Nancy-Bird Walton, Jean Batten, Captain Charles Ulm, Captain Les Holden – the list of pilots who used the Old Bar Airstrip is a who’s who of aviation pioneers.1 The airstrip was created around 1928 by George Bunyan who was the caretaker of Old Bar Reserve.2 Initially it provided Bunyan with extra revenue but it soon became an important landing ground when it was declared an ‘aerodrome’ by the Defence Department in November 1930.3 Almost in celebration, the Bunyans hosted an historic air pageant weeks later with flying exhibitions, daring parachute drops and joy rides by well-known pilots.4
The aerodrome played a vital role in the development of Australia’s air mail and aerial passenger services. The New England Airway operated a bi-weekly service between Brisbane and Sydney with Old Bar being one of the stops.5
Several major air searches were based from the Old Bar Airstrip in the 1930s including the search for two actors, Brian Abbott and Leslie Hay Simpson, who were sailing to the mainland from Lord Howe Island after filming, never to be seen again.6 Similarly a Stinson Airliner carrying mail and passengers went missing on a flight between Brisbane and Sydney. After days of searching it was presumed lost, until Bernard O’Reilly of the Lamington Guest House went looking and found the plane and two survivors 10 days later.7
The Royal Australian Air Force used the airstrip for refuelling in the late 1930s and as a base for coastal mapping and surveying during WWII.8 The usefulness of the airfield waned in the 1940s as plans for a new airfield at Cundle were made.9 In 1995 the Greater Taree City Council closed the airfield by removing the runway markers and windsock. However, in 2000 the airstrip received NSW State Heritage listing and is now used by recreational pilots. ‘The airstrip is a rare example of an intact aerodrome with direct links to the earliest days of Australian aviation.’10
Author: Janine Roberts
Nancy-Bird Walton: https://midcoaststories.com/2018/06/nancy-bird-walton-1915-2009/
Jean Batten: A New Zealand aviator who made record-breaking solo flights across the world including the first ever solo flight from England to NZ in 1936.
Captain Charles Ulm: Co-pilot with Charles Kingsford Smith on many famous flights including in 1928 the first crossing of the Pacific in the Southern Cross.
Captain Les Holden: Australian fighter ace in WWI who was awarded the Military Cross. He became a commercial aviator after the war and was the person who located Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm in the Australian desert after they went missing on a flight to England in the Southern Cross in 1929.
1 Northern Champion, 19 November 1930, 3; Manning River Times and Advocate for the Northern Coast Districts of NSW, 6 January 1934, 6; Newcastle Sun, 24 February 1937, 7.
2 Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer, 6 July 1928, 4.
3 MRT, 4 December 1929, 4; NC, 8 November 1930, 4.
4 MRT, 12 November 1930, 3.
5 Northern Star, 6 July 1931, 6.
6 Daily Telegraph, 16 October 1936, 2.
7 Newcastle Sun, 20 February 1937, 1; Barrier Miner, 1 March 1937, 1.
8 Northern Champion, 27 August 1938, 1; MRT, 5 April 1941, 5.
9 Gloucester Advocate, 6 February 1948, 1.
10 National Trust of Australia (NSW), 1998, https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5014216