Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre


Military Vehicle Rendezvous - 3rd June
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Nhill's Aviation History in Brief

1919. November.
A de Havilland DH6 is the first plane to land at Nhill. Flight charges were £5 & £8 ($10 & $16).
1930. June 26.
AnimationAmy Johnson arrives at Nhill in a de Havilland Hawk Moth 348, VH-UNW. Her original de Havilland Gipsy Moth had been damaged in Brisbane. 
1938.
A new Aeradio facility is built at Nhill. It is one of fifteen communications and guidance systems built across Australia. This was the first system of its type in the world.
1938.
Hawker Demons visit Nhill from Point Cook.  
1941.
Nhill RAAF Base almost complete.
1942.
Avro Anson aircraft were the main training plane at Nhill.
2009.
The Nhill Aeradio Station is thought to be one of the few remaining in Australia. The Nhill Station is more than 70 years old.
2009.
The Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre Avro Anson restoration is underway.
2009.
Successful Fly-In as part of the Back-To-Nhill celebrations in October.

Nhill’s Aviation Highlights 1919 – 2019

The fascination of Nhill and district people with aviation dates back to 1919 when great interest resulted from the landing of a 100hp De Havilland aeroplane on Nhill Racecourse.
Since that time the community has had a long involvement with aircraft and the people who flew them.

Soon after the De Havilland landing Nhill Free Press editor and local visionary Fred McKenzie successfully advocated that Nhill become a refuelling place for aircraft because of its central position between Melbourne and Adelaide.

This was to put Nhill on the aviation map.

Second World War Training Base

Nhill’s aerodrome attained national significance during the Second World War when it became the site for a Royal Australian Air Force base.  During that period the community embraced many of the about ten thousand Air Force personnel who trained at the base between 1941 and 1946.  For many it was their first time away from home and family so welcomed the opportunity to be included in family and community life in Nhill and district.

For most, combat followed training. Many war survivors who trained at the base confess to their lasting fondness for Nhill and its people and have many memories to share.

War Graves in Nhill Cemetery

Seven airmen lost their lives in training flights at Nhill and are buried in seven war graves in Nhill Cemetery. 

Wimmera Aero Club

Wimmera Aero Club formed at Nhill in 1946 and by 1964 had branches at Warracknabeal, Horsham, Hamilton, Mount Gambier, Millicent, Narracoorte and Birchip with aircraft assets valued at £20,000, $40,000. 

Nhill Aerodrome developed as a base for pilot training, charter flights, air ambulance visits as well as a refuelling point for light aircraft including Melbourne–Adelaide flights. 

Nhill Aero Club

Affiliated with Wimmera Aero Club, the Nhill Aero Club remains active and the aerodrome continues to be used as a base for trainee pilots. 

Aerodrome use

The Air Ambulance, Victoria Police and other emergency services use the aerodrome – together with Angel Flight Australia, visiting businesspeople and dignitaries, including government ministers and other politicians regularly use the aerodrome, aviation tourists and private aviators.

Surgeons fly private planes to Nhill, thus making it possible to perform surgery at the Nhill Hospital, which is headquarters for West Wimmera Health Service – attracting many patients to the hospital from as far away as Mildura.
  
Aerodrome Ownership

Nhill Aerodrome, owned and managed by the Hindmarsh Shire Council, is the sole accredited aerodrome in the Shire and is integral to the social and economic wellbeing of Shire residents, services and businesses.

The Establishment of Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre Association

In 2008 a small group comprising Nhill businessmen Mick Kingwill and Rob Lynch and longtime aviator the Rev Don Kube met to discuss mutual concern that, with the passing of time, much of Nhill’s aviation history could be lost. 

In November that year the Rev Kube chaired a public meeting in Nhill Aero Clubrooms to outline concerns and call for suggested action.  Thirty attended.   The meeting unanimously endorsed a motion:
           `That this meeting recognizes the importance of Nhill Aerodrome
             in the on-going history of Nhill and supports the creation of an
             aviation memorial with focus initially on the RAAF presence at
             Nhill from 1941-46’. 

 A Management Committee of twelve was formed with the Rev Kube as Nhill Aviation Heritage Centrefoundation president.

In 2009 the Management Committee endorsed a Statement of Purpose, to:

  • Highlight the significant role of aviation in the ongoing development of Nhill,
  • Research and record the history of the RAAF Air School in Nhill from 1941-1946 within the broader context of Nhill’s aviation and aerodrome history,
  • Collect Air School artifacts to display in secure premises, and
  • Acquire and restore an Avro Anson aeroplane; leaving it as a legacy to this and future generations.

Actions following this meeting:

  • The Management Committee formally requested Section 86 status from the Hindmarsh Shire Council, which was not granted,
  • Business firm Driscoll, McIllree & Dickinson offered rent-free rooms at the Commercial Hotel, Nhill, for meeting and displays,
  • Lah resident Graham Drage gifted a derelict Avro Anson to the NAHC, and restoration began,
  • In October, the NAHC, supported by Hindmarsh Shire Council as well as generous donors and sponsors, organised a highly successful Fly-In at the aerodrome. This included Second World War aircraft – Kittyhawk, Winjeel, Wirraway, Mustang and Yak2. 
  • The Fly-in formed the final event of Back-to-Nhill celebrations and attracted a huge crowd of about 2,000.
  • Kevin O’Reilly’s book ‘In Just Five Years’, a history of Air Base at Nhill during the Second World War, was launched by Air Commodore John Clarkson during the Back-to-Nhill. Kevin O’Reilly and his family lived in the Nhill Flight Path during WW2.
10th November 2009:  NAHC was incorporated and granted an ABN and TFN status.

Action by the Management Committee:

  • Window display of WW2 Air Base artifacts in shop-front window in Nelson Street, Nhill,
  • Working with Hindmarsh Shire and volunteers to tidy up and improve assets at the aerodrome, including repairs to a WW2 Flight Office, placing signage for an Air Base Heritage walk, and restoration of original Air Base flag pole,
  • Cooperatively working on these projects with the Nhill Aero Club, Media, Nhill Rotary Club, Nhill Historical Society, neighbouring landowner John Millington and the Nhill and wider community,
  • Produced and emailed our first newsletter to hundreds of people in several countries,
  • Building an Association membership base,
  • Presented a successful community evening, Evening with Kevin O’Reilly,Aviation Historian and past Nhill resident,
  • Making contact with leading aviators and enthusiasts involved in restoration of Second World War aircraft,
  • Involving Horsham Air Force Cadets in the Fