Drain Plane – District Park Aerodrome

Over the years, I have seen some strange things in the concrete stormwater drains that traverse our suburbs, but nothing compared to what the residents of Broadmeadow witnessed 75 years ago.

At that time, the area now occupied by Hunter Stadium and the Harness Racing Club was an aerodrome. The government had reserved the land for aviation purposes in 1923, but it was little used until the formation of the Newcastle Aero Club in 1928. In 1939, with the outbreak of world, the club’s aircraft were used by the R.A.A.F for training purposes, while a new military airfield was being constructed at Williamtown.

On 10 August 1944 Broadmeadow received an unscheduled military visitor, as the newspaper reported the following day …

Forced down in a storm, a D.C. 47 Army transport plane, with 25 men on board, skidded 200 yards on a wet runway, hurtled through a fence and then crashed into a stormwater channel at Broadmeadow aerodrome. The pilot (broken nose) and radio operator (head injuries) were the only people hurt, although all the others sustained a severe shaking.
In addition to the crew of four, the transport carried 21 members of United States bombing crews coming to Sydney on furlough. North of Newcastle the transport ran into the storm, and the pilot decided to attempt a landing at Broadmeadow. When he put down he was unable to control the plane on the wet runway. As it neared the channel, the plane slewed and it went in, nose first.

The accident was the seventh in two years involving the storm water channel, and this highlighted the unsuitability of the site as an airfield. After the war, commercial aviation commenced at Williamtown in 1947, and in 1961, the Aero Club moved to Rutherford. District Park reverted to its original purpose of public recreation, and the roar of aeroplane engines was replaced by the roar of sports fans.

The article above was first published in the August 2019 edition of The Local.

Sightseers crowd around the Douglas 47 aircraft crashed in the stormwater drain at Broadmeadow in August 1944. From the archives of the Royal Newcastle Aero Cub.
The same location, August 2019

Additional information

I have previously written two blog posts on this air accident.

Although the area on the Broadmeadow flats wasn’t officially reserved for aviation purposes until 1923, pilots were using the ground well before that time. In April 1914 the Newcastle Morning Herald reported on the aviation display of Frenchman Monsieur Guillaux …

M. Guillaux’s aeroplane arrived at Broadmeadow yesterday, and is now safely housed in the pavilion on the Show Ground, ready for to-morrow’s performance. A great many people are under the impression that a full view of this world-renowned airman’s feats will be visible from the outside, but it is announced that all the daring somersaults, upsidedown turning, looping the loop, gliding, posing, as the great eagle in mid air, will be done within the enclosure, and not high enough for outsiders to see. Monsieur Guillaux is determined to give a greater and more daring exhibition than has been his lot to perform, and more so in honour of the fact that Newcastle is the first city In Australia that he is giving a public performance in.

An area for aviation in District Park was officially gazetted on 25 May 1923. A map of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve retrieved the Historical Lands Record Viewer, shows that the aerodrome area was officially gazetted or notified on 25 May 1923.

A map of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve retrieved the Historical Lands Record Viewer, shows that the aerodrome area to the north of the storm water drain.

A map from a land sale poster in 1923 shows an area of the Broadmeadow flat marked as “Public Recreation & Aviation Grounds”. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Although it was officially reserved for aviation in 1923, the ground seems to have been little developed and little used until October 1928 when the local councils began to discuss definite proposals for the development of an aerodrome. In October 1928 the Newcastle Aero Club was formed. Initially they used an aerodrome constructed on Walsh Island in 1929, and the club spent “thousands of pounds” constructing facilities at Walsh Island. However in October 1933, the club obtained a 14 year lease of the District Park aerodrome in Broadmeadow, and the Walsh Island aerodrome appears to have fallen into disuse.

Just weeks after the outbreak of World War 2, the Minister for Civil Aviation announced on 13 Sep 1939 that Williamtown had been decided as the site for a new military aerodrome, and that construction “would begin next week or the following week, and would be carried out as rapidly as possible.”

While the Williamtown airport was being constructed, the R.A.A.F. used the Newcastle Aero Clubs planes at the Broadmeadow aerodrome for training. The R.A.A.F. air base at Williamtown commenced operations on 15 February 1941.

R.A.A.F. Training planes at the Broadmeadow aerodrome, Newcastle Morning Herald, 28 June 1940.

During the war, the Broadmeadow aerodrome continued to be used and a number of accidents occurred during this time.

