Donald Shand: a pioneer in
the air and on the ground

Donald Munro Shand could comfortably be described as an
Australian of great vision.

Don Shand’s portrait at Armidale Regional Airport in 2016.
The accompanying plaque reads:

“Father” of East-West Airlines”
Don Shand (1904-1976)
Armidale grazier, farmer and businessman,
was instrumental in forming, and was
foundation Chairman of East-West Airlines
which pioneered regular air transport to
Armidale in 1947.
Mr Shand was described as “a prime mover”
a great Australian and a good ambassador for Australia

East West’s City of Tamworth at Mascot, Sydney.
Photo from jetphotos.net c. Peter Lea.

Don Shand was the man behind East West Airlines and the Shand Select Seed Company that pioneered hybrid grain development.

These two ventures were highly successful in their time.

East West Airlines didn’t survive the major airline shake-up in Australia in the 1980s, even though its legacy was the end of the two-airline duopoly in Australian skies.

The Shand Select Seed Company later merged with the American Dekalb Shand company, now owned by chemical giant Monsanto.

Don Shand was a pioneer in many fields, a man with big ideas. Some of those ideas were related to his tilt at politics in the 1940s and could well have been criticised as electioneering. Nevertheless, some of his ideas had considerable merit, and success.

Projects such as promoting the outback as a tourist destination and the water-bombing of bushfires became a reality. Others, such as growing orchids and daffodils for the North American market and stocking dams with South African Tirasia fish, were not viable.

He began his flight to fame in Sydney and became a champion of projects for

The Australian Dictionary of Biography (John Atchison) records:

Donald Munro Shand (1904-1976), grazier and airline founder, was born on 20 September 1904 at Drummoyne, Sydney, fourth child of James Barclay Shand, a native-born accountant, and his wife Ann, née Donald, who came from Scotland. James was later a member (1926-44) of the Legislative Assembly. Don was sent to Epping Public, Cleveland Street Intermediate High and Burwood Commercial schools.
While employed by a Sydney wool firm, he attended classes at Sydney Technical College. He worked on various grazing properties in the Armidale district before becoming a wool and skin buyer. At St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Sydney, on 24 May 1927 he married the twice widowed, 48-year-old Evelyn Wigan, née Hawkins, formerly Hyde. They settled at Woodville, a 4000-acre (1619 ha) property

Woodville was to become Don Shand’s base from which many of his ventures originated, including the development of hybrid crops and aerial spreading of lucerne seed by air.

His most notable unsuccessful venture was his foray into federal politics when he was defeated in the election for the federal seat of New England in 1949. But he succeeded in getting some important rural issues on the political agenda.

His boldest move however was to establish a regional aerial service through East West Airlines.

Pictured at Armidale airport on 7 June 1946 is de Havilland
DH-82 registered VH-AOB with Armidale Aero Club members
Don Shand (foundation member) and Len Rixon (right)

The original idea wasn’t his, however. It came from a former Royal Australian Airforce squadron Leader, Basil Brown, an instructor with the North-West branch of the Newcastle Aero Club. His idea was to connect the New England region of NSW to the rest of the state by air.

He needed money and approached Ted Wilkinson, an optometrist from Inverell, in northern NSW, with his idea. Basil Brown was teaching Ted Wilkinson to fly and the two men canvassed support for the plan.

One person to declare an interest early was Don Shand, a grazier from Armidale on the Northern Tablelands.

Mr Shand also was a proponent of an air service to the region and to the coast. He was also interested in using planes in agriculture, particularly in spreading superphosphate.

Four businessmen from Inverell took up the running and bought four Avro Anson planes from The Commonwealth Disposals Commission Base at Narrandera in southern NSW.

But they soon found the Inverell airport did not suit the planes; the runway was too short. So, the Anson Holding Syndicate settled on Tamworth for a base.

