but it was the only one in the bag. I dove 103, closed in, gave the Zero a five seconds burst with my two 303 calibre machine guns and went into a vertical turn for the shoreline at full throttle. If I hadn’t hit him I might have a last chance dodging at ground level even though the Zeke had double the speed of my Wirraway. However coming out of the turn, I saw him hit the deck about 100 yards from the shore.”

Archer had told colleagues: “I think there must have been something wrong with the Japanese pilot. He probably made a mistake or something. I can’t believe I shot him down.”

An Australian ground patrol officer found the crashed Japanese plane, noting that the pilot had been killed by the Wirraway’s gunfire.

According to the Australian War Memorial, a post- war investigation revealed that the aircraft shot down was actually a Nakajima Ki-43-II Hayabusa or Oscar of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force 11th Sentai, rather than an Imperial Japanese Navy Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero.

Mervyn Weston, war correspondent for the Argus newspaper reported the news. He was talking to the Commanding Officer of the Wirraway unit in New Guinea when this message arrived: “One Zero shot down by Archer; send 6 bottles of beer.”

Weston’s report continued:

“Strike me dead, How did he do it?” exclaimed the C-O. Then, after a few minutes of wonderment and conjecture, he turned to his signals officer and sent the following message: ‘All here highly delighted; beer coming earliest if obtainable island’.”

 103 at base after the kill

For his actions, Pilot Officer John Archer received the United States Silver Star from Brigadier General Ennis C Whitehead, the Commanding General of Allied Air Forces in New Guinea, in a ceremony at Buna in 1943.

John Sims Archer was born in Flemington, Victoria, on 28 September 1920. He worked as a public servant before enlisting on 15 August 1941. He was first posted to 4 Squadron.

On 25 August 1943 while serving with 5 Squadron, he collided with another Wirraway during air combat practice. His plane was sent into a spin but Archer recovered, only to find he had no elevator control and he was forced to bail out, landing safely.

Archer was later posted to 75 Squadron flying P-40s and served in New Guinea. He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant in 1944. He was posted to BC Air Headquarters, Japan, in 1947, before his discharge on 5 March 1948.

He died on 3 April 2009.

Meeting the challenge

Primarily intended for training and surveillance operations, the Australian-made Wirraway was given armed capability when it entered service.

 The Wirraway

Wirraway is an Australian Aboriginal word meaning “challenge” or “to challenge”.

Wirraways were among the first planes mass-produced at the new Australian Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation.

In 1936, encouraged by the Australian Government, several private manufacturing companies combined to form the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) to build Australia’s first local warplanes. By 1937 a factory was completed at Fishermens Bend in Port Melbourne.

Two NA prototype models brought out from the US for study by Australian engineers who were going to build Australia’s plane were displayed at an RAAF display at Flemington racecourse in April 1938. One of the prototypes had a minor crash in 1939 and was repaired by CAC.

The British Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane fighters were beyond the capability of Australian firms at that time. The design chosen was the North American Aircraft (NAA) NA-16 model (sometimes called the NA-33), a purpose-built trainer with in-line seating for pilot and instructor.

It was cheap and relatively easy to produce. The original contract was for 132 but more were ordered when war broke out.

It was reported that Minister for Defense Archdale Parkhill justified choosing the NA-16 “on the grounds of urgency and the lack of a suitable British design.”

CAC obtained a licence to build a version of the NA-16-2k with changes including some detail and structural alterations. The most obvious alteration was the two forward firing machine guns and the addition of a rear firing machine gun.

CAC sought to build as much of their plane as possible in Australia with Australian-made components.

The company took out a contract to build the Pratt and Whitney R-1340 Wasp 600-hp engine which gave the Wirraway a maximum speed of 220 mph ( 355 km/h). It also took out a contract to build a Hamilton Standard constant speed forged aluminum propeller.

The first Wirraways were made mostly from imported components until the Australian foundries and manufacturers could tool up.

The maiden flight of an Australian-built Wirraway was on 27 March 1939.

By July 1939, the first production planes were delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Their roles were to be pilot training, reconnaissance, anti-submarine patrols, bombing, and ground support.

 CAC’s Wirraway factory

By December 1940, seven aircraft were being delivered each week and by September 1941 45 were being rolled out each month.

The first five Wirraways were assigned to No. 12 Squadron, RAAF and sent to Darwin. Nine more followed when war started in the Pacific.