Photograph of the crashed Douglas C47 transport plane, from the Newcastle Morning Herald, 12 September 1944. New Lambton can be seen in the background.

One humorous side note to the August 1994 crash of the C47 Douglas plane, is that a life size painting of a nude girl on the plane attracted thousands of sightseers. Candice Campbell posting on her Flickr account wrote …

While looking in the store room [of the Royal Newcastle Aero Club] I found a poster with these images and a little bit of amusing info. Apparently on the nose, she had a naked pin up girl painted. After she crashed, the police came along and painted pants on the girl because they thought the public would be offended. I had a look at the image I found of the nose art after the police “attacked” it and it looks pretty funny. You have this beautiful woman, with these horrid pants on…

Towards the end of the war there were discussions whether the aerodrome at Broadmeadow should be expanded or a new aerodrome constructed at Sandgate. Neither of these eventuated, instead in 1947 the military airport at Williamtown opened to civilian traffic for charter flights. Scheduled commercial flights at Williamtown commenced on 20 February 1948.

In 1961 the Royal Newcastle Aero Club was given notice by the Department of Civil Aviation to cease operations at the field at Broadmeadow, and the club moved to Rutherford near Maitland.

In 1969 a sports ground and grandstand was constructed on the Broadmeadow aerodrome site. What is now McDonald Jones Stadium (or Hunter Stadium) was originally known as the International Sports Centre, and was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 10 April 1970.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
24 Apr 1914"M. Guillaux's aeroplane arrived at Broadmeadow yesterday, and is now safely housed in the pavilion on the Show Ground, ready for to-morrow's performance."
23 Feb 1921"One of the pilots of the Orva Aviation Company will to-day and each day this week make flights from a ground opposite the Showground at Broadmeadow."
7 Feb 1922"The corner of District Park, where the Wallsend and Waratah tram lines junction, has been decided on as a suitable site for the aerodrome for Newcastle." (Note that this describes the south eastern corner of District Park, however the eventual site chosen was the north western corner.)
19 Apr 1922"Negotiations have been continued for the establishment of an aerodrome at Newcastle. The Department of Defence, Melbourne, has requested the trustees of the District Park at Broadmeadow to grant a lease of the park at the earliest possible date."
25 May 1923Gazetting of 52 acres of District Park "for public recreation and aviation purposes."
6 Jun 1925Airways Ltd advertising flights "from the Govt aerodrome, District Park, Broadmeadow."
2 Oct 1928"To discuss definite proposals for making part of District Park suitable for an aeroplane landing ground, a conference of district councils and the park's trustees is to be called by the Acting Mayor of Newcastle."
12 Oct 1928
11 Oct 1928
Inaugural meeting of the Newcastle Aero Club, held in the Newcastle Council chambers.
30 Jan 1929
29 Jan 1929
Charles Kingsford Smith, in his Southern Cross airplane, lands at the District Park aerodrome, on his visit to Newcastle to inspect potential aerodrome sites for his airline.
10 Aug 1929Construction of an aerodrome on Walsh Island is progressing. Newcastle Aero club asking permission to use the aerordrome.
25 Oct 1933Fifty two acres of District Park leased to the Newcastle Aero Club for a period of 14 years.
15 Sep 1939Military aerodrome to be sited at Williamtown, with construction work to start immediately.
28 Jun 1940"TRAINING PLANES for the R.A.A.F. Newcastle Aero Club's training planes shown assembled at the Newcastle Aerodrome. The 13 planes were photographed in front of the hangar."
11 Aug 1944
10 Aug 1944
Crash of a Douglas C47 transport plane at Broadmeadow, reported in the Newcastle Morning Herald.
11 Aug 1944
10 Aug 1944
Crash of a Douglas C47 transport plane at Broadmeadow, reported in the "News" of Adelaide.
11 Aug 1944
10 Aug 1944
"The crashing yesterday at District Park aerodrome of an American Army Douglas transport plane has given impetus to the agitation to have the aerodrome improved. In the last two years, seven planes have crashed, either on the aerodrome or through unsuccessful attempts to land there - five of them within the last nine months."
22 Aug 1944"A life-size study in color of a nude girl painted on a crashed plane at Broadmeadow aerodrome is attracting thousands of sightseers every day."
23 Apr 1945Discussion on whether the aerodrome at Broadmeadow should be enlarged, or a new aerodrome constructed at Sandgate.

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