Anniversaries for this year
1911 – 100th Anniversary
First aeroplane flights in the Penrith district
James Hollier’s Eden Glassie farm at Emu Plains (now straddling the M4 Motorway Bridge) was the scene of the first air flight in the Penrith district.[i]Leslie Jones leased Hollier’s field to test his flying machine. Jones was the first Australian to become airborne in a machine in which both the aeroplane and engine were of his own design and construction.
Jones, who became a leading figure in aeronautical engineering in Australia, brought the first aeroplane to the district in May 1911 on a horse and dray.
R.S. Chambers asserts that ‘it would be true to state that Emu Plains is the birthplace of full-scale aeronautical research and testing in the realm of Australian aviation’.[ii]Jones made these experiments from 1909 to 1911.
[i]Neville Parnell and Trevor Boughton, Flypast: A Record of Aviation in Australia , Canberra, 1988, pp. 9-15.
[ii]R.S. Chambers, Leslie John Robert Jones, typescript manuscript, 23 September 1969. Accessed at Penrith City Library.
In the last week of September 1911, Parramatta dentist, William Hart enthralled the people of the Penrith district when he made a number of flights in his Bristol biplane across the town. Hart ‘discovered an ideal spot’ in Belmore Park for his ‘flying experiments’.[i]The Hon. Sydney Smith provided every assistance to Hart and offered his grounds free of charge.
On 21 September, the aeroplane was brought to Penrith by rail and taken to Belmore Park for assembly on the north side of Penrith Railway Station.[ii]
On Monday 25 September Hart made his first flight from Belmore Park, witnessed by a large crowd. The plane flew down to the river and back, up along the railway line. With each flight the length and breadth of Penrith was covered.
These supervised flights with Lesley McDonald qualified Hart on 16 November as the first person in Australia to receive an aviator’s certificate from the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain. Soon afterwards, Penrith electrician P.C. Ashbury flew with Hart over Castlereagh. Ashbury’s fear and trepidation fell away as the wheels of the plane left the ground. He said ‘one of the most pleasant sensations I have ever experienced in my life came over me …Probably one of the most beautiful sights was an orchard at Castlereagh …had the owner seen it as we had he would have been very proud of it’.[iii]Hart then qualified with a licence from the Aerial League of Australia. Writing in 1928, Hart considered Belmore Park ‘one of the finest sites for an aerodrome that I have ever inspected in the vicinity of Sydney’.[iv]
After qualifying, Hart commenced an aviation school at Belmore Park with twelve students. One of those students was Major Charles Rosenthal who quickly realised the potential of aeroplanes in modern warfare.[v]The aviator’s school was opened by Charles Frazer, Federal Postmaster-General on 3 January 1912.[vi]After the function, Frazer, followed by his wife, was taken on a joy flight 600 feet above Penrith. He was the first Federal minister to fly in an aeroplane and his wife probably one of the first women in Australia to do so. Just three days later Hart and Rosenthal crashed their plane at Mt Druitt on a flight to Parramatta. Both men were slightly injured.
In February 1912, Hart moved his school to Richmond on land leased from Richmond Municipal Council. This area later became Richmond Air Force Base.
[i]‘Why Hart Chose Penrith’, in Penrith Speedway Motor Cycle and Car Races: Programme, 7 April 1928 (accessed Local Studies Collection, Penrith City Library)
[ii] ‘The Machine that Flies’, Nepean Times, 30 September 1911, p. ???????
[iii] ‘Up Above by Aeroplane’, Nepean Times, 25 November 1911, p. ????
[iv]‘Why Hart Chose Penrith’, in Penrith Speedway Motor Cycle and Car Races: Programme, 7 April 1928 (accessed Local Studies Collection, Penrith City Library)
[v]P.G. Rukin, The Aviators Nest, Richmond : Wings over the Hawkesbury: An Historical Scrapbook, Revised ed., August 2008, p. 11.
[vi]‘The Flying Machine’, Nepean Times, 6 January 1912, p. 3.