Despite their known deficiencies for aerial combat, the Wirraways saw active service during WWII in places such as Malaya, where a small training unit was based. The makeshift bombers, crewed with New Zealand pilots and Australian observers flew against Japanese barges.

To defend Rabaul, New Guinea, the Wirraways served as a fighter, suffering high losses. In early 1942 eight Wirraways provided Rabaul’s main air defence against a raid of 100 Japanese planes. Three Australian planes were shot down, and two others crash-landed as a result of enemy fire.

The Wirraway was also fitted to carry bombs and some variants had dive brakes fitted for use as a dive bomber. They had vital roles in identifying enemy positions with dangerous dives over gun placements, covered by fighter planes above.

War correspondent Charles Buttrrose reported in January 1943:

“No one had to tell the Wirraway crews that came to New Guinea about the disadvantages of their aircraft. They knew more about them than anyone, and they knew that there was a job for them to do in New Guinea, and they would do it even if they had to be ‘intrepid’ for weeks. Now they have been over Buna every day keeping tag on enemy movements on the ground, spying out his dumps, seeking out targets for Australian artillery, tricking the Japanese into giving away their gun positions by skimming low over the cocoanut (sic) trees where the Japanese were supposed to be hiding, dive-bombing Japanese troops and ships and spotting for the artillery during shoots. The Wirraways have been shot at frequently and holed by Japanese small arms from the ground. Even Japanese snipers in the tops of cocoanut trees have taken shots at the Australians.”

A conversation between a Wirraway pilot and a gun battery was noted: “No, that’s no blinkin’ good. You’ll have to do better. More to the left. Hang on. I’ll go down and have a look. That last one seemed good.” The Wirraway dropped down on top of a Japanese machine-gun nest and rose up again. The pilot reported in: “Nice work. Nice work. You’ve rolled the gun over. The pit is on fire and there are three little bees all in a heap.”

Despite the heroic actions around New Guinea, the Wirraway remains best known as a pilot trainer for the RAAF. Seventeen Wirraways also served that role in the Royal Australian Navy Fleet Air Arm.

In 1942 the CAC used Wirraway parts to manufacture Australia’s first locally produced purpose-built fighter, the Boomerang. Besides its service in the Second World War, it served in the Korean War. It was employed by the RAN Air Arm in 1948.

The RAAF continued to use the Wirraway as a trainer until 1959.

The RAAF’s last Wirraway flight was in December 1958 at Point Cook, Victoria. The Wirraways were replaced by Winjeels.

Sources: warfarehistorynetwork.com, Australian War Museum, various newspaper reports from Trove.com.au.

Homecoming: The town of Nhill in western Victoria welcomed home one of the best preserved Wirraways in April 2018.

Pilots trained on Wirraways based at Nhill during World War II.

The Nhill community raised $300,000 to bring the restored Wirraway “home”.

On April 28, Wirraway 722 (above) that was restored using parts from many abandoned and discarded planes flew into Nhill from Tyabb, just east of Melbourne.

Wirraway 722 will be displayed at the Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre beside an Avro Anson, Link Trainer and Tiger Moth. The foursome were main planes stationed at the Nhill RAAF training base during WWII.

Down on the farm

The Commonwealth Aircraft Factory produced a crop-duster version of the Wirraway known as the Ceres in 1958 and 21 were built using converted Wirraway airframes.

 Ceres cropduster

The Ceres was in production until 1963.

CAC’s Wirraway and Wackett planes were converted for use as crop dusters but were not ideal, the Wackett because it was under-powered and the Wirraway because it wasn’t suited to low-level slow-speed flight.

But the Wirraway was destined to play a major role in the development of an Australian built crop-duster.

A study by CAC of industry needs led to the company buying some surplus Wirraways from the RAAF to use the airframes for construction of the new plane that was to become known as the Ceres.

The new design, while looking similar to the Wirraway, was really a new type that used some Wirraway components rather than a conversion.

The Wirraway tail and landing gear legs were unchanged in the Ceres. The fuselage was new, with a 41-cubic-foot (1.16 m3) hopper installed between the engine and the high-mounted single-seat cockpit.

The Wirraway wing was altered considerably for use in the Ceres. The increased wingspan and wing area of the Ceres compared to the Wirraway was also incorporated in the centre-section, and the end result was an aircraft with much more docile stalling characteristics than those of the Wirraway.

