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.

H: The campaign for the right to vote

Suffragettes – 100 years
since their victory

London’s Parliament Square has 11 statues of famous men. They are statesmen and other notable people – Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Benjamin Disraeli, Sir Robert Peel and Nelson Mandela are some.


Churchill and Mandela are being joined in
London’s Parliament Square by Millicent Fawcett

There have been no statues of a woman. Until 2018, that is.

The latest statue to enter the square is that of Millicent Fawcett. Her arrival celebrates the 100th anniversary of the women of England being given the right to vote through the the 1918 Representation of the People Act.

The Act came about thanks to the women’s suffrage movement.

Millicent Fawcett started the move for women to have the vote in 1897 when she founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage.


She argued that if parliament made laws and if women had to obey those laws, then women should be part of the process of making those laws; she argued that as women had to pay taxes as men, they should have the same rights as men.

Progress was very slow. She believed in peaceful protest so there would be no argument to deny women the right to vote because of their bad behaviour.

But most men in Parliament believed women would not understand the workings of government and therefore should not have a role in the electoral process.

 Peaceful protest

Women grew increasingly impatient and in 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia. They were not prepared to wait patiently.

THE PANKHURSTS – Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia

The Union became better known as the Suffragettes, some of whom resorted to dramatic and severe action to get what they wanted.

The Suffragettes burned down churches (the Church of England opposed women having a vote); they vandalised Oxford Street; they chained themselves to Buckingham Palace as the Royal Family was also seen as opposing their demands; they hired out boats, sailed up the Thames and shouted abuse through loud hailers at Parliament as it sat. Others refused to pay their tax. Politicians were attacked as they went to work. Their homes were fire bombed. Golf courses were vandalised.

Such violent acts became a calling card of the Suffragettes.

When they went to jail they began hunger strikes. The government responded with what was known as the Cat and Mouse Act. When a Suffragette was sent to prison, it was assumed she would go on a hunger strike. The Cat and Mouse Act allowed the Suffragettes to go on a hunger strike and let them get weaker and weaker. Force feeding was not used and when the Suffragettes became very weak, they were released in the belief that their spirit (and health) had been broken.

More extreme action followed. The most dramatic moment came at the June 1913 Epsom Derby race meeting when Emily Wilding Davison threw herself under the King’s horse, Anmer, as it rounded Tattenham Corner. She was killed; the Suffragettes had their first martyr.

The Scene at Epsom in June 1913.

The agitation continued, interrupted eventually by World War 1.

In a show of patriotism, Emmeline Pankhurst directed Suffragettes to end the violence and support the war effort.

Their work to support the Government in the war was rewarded in1918, when parliament passed the Representation of the People Act.

England was not the first country to confer voting rights to women.

NZ led the way

On 19 September 1893 the governor of New Zealand, Lord Glasgow, signed an Electoral Act that made his country the first self-governing entity in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

In most other democracies women did not win the right to the vote until after the First World War.

New Zealand’s achievement was the result of years of work by suffrage campaigners, led by Kate Sheppard.

Kate Sheppard is honoured on the NZ 10 dollar note

In 1878, 1879 and 1887 bills or amendments extending the vote to women (or at least female ratepayers) had only narrowly failed to pass in Parliament.

Petitions followed. In 1891 more than 9,000 signatures were gathered, in 1892 almost 20,000, and finally in 1893 there were almost 32,000, just about a quarter of the adult European female population of New Zealand at the time.

The liquor industry, fearful that women would support growing demands for the prohibition of alcohol, lobbied sympathetic Members of Parliament and organised their own counter-petitions.

Despite extensive lobbying by such groups as the liquor industry, on 8 September 1893 the bill was passed by 20 votes to 18.

While New Zealand was the first self-governing country to give women voting rights; the first move is credited to the British dependency of the Isle of Man which in 1881 gave the right to vote to women who owned property.

Sixteen reasons

Some of the Australian colonies also moved promptly. South Australia followed the lead of New Zealand in 1894 and women were able to vote in the next election, held in 1895.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) of South Australia circulated a leaflet in September 1895 entitled “Sixteen Reasons for Supporting Women’s Suffrage”.

The arguments included:

  • Because Parliament should be a reflection of the wishes of the people.
  • Because a Government of the people, by the people, and for the people, should mean all the people and not one half.
  • Because most laws affect women as much as men.

The final point made on the leaflet was simple: “Because, to sum up all reasons in one – it is just.”

Women such as Rose Scott in Sydney, Henrietta Dugdale in Melbourne and Edith Cowan in Western Australia began to organise themselves and agitate. Their goal was the education of men and women about women’s rights and their right to vote, as well as effecting social and political change.


South Australia also permitted women to stand for election alongside men. In 1899 Western Australia enacted full women’s suffrage, enabling women to vote in the constitutional referendum of 31 July 1900 and the 1901 state and federal elections. In 1902 women in the remaining four colonies were given the right to vote, too. After the six Australian colonies formed the Commonwealth of Australia, women in Australia in 1902 became the first in the world permitted to stand for elections to their national parliament.

Discriminatory restrictions against Aboriginal people (including women) voting in national elections were not completely removed until 1962.

The Victorian parliament was in fact first to break ranks to give women the vote – but it was an accident, in 1863 when the Electoral Act 1863 (Vic) was passed.

“A novel sight”

It was by mistake that the phrase “all persons” was used to refer to people on the municipal voting rolls which then were based on property ownership. At the time, many women did own property and were therefore entitled to vote in local elections and, thanks to the new Electoral Act, state elections as well.

In the 1864 state elections some women dared to exercise that right under the new Act. The Argus newspaper commented: At one of the polling booths … a novel sight was witnessed. A coach filled with ladies drove up, and the fair occupants alighted and recorded their votes …
– 5 November 1864.

The Electoral Act was quickly amended (in 1865) on the grounds that it was not the original intention of the Act that women should obtain the vote, even though the phrase “all persons” was used.

The first European country to introduce women’s suffrage was the Grand Duchy of Finland, then part of the Russian Empire, which elected the world’s first women Members of Parliament in the 1907 parliamentary elections. Norway followed, granting full women’s suffrage in 1913.

Most independent countries enacted women’s suffrage in the interwar era, including Canada in 1917, Poland in 1918 and the United States in 1920.


June 4 is a big day in the history of American women: it was on that day in 1919 that Congress passed the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed them the right to vote. The amendment was ratified on 18 August 1920.

In 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention, resolved to press for women’s suffrage.

During the 1850s, Susan B. Anthony became interested in women’s rights. In the early 1850s, she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Seneca Falls.

The Seneca Falls Convention drew up a “Declaration of Sentiments” and Stanton took the lead in proposing that women be granted the right to vote. She continued to write and lecture on women’s rights and other reforms. After meeting Anthony she became one of the leaders in promoting women’s rights.


Though most countries of the world now allow women to vote, suffrage is not yet complete among sovereign states. Vatican City still holds out. Saudi Arabia was one of the last countries to come to the voting party, in 2015.

