Short Empire Flying Boat Cooee at Rose Bay 5 July 1939, courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (ON 388/Box 035/Item 119, ACP Magazines)

Short Empire Flying Boat Cooee at Rose Bay 5 July 1939, courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (ON 388/Box 035/Item 119, ACP Magazines)

With a second Sydney airport now underway, it is worth remembering that between 1937 and 1955 Sydney had two international airports: one at Mascot and the other less than 6km from Circular Quay at Rose Bay.

Listen to the whole conversation with Mark and Tess on 2SER here

In the mid-1930s Australia signed up to the Empire Air Mail Scheme to take mail from Sydney to England by flying boat.

With commercial air travel to Australia in its infancy (the first regular service only starting in 1933), the flying boats were to be operated as a joint venture between Qantas and Imperial Airways, then England’s largest airline. Qantas would fly Sydney to Singapore via Brisbane, Gladstone, Darwin and Indonesia, after which Imperial Airways would take them on to Southampton via Thailand, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Libya and France. Set downs included the Sea of Galilee and a lake in central Iran.

A terminal was built on the shores of Rose Bay through 1936, with moorings for the flying boats, a terminal for passengers, a hanger for the planes and slipways to get them in and out of the harbour. As it was a joint Australia-England venture, the planes were sourced from the English Short Brothers factory. Six flying boats were built by Short Brothers for the run – Coolangatta, Cooee, Carpentaria, Corio, Coogee and Coorong. These flying boats were big enough and powerful enough to cover distance with plenty of room for passenger comfort.

The first through service from Sydney to Southampton left Rose Bay on 5 July 1938. The Cooee flew a first class service with 30 stops between Sydney and London. The official opening of the terminal and the regular service followed on 4 August.

The Home, August 1938, p29

Comfort in Overseas Air Travel, The Home, August 1938, p29

The flying boats took 15 passengers, two pilots and three crew. Food was prepared in a galley on board, a promenade deck allowed passengers to stretch their legs, have a drink or even play quoits or putt golf (according to the brochure). Breakfast and lunch were served on board, while passengers were accommodated in first class hotels at the end of each flying day.

The first flights took ten days one-way. It was pricey, with tickets costing £205 Sydney–London; less for shorter distances. At a time when the average wage was £3 per week, it was well beyond the reach of most people. A second service between Sydney and Auckland started in 1940, with South Pacific runs and Timor flights (using Catalinas) soon following.

The outbreak of war in Europe meant the re-routing of flights, but war in Asia from 1941 saw the service suspended. Flights were now in the frontline and involved evacuating civilians out of Asia in advance of the Japanese invasion (about 8,000 out of Singapore alone). In January 1942 the flying boat Corio was shot down and in March 1942 the service was stopped.

With the end of war, the civilian flying boats restarted but were now in competition with long range land based planes, including many former WWII bombers. Using former military Catalina’s the flying boat service now took 5 ½ days to England, with new routes opening to Noumea and Fiji.

In 1955 Qantas discontinued the flying boat service, selling its aircraft to Ansett Airways. Ansett continued to fly to the South Pacific until the last flights to Norfolk Island and Lord Howe left Rose Bay in 1974. These were not only the last for Sydney but the last flying boat service in the world.

Soon after the terminal and the infrastructure was removed. Today Rose Bay’s Catalina restaurant serves as a hint of what had once been Sydney’s premier international airport.

You can read more in Kim Hanna’s entry on Rose Bay Airport on the Dictionary here: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/rose_bay_airport

2SER are proud to present ’40 Years of 2SER’, an interactive exhibition exploring the stations four decades of broadcast. Our ’40 Years of 2SER’ exhibition will be hosted at 107 Projects in Redfern from the 10th – 20th of October and is free for the public to enjoy.

2SER is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary this month. ’40 Years of 2SER’, a free interactive exhibition exploring the stations four decades of broadcast will be on at 107 Projects in Redfern from the 10 – 20 October. Head to the 2SER website for further details about the anniversary and the exhibition .

Mark Dunn is the former Chair of the NSW Professional Historians Association and former Deputy Chair of the Heritage Council of NSW. He is currently a Visiting Scholar at the State Library of NSW. You can read more of his work on the Dictionary of Sydney here. Mark appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Mark!

 

Listen to the audio of Mark & Tess here, and tune in to 2SER Breakfast with Tess Connery on 107.3 every Wednesday morning at 8:15 to hear more from the Dictionary of Sydney.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visit the State Library of New South Wales on Saturday 12 October 2019, 10 am to 4 pm, to take part in the Open Day activities. Click through for the program of events.

Visit the State Library of New South Wales for the 2019 Open Day on Saturday 12 October and enjoy a full day of fun activities, talks and tours for the whole family. Head to the Library website for the full program of events.

Share This