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Community Building

Throughout rural and regional Australia there are numerous monuments, memorials and museums that recognise the role of civil aviation in regional development in the twentieth century. Many individuals are remembered for building aerial networks which contributed to developing or sustaining communities of producers, country towns or remote settlements.

Edward John (‘Eddie’) Connellan, for example, gained a pilot’s licence on 8 July 1936. He wrote ‘Notes on Proposals for Aerial freight Transport in Australia’ in October 1937. And in the following year he flew two aerial surveys of the Northern Territory which had been backed by a group of pastoralists. In the Northern Territory, which became his home, he started a medical flight for the Royal Flying Doctor Service on 11 July 1939 and an official mail run in August that year. His business, Survey and Inland Transport, was registered as Connellan Airways in July 1943. It eventually became a regional airline in September 1977.[i]

Vehicles outside Coober Pedy airport, South Australia, 1970 (Photograph Jeff Carter)

Regional civil aviation, however, has been in decline since the rural recession of the 1970s.[ii] Lacking capital, Connellan  Airways was sold to East-West Airways in 1980. This Airline, founded in 1947 and based at Tamworth, was then the third largest domestic Australian airline. It ceased operations in October 1993. Between 1984 and 2005, the number of regional airports being serviced by airlines declined from 278 to 170.[iii]

The trend is continuing. In 2013 both Aeropelican, established in 1968 and headquartered at Newcastle, and Brindabella, which began operation from Canberra International Airport in 1994, collapsed.  Passenger movements, however, jumped from 8.5 to 17.5 million between 1984 and 2005.[iv] The rise of FIFO – fly in/fly out – associated with mining in remote and regional Australia since the early 1990s, mainly in Western Australia and Queensland – has also had both negative and positive impacts on communities.[v]

Heritage Sources

The recognition of the importance of civil aviation in regional Australia is reflected in the numerous museums, memorials and monuments that can be found in towns and regional centres in Australia.

Regional museums, such as the Central Australian Aviation Museum (CAAM) in the Northern Territory, tell the story of aviation from a local perspective. A major focus at CAAM is Edward John Conellan, who started Conellan Airways, and the museum is housed in Conellan’s original hangar[vi]. Further material relating to Conellan Airways can be found in the National Archives of Australia (NAA). The Sir Reginald Ansett Transport Museum honours Ansett’s contribution to aviation and also to the community in Hamilton, Victoria.  An Avro Anson aircraft formerly operated by another regional airline, East West, is displayed in a special hangar at Tamworth, NSW. Another significant museum dealing with the regional aviation story is the Butler Air Transport Museum (BATM) in Tooraweenah, NSW.  This organisation covers the contribution of Cecil Arthur Butler to the region, serving country communities in NSW and Queensland.

Community building is also represented in the collections of major institutions. The National Museum of Australia (NMA) holds material such as the Australia Post collection relating to airmail, including examples of the rough canvas bags used for delivery. The NMA also holds material relating to regional airlines such as Ansett and East West Airlines.

Connellan Hangar (Australian Heritage Database)

Figure 5: 50th Anniversary mail bag (National Museum of Australia)

Museums, Collections & Archives

National Archives Australia, ACT

Documents, photographs and archival material regarding regional airlines and communities such as documents and plans regarding regional aviation from the Department of Civil Aviation.

National Film Sound Archive, ACT

Audio visual material regarding regional aviation which includes television and film material of airlines such as MacRobertson Miller Airlines and Ansett.

National Library of Australia, ACT

Documents, books, archival material and photographs regarding numerous regional airlines such material regarding Ansett, REX Airlines and regional airports such as Wagga Wagga.

National Museum of Australia, ACT

Airmail canvas bags in the Australia Post Historical Collection. Collection of material from Ansett and Eat West Airlines.

Butler Air Transport Museum Tooraweenah NSW

Butler Air Transport was an important regional air service in NSW servicing regional centres in NSW and Queensland as an air mail carrier and a civil transport airline.

Narromine Aviation Museum, NSW

A regional centre and major air-hub since the early 20th century.

The Qantas Heritage Collection, NSW

Chronicles the history of Qantas which includes times tables, maps and early memorabilia.

Central Australian Aviation Museum, NT

Museum is located Connellan’s original hangar. EJ Connellan established the Northern Territory’s first aerodrome and subsequent airline services the regional areas through delivery or airmail and supplies and also as the carrier for the Royal Flying Doctors Service.