Sources: Smithsonian, history web sites, BBC, the British Library. National Archives.
Pictures: Wikimedia Commons.


Namatjira and Heysen –  from different worlds, but the bush was their canvas

HANG paintings by Albert Namatjira (left) and Hans Heysen (right) side by side and you can see the Australian Outback as a place of some beauty, just as they did.

The Outback is the colloquial name for the vast, unpopulated and mainly arid areas that comprise Australia’s interior and remote coasts.

Few people go way out there – they travel through it or fly over but few linger to see its true character.

Through the eyes of artists, the Outback takes on a character that defies its reputation of desert, bush and isolation.

In fact, the outback could be considered that large part of Australia that extends from the northern to southern Australian coastlines inland from the heavily populated eastern coast and includes several climatic zones; from the tropical and monsoonal climates in northern areas, arid areas in the “red centre” and semi-arid and temperate climates to the south.

But it is the “red centre” (a misnomer according to those who can appreciate its beauty) and the bush that captured the imagination of several artists. Both Namatjira and Heysen captured the beauty of the landscape in their watercolour works.

Outback gum (eucalypt) trees are prominent features. But that’s not to say their individual paintings were in parallel or even always similar. They were not, as is plainly obvious when their collections are viewed.

And their lives were very different. Namatjira died soon after being released from prison – in 1959, having been sentenced to serve time for supplying another Aboriginal with liquor.

Heysen married into a noted family and was knighted for his services to art. Wealthy South Australians funded a four-year visit to France to study art. An electoral district in South Australia was named for him. Heysen died in 1968.

Throughout their lives, both received prominent media coverage – Namatjira unfortunately sometimes for the controversial aspects.

In 2017 both artists, though long gone, were again in the spotlight.

In a struggle lasting decades after the artist’s death, the family of Albert Namatjira finally had the rights to his art returned to them.

After Namatjira died in 1959, the Public Trustee for the Northern Territory Government took over administration of his estate, with Legend Press continuing to manage copyright and royalty payments to the Namatjira family.

But the Public Trustee sold Namatjira’s ownership of copyright to Legend Press in 1983, ending the income stream to the artist’s family — a decision the trustee some time later acknowledged was wrong.

The legal battle to get copyright restored to the family only ended, not with a decision of the court, but by the intervention of millionaire businessman and entrepreneur Dick Smith.

Smith decided to support the Namatjira family’s cause, convinced that there had been a “misunderstanding” between the family and copyright owner Legend Press.

He told the ABC: “I had originally met [owner] John Brackenreg many years ago and found him to be an ethical person.

“They’d reached an impasse after about 10 years of negotiation. In 15 minutes, we worked our way around the problems.

“I agreed to donate some money towards the Namatjira Foundation and John Brackenreg’s son Philip agreed that he’d transfer the entire copyright to the family.”

Smith said copyright was then handed over to the Namatjira family for a nominal amount of $1.

The deal opened the way for Namatjira’s landscapes to be more widely circulated, following years of tight ­restrictions on display and usage. Various galleries that hold some of more than 1000 Namatjira works, including the National Gallery of Australia, will be able to arrange exhibitions.

Hans Heysen’s name, too became the centre of attention in 2017 when a researcher discovered correspondence in which concerns were expressed that Heysen may have been a war-time traitor.

Art history student Ralph Body made the discovery during research for his PhD paper. As in most countries that made up the Allied forces at the time, German residents of Australia were regarded with great suspicion.

The fact that Heysen was born in Germany raised the concern of a senior police officer in Adelaide who wrote to officers based at Mt Barker, where Heysen was living.

Body said the letter made serious imputations: “His loyalty is described as being of a highly doubtful character and they request his home be put under surveillance based on little more than anonymous stories the commissioner had heard, and the fact Heysen was German-born.”

Heysen’s brother-in-law was sent to an internment camp and not released until 1920. Heysen was subjected to surveillance, virtually under house-arrest.

Body quotes the police reaction to reports Heysen was pleased Germany was losing: “One day when one of my informants passed Mr Heysen working, he called out, ‘the war situation looks better, the British are too good for the Germans and are giving them hell’. From this it will be seen that although Heysen’s sympathy may be with the Germans, he is too clever and cunning to show any sign of disloyalty.”

Heysen Gallery curator Allan Campbell told the ABC: “”Where on Earth did they get that language from? I mean calling Heysen shrewd and cunning, it’s ridiculous. He was one of life’s great gentlemen and a pacifist to boot.”

Campbell said some art galleries took Heysen’s paintings down during the war.

Hans Heysen of course went on to become a celebrated Australian artist.

Paintings, Top left: Albert Namatjira’s Mount Sonder, West McDonnell Ranges c. 1945. Watercolour over faint underdrawing in black pencil. Photo – National Gallery of Australia.
Top right: Hans Heysen, Aroona (1939) 42.2 x 62.0 cm watercolour on paper.

Albert Namatjira

Born Elea Namatjira, Albert was a Western Arrernte-speaking Aboriginal from the MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia.

The Australian dictionary of Biography records:

Albert (Elea) Namatjira (1902-1959), artist, was born on 28 July 1902 at Hermannsburg (Ntaria), Northern Territory, son of Namatjira and his wife Ljukuta. Elea belonged to the western group of the Arrernte people. In 1905 the family was received into the Lutheran Church: Elea (who was given the name Albert) and his father (who took the name Jonathan) were baptized, and his mother was blessed (as Emilie). Albert attended the Hermannsburg mission school. In accordance with the practice of the missions, he lived separately from his parents in a boys’ dormitory. At 13 he spent six months in the bush and underwent initiation. He left the mission again at the age of 18 and married Ilkalita, a Kukatja woman. Eight of their children were to survive infancy: five sons—Enos, Oscar, Ewald, Keith and Maurice—and three daughters—Maisie, Hazel and Martha. The family shifted to Hermannsburg in 1923 and Ilkalita was christened Rubina.

While dabbling in various forms of art as a youngster, including sketching and poker carvings on bark – inspired by the landscapes around him, Namatjira worked variously as a blacksmith, carpenter, stockman and cameleer; the mission for rations and on neighbouring stations for wages.

Noted artists visiting central Australia to paint landscapes saw potential and encouraged Namatjira’s work. In 1937 some of his watercolours were displayed at a Lutheran conference in Nuriootpa, South Australia, and at an exhibition with the Royal South Australian Society of Arts, Adelaide

In 1938 Namatjira held his first solo exhibition at the Fine Art Society Gallery, Melbourne where he was mobbed by autograph hunters.

Namatjira’s work won national and international acclaim. In 1944 he was included in Who’s Who in Australia. He was awarded Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation medal (1953), presented to the Queen in Canberra (1954) and elected an honorary member of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales (1955).

Namatjira was the first Northern Territory Aboriginal person to be freed from restrictions that made Aboriginal people wards of the State. In 1957, he became the first Aboriginal person to be granted restricted Australian citizenship, which allowed him to vote, have limited land rights and buy alcohol.