The engine was the same type, a Pratt & Whitney R-1340, but modified so that it was direct-drive instead of geared as on the Wirraway. The three-bladed variable-pitch propeller was also different, being of wider chord and smaller diameter to suit the Ceres’ different operating conditions and the direct-drive engine.

The Ceres prototype first flew in February 1958 and the first production version was delivered the next year.

 Ready to drop super

After the first five planes were built provision was made for a rear-facing seat behind the pilot, housed under an extended canopy. This enabled farmers to accompany pilots on runs to identify boundaries and for the drivers of the loaders to leave their equipment on-site and travel to and from the job with the plane.

Six Ceres planes were exported to New Zealand.

The Ceres had a cruise speed of 121 mph (194 km/h) and an operating speed of 111.1 mph (178.7 km/h) with the maximum payload.

Production of the Ceres ended in July 1963, yielding to the popularity of more modern and economical designs such as the Piper Pawnee and PAC Fletcher. It is thought on is still registered for flight while others can be found preserved in museums in Australia an d New Zealand.

Australian users of the Ceres included Airfarm Associates of Tamworth, Airland of Cootamundra NSW, Proctors’ Rural Services of Victoria and New England Aerial Topdressing service in Armidale NSW.

The balloon went up in New Zealand

Aerial topdressing – the aerial application of fertilisers using agricultural aircraft – was developed in New Zealand in the 1940s and rapidly adopted elsewhere, and particularly in Australia in the 1950s and 60s.

Previously, aircraft had been used to deliver insecticides to crops.

According to Wikipedia, the first known aerial application of agricultural materials was by John Chaytor, who spread seed over a swamped valley floor in Wairoa, New Zealand, in 1906 using a hot air balloon with mobile tethers.

The first noted use of heavier-than-air machines to spread agricultural products has been attributed to a joint effort by the US department of Agriculture and the US Army Signal Corps research station at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio, in 1921.

The idea was to spread lead arsenate to kill catalpa sphinx caterpillars near Troy, Ohio. The first commercial operations were begun in 1924, in Macon, Georgia, by Huff-Daland Crop Dusting, which was co-founded by McCook Field test pilot Lt. Harold R. Harris. Use of  insecticide and fungicide for crop dusting grew in the Americas and some  other nations in the 1930s. The term ‘crop dusting’ originated there, as actual dust was spread across the crops.

In Australia and New Zealand’ early use of planes for seed spreading involved the use of Gypsy Moths and Tiger Moths. But generally, they were too light to operate in all weather conditions and airstrips.

 Tiger Moth for top-dressing

By 1952, 38 firms were operating in the aerial top-dressing industry  (spreading fertiliser and seed) in New Zealand, with 149 planes, of which 138 were Tiger Moths. Some higher powered de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beavers were the only modern types.

By 1958 there were 73 aerial topdressing firms in New Zealand, flying 279 planes.

By 1956 there were 182 aerial topdressing Tiger Moths but it was obvious the lightweight Tiger Moths would need to be replaced.

The Fletcher Aviation Corporation in the US was persuaded by a delegation of New Zealanders to develop a plane for the New Zealand market and a design for the FD-25 Defender light attack aircraft was adapted into the Fletcher Fu24, a stressed skin monoplane with a high lift wing.

It had more than three times the load capacity of the Tiger Moth. Locating the cockpit well forward, ahead of the hopper, gave the pilot all-round view from an enclosed cockpit.


The Fletchers (shown above) which first saw service in 1954 went on to become one of the most successful of the aerial crop-dusters and was responsible for starting New Zealand’s small aircraft building industry.

Pacific Aerospace took over manufacture of the PAC Fletcher and the larger turboprop powered PAC Cresco in New Zealand.

Fletchers and Crescos were exported to Australia, Africa, the Middle East and South America.

The first experimental topdressing in Australia was carried out by a de Haviland Tiger Moth in 1948-49.

Western Australian born engineer Tom Watson became chief engineer at a small NSW firm attempting to use Tiger Moths for pest control and to improve crop yields by spreading fertiliser.

He took that small firm into Australia’s biggest aerial agriculture organisation, Aerial Agriculture, that would spread over most of Australia to include Super Spread Aviation in Victoria and Robby’s Aerial Services in South Australia.

Watson used Tiger Moths initially because they were cheap and there were plenty around; he moved on to the de Haviland Beaver because its supercharged engine meant it could climb with a full load.

