Michael Pengilly MP

Member for Finniss

Michael Pengilly MP, Memeber for Finniss

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Thursday, 16 November 2017

Mr PENGILLY (Finniss) (12:12): I move: That this house urges the state government work to secure the future of the Vickers Vimy aircraft and other associated memorabilia contained at Adelaide Airport to work towards placing it on a site that is more publicly accessible and in an optimum environment for its survival in the future.

think it is some eight months since I first spoke about this subject in the house. It took 28 days for the Vickers Vimy to get from England to Australia but it has taken eight months to get a motion heard in this house. I am not sure what that tells you.

My interest in this matter was sparked by a column by Lainie Anderson in the Sunday Mail on 7 May this year when she started talking about this with the headline 'The shame of a hidden chapter of our history,' which was in reference to the aircraft the Vickers Vimy GEAOU (or in slang, God 'Elp All of Us). It was the first aircraft to fly from England to Australia. It landed on 10 December 1919.

It is interesting that at a time when we are talking about direct flights from Perth to London in 17 hours with no stops, this aircraft took 28 days. It won the prize. It had 24 stops from the time it left until the time it got to Darwin which won the prize. It then had another 10 stops to Adelaide. At one stage it broke down near Charleville and was there for seven weeks while they manufactured a propeller in the bush to get the aircraft going again.

It was a remarkable feat of aviation, not so many years after flying commenced, if you go back to Louis Bleriot and particularly after that appalling event which we commemorate, World War I. This was the year after. In fact, Keith and Ross Smith had not seen their mother for five years because they had been away at the war and then flew this aircraft back to Australia.

My interest in this goes back quite a way. I am indebted to Mr Steven Heading, who provided me with the book on the Vickers Vimy written by Peter McMillan. More to the point, it was written on the flight in 1994 to remember this 75th anniversary. For many years, as a young man, I used to admire the plane. I have a great interest in aviation. I used to admire the Vickers Vimy aircraft at Adelaide Airport. It was highly visible in the building in the earlier days and I used to spend quite a bit of time going in and out and having a look. 

With the redevelopment of Adelaide Airport, it has become something of a hidden gem.

Indeed, aviation experts around the world cannot understand why we have this aircraft sitting there and not on display in a museum or somewhere else. Various places have been promoted. I do not want to talk long on this matter because I understand it may well get support from the other side and I would like to further it. It is just so important for Australia's history and world aviation history that this aircraft is moved to a better position. There are some issues to do with moving it, but nothing is impossible. We have the technology to send people to the moon—men to the moon, in this case—so we should be able to do something about this. 

Lainie Anderson quoted Alex Spencer from the Smithsonian in Washington, who said he considered that it is one of the most important artefacts of aviation history in the world, and we have it sitting in Adelaide down at the airport, shielded from public view to all intents and purposes, and doing nothing. 

It is also important to remember that four other planes also took part in the 1919 race to Australia. All four crashed and two of the crews were killed. The aviators, Keith and Ross Smith, had Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett with them on this trip. They were intrepid. They were less than an arm's length from the tips of the propellers. The noise must have been abysmal. They suffered full exposure to the weather, whatever the weather happened to be. It is rather different from flying in a 787 to London from Perth with wi-fi and all the comforts of home. These were great adventurers. They were particularly brave men. They were very brave men and they deserve the recognition that they got.

Some years ago—I suspect it was probably back in the sixties—there was a gentleman living at American River on Kangaroo Island called Bill Whitbur. Bill was a renowned aviation mechanic. As I recall, he actually built aircraft engines and was an engineer of all sorts of wonderful things. We live in a shrinking world. We live in a world that is changing so quickly that many of us cannot keep up with it. I am not talking about people in here. Many people are reluctant to keep up with the way the world is going, but my view is loud and clear that it would be a great move for this state to do something about this wonderful aircraft and put it into a position where it can be viewed by everybody. 

School children, wherever they go, would be able to visit it. They can go there now, I know, but it is right out of the way at Adelaide Airport. It needs a more prominent position. Suggestions were made that it could go into the terminal somewhere—I am not sure about that—or out the front in a specially sealed section. It has to be atmospherically controlled. It has to be protected from the sun. It is a very old aircraft, obviously. It is nearly 100 years since it flew out here which, in itself, is outstanding. It would be a great centenary project for South Australia. I am very bipartisan on this matter. I think it is just so important. 

commend Lainie Anderson for the work she did on this and for picking up and doing a Nuffield study on it. She will be very pleased that it finally got up. She asked me a couple of times about when it was happening and I simply said that, in the vagaries or the bizarre way that this house works from time to time, I did not even know it would get up. I am even more pleased that it has made it to the floor of the house on this second to last sitting week of the year.