The syndicate called a meeting for 14 September 1946 at Tamworth where the East-West Airlines syndicate was formed under the banner of the Anson Holding Company with D.M. Shand the chairman. His cousin J. W. Shand became a director.

The name East-West was based on the group’s original intention to fly between Moree in the west and Grafton in the east.

That route didn’t eventuate and the company’s first flight on 23 June 1947 was from Tamworth to Sydney.

East-West Airlines Ltd came into being on 11 July 1947 and the company’s operations officially launched at a ceremony in Tamworth on 6 September 1947 with a full licence to fly the Tamworth-Sydney route from 30 September. The planes carried only seven passengers.

Jeanne Upjohn, who had spent three years in the Air Force ground crew, was one of the first two hostesses (as they were then called) to fly for East-West. She recalled: “My Air Force background provided East-West with the first hostess uniform. The pilots were all ex-air force and were wearing their uniforms: a battlejacket and cap with the Est-West insignia on it. When East-West said that hostesses should have a uniform I took my Air Force dress uniform, cut off the flare of the jacket, put on a belt and made it into a battlejacket … we had navy blue berets with a big East-West insignia on the side.”

The hostesses didn’t fly at first; their job was to get the passengers aboard, strap them in, “give them a Mintie” and wave them off.

By 1950 it was obvious the Ansons were no longer up to the task of flying regular passenger services and twin-engine Lockheed Hudsons were chosen to replace them. The Hudsons were a conversion of the bomber/reconnaissance planes used by the RAAF in WW II.

Three Hudsons, converted to carry 24 passengers, entered service in 1950. In 1953 they were joined on the airline’s routes by DC 3s and in 1969 the famous Fokker Friendship workhorse of the air was introduced, able to carry 44 passengers.

 The first E-W DC3

The Friendship airline

The Friendship became the airline’s choice of plane through the 1960s, a period when the company also fought hard to beat off takeover attempts by Ansett Airlines that operated on the major interstate trunk routes and regional routes via its subsidiary Airlines of NSW.

East-West also found it in the centre of a political battle over re-allocation of routes within the state which would have increased its share of business.

Don Shand presided over significant changes within the company that led to new routes, including the addition of the lucrative tourist route from Sydney to the Gold Coast in southern Queensland to its regional services between Sydney and Tamworth, Armidale and Inverell in New England in the north of NSW. In the 1970s East-West was granted a licence to fly between Sydney and Alice Springs and to Norfolk Island.

At that time East-West operated nine Fokker Friendships F27s throughout NSW and to Tasmania, Southern Queensland and the Northern Territory, carrying half a million passengers a year. The airline continued operating into the 1980s.

East-West grew from an intrastate operator to Australia’s third largest domestic carrier which, by 1982, owned ten Fokker F27 aircraft and then acquired it first jet plane, also a Fokker, and became the first “third” carrier operating between Sydney and Canberra.

East-West later bought BAe 146-300 jet planes. Turbulence was ahead as the flying minnow challenged Australia’s two-airline policy and underwent a series of ownership restructures.

Prohibited by regulation from flying directly between Sydney and Melbourne, East-West planes touched-down briefly in Albury on the way.

East-West began the low-cost airline model in Australia. Because of its operating structure, East-West could significantly undercut other airlines. East West Airlines’ aggressive “Third Airline” campaign forced the Australian Government to eventually scrap the Two-Airline Policy.

But eventually East-West eventually gave in to a takeover by its major competitor, Ansett, on 31 October 1993. East-West was officially wound-up on 31 December. On 1 January 1994, East-West Airlines formally ceased to exist.

The East-West name was revived in 2017, as an aviation services group working in conjunction with small regional service operators. It announced plans for a possible service between Melbourne and Griffith in the Riverina of NSW and Merimbula on the NSW south coast.

While his enthusiasm was a driving force for the successes enjoyed by East-West, Don Shand’s other interests also had his intense attention.