But he also encountered racial discrimination. He was refused a grazing licence in 1949 and prevented in 1951 from building a house on land he bought at Alice Springs. Seeking further means of support for his family, he discovered copper deposits at Areyonga Reserve, but they proved commercially unviable. By the early 1950s he lived independently of the mission in a fringe camp at Morris Soak on the outskirts of Alice Springs.

It was the freedom to buy alcohol that landed him in prison.

One night in 1958 a woman was killed near Morris Soak by her husband, and Namatjira was told by the coroner that he would be jailed for six months if he was caught supplying liquor to fellow Aborigines. Weeks later he was charged with leaving a bottle of rum where a fellow tribesman found it (his explanation was that he had put it on the seat of a car from where it was taken). He was sentenced to six months imprisonment with labour.

Following a public outcry and two appeals, the sentence was reduced to three months. Namatjira eventually served two months of ‘open’ detention at the Papunya settlement in March-May 1959. He died of hypertensive heart failure on 8 August that year at Alice Springs Hospital and was buried in the local cemetery. His wife, five sons and one of his daughters survived him.

FOOTNOTE: The ABC reported on 28 August 2018 that Namatjira family members had welcomed an undisclosed compensation payment to the Namatjira Legacy Trust from the Northern Territory Government for the “unjust” sale of copyright to the artist’s works of art to Legend Press in 1983.

UPDATE: Vincent Namatjira, great-grandson of acclaimed artist Albert Namatjira, in 2020 became the first Indigenous Australian to win the $100,000 Archibald Prize in its 99-year history.

The Western Arrernte artist was an Archibald finalist for the fourth year in a row in 2020 (the runner up in 2018), with a double-portrait featuring himself alongside former AFL player and 2014 Australian of the Year Adam Goodes, entitled Stand Strong for Who You Are.

Accepting the award via Zoom from the APY Lands, where he lives, Namatjira said: “What an honour it is to be the first Indigenous winner of the Archibald Prize. It only took 99 years!”

Namatjira won against other finalists who included former Archibald Prize winners Louise Hearman, Nicholas Harding, Craig Ruddy, Marcus Wills, Wendy Sharpe and Guy Maestri.

The win capped a remarkable 18 months for Namatjira, who won the $100,000 Ramsay Art Prize in 2019.

Hans Heysen

Wilhelm Ernst Hans Franz Heysen (1877-1968) was born on 8 October 1877 in Hamburg, Germany, to Louis Heinrich Wilhelm Heysen and Maria Elisabeth Henriette. The family including five surviving children migrated to South Australia in 1883-84. Heysen was 7.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography says: “From 1885 Hans attended the East Adelaide Model and four other schools in Adelaide, acquiring a bilingual education and giving early indications of artistic skill. His father moved from one unsuccessful enterprise to another until he established himself as a produce merchant. Heysen left school in 1892, aged 14, working first in a hardware store and then on one of his father’s produce carts. At 14 he bought his first paints: ‘I saw a drainpipe with stalks and reeds … It seemed to me beautiful, so I painted it’, he later said.

 Heysen married Selma Bartels (1878–1962) on 15 December 1904. Her father was Adolph H. F. Bartels, a former Lord Mayor of Adelaide. Their daughter Nora Heysen also became a successful artist.

By 1912 Hans Heysen had earned enough from his art to purchase a property called “The Cedars” (pictured above) near Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, which remained his home until his death in 1968 aged 90.

Heysen is best remembered for his remarkable paintings depicting sheep and cattle among massive gum trees against a background of sunlight. Most of his work was based on the landscape around Hahndorf and the Flinders Ranges.

Heysen won the Wynne Prize – awarded annually for the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours – nine times between 1904 and 1932.

In 1945 Heysen was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and in 1959 was made a Knight Bachelor for his services to art. The 1,200 km walking track from the Flinders Ranges to (via the Adelaide Hills) to the Fleurieu Peninsular is called “The Heysen Trail” in his honour.

Many of Heysen’s work are on display at the South Australian Art Gallery,

A Hans Heysen watercolour sold for a record-breaking $110,000 at an auction in Adelaide in 2017 after it was discovered at a deceased estate in Germany.

The painting, titled The Camp on Wonoka Creek, is Heysen’s largest watercolour work, but had not been seen since it was sold in 1958. It ended up at a private collection at Dusseldorf in Germany, where an international art dealer picked it up.

Sources and references: Australian Dictionary of Biography, ABC.com.au, press reports of the copyright settlement, Wikipedia, National Gallery of Australia. thecedars.com.au.

FOOTNOTE: The author became familiar with the works of the artists when at Primary School in NSW – prints of their works were on the classroom wall.

UPDATE: Hans Heysen’s daughter Nora also became an accomplished artist. She wasn’t a pupil of her father but her travels around Europe kindled her interest and talent. In 1938 she became the first woman to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture. In 1943 she became the first woman to be appointed an official Australian war artist. Her forte was still life and portraiture. Nora Heysen died  in Sydney in 2003. Her and her father’s works have been shown in a joint exhibition that premiered at the National Gallery Victoria in March 2019.

N: Road trains of the Outback


The juggernauts that replaced
bullock teams  and camel convoys

The need to transport goods over great distances across inhospitable country in the outback where there were no railway lines made Australia the ideal place for the development of road trains.

Australian road trains are long trucks. Really long.

Their development over 75 years has been critical to the survival of far flung places on the vast Australian continent.

The Guinness World Record for hauling the longest road train was set near Clifton on the Darling Downs in southern Queensland by Brisbane man John Atkinson, who drove a single Mack prime mover 140m in 50 seconds, pulling 112 heavy-haulage trailers. The record-breaking road train was 1,474.3 metres long – that’s a truck and trailer combination measuring almost 1.5 km.

The record-holder

That of course is not the standard road train configuration you will see in Australia – it was a record attempt, after all.

But road trains are an important contributor to the movement of freight across land to this day, despite the growth of freight railways and they have been so since the first one appeared in the mid-19th Century.

Early road trains consisted of traction engines pulling multiple wagons.

In war time as far back as the Crimean War, a steam traction engine was sometimes called in to haul multiple wagons through difficult terrain and conditions. They were also used in the second Boer War and other conflicts up to World War I.

Mack superliner road train

Today, road trains comprise a prime mover (tractor truck) towing a series of trailers. They are used in Australia, Argentina, Mexico, the US and Canada to carry freight to and from places not serviced by rail or freight that’s not suited to rail travel.

In Australia, they are most commonly seen in Western Australia, Central Australia and the Northern Territory, especially on the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs, and the Victoria/Great Northern Highway between Katherine and Broome. Not all their routes are sealed roads, however and great clouds of red desert dust usually will signal that a road train is on the move in the outback.

The invention of the road train can actually be attributed to Great Britain.

The AEC Government Road train built in the 1930s by Hardy Motors, a subsidiary of AEC, for the British Overseas Mechanical Transport Directing Committee was intended for heavy transport in remote regions of the British Empire.

The AEC government road train - in its preserved version and at work in 1934.