Some of us in here only have three days to go; some of us know we are going and others do not know they are going but will be, I might add. I think it is something that we should deal with in a move towards ensuring our aviation history. The Vickers Vimy bomber should be properly housed for future generations to talk about and admire. They had nothing: they did not have radar; radio was embryonic, if at all; and, as I said, they had open cabins. I do not want to take any more of the house's time. I think you know where I am coming from. I urge all members to support the motion and I look forward to its speedy passage.

The Hon. P. CAICA (Colton) (12:20): I rise to announce that this side of the house will be supporting this motion. We are doing so for two specific reasons: one is that it is the right thing to do; the second is that we believe the member for Finniss needs a legacy, and this is the most important issue he has ever brought to this parliament since he has been here.

The 1919 Vickers Vimy aircraft is the historic craft piloted by the Smith Brothers, Captain Sir Ross and Lieutenant Sir Keith, in the 1919 Great Air Race to Australia. A British heavy bomber aircraft developed and manufactured by Vickers Limited, a significant British engineering company housed in Sheffield, the Vimy was developed during the later stages of the First World War to equip the Royal Air Force. The Vimy was designed by Reginald Kirshaw (Rex) Pierson, Vickers' chief designer. Reginald Pierson was responsible for the Vickers Vimy heavy bomber during World War I, and the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic non-stop. He was chief designer of the Vickers Wellington bomber of World War II.

During the interwar period between the end of the First World War (1914-18) and the beginning of the Second World War (1939-45), the Vimy set several notable records for long-distance flights. Perhaps the most celebrated and significant of these was the first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, which was performed by John Alcock and Arthur Brown in June 1919. Other record-breaking fights were flown using this type from the United Kingdom to destinations such as South Africa and Australia. 

The 1919 Great Air Race to Australia was celebrated across the globe. In March 1919, four months after the war was over, the Australian government announced that it would give a £10,000 prize for the first successful flight from England to Australia.

This was not an inconsiderable amount in that day and age. Despite the obvious dangers, as was highlighted by the member for Flinders, this appealed to some airmen not yet discharged who were awaiting repatriation home. There were plenty of war surplus aircrafts available, and six crews eventually took part; however, only two crews finished. The winning team consisted the brothers Ross and Keith Smith and their mechanics, James Bennett and Wally Shiers. They embarked from England on 12 November 1919 and reached Darwin on 10 December—an incredible journey of 28 days.

Subsequently, Both Ross and Keith were immediately knighted, whilst sergeants W.H. Shiers and J.M. Bennett, the mechanics, were commissioned and awarded bars to their Air Force medals. The amazingly engineered Vimy aircrafts continued to operate after the conflict, as late as the 1930s, in both military and civil capabilities. The aircraft used in the 1919 Great Air Race to Australia was subsequently bequeathed to the nation and is now housed at the Adelaide Airport. 

For those who remember the old airport, it is still in the same location. It was relevant at that stage because many people walked past it to access the terminal in what was an airport from a different age. Since that time, it has been housed in the same location and I doubt whether too many people say hello to it or go to look at it, or indeed even know it is there. The aircraft, its associated artefacts and the memorial building in which it is housed are subject to the Vickers Vimy aircraft housing and display agreement of 17 March 1998 between the commonwealth government and Adelaide Airport Limited.

I just want to stop here if I can and just mention—because I know no-one will mind this—another great supporter of this aircraft and a supporter of it being relocated to another more appropriate location is the federal member for Hindmarsh, Steve Georganas, who has a very close relationship with Adelaide Airport Limited and has worked very hard on behalf of the constituents on issues that are associated with that. He certainly comes into the fray with respect to what is an appropriate location for this very important plane to be housed. 

For the information of the chamber, Steve has written many letters on behalf of his constituents, as have I, and I believe the member for Ashford certainly has done the same. The state Minister for Veterans' Affairs recently indicated his support to the member for Ashford in response to a constituent email. So there has been widespread support across all spheres of government and bipartisan support across the chamber for this particular issue to be resolved. 

I am pleased to advise that the aircraft is being well maintained and that the Adelaide Airport Master Plan 2014 states that the historic aircraft is currently housed in a purpose-built, climate-controlled facility on Adelaide Airport land, which we know and which I have mentioned, and that Adelaide Airport Limited will continue to ensure that it is routinely monitored, maintained and restored in accordance with the commonwealth requirements with its relocation elsewhere on the airport site under very serious consideration.