Writing for the Australian Dictionary of Biography, John Atchison noted: “Shand was a man of ideas, always looking for new ventures.”

When he settled on the Woodville property near Armidale, he set about developing a diverse agricultural business.

In 1927 the property was heavily timbered, and Mr Shand supplemented his income by selling firewood around Armidale.

By 1935 he was producing fat lambs from Woodville. Showing his flair for innovation, by 1939 he was cultivating large-scale crops of soy beans and peas, as well as chrysanthemums for pyrethrum and opium poppies for morphine.

Mr Shand brought in soy bean seeds from the United States after visiting there in 1943 when appointed by the Federal Government to an advisory body to investigate new crops that could be suited to Australian conditions.

Soy beans had not been successful in NSW in Mr Shand noted that more than 1,000 varieties were being grown in America in a wide variety of climates. He chose about 100 varieties for trial on his Armidale property, under the supervision of Department of Agriculture officers. Eighty varieties were grown successfully with Mr Shand recommending that soy bean oil be tried as a substitute for butter-making when butter was scarce. He said one acre of beans could produce 260 lbs of soy bean butter.

It was also found that soy beans could improve soil quality to benefit the growing of other crops.

Nest for WASPS

During the war years, there was a shortage of manpower to work on the farms. Women were called on to step up through the Women’s Land Army that provided farm laborers around Australia. Many of the women came from the big cities.

A lesser known “sister” of the Land Army was the WASPS – Women’s Auxiliary Security Producers’ Service.

Formed at the suggestion of the women’s section of the Armidale Agricultural Bureau in conjunction with Don Shand, the WASPS made a significant contribution to the national war effort during World War 2 by ensuring food crops were planted and harvested. Mr Shand recognised the need to sustain and increase rural food production to feed those at home and troops serving abroad. This role fell to female labour because so many men were engaged in the war.

Mr Shand appealed to women to join the WASPS in 1943:

“Plenty of food for our civilian and military needs is assured if the country women play their part in harvesting in the huge vegetable production programme that has been embarked upon by the Federal Government. Tremendous tracts of vegetables have been planted throughout the Commonwealth by farmers who have been faced with one of the greatest difficulties in manpower in our history. The Australian farmer, working short-handed, is waging a terrific fight to stabilise the food front, but unless you offer your services to agriculture in the coming Spring, many crops may be lost which you could have saved. Women have proved their ability in other countries. Prior to the war the German women made a large contribution to the agriculture of their nation whilst their menfolk were occupied in making weapons of destruction to create misery and suffering throughout the world, their women know what they can do and have calculated a blow against you and humanity. This is an appeal to every woman in the district to immediately contact the local District War Agricultural Committee to offer her services to the farmer to save crops which have been planted. If you can work two or three days a week in saving perishable crops, your effort will be greatly appreciated, the Food Front will be stabilised and the day of victory when our loved ones return, brought closer to us.”

There seems to be little doubt that the availability of WASPS for harvest work encouraged vegetable growers to plant crops knowing they could be harvested.

In 1943 their efforts produced 35,000,000 cans of corn for Allied troops.

By Spring 1944 the vegetable harvest was setting records. There were 1,500 WASPS at work in NSW and the call went out for 30,000 around Australia.

Don Shand set up a hostel on his Woodville property for the female workers in the area. At Armidale, the women and girls were daughters of doctors, bankers and teachers.

Some of the women recruited by Mr Shand included students at the Armidale Teachers’ College.

In November 1944, 72 WASPS working in 95 degrees heat picked more than 10,000 lbs of peas on farms near Armidale.

WASPS at work in the pea paddock

The effort made the Sydney newspapers which reported: “The peas will be flown direct to the forces in the Pacific areas. Organiser of the WASPS (Mr Don Shand) said yesterday that he had never seen girls work so hard in such terrific heat. ‘The girls saved the crop,’ he said. ‘One more day would have spoilt it’.”