Mr Watson’s greatest achievement is seen as his modifications to the Beaver. The single-engine high-wing propeller-driven short takeoff and landing Beaver was ideal for operating out of small grassed airstrips.

 An Air Ag Beaver

At one stage companies under his control operated 56 aircraft, believed to be the world’s biggest fleet of the type. The Beaver was so successful it was still spreading superphosphate in Australia until October 2009, the last one operating from Walcha in NSW.

By 1967 when production ceased more than 1,600 Beavers had been constructed. Several have been remanufactured and upgraded with some in use as float planes.

As well as superphosphate and seed spreading agricultural planes have been used for aerial spraying of insecticides in industries such as cotton and other crops. Helicopters are also used for such applications.

Aerial top-dressing has been used around the world, including in Great Britain and the United States.


Catch the drone

It had to happen sooner rather than later, and it is no surprise that it happened in China.

In February 2018 the world’s first passenger drone made its debut public flight in China, taking off from Guangzhou City.

All the passenger had to do was to get into the small cabin and fasten the seat belt. The automated flight system took over, signalling what could be the start of significant innovation in travel.

Two years before the first public flight, Chinese drone maker Ehang went to the Consumer Technology Association’s CES in Las Vegas, promising to build a completely autonomous, passenger-carrying quadcopter that would revolutionise mobility.

“Yeah, sure” the sceptics said.

But even the wildest of dreams can turn to reality.

So it is with the Ehang 184, an all-electric quadcopter scaled up from a drone so that it’s large enough to carry a passenger. Ehang calls it an autonomous aerial vehicle. The power source? Lithium Polymer batteries.

Ehang says the 184 can carry a single 100 kg passenger up to 10 mi (16.5 km) or roughly 23 minutes of flight. Its speed can reach 100 km/h. The person in the cockpit doesn’t do any of the flying; just input the destination and enjoy the ride.

It is claimed the aircraft can autonomously take off, fly a route, sense obstacles, and land.

On 8 February 2018 that’s just what happened.

Said Ehang CEO Huazhi Hu: “It’s been a lifetime goal of mine to make flight faster, easier, and more convenient than ever. The 184 provides a viable solution to the many challenges the transportation industry faces in a safe and energy-efficient way. I truly believe that Ehang will make a global impact across dozens of industries beyond personal travel. The 184 is evocative of a future we’ve always dreamed of and is primed to alter the very fundamentals of the way we get around.”

The company said the drone was tested more than 1,000 times before the first flight with a passenger aboard.

The Ehang 184 is designed to withstand moderate gales with winds of up to 50 kilometres per hour.

And if anything goes wrong, a human pilot is supposed to step in and take over the controls from a remote command station. That wasn’t necessary in the first public display. Also, it is claimed that 4 of the 8 rotors can stop and the vehicle would still be able to land.

Will they be seen in the sky anytime soon?

Last year the city of Dubai announced a plan to co-operate with EHang to develop self-flying taxis.

Ehang expects to have units on the market in 2019. No estimate of price has been given yet.

More information: http://www.ehang.com/ehang184

Is it a car, is it a plane?

A retail price has been put on the PAL-V Liberty flying car; around 425,000 pounds or $A 2,180,000.

The world’s first commercial flying car was to make its public debut at the 2018 Geneva motor show.

Dutch manufacturer PAL-V claims its Liberty is fully compliant with regulations and says it represents a “pivotal time in aviation and mobility history”. It expects to make first customer deliveries next year.

Only 90 will be sold, with around half of them headed to Europe, and after their delivery the manufacturer will start delivery of the Liberty Sport model.

The Liberty has a three-wheel layout and rotor blades on the roof which fold away. It’s effectively a gyrocopter aircraft with two engines. Its Rotax engine-based dual propulsion drivetrain includes one engine for driving and one for flying, with an unpowered large rotor on top that provides lift, while an engine-powered blade on the rear of the vehicle gives thrust.

It has lowered suspension and a tilting two-person cockpit.

To convert the car from drive to fly mode or vice versa takes around 5-10 minutes, according to PAL-V. The rotor mast unfolds automatically, but the driver must pull out the tail section, unfold two rotor blades and take out the prop to get it ready to fly.

The operator will also need a flying licence. PAL-V says the Liberty requires take-off space of around 90-200×200 m without obstacles. Small airstrips, airfields, glider sites and ultralight airfields will be most appropriate.

Noise? Reportedly comparable to a small fixed wing plane, and “much less” than a helicopter.