The masterplan also outlines that when the Vickers Vimy aircraft is moved to its new location, its relocation will require a suitable environmentally-controlled facility to control light, humidity and temperature, as a prerequisite, and will be subject to specialist engineering advice, as was highlighted by the member for Finniss. 

I have been advised that at a planning coordination forum held on 11 May 2017, which are consultation forums required by the commonwealth involving state and local governments, the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure was advised that Adelaide Airport is considering potential options for the relocation of the aircraft to within the airport terminal building or a proposed future expansion of the building, which anyone who has been down to the airport can see is well and truly underway.

I will get back to where I started. I support the member for Finniss's motion. This will be his legacy and I trust that should AAL's plans eventuate, it will enable in excess of 8 million passengers annually, excluding visitors and greeters, the opportunity to view this wonderful piece of aviation and Australian history. I commend the motion to the house.

The Hon. T.R. KENYON (Newland) (12:27): I will speak very briefly but fully in support of the motion moved by the member Finniss. It is an extraordinary tale, the tale of the first-ever flight from England to Australia in that particular aircraft, the Vickers Vimy.

Incidentally, the only Vimy ever to enter service in the RAAF was this particular one as it registered as A5-1. The flight itself was absolutely astounding, as the member for Finniss has outlined, such a short time after the first flight.

Mr Pengilly interjecting:

The Hon. T.R. KENYON: The member Finniss alleges that he was not born at that particular time but, because it was such a long time ago, records are very sketchy, so we cannot confirm or deny that. It was an epic flight all the way from England to Australia, just 16 years after the first flight, which, members might recall, lasted a matter of seconds. Off the top of my head, I think the Wright Brothers' first flight lasted 12 seconds.

To go from a 12-second first flight and in 16 years be flying in under 28 days from England to Australia is quite an extraordinary feat. I think their journey from England to Australia was 17,000 or nearly 18,000 kilometres. The obviously rudimentary navigational tools were I think just a compass and maybe a sextant. It would have been very hard to navigate and done basically by dead reckoning. The proof of their ability to navigate was actually overflying HMAS Sydney, which was located between Indonesia and Australia and it was in the event that they had to ditch into the sea. It was the longest overseas section of their flight. In the event that they had to ditch into the sea, the government posted HMAS Sydney in that location. 

The Smith brothers and the rest of the crew (Sergeant Bennett and Sergeant Shiers) were so good in their navigation that they flew right over the top of HMAS Sydney and dropped a message to the captain in a pickle jar. Given such rudimentary instrumentation, just the navigation itself is an amazing feat, let alone the mechanical ability of keeping what is now considered a comparatively fragile aircraft in the air over such a long distance. In fact, one of the engines blew up on arrival in Australia. It actually took longer to fly from Darwin to Sydney than it did to fly from London to Darwin because of the repairs they had to make: one to the propeller and one to the engine, and I think the engine repair took 50 days.

It was a remarkable feat, an incredible piece of Australian aviation history and a globally significant piece of aviation history. I am very pleased that it is maintained by the Airport in very good condition, but I would dearly love to see it in a far more prominent position.


The Hon. T.R. KENYON: Civic Park at Tea Tree Gully has been suggested by Madam Deputy Speaker. While that would be very pleasing to me personally, I do not think that is the ideal spot for it on account of the fact that it is so important to the state that it should be in a place where as many people as possible can see it, and the Airport is the ideal place. Personally, I would like to see it inside the terminal, perhaps just outside where you walk through security so that, as you walk through security, you are confronted with
what is a relatively large aircraft, especially for its time.

I do not know if that is possible, given that it is such an old aircraft now. The requirements to keep it in good condition might be such that it needs its own enclosure. I am certainly very keen for that to happen and to make it a far more available piece of history. I remember that, as a child, every time we went to the Airport, usually to pick up my grandmother, we made a point of visiting the aircraft. I think often I was more excited to see the aircraft than I was to see my grandmother, but that may have something to do with her trying to force-feed me extract of malt.

As I said, it is an amazing piece of history, and I absolutely support it being moved to an appropriate position. I commend the member for Finniss for bringing this motion before the house.

Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (12:32): I rise to support the member for Finniss in his motion: 
That this house 

urges the state government work to secure the future of the Vickers Vimy aircraft and other associated memorabilia contained at Adelaide Airport to work towards placing it on a site that is more publicly accessible and in an optimum environment for its survival in the future.