The road train consisted of an eight-wheel drive tractor and two eight wheeled trailers. The first and last axles on the tractor steered in opposite directions giving good manoeuvrability. The trailers were self-tracking – the front and rear bogies turned in opposite directions. Thus, wheels on all twelve axles would follow each other in the same set of wheel tracks for better off-road ability.

Three AEC road trains were built, one going to Africa and one to Russia.

The third 8×8 was despatched to South Australia in April 1934 where it was operated by the State Government to transport freight into the Northern Territory, replacing the Afghan camel trains that had been trekking through the desert since the late 19th Century.

It comprised a 130 hp AEC 6-cylinder diesel truck connected with 2 Dyson self-tracking trailers.

The large radiator cooling the engine was mounted behind the “cab” and provided with a large pusher fan. A smaller fan drew air through the engine bay.

The brakes were unusual in acting on the rear trailer most strongly and so on down to the tractor.

In April 1934 the Government road train set off from Adelaide via Oodnadatta to Alice Springs. Arriving on 19 May, the trip of 1,100 mi (1,770 km) took more than three weeks. The AEC usually pulled two or three trailers. It was powered by a 130 hp (97 kW) diesel engine and travelled at 20-30 mph (32-48 km/h). It is estimated to have travelled off-road over 1.2 million miles (2 million km) in the Northern Territory from 1934 to 1946.

Today, road trains are quite common in outback Australia and an Australian, Kurt Johansson, is credited as the inventor of the modern version.

As noted on Jeremy Clarkson’s Australian episode of Motorworld on the BBC, Johansson, after transporting stud bulls 200 mi (320 km) to an outback property, was challenged to build a truck to carry 100 head of cattle instead of the original load of 20. Provided with financing of a couple of thousand pounds and inspired by the tracking abilities of the Government road train, Johansson began construction. Two years later he hit the road with his Diamond T.

Bertha at work

Johansson’s first effort used a US Army World War II surplus Diamond-T tank carrier, nicknamed “Bertha”, and two home-built self-tracking trailers.

Both wheel sets on each trailer could be steered, able to negotiate tight and narrow tracks and creek crossings. Freighter Trailers went on to build self-tracking trailers for Johansson and other customers as major innovators in transport machinery for Australia.

Today, road trains in Australia usually comprise at least three trailers.

The maximum weight for a loaded American semi-trailer is 80,000 pounds (36,287 kg) spread over 18 conventional wheels. Out in the wide-open spaces of Australia however, some “road trains” weigh more than 300,000 pounds (136,077 kg).

Australian road trains are most often seen carrying livestock or fuel.

Volvo NH15 Road Train
Photo: Sibylle Dreyer, Wiki

Another form of Australian road trains are the multi-unit haulers that work in the mining industry.

Jim Cooper, who arrived in Australian from New Zealand in 1970, established a transport business operating out of Darwin. His Gulf Transport grew into the Gulf Road Trains of Australia Group with more than 100 road trains running across Australia. The Cooper family also established the Brisbane-based Powertrans company in 2001 to give Gulf RTA a major advantage in mine haulage, underground and surface.

The Gulf RTA Group became a subsidiary of BIS (Brambles Industrial Services) in 2010.

The Pit Hauler system

Powertrans developed and built the Pit Hauler system – various combinations of trailers and power plants that could move mined material over longer distances and at greater speeds than the massive dumper trucks traditionally associated with surface mining.


Road trains can be very intimidating on the roads due to their sheer size. Road trains and other heavy vehicles need more space on the road and take longer to stop.

The Northern Territory Government offers this advice:

  • be patient – do not cut in front of road trains, especially when they are slowing down at traffic lights or turning.
  • do not overtake a turning road train, give them space and time.
  • keep your distance when travelling behind road trains on unsealed roads and use your headlights.
  • slow down and pull off the road and drive slowly on the shoulder of the road when approaching an oncoming road train on a single lane highway.
  • don’t drive in convoys, especially if you are towing a caravan.

When a road train starts to overtake your vehicle:

  • Maintain your speed.
  • Keep left and don’t move off the road.
  • Only slow down once the road train moves out to pass.
  • When the road train has passed flash your headlights to let the driver know that it is safe to move back in.

Before overtaking a road train:

  • Stay well back when behind a road train.
  • Make sure the driver can see you in one of the cab’s mirrors – if you can’t see the mirror the driver probably can’t see you.
  • Be certain you can see enough clear road space ahead.
  • Only overtake when you are confident you can safely do so.

When overtaking:

  • Signal, move out and pass quickly but sensibly.
  • Don’t move back in until you see both the road train’s headlights in your mirrors and don’t slow down.
  • You must allow more time to stop safely when driving behind a heavy vehicle or road train. Road trains take longer to stop.

It is recommended that travellers in the outback carry a UHF radio. This enables communication with the road train so you know where they are and also can be used in the case of an emergency.

US gets in on the act

The US government of the 1950s had the Texan company LeTourneau design wheeled land trains which could operate without the need for railway lines. Warfare at the time involved destroying rail links so the US Government decided it should have a massive roadtrain on standby.

LeTourneau came up with the TC-497 Overland Train. The first version was the LCC-1.

The US Army road train

A 600 hp (441.3 kW) diesel-powered generator in the cab sent power to all of wheels on both the cab and the four cargo trailers. The wheels were just over 10 ft (3 m) tall and very wide, to allow smoother-off road travel.

LCC-1 was so impressive that the Army contracted for a larger version, the Overland Train Mark II. It included a steering system that turned the wheels on the individual cars. Power could be increased by adding extra power cars along the train.

Lighter and smaller gas turbine engines supplied the power instead of a traditional diesel. The Mark II had a much larger six-wheeled cab that was 30 ft (9 m) tall. The smaller engine allowed the interior to support a crew of six with sleeping quarters, toilets and a galley. An additional two power cars and 10 cargo cars were built for testing. The train now stretched over 570 ft (173.7 m). On flat ground it could carry 150 tonnes of cargo at about 20 mph (32 km/h).

Only parts of these monsters survive, most having been sold for scrap.

Not a road train, but a car-carrier in China.
It is one trailer with side-by-side cars on top.

H: Australia’s first submarines – tragedy and triumph

Underwater mystery solved after 103 years

The wreck of Australia’s first naval submarine, the AE1, was found in December 2017 after several searches spanning 103 years.

The 13th search mission since the sub was lost, carried out by the vessel Fugro Equator, found AE1 largely intact in waters off the Duke of York islands, north-eastern Papua New Guinea.

She was found in about 300 m (840 ft) of water with the use of an underwater drone floating 40 m (131 ft) above the sea bed.

AE1 was the first Allied submarine lost in World War One. She disappeared with 35 Australian and British crewmates onboard on 14 September 1914, just weeks after the outbreak of the First World War.

Her sister boat, AE2, went on to figure in one of the most daring submarine feats of the war.

AE1 was launched in the yard of Vickers Ltd at Barrow-in-Furness, England, on 22 May 1913. She was commissioned at Portsmouth on 28 February 1914 under the command of Lieutenant Commander TF Besant, RN, and reached Sydney in May 1914.