The PAL-V One has two seats and a 160-kW flight certified petrol engine, giving it a top speed of 180 km/h (112 mph) on land and in air, and a Maximum Take-off Weight of 910 kg.

Read the special report on the Lithium Revolution: https://floggerblogger.com/the-lithium-revolution-1/



Is the truth out
there somewhere?

 A black shadow dropped down into the circle. It was Bagheera the black panther, inky black all over, but with the panther markings showing up in certain lights like the pattern of watered silk. Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody cared to cross his path, for he was as cunning as Tabaqui, as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down.

Rudyard Kipling; The Jungle Book.


The black panther is an incredibly reclusive animal.

You wouldn’t really expect to see one while walking around the Australian countryside.

They are not native to Australia, for a start.

But recorded sightings go back as far as 1880 from places such as Gippsland, the Blue Mountains, Lithgow, Mudgee, the Grampians, Frankston, Buderim, the Hawkesbury, the Hunter, Sydney’s North West, the NSW Great Dividing Range from Armidale to the Queensland border, the Gloucester Tops and many places in between.

There have been more than 1000 reported sightings of a “black panther” from pretty much every state of Australia.

Just how many panthers are around is unclear but there must have been many: black panthers have an average life span of about 12 years in the wild and 20 years in captivity. Female black panthers usually live longer.

Panthers live a solitary life. They meet only during mating season. After three months of pregnancy the female will give birth to two-four babies and will take care of them by herself.

The Australian “phantom panthers” have been blamed for the disappearance and death of many farm animals. Half eaten sheep carcasses have been found strung up high in tree branches (the panther is considered the strongest tree-climber in the world of big cats).

Legends vary but two common threads are that some – or many – escaped from a travelling circus or zoo or some – or many – were brought into the country by visiting American military people during R and R breaks and were either left here or escaped. There must have been at least two, of course, given the territory over which they have ranged.

A slightly more scientific possibility also has been raised; that they are a surviving relative – or relatives – of thylacoleo carnifex, once Australia’s largest marsupial carnivore. So maybe they could be native to Australia after all.

The website didyouknow-facts.com observed: Black panthers are really beautiful but rare. They are usually found in the thick forests of United States, UK and Australia.

Usually found?

That all may be hard to swallow because no one in Australia has ever captured one alive. Droppings and hairs thought to be from the elusive mysterious panthers have been anyalised and tested. None have returned positive results; the usual finding is that the material has come from wild dogs or feral cats.

And feral cats – overgrown ones – probably provide the most reasonable explanation, although it is a little odd that they all seem to be jet black.

By definition, a panther can be any of various big cats with black fur; most especially, the black-coated leopard of Asia and Africa; any big cat of the genus Panthera such as the black jaguar of the Americas; and a cougar that’s generally known as  the Florida panther.

So, they are big black cats. But do they roam the Australian countryside?

There are plenty of people who believe they do, yet tangible evidence is scarce.

Says Rex Gilroy writing for mysteriousaustralia.com: “In all my 30 years of investigations into the Australian panther mystery, I have not uncovered one authenticated case of a panther having escaped from an Australian circus or zoo and gone wild. Nor is there much substantiation to the other exaggerated story that cougars were liberated in various parts of Australia by American servicemen during World War 2. The Australian panther, like the still-living Thylacine, giant monitor lizard and Yowie, still evades capture and until one is available for scientific study, its actual identity will continue to remain unestablished. One thing, however, is certain. It cannot be a member of the feline family as no such animal is known from the Australian fossil record.”

The Northern Tablelands, Blue Mountains and Hunter and Hawkesbury Valleys of NSW seem to be popular haunts of the mysterious big black cat known as the panther.

There many are tales from the Great Dividing Range between Armidale and the Queensland border of the Emmaville Panther.

The Glen Innes Examiner newspaper reviewed the Emmaville Panther case that it had reported over the years. One of the earlier reports said: “It seems that this spate of panther sightings all began on June 20, 1958, with a 15-year-old boy, Donald Clifford who, while searching for lost horses spotted a large cat-like beast a mere ‘thirty paces ahead’ in rough country 18 miles from Emmaville. He ‘fled for his life’ and alerted a Mr McElroy who was mining in the vicinity. It just so happened that said miner had the previous day seen a carcass of a big kangaroo ‘ripped to shreds and its backbone torn out’. His jacket, which he’d left on the ground some distance away, has also been torn to pieces. On returning to the site, Mr McElroy and Donald’s father Mr Rex Clifford said the prints they found were the ‘size of a man’s hand, with claw marks prominent’.”

