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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 652

Mr RAGUSE (12:23 PM) —I rise to speak on the Aviation Legislation Amendment (2008 Measures No. 2) Bill 2008. With the time limited today I will not talk at length about the amendments and what they mean, but I want to bring to the attention of this chamber a significant event that happened in the electorate of Forde in 1937. It was one of the very earliest aviation crashes or disasters and is better known as the Stinson crash, which gained worldwide notoriety because of the actions that led up to that crash. This happened just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, so aviation as an industry and Australia’s role in aviation were more limited than what they became as part of our war effort. The Stinson crash was well known for a range of reasons. Certainly it was a significant air crash and there was the fact that it just went missing. The coronial inquiry and the inquest raised a number of points, and I am going to read the final outcome of that coronial inquiry and the suggestions that came out of that particular document—points not unlike, in a modern form, some of the discussion we have had today about the amendments to try to improve not only security but also safety measures in terms of airline travel, aircraft and the aviation industry generally.

In those days the Stinson aircraft was on a regular air route between Brisbane and Sydney, and of course it was fairly expensive to travel at that time. The coroner’s outcome talks about the modern form of travel, given that the airline industry globally was probably only around 30 years old. At that time major advances had occurred in terms of the comfort and design of the aircraft. In terms of safety, the aviation industry has always been very safe, especially because of incidences like this that occurred in 1937. The story is that the plane disappeared somewhere between Brisbane and Sydney, and eyewitnesses on the ground during a rain event—a storm—heard the plane, as they did on many occasions. In fact, they used to almost set their watches by the sound of the aircraft coming over. These days we hear aircraft or see aircraft and it does not take much of our attention, but in 1937 something like an aircraft flying over was quite an event. For the farmers in the Beaudesert district towards the border ranges, in that rural part of my electorate, it became a regular event. On this particular day the plane engines were heard in one locality but certainly not further south and it was believed that this crash had occurred somewhere in the McPherson—the border—Ranges.

If members know the story, for about nine days there was no knowledge of what had happened to this aircraft. However, one man thought he knew—that is, Bernard O’Reilly from the now famous O’Reilly’s guesthouse on Green Mountain. The O’Reilly family were an Irish migrant family of dairy farmers farming the area—and one has to wonder why anyone would farm on top of a mountain with all of the difficulties that that would pose. Today, the famous O’Reilly’s guesthouse is a place that people regularly attend. Being a good mountaineer, Bernard O’Reilly believed that he knew what had happened to the Stinson and went off in search of it. From the top of one mountain he looked across into the valley and saw a small burnt-out patch and realised that that was probably where the aircraft was located. As I said, it was a world event; it made world news. Of course, everyone converged on the area, with Beaudesert set up as the site from where they would go to find out what had happened to the aircraft.

Ultimately, Bernard O’Reilly climbed up to the crash site and came across the only two survivors out of the seven on board. They informed him that a fellow called James Westray had gone seeking help. He was a mountaineer from Scotland who decided to very cleverly travel down to the bottom of the valley and along the river. However, he had not come out the other side so Bernard O’Reilly went looking for Westray and found him dead on the side of the river. He had had a fall, broken his ankle and must have had other internal injuries. It was a sad tragedy which resulted in a better understanding of the need for more safety controls in aircraft. It was a major catalyst, in fact, in getting proper radio control within aircraft.

In closing, I want to very briefly read from the coroner’s final report:

The inquest is closed. The Coroners Act does not empower me to make any findings. I think, however, that this inquest, the importance of which is emphasised by the serious loss of life which created the need for holding it, can scarcely be allowed to end on such a formal decision. Without, I hope, exceeding the bounds of my coronial limitations, I express the opinion that the evidence which has been given in open court—if studied by the authorities closely concerned with ensuring the safety of aerial passenger traffic and by the public, or perhaps, to be exact, by that section of it interested in such means of modern transport—will be found to furnish material from which it should be possible to draw sound and base conclusions pointing to the pressing need for improved methods of ground organisation, centralised control and supervision at the aerodrome of pilots and their duties, the supply of up-to-minute weather reports on air routes, the establishment of reporting stations and the utilisation to the fullest extent of radio aids. Tragic fatalities should not be awaited to provide generating reasons for the institution of improvements to the safeguard of human life. Incidentally, it is just that I should mention that evidence tendered in summary of the achievement of the company which carries on the service in which the crash occurred indicates that, under existing flying conditions, it has a very good, comforting record.

That is signed on 16 April 1937 by the coroner. That is a very interesting document, and the evidence that was collected through that inquiry is largely why today we have safety measures in place and why we as a government are now making amendments to ensure that we continually look after the aviation industry.

Debate (on motion by Mr Melham) adjourned.