The AE1, with a joint crew of Australian and British crew and one New Zealander, was sent to help capture German colonies including the then German-held New Guinea and lead the Allied capture of Rabaul on 13 September 1914.

But a day later while searching for German warships she became separated from the accompanying HMAS Parramatta in a heavy fog.

Parramatta and HMAS Yarra were ordered to search for AE1. HMAS Sydney, on her way to the west coast was also told to keep a lookout and later Encounter and Warrego also joined the search with launches from Rabaul and Herbertshohe.

No trace was found.

The loss of AE1 with her entire complement of three officers and 35 sailors was the RAN’s first major tragedy and it marred an otherwise successful operation.

Early In 2017, the Australian government announced it would match private investment to fund an expedition to search for AE1.

The government set aside $500,000 for “Find AE1 Limited” to search, in conjunction with The Silentworld Foundation, Australian National Maritime Museum and Fugro Survey.

There are no plans to return AE1 to Australia and the Government said it was working with Papua New Guinea to preserve the underwater site and plan for a lasting commemoration.

Down under hero

A hero of the Australian Navy, a relative minnow in the fleets of World War I warships, was the submarine AE2.

As was AE1, the AE2 was built in Britain by Vickers Armstrong for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) that was formed only three years earlier, in 1911.

The subs arrived in Sydney on 24 May 1914. Sixty days of the 13,000 mi (21,000 km) voyage were spent at sea, a record for submarines at that time. The quite basic submarines of the era had previously never managed to sail more than 200 mi (120 km) without breaking down.

The E-class boats displaced 726 tons submerged, were 181 ft (55 m) long, 22.5 ft (6.8 m) wide and could travel at 10 kts (18.5 km/h) submerged and 15 kts (27.7 km/h) on the surface. They were powered by two sets of eight-cylinder diesel engines and battery driven electric motors. The steel sheets were riveted – not welded – with the panels hand-planed to make sure the joins were watertight.

After the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, AE1 and AE2 joined Australian forces assigned to capture the German colonies in New Guinea.

During a patrol on 14 September AE1 disappeared with all hands.

After Germany surrendered the territories on 22 September 1914 AE2, under the command of Dublin-born Lieutenant Henry Hugh Gordon Dacre Stoker, was assigned to Suva, Fiji. She returned to Sydney in November 1914 and in December joined the second AIF (Australian Infantry Forces) convoy at Albany, Western Australia.

Stoker and the AE2 set off for Europe but only got as far as the Mediterranean before being ordered to join the British fleet at Tenedos Island and patrol the entrance to the Dardanelles at the start of the Gallipoli Campaign.

Before 25 April 1915, AE2’s operational role was minimal. That changed when Vice Admiral de Robeck, Commander-in-Chief Eastern Mediterranean Fleet, ordered AE2 to try to force a passage through the 35 mi (56 km) heavily fortified Dardanelles Strait and enter the Sea of Marmara.

If successful she was to “run amok” in enemy shipping between the Bosphorus and Dardanelle Straits to disrupt the re-supplying of Turkish troops on the Gallipoli peninsula while a massive Allied fleet prepared to attack Turkey, Germany’s ally in the Middle East, by landing 50,000 troops.

Suicide mission

History records that AE2 pulled off one of the most daring submarine feats of World War I in what was generally regarded as a suicide mission.

No boat had made a pass through the Dardanelles but on the morning of 25 April 1915, AE2 succeeded.

Searchlights continually swept the sea but AE2 continued unchallenged for two hours until 4.30 am when artillery batteries from the northern shore opened fire. She dived and continued through the more than 400 mines that had been laid. Stoker chose to sail under them and mooring wires scraped AE2‘s sides for half an hour. Twice she surfaced to make observations. At 6 am she was within 2 mi (3 km) of the Narrows, submerged at periscope depth. Forts on both sides of the Narrows sighted her and opened fire.

Stoker, through his periscope, saw a number of ships and decided to attack a Turkish gunboat. His report said: “At a range of three hundred yards I fired the bow tube at her. One of the destroyers was now very close, attempting to ram us on the port side, so at the moment of firing I ordered 70 ft. A last glance, as the periscope dipped, showed the destroyer apparently right on top of us, and then, amidst the noise of her propeller whizzing overhead, was heard the big explosion as the torpedo struck”.

After torpedoing the Turkish gunboat Peykisevke, AE2 passed through the narrows, chased by surface ships. She ran aground twice but the guns in the Turkish forts along the coast could not be aimed low enough to fire at her.

All day on 25 April, AE2 lay in 80 ft (24 m) of water while the searching enemy ships passed time and again overhead. Once she was hit by a heavy object being trailed along the bottom.

At 9 pm she surfaced to charge batteries. All signs of shipping had vanished.

Stoker reported: “I continued on course through the Straits, examined the Gallipoli anchorage, found no ship worthy of attack and so proceeded in the Sea of Marmara, which was entered about 9 am.”


For the next four days AE2 attacked Turkish shipping but with little success other than her presence serving to reduce the amount of shipping.

The diversion created by the 720-ton Australian submarine with 32 crew members drew enemy fire away from troops landing at Gallipoli, saving many lives.

AE2 and the British submarine E14 were to rendezvous on 30 April. E14 was the first of several submarines to follow AE2 into the Sea of Marmara and effectively close it to Turkish ships heading for the Gallipoli Peninsula.

As AE2 surfaced at the rendezvous point on 30 April, the Turkish torpedo boat Sultan Hissar approached. AE2 immediately dived but she lost trim and went out of control, broaching the surface twice. AE2 was hit in the engine room by Sultan Hissar’s guns and the crew had no choice but to abandon ship. Three shells had holed her hull.

Unable to dive, Commander Stoker surrendered his crew then scuttled AE2. He and his 31 men spent the rest of the war in captivity where four of them were to die.

Lieutenant Stoker was taken prisoner and escaped twice before eventually arriving back in England in 1919. He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

AE2 remained lost at the bottom of the sea for another 83 years before Turkish underwater explorer and museum director Selcuk Kolay found the wreck more than 230 ft (70 m) down.

In 2014 a joint Australian and Turkish project used a high-definition roving camera to explore inside AE2 at the bottom of the Sea of Marmara.

Photographs showed well preserved sections of the submarine including forward and aft hydroplanes, rudder and tops of the propellers. Visible inside were instruments in the control room, a wooden flag locker and even a pair of sailor’s sandshoes. There was also a portable wireless telegraph pole and antenna wire.

The team was further surprised to see a crystal decanter sitting on top of the desk in the officers’ ward room, an oyster light fitting above the desk and unbroken light globes.

The project team said the AE2 would be left where she was. Anti-corrosion measures had been installed around the hull and a marker buoy set up to protect her from shipping anchors and fishing nets. It is believed a torpedo remains on board.

