Charleville getting airborne on the Brisbane Line

Charleville celebrates 100th anniversary of airfield


Life & Style
Charleville Airfield and World War II Museum chairman Shaun Radnedge is keen to put plans into top gear. Pictures - Sally Cripps.

Charleville Airfield and World War II Museum chairman Shaun Radnedge is keen to put plans into top gear. Pictures - Sally Cripps.

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Fifty years before humans reached the moon, Charleville was receiving its first visit from the aeroplanes that pioneered Australia's skies.

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Fifty years before humans reached the moon, Charleville was receiving its first visit from the aeroplanes that pioneered Australia's skies.

Those early aeronautical steps were honoured alongside the moon landing in the community last weekend when the World War II and Airfield Museum board celebrated the centenary of the aerodrome and all it has seen.

Chairman Shaun Radnedge described it as an introduction to the community about their big picture aims.

"The Charleville airfield holds a bit of history," he said.

In fact, it holds a lot of history, right from the time in August 1919 when the federal government sent RAAF personnel up to survey safe landing places for the planes that were beginning to fly from one end of Australia to the other.

That was followed in December by Ross and Keith Smith landing on the Ward plain when they had engine trouble on their epic flight from London.

"It might have been a bit of luck but that's where it started for us," Mr Radnedge said.

Some of the biggest names in Australia's aviation history - Amy Johnson, Lores Bonney, Nancy Bird-Walton - have connections with the town's air links.

Qantas mail freight deliveries, organised from Sydney but starting at Charleville, bound for Longreach and Cloncurry, was another milestone in 1934, along with the Royal Flying Doctor Service base established in 1943, and the secret American military airbase established in 1941.

Charleville's airfield has seen a lot of history in its skies, from pioneer aviators Ross and Keith Smith and Amy Johnson to America's military airmen.

Charleville's airfield has seen a lot of history in its skies, from pioneer aviators Ross and Keith Smith and Amy Johnson to America's military airmen.

Much of the WWII history is already encapsulated in the Top Secret Tour offered by the Murweh Shire Council but will be enhanced with the construction of a building to showcase its Experience the Brisbane Line project.

The shire's director of corporate services, Ken Timms said the project funded by the state government's Outback Tourism Infrastructure Fund would be an interpretation of what happened when the 3000 American forces were based at the airfield.

Building on the existing bitumen baths, dance hall and Norton bomb building, the plan is to use cutting-edge virtual reality displays to show the life of soldiers on active duty on the Brisbane Line.

Mr Timms said the building would be constructed in the image of one of the many WWII hangars that used to be on site. The whole concept will cost $1.7m.

The interpretative displays are already underway, one a huge table depicting the site as it looked in the war.

Another will feature the Norton bomb aimer and a 3D cockpit.

"It will show how complicated it all was," Mr Timms said.

Mr Radnedge said there had been a lot of interest from the community in donating memorabilia, providing security cameras were installed.

"It's a bit of a timeline here today," he said. "In the next 30 years we want our kids and grandkids to see all this sort of thing."

One of those things will be the 1990 floods, an event that has left permanent memories on Charleville.

The airport was the main area that 2000 of the town's residents were evacuated to, and housed and fed for subsequent days, while defence force helicopters were landing and taking off from the strip.

The group hopes to have the new attraction open in time for the 2020 tourist season.

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