I congratulate the member for Finniss on bringing this motion and compliment him on his patience. It is some eight months since the motion was first moved, and it has taken all that time to get to the debate. I appreciate and acknowledge the support this motion has received from both sides of this chamber.

It is really important to recognise the important things in our short history in this country, and the Vickers Vimy that is currently situated at Adelaide Airport, albeit hidden away, is one of those. The Vickers Vimy was a heavy bomber that was developed in the later stages of World War I. It flew very few operational flights because, of course, once it was developed the war was virtually over. It really hit its straps through the 1920s and was a big part of the Royal Air Force during that time. It was developed in an attempt to break the stalemate that had emerged on the western front in the trench warfare in the second half of World War I.

As I said, it was not much used, but it certainly was intended for use as a bomber, and technology was moving very quickly in those days. Apart from the fact that the first bombs were dropped over the side by the navigator, things moved very quickly. It was powered by twin 360-horsepower Rolls-Royce engines and had a maximum speed of 100 mph. I know cars that will go quicker than that. 

The Hon. P. Caica interjecting:

Mr TRELOAR: I knew, member for Colton, that you would come in with something. I could not resist, especially on a Thursday morning.  It was quite an extraordinary aircraft in its  day. As other members have said, it set a number of long-distance flights, including being the first aeroplane to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean. The one at Adelaide Airport became famous because it was flown in 1919 from England to Australia over 28 days with 24 stops. I understand that its longest stop was for repairs in Australia.

A prize of £10,000 was issued for the first flight from England to Australia. Of course, it is history and it has gone into folklore that brothers Ross and Keith Smith were able to claim that prize. Others entered, and some crashed along the way; some were killed. Ross and Keith arrived safely, from that expedition at least, claimed the prize and became famous as a result. They were knighted and became Sir Ross Smith and Sir Keith Smith.

The fascination for biplanes continues. These days, people love to go and see old aircraft. Given that in two years' time it will be the centenary of that flight from England to Australia, wouldn't it be nice to find a permanent and suitable home, one where people can visit it and see it? I know reasonably well a young man by the name of Michael Crettenden, who is a crop duster by trade these days and also a firebomber. He cut his teeth as a very young pilot of 19 years of age flying tourists in a biplane, a Tiger Moth in Victoria, so I know he would have great interest in this.

I think it is important, as I said earlier, to value those things that are of historical importance to us; the Vickers Vimy aircraft at Adelaide Airport is one of them. Another one that comes to mind is the Tacoma fishing vessel. I would put that in the same—

Mr Pengilly: Owned by the Haldanes.

Mr TRELOAR: Owned by the Haldane family. It was the precursor to the modern tuna  industry, and I would put it in the same category as this. Ultimately, I hope that we can find permanent homes for both these craft.  

I recommend the motion, support the motion and wish it well. I am sure that, eventually, as a result of this motion no doubt, the government will be urged to find a home for this. I just hope that, in the design of wherever it is that they find a place for this at Adelaide Airport, they do not have the same person responsible for it as the one who designed the drop-off and pickup point there. As a weekly user of it, I can tell you, Deputy Speaker, it is a shemozzle and it is going to get worse. As air traffic into Adelaide Airport increases, that is going to get worse. That is another story, but it is the bane of my life and that of many others who use Adelaide Airport.

I look forward to seeing this in its own space and being accessible to the public. As I said, I really treasure this part of our Australian history.

Mr PENGILLY (Finniss) (12:38): I thank everybody in the house who has spoken on this motion. I am very grateful for the support from both sides of the house. It is an important issue. Where this goes, I am not quite sure, but we will wait and see; we will persevere with it. The member for Flinders and I fly regularly back and forth for parliamentary sitting weeks (I go by ferry sometimes), and I know that the member for Mount Gambier and I are quite often at the Airport, so I guess you would call us frequent flyers. With the very best intent, we do not do long hauls like some members of this place do on pretty regular occasions. It is a critical part of our aviation history.

will be talking to my good friend Pat Crowther, who flies for Aerotech and is fascinated with aviation. He is quite an outstanding pilot, and he is one of the pilots who operate the water bombers during the summer. I am sure that the gentleman the member for Flinders referred to may also—I do not know. 

am pleased to get this off the ground—that is probably the wrong terminology. I am pleased to get the motion up in the house. It may well be the last time I have a win in this house before I depart, so I am very pleased and I thank everyone for their support. I look forward to the vote. 


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