Henry Stoker, a man of many talents

The Australian Navy’s biography of Henry Stoker notes:

“Stoker was offered command of the submarine depot ship HMS Royal Arthur but instead, now disillusioned with a naval career, chose to leave the navy and was placed on the retired list on 2 October 1920. Stoker had always been a keen amateur actor and playwright and now pursued this second career. Stoker commenced acting successfully on the stage in both Britain and the United States. He often played the part of a professional such as a military officer or a doctor. In 1925 his autobiography “Straws in the Wind” was published by Herbert Jenkins Limited and, in the same year, he married a young actress, Dorothie (Peg) Pidcock, at the Savoy Chapel. The two remained together for the next 41 years but there were no children. By the end of the 1920s Stoker was a regular and popular performer in West End plays and in 1932 commenced radio broadcasts of short dramatic stories. In 1933 he made his first cinema appearance in the movie “Channel Crossing”. In 1935 he played the part of a naval officer whose ship was sunk in action during World War I in the movie “Brown on Resolution”. Overall Stoker appeared in eight films from 1933 through to 1948 and was also the business manager of the Apollo Theatre.    

When war broke out in 1939, Stoker was recalled to the Royal Navy. In October 1939, with the rank of Acting Captain, he became the Chief of Staff to Rear Admiral RM King, RN (Flag Officer in Command – Belfast) based in the depot ship HMS Caroline at Belfast. In August 1940 Commander Stoker was given command of the coastal forces base, HMS Minos, at Lowestoft in Southern England, which was the home base for harbour defence vessels and small escort craft operating in the English Channel.   

In July 1942, Stoker was posted to the Press Division, within the Admiralty, where he became a Public Relations Officer providing updates to ships crews on the progress of the war. In April 1944 he became a staff officer working in the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force but after the D-Day landings returned to his Public Relations role in the Admiralty. In January 1945, as an Acting Captain, he commenced working in the Service Conditions Department in the Admiralty.

Henry Stoker retired again from the Royal Navy, at age 60, in late 1945 and returned to his life as an actor and playwright. He became involved in early television dramas in the 1950s but, now well into his mid-60s, began to take life more easily and devoted more time to sporting pursuits such as golf, tennis and croquet. He was also a member of the exclusive Garrick Club, for gentlemen associated with the theatre, in London’s West End.”

Henry Stoker died in London on his 81st birthday on 2 February 1966. AE2’s exploits were recorded in his autobiography Straws in the Wind.

FOOTNOTE: In 2016 the Australian Government announced that a $50 billion tender had been awarded to Direction des Constructions Navales Services (DCNS) of France, to build a replacement class of submarines for the ageing Collins class. The 12 new subs were expected to enter service in the early 2030s with construction extending into the late 2040s to 2050. The Program would be the largest, and most complex, defence acquisition project in Australian history. The new submarines will be based on France’s Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A, a derivative of its Barracuda nuclear-powered attack submarine.

Sources: Australian Navy archive, press reports.



D-Day: The conundrum of supplying fuel
to the Allied liberators

The Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe on D-Day was the largest amphibious landing operation in history.

Soldiers going ashore
at Normandy

6 June 1944 was the date on which a massive Allied military, air and naval force began the long-awaited invasion and liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe.

Although the Allies had launched a bombing campaign against Germany and had reached Italy, the only way to defeat Germany was to cross the English Channel to liberate the occupied countries and invade Germany itself.

Allied forces were drawn mainly from Great Britain, Canada and the United States. Others came from Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland.

The raw figures are astonishing:

  • 156,000 troops or paratroopers were put ashore; 73,000 from the US, 83,000 from Great Britain and Canada. Around 3,000 were from Australia which was engaged in fighting the Japanese closer to home territory at the same time. Australia’s main contribution was in the air. Between 2,000 and 2,500 Australian airmen served in dozens of RAF and 10 RAAF squadrons.
  • 195,700 naval personnel were used in Operation Neptune, led by 53,000 U.S. and 113,000 British troops.
  • By the end of June 11, 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies had been put ashore.
  • 11,590 Allied aircraft flew 14,674 sorties on D-Day. Of those, 127 planes were lost. Some 2,395 aircraft and 867 gliders took part in the airborne assault.
  • 6,939 vessels were in the fleet: 1,213 combat ships; 4,126 landing ships/craft; 736 support ships; 864 merchant ships.

The number of casualties was similarly astounding; a high price was paid to eventually put an end to German aggression in Europe, beginning on D-Day.

Casualties refers to all losses: killed, wounded, missing in action and prisoners of war. An accurate casualty count may never be known but research by the US National D-Day Memorial Foundation produced these figures:

  • US casualties on D-Day: 2,499 dead, 3,184 wounded, 1,928 missing, 26 captured.
  • Other Allied casualties on D-Day: approximately 2,700 British, 946 Canadians. (Fourteen Australians were killed on D-Day – two RAN and 12 RAAF).
  • German casualties: 4,000-9,000.
  • Total killed, wounded or missing in the Battle of Normandy (June 6-25) for both sides: 425,000.
  • French civilians killed in Normandy: 15,000-20,000, mainly from Allied bombing.
  • Today, 27 cemeteries hold the remains of more than 110,000 dead, including 9,386 Americans, 17,769 British, 5,002 Canadians, 650 Poles, and tens of thousands of Germans.

Logistics nightmare

The massive supply operation at Omaha Beach
during the Allied invasion at Normandy.

Supplying the front lines of the liberating force after the invasion was a logistics nightmare. Taking vital goods – particularly fuel – across the English Channel was fraught with danger. German bombers could swoop at any time with catastrophic results. Conventional tankers and ship-to-shore lines were not the answer.

The havoc that could be wreaked by German planes was in the mind of the planners. A touch of genius was required.

British engineers had just such an inspiration: Lay a pipeline under the water across the English Channel.

“Operation PLUTO” – Pipe Line Under The Ocean – or probably more correctly, Pipe-Line Underwater Transport of Oil – was the chosen strategy.

Although by 1942 the oil industry had laid thousands of pipe miles of across terrain, crossing the Channel to support Operation Overlord (the sea portion was called Operation Neptune) needed a previously unimaginable level of technology.

The scheme was developed by Arthur Hartley, chief engineer with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

To get vital oil supplies across the Channel after the D-Day landings, pipelines were unwound from massive spools to connect pumping stations to French ports.

Hartley proposed using modified submarine telephone cable. The plan got the seal of approval in 1942 from Geoffrey William Lloyd, the Minister for Petroleum, and Admiral Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations and then chairman of the Anglo-Iranian oil company.

There were actually two proposals.

In the first, a three-inch flexible lead pipe would be used to cross almost 70 mi (112 km) from the Isle of Wight to Cherbourg (more than 46 tons of lead, steel tape and armored wire were required for each mile). They were known as HAIS pipes.

These cables were a development of existing underwater communications cables by Siemens Brothers, in conjunction with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL),

A cross-section of the lead pipe

The first pipeline from Isle of Wight to Cherbourg was laid on 14 August 1944. No existing communications cable laying ship could do the job and a civilian passenger vessel, London, was the first to be modified to accommodate a huge spool around which the new pipe would be coiled.