Royal Flying Doctor's Service, Alice Springs Tourist Facility, NT

A major organisation that connected regional communities through the delivery of medical services. The facility at Alice Springs features material relating to its formation and history.

Royal Flying Doctor's Service, Alice Springs Tourist Facility, NT

Museum devoted to Qantas and its development. Has material relating to Qantas’ early years servicing regional Queensland through airmail services and the first inaugural flight of the RFDS.

Queensland Museum Network, QLD

Has the first airmail carrier bag used in Australia and the Thomas McLeod Queensland Aviation Collection.

State Library of Queensland, QLD

Reports, documents and photographs relating to regional airlines and communities such as studies on regional aviation and networks.

Museums Victoria, VIC

Material such as photographs and advertising material from regional airlines and communities.

Sir Reginald Ansett Transport Museum, VIC

Museum devoted to Ansett and its founder which has a great impact on Hamilton and the region in its early days. Has memorabilia, records and aircraft from the early days of Ansett.


Arthur Butler Memorial Aerodrome, Aerodrome Road, Tooraweenah, NSW

Aerodrome commemorating Arthur Butler a pioneer aviation.

Butler Airlines Hangar (Former), Warren Road, Gilgandra, NSW

First hangar used by Butler Airlines, a significant airline in regional New South Wales.

QANTAS Hangar Longreach, Landsborough Hwy, Longreach, QLD

The site of Qantas’s first hangar. Currently on the National Heritage List and is leased by QFOM.

Ansett's First Hangar, Ballarat Road HAMILTON, Southern Grampians Shire, VIC

Hangar where Sir Reginald Ansett started his transport company which was important to the development of Hamilton as an aviation hub.

Reg Ansett's House, 12 Learmonth Street HAMILTON, Southern Grampians Shire, VIC

Built in the 1920s, it was the home of Sir Reginald Ansett during the period where he started his transport company.

People & Organisations

Cecil Arthur Butler

A significant figure in regional NSW as an aviation pioneer and the development of an airline that serviced the regional areas. Material regarding C.A Butler can be found in numerous museums and site such as the Butler Transport Museums, aerodromes and hangar. 

Edward John Conellan

An important figure in the Northern Territory as an aviation pioneer and connecting the regional communities through his airline. Material regarding Connellan can be found in the NAA, NT Library and at the Central Australian Aviation Museum which is also the site of his first hangar.

Sir Reginald Ansett

Well regarded as an aviation pioneer and in regional Victoria especially Hamilton where the Ansett transport company has contributed to the development of the town. Material regarding Ansett and his airline can be found in many major collecting institutes such as the NMA, NAA, and NLA and in small museums such as the Sir Reginald Ansett Transport Museum.

Hudson Fysh, Paul McGinness and Fergus McMaster

Founders of one of the oldest airlines in Australia, material regarding the founder are well documented in museums and collections such as the Qantas Heritage Collections in Sydney and Qantas Founders Outback Museum. Material can also be found in most major collecting institutions such as AWM, NMA, NLA, NAA and state museums, libraries and archives.

[i] Peter Donovan, ‘Connellan, Edward John (Eddie) (1912-1983)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 17, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2007; Connellan Airways Trust, ‘History of Connellan Airways Trust’, http://www.connellanairwaystrust.org.au/history.php accessed 26 February 2014.

[ii] See Paul Ashton with Kate Blackmore, On the Land: A Photographic History of Farming in Australia, Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, 1987, p172.

[iii] Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, Air transport services in regional Australia: trends and access, the Bureau, Canberra, 2008, pxxii.

[iv] ibid.

[v] R. Morris, Impact of Fly-In Fly-Out/ Drive-in Drive-Out Work Practices on Local Government, Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government, University of Technology, Sydney, 2012.

[vi] Department of the Environment, 1991, Australian Heritage Database: Connellan Hangar, accessed < http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/ahdb/search.pl?mode=place_detail;search=keyword%3Dhangar%3Bkeyword_PD%3Don%3Bkeyword_SS%3Don%3Bkeyword_PH%3Don%3Blatitude_1dir%3DS%3Blongitude_1dir%3DE%3Blongitude_2dir%3DE%3Blatitude_2dir%3DS%3Bin_region%3Dpart;place_id=16403 >