A Sydney Daily Telegraph report noted: “The girls were bootless and hatless and hardly stopped from 5 am until they knocked off at 6 pm at night.” The best effort belonged to Miss Thelma Batchelor who broke her own record of 147 lbs in two hours. She was going on to contest the pea-picking championship at Port Macquarie.

The WASPS program eventually had more than 50 branches and its reach extended to other areas of northern NSW, including Port Macquarie, also to southern NSW as far as Kiama, even to Murray Bridge in South Australia and north to Gympie and Ayr in Queensland.

The WASPS ensured that Australians were fed during the war years when there was no other labour available. For many WASPS that meant still running the family home or farm and looking after their children in addition to working for local vegetable growers.

Few official records of the WASPS have survived.

Amazing maize

Mr Shand continued his crop experimentation, and 1954 unveiled hybrid maize which he said could revolutionise Australia’s maize-growing industry. He began with a handful of seed he brought back from the US years earlier.

He said a “spot check” on that season’s crop of the new variety had indicated a yield of more than 200 bushels to the acre.

The new variety, known as D.S.99, was developed at his farm after more than 6,000 experimental crossings of inbred lines of maize.

He said that the use of this and other new hybrids which were being developed promised a bright future for the industry.

Cropping areas could be greatly expanded with reduced cost of production because of increased yields.

Mr Shand said at the time: “Farmers have neglected maize in the past because of the relatively low yields of older strains. With the development of new hybrids the farmer can be confident of increased yields.”

Mr. L. R. Kavanagh, acting maize specialist of the Department of Agriculture, said: “Any consistent yield of 200 bushels to the acre would be unheard of anywhere in Australia, or the world for that matter.

“The average yield for hybrid maize in New South Wales for the 1952-53 season was just on 40 bushels an acre.” NB: 1 bushel is about 25 kg. One acre is 0.4 hectares.

Rabbit trouble

Don Shand’s farming ventures weren’t without incident. In 1932 he appeared in the Armidale Police Court to answer charges brought by the Pastures Protection Board of failing to destroy and suppress rabbits on his property.

He pleaded not guilty.

There was a light moment during the case when Mr Shand’s lawyer was cross-examining Pastures Protection Board rabbit inspector Mr G.W. Elliott about inspections of Mr Shand’s property:

Mr McKenzie: Would you swear that the rabbits you saw on April 5 were still there on June 10?

Mr Elliott: No, I couldn’t swear to any identical rabbits.

Evidence for Mr Shand’s defence was that he had set about reducing rabbits on his property and had sold skins to a skin buyer.

The magistrate said that while the property (Woodville) was “apparently in a bad way” evidence had shown Mr Shand had done a great deal of work on it and had done “all he reasonably could have been expected to do” within the time frame referred to by the charges. (Don Shand took over Woodville in 1927).

The charges were dismissed, and costs awarded to Mr Shand.

 Part of Woodville today in Donald Road,
near Armidale

Evelyn Shand died in 1951. On 24 May 1952, Don Shand married 48-year-old widow Beryl Constance Downe, née Coventry, at St Paul’s Church, Armidale.

There were no children from the marriages.

The Dictionary of Biography noted of Donald Munro Shand:

“He was ‘a burly six-footer (183 cm) with ruddy cheeks and matching laughter’. An entertaining, colourful raconteur, he held court in Tattersall’s Hotel with grazing families who came to town for the Thursday sales and shopping forays.”

Don Shand was made a Companion of the Order of Sta Michael and St George (CMG) for services to the community in the 1976 New Year’s Honours list. He died at his Armidale home on 7 November 1976.

A Smith’s Weekly report, 3 July 1948. from TROVE.

Sources: Articles by Ian Lobsey and Jeannne Upjohn, Armidale and District Historical Society Journal No 24; TROVE newspaper articles, including Armidale Express and Smith’s Weekly; John Atchison, Australian Dictionary of Biography; eastwestairlines.com.