The article went on to say that earlier in the week, near Tenterfield, a little farther north, three different people had seen an animal they were sure was a black panther or puma crossing the Casino road. Those particular sightings were explained away by a Mr Gray who said it had been claimed a puma escaped from a circus in the Inverell area.

All this activity attracted interest from no lesser person than the chairman of the Taronga Zoo Trust, Sir Edward Hallstrom, who offered a reward for the capture, dead or alive of the animal; 1000 pounds if the animal proved to be an Australian marsupial cat or 500 pounds if it was an Indian panther.

That news was taken on board throughout the region. One farmer loaded up his shotgun and set off on his Ferguson tractor to look for the beast. He returned empty handed, as did all other would-be bounty hunters.

Needless to say, many locals dismissed reported sightings, attributing them to the possible “tired and emotional” state of the “witnesses”.

Some saw some levity in the situation.

Another Examiner report noted: “A member of the Emmaville golf club with an obvious wicked sense of humour decided enough was enough and posted the following in the Examiner with the weekend’s golf notes: “As a result of the recent ‘panther’ scare and the fact that our course is in the general direction of where it may have been seen, the following rule applies for weekend play – ‘A ball lying so close to a panther that the swing or stance is restricted, may be dropped two club lengths away (keeping the panther in the line of play to the hole). If the panther is accidently moved in so doing, it may be replaced without penalty’.”

Sightings of a panther in that area actually date back to 1902.

According to the Inverell Times , Harry Leader and his brother were camped on Horse Stealers Gully a few miles east of Keera in 1902. One night they heard a blood curdling roar and for a brief moment they saw an animal in the fire light. One of the brothers shot it. They then sent the slain animal to Sydney for tanning. The tanner informed them that it was a panther.

In Victoria, sightings were recorded as far back as 1907.

The Bendigo Advertiser reported on 21 January 1907: “On Thursday 17th inst when Misses Albeith and Irene Christensen were driving to Marooka through the Whipstick scrub, about 18 miles north of Bendigo, they had a novel experience. They saw an animal on top of a hill, but naturally thinking it was a fox did not at first take particular notice, but as the animal not heeding their approach came slowly down the hill opposite their vehicle and within a few yards, and then leisurely turned into the scrub, they could not fail to distinguish i9t as a fine specimen of a panther.” Another report of the same incident noted: “The young ladies lost no time in leaving the locality where such a dreaded animal roamed at large. They stated that it showed no sign of its savage nature. Its body was about 3ft in length and about 2ft or more in height.”

Such was panther fervour at one time, a non-sighting made headlines. One Victorian newspaper reported on 8 December 1937: “Panther not seen – Melbourne, Tuesday. A party of marchers last night were unable to locate the panther-like mystery animal at Mornington. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to lure the animal from its lair.”

Back up north, in 1958, politician Stan Wyatt saw a big black animal like a panther near Tenterfield. Others who sighted the animal around that time included reputable people such as the Rev Canon W. J. Pritchard of Guyra and Doctor R. S. Patterson of Glen Innes.

Mrs A. M. Potter and her son, Peter, saw one twice. The first time was near Bunzulla, a few miles outside Tenterfield in 1963 and in February 1968. Mrs Potter saw the panther walking quietly out of a creek 200 m from the house. She called her son, Peter and his wife, Cathy, and watched the cat through binoculars for some minutes. Peter described the animal as a large black cat about 5ft long and about 18 inches to 2ft high.

It was about this time it was reported that as many as 40 sheep were killed over one weekend and many other animals were reported to have been killed and claw marks were found on what remained of the carcases.

A little further south, another panther emerged.

In September 1964 two truck drivers carting gravel from Black Mountain, just south of Guyra, claimed to have seen a panther. A newspaper reported: “Mr Eric Douglas, from Armidale, said he and a friend got a good look at the animal. He said it was about 50 yards away, its body was about three feet long and its tail shaped like that of a wallaby – about 2 ft long.”

Two years later, there was another sighting near Guyra. In March 1966, a Caloundra (Qld) man said he saw a panther-like creature while he was driving north from Sydney. He told the local newspaper: “I was about 400 yards past a small bridge just north of Guyra – I think it was the Ryanda bridge. I looked up towards a hill beside the road and saw this thing that looked like a panther running towards some shrubs about 300 yards away. I am sure it was a big cat I saw. I rang the Guyra police and they told me people had been out hunting for the animal but had not been able to catch it.”