In the second plan, three-inch (7.6 cm) steel pipe, which had proven to be flexible and durable in the oilfields of Iraq and Burma, would be used. Welders assembled 20-foot (6 m) sections of steel pipe into 4,000-foot (1219 m) lengths. They were known as HAMEL pipes.

The second approach proved more successful.

The pipeline was wound on to huge floating “conundrums” (Cone-ended drum) that looked like giant cotton reels and were designed to spool the pipes off the drum when towed. Five conundrums were commissioned – they were 30 feet (9 m) in diameter and fabricated in Scunthorpe, erected in Tilbury Docks and launched into the Thames. Each weighed 250 tons and had a combined capacity to carry up to 60 nautical miles of HAMEL pipes.

A "conundrum" is made ready

The deployment systems each weighed 1,600 tons and were pulled by three tugboats from the British site at Dungeness to the French port of Boulogne, 31 miles (50 km) away. As the spools unwound, the pipe settled to the bottom of the English Channel.

Ultimately, using both methods, 17 pipelines were put in place to supply thousands of litres of fuel to Boulogne. Dumbo was the codename given to the pipeline that ran across Romney Marsh to Dungeness and then across the English Channel to France.

By the time the two HAIS flexible pipelines and the two HAMEL steel pipelines to Cherbourg were pumping petrol, the Allied armies were moving west towards Paris and Belgium. Eleven new HAIS pipelines and 5 HAMEL pipelines were laid in a swept channel 2 mi (3.2 km) wide between Dungeness and Ambleteuse near Boulogne to shorten the route.

Map: Ashley T. Walker for the Library of Congress

The initial performance of the PLUTO pipelines was disappointing and didn’t immediately contribute much to the Allies’ advances. During the period from June to October 1944, PLUTO carried on average only 150 barrels per day, just 0.16% of the Allies’ total daily consumption.

In January 1945, 305 tonnes (300 long tons) of fuel was pumped to France per day, which increased to 3,048 tonnes (3,000 long tons) per day in March, and eventually to 4,000 tons (almost 1,000,000 Imperial gallons) per day. In total, over 172 million imperial gallons of petrol had been pumped to the Allied forces in Europe by VE-day (Victory in Europe Day, 8 May 1945), providing a critical supply of fuel until a more permanent arrangement was made.

A total of 34 vessels with 600 men and officers were involved in the pipeline operation.

Another important aspect of the system was the protection of the pumping stations on land. Camouflage was the answer.

All installations in British were disguised to prevent the Germans identifying them as part of the fuel operation. Terminals and pumping stations in Dungeness and Greatstone were disguised as bungalows, gravel pits, garages, a golf club and even an ice cream shop.

How the pumphouses were disguised

A house on the south coast of England, requisitioned by the British Army, and used to house pumping equipment

Some new buildings were erected, but 27 existing seaside bungalows and houses on Dungeness and Greatstone were used.

In England, the PLUTO pipelines were supplied by a 990 miles (1,600 km) network of pipelines to transport fuel from ports including Liverpool and Bristol. In Europe, the pipelines were extended as the troops moved forward, and eventually reached as far as the Rhine.

After the war, the lines were decommissioned and many salvaged for their lead.

Sir Winston Churchill at the unveiling of the plaque to commemorate the laying of the PLUTO pipelines described it as being “crowned by complete success”.

The pipelines were the forerunners of all flexible pipes used in the development of offshore oil fields.

Sources: Various web sites dedicated to D-Day history.

Book: PLUTO: Pipe-Line Under the Ocean by Adrian Searle




N: Pan Am – icon of the air, pioneer of the Pacific Routes


How the attack on Pearl Harbor almost
clipped the wings of a high flier

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a major blow to Pan American Airways, which was operating flying boat passenger services across the Pacific.

Built by Martin (M-130s) and Boeing (314s and 314As), the Pan American Clippers flew the rich and famous to island exotic ports and on to the western Pacific. Hawaii, Guam, Manila and stopovers in between formed a line of stepping stones to Asia presenting Pan American with great opportunities for expansion.

The Island-hopping bases included Wake Island that was to experience the full force of a Japanese attack.

The first leg of the trans-Pacific flights was the 2,400-mi (3,862km) hop from San Francisco to Honolulu.  The leg from the cable station at Midway to the next inhabited island, Guam, was even longer and establishing a station on Wake Island just 1,200 mi (1,931km) from Midway provided a relieving break in an arduous flight. The establishment of bases was relatively easy as formed landing strips were not needed.

Routes were opened to the Philippines, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Singapore. But when war came to the Pacific, the Clipper flights and their island stopovers were in great peril. Several planes were in the firing line when Japan launched their devastating attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and followed up the next day with attacks around the Pacific.

One of the first to encounter an emergency was the newest plane in the fleet, the Anzac Clipper, a four-engine Boeing 314 under the control of Captain H. Lanier Turner. The flight was heading for Pearl Harbor with a crew of nine and 37 passengers on the first leg of a 14-day round trip. It was due to arrive just on sunrise on 7 December. An on-time arrival would have put the plane right in the middle of the attack. Undoubtedly it would have been shot out of the air by the Japanese warplanes it would have encountered.

But a 40-minute delay in leaving San Francisco put the Anzac Clipper behind time.

By early Sunday morning, the Anzac crew was homing in on the same radio station signals that the Japanese planes were using to track to their target.

Just 40 minutes from arrival, before 8 am, the Clipper crew heard a frantic radio broadcast that the Japanese were attacking Hawaiian bases.

Captain Turner diverted from Pearl Harbor and headed the Anzac Clipper towards a lagoon at Hilo on the Island of Hawaii, about two hours south, where the big plane landed and sheltered overnight.

There were few facilities to service the plane and it had to be refuelled by hand. It was ready to fly again on the night of 8 December and 72 hours after leaving it was back on the US mainland having aborted the flight to Asia.

There were two significant passengers aboard the Anzac Clipper – the Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi) and Galon U Saw, Premier of Burma (now Myanmar). The Shah was believed to be on his way home after assuring President Roosevelt of his country’s co-operation with the US.
Premier Saw was on his way home also after meeting President Roosevelt where he failed to get endorsement for his country’s independence from Britain. Saw’s trip home also took him via Lisbon where he is reported to have visited the Japanese Embassy to tell the ambassador that his country would support Japan. He was later executed for his part in the assassination of Burmese independence leader Aung San and six others.

Pan Am’s Yankee Clipper

The Philippine Clipper under the control of Captain John Hamilton, came under direct attack by Japanese warplanes while refuelling at Pan American’s base on Wake Island. The Martin M-130 had just left Wake Island for Guam when news of the Pearl Harbor attack came through. The captain was ordered to return to Wake Island to evacuate airline staff.

But upon returning, Captain Hamilton was called upon to make a sweep around the island to look for enemy forces before loading his passengers and evacuees.


Before the survey mission could begin, Japanese planes appeared over the base. They took only a few minutes to completely destroy the facilities. The Philippine Clipper was strafed – there were almost 100 bullet holes. But the big plane was intact. Captain Hamilton had it stripped of all non-essential gear and loaded the passengers and remaining Pan Am staff. Nine Pan Am staff were killed in the raid.

With 34 people on board the Clipper was overloaded but on his third attempt to take off Captain Hamilton managed to get airborne and head east. He put down in a lagoon at Midway which by then also had been attacked. The next day he took the plane to Pearl Harbor and then to San Francisco.

The California Clipper

Another remarkable Pan American flight at the time was that of the then-named California Clipper. The flight began on 2 December 1941 under the control of Captain Bob Ford from the Pan Am base on Treasure Island, California, for the passenger service to Auckland, New Zealand, with scheduled stops in San Pedro, Honolulu, Canton Island, Suva and Nouméa.

Cut off on the return flight to California via Hawaii by the Japanese raid, Captain Ford was directed to strip company markings, registration and insignia from the Clipper and proceed in secret from Auckland to the Marine Terminal, LaGuardia Field, New York.

The plane, by now renamed Pacific Clipper, left Auckland on 8 December and flew more than 31,500 mi (50,694 km) home via Gladstone (Australia), Darwin (Australia), Surabaya (Java), Trincomalee (Ceylon – now Sri Lanka), Karachi, British India (now Pakistan), Bahrain, Khartoum (Sudan), Leopoldville (Belgian Congo), Natal (Brazil) and Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago).

The Pacific Clipper, landed at Pan American’s LaGuardia Field seaplane base on the morning of 6 January 1942, completing Pan American’s first round-the-world flight.

In Hong Kong, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, another Clipper captain faced a dilemma – the Japanese were expected to invade at any time.

Captain Fred Ralph’s next destination with the Hong Kong Clipper on the Hong Kong-Manila leg of the trans-Pacific route was to be Manila. But on 8 December, Manila was under attack.

Before he could execute his plan to fly instead to Kunming in China, the Kai Tak aerial centre was attacked. The Japanese planes dive-bombed the plane at its moorings several times. Eventually the incendiary bullets set the plane ablaze and it burned to the water line.

Ralph and his crew escaped from Hong Kong that night on board a plane operated by a Chinese affiliate of Pan American, the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC). They eventually found their way back to New York in January 1942.

Although the Japanese overran all of Pan American’s Central Pacific bases except Honolulu, the airline continued flying in Asia. CNAC evacuated around 275 American, British and Chinese civilians from Hong Kong, in a 72-hour non-stop operation.

Also on the morning of 8 December 1941 the Pan American base in Guam at Sumay was bombed and machine-gunned by Japanese planes. The Pan Am Hotel, crew quarters and fuel tanks were destroyed and two employees were killed.

The China Clipper

Pan American also was engaged in military transport activities during World War II – many planes called in for military duty – and suffered badly; more than 200 employees were killed, an unknown number were imprisoned in enemy prison camps and at least a dozen planes were lost.

Flying boat Clipper services were scaled down after World War II.   Seaplanes eventually were replaced by new four-engine landplanes. Pan American lost its near-monopolistic hold over the international American airline industry when the US government allowed other airlines to compete in the post-war aviation boom. Pan American operated its last B-314 flight on the Pacific routes in May 1946.

After the war, the government offered to sell the Clippers it had commandeered back to Pan Am, but the company declined. The war had resulted in many more airports being developed around the world, and four-engine landplanes could fly faster than the fat Clipper flying boats. DC-4s and Boeing 307s had begun to appear even before the war. Shortly after the war, Pan Am Lockheed Constellations, DC-5s, and Boeing 377s took over the routes that the Clippers had pioneered.

Through the jet era, Pan Am’s flagship terminal was the Worldport located at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City.

Pan Am operated the first Boeing 747
on commercial routes

Today, the Pan Am International Flight Academy (PAIFA) is the only remaining division of Pan American World Airways, which declared bankruptcy in January 1991 and shut down in December 1991. Under the terms of bankruptcy, the International Flight Academy in Miami was allowed to remain open. It was established as an independent training organization in 1992.

The Flight Academy is now owned by the parent company of All Nippon Airways.


  1. A crew member of the first trans-Pacific Clipper flights was navigator Fred Noonan who a year later disappeared somewhere in the Pacific on a flight with Amelia Earhart in 1937.
  2. Pan American World Airways, known from its founding until 1950 as Pan American Airways and branded as Pan Am, was the largest international air carrier in the US from 1927 until its collapse on December 4, 1991. Founded in 1927 as a scheduled air mail and passenger service operating between Key West, Florida, and Havana (Cuba) the airline was credited with many innovations adopted worldwide, including the widespread use of jet planes, jumbo jets, and computerised reservation systems. Identified by its blue globe logo (“The Blue Meatball”), the use of the word “Clipper” in its aircraft names and call signs, and the white uniform caps of its pilots, the airline was an icon of the 20th century.
  3. On 17 August, 2001, Zaharias Moussaoui, the so-called “20th hijacker” of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, was arrested after an instructor at Pan Am International Flight Academy became suspicious of him.

UNSOLVED MYSTERY: Hawaii Clipper was one of three Pan American Airways Martin M-130 flying boats. It disappeared with six passengers and nine crew on a flight from Guam to Manila, on 28 July, 1938. The flying boat service to Manila Bay took about 60 hours over six days, with stops at Pearl Harbor, Midway Atoll, Wake Island and Guam. Hawaii Clipper left Guam on the last leg of the journey at 11:39 local time. The last radio contact was 3 hours 27 minutes later, when the plane’s crew reported flying through layers of clouds and unsettled air 565 mi (900 km) from the Philippine coast. The US Army transport ship USAT Meigs found an oil slick along the course of the lost aircraft about 500 mi (800 km) from Manila. The search for the plane was called off on 5 August 1938. Tests on the oil found did not establish a link to the plane. It remains unclear where the Hawaii Clipper met its end.

FOOTNOTE: The Pan Am Boeing 747SP “Clipper Liberty Bell” set a circumnavigation record flying around the world in under 40 hours of flight time and arriving back in New York on  May 3, 1976. This record smashed the previous holder by 16 hours just six days after the first 747SP went into service. The record-setting SP is now a museum exhibit, likely be the only 747SP on display in the western hemisphere.

References and sources: Pan Am Historical Foundation; “Forty Minutes to Pearl” (Jim Slade), Pan Am at War (Robert Gandt). Pacific Aviation Museum, Pan American Clippers Wikia, Wikipedia.

Big Amphibious plane are making a comeback. In December 2017, the world’s largest amphibious aircraft, China’s AG600, made a successful one-hour maiden flight.

The plane, roughly the size of a Boeing 747 but with four turboprop engines, lifted off from Zhuhai airport in the southern province of Guangdong.

The plane, codenamed Kunlong, can carry 50 people and can stay airborne for 12 hours.

It has firefighting and marine rescue duties as well as military applications.

The AG600 is considerably smaller than billionaire Howard Hughes’ flying boat, better known as the Spruce Goose, which had a wingspan of 97 m and was 67 m long but only made one brief flight, in 1947.