Back at Black Mountain again and in 2008 a Rotary District Governor was arriving at local couple’s house for an overnight stay. He said that as he drove into the house yard he saw a strange animal caught briefly by the car’s headlights before it sprinted away. He described the animal as jet black, around 500 mm high and 800 mm long with a tail about 400 mm long. It was noted that the Governor had not been drinking.

Blue Mountains (west of Sydney) panther sightings have been reported for more than a century.

Speculation about the Blue Mountains panther includes the oft repeated theory that it descended from either circus or zoo escapees, or is a descendant of a military mascot.

A doctor, dentist, solicitor, vicar and Qantas pilot all have claimed to have seen the Blue Mountains big cat. So have some Rural Fire Service volunteers and an officer from the Department of Agriculture. A NSW detective told a newspaper he watched the beast, from barely 50 metres away, for more than a minute. And he was convinced it was a black panther.

More recently, video footage showing a large black cat near Lithgow was examined by a group of zoo, museum, parks and agriculture staff, who concluded that it was a large domestic cat (2 to 3 times normal size).

There have been more than 460 sightings in the Hawkesbury since 2001, making that area the current big-cat-spotting champion of Australia.

Hawkesbury Council mayor Bart Bassett said: “There have been too many sightings by too many reputable people for it not to be true. We’re talking about a dentist, a retired magistrate and actual Department of Primary Industries staff.” he said.

Most of the Hawkesbury sightings centre on the Grose Valley, where there have been more than 64 sightings of a wild black cat. But is it a panther?

There have been plenty of sightings in the Hunter area, too, including at Minmi, Wallsend, Munmorah, Freemans Waterhole, Morisset, Swansea, Kurri Kurri, Cessnock, Singleton, the Watagan Mountains, Medowie and Stroud.

In 2002, a NSW government inquiry found it was ‘‘more likely than not’’ a colony of big cats was roaming Sydney’s outskirts and beyond.

But a 2009 Department of Primary Industries report concluded that “there is still nothing to conclusively say that a large black cat exists”.

An Australian “big cat” chaser in 2017 named Gympie as one of Queensland’s hotspots for big cat sightings.

Vaughan King, founder of the Australian Big Cat Research Group website pantherpeople.com said that while NSW and Victoria all recorded many sightings, “Gympie is up there Queensland-wide.”

Mr King, a former Australia Zoo big cat handler based at the Sunshine Coast, said a circus trainer admitted to him that some of his circus animals were lost in the Gympie region years ago during an accident.

“Asiatic leopards were brought into the country years ago for the zoo and circus industries,” Mr King said. “There’s been that many sightings over the last 100 years- it’s a phenomena. I’m trying to prove they do actually exist.”

There have been sightings in Tasmania, too.

Three mates exploring the Snowy Range west of Hobart in 1972 said that one Sunday morning they spotted a large, black furry cat-like animal near the edge of scrub not far from their camp. The animal quickly disappeared but the men said they later found large paw-prints embedded in soil.

Victoria has had its share of sightings, some quite recently.

Kalorama couple Tim Hurley, 25, and his girlfriend were driving on a bush track near the Maroondah Reservoir, heading to Mt Saint Leonard lookout in Melbourne’s outer east, when they saw two huge black cats one Sunday in 2016.

Mr Hurley said he saw the back of an animal with a long shiny black tail slip into the bush.

Sightings have been recorded over at least 60 years of cougars, panthers or pumas in a wide stretch of Victoria from Gippsland to the Otways, the Grampians, central Victoria and at Beechworth in the north-east.

In 2012 in Lancefield, Victoria, several sightings and photographs emerged of a big black cat roaming bush trails. One of the most credible sightings was by a zoo keeper who also took a photograph of the big cat, saying she wouldn’t have believed it either, but was convinced about what she saw.

Another panther appeared in Lancefield one night in 2015 – in the form of a statue. Cast in steel, the statue appeared mysteriously in the middle of the night. It was made by anonymous artist as a monument to all the rumoured local sightings of big black cats.

A Victorian Government report in 2012 said the existence of big cats in Victoria was unlikely, but some people still believed evidence of their presence would be found some day.

And that, too, is the hope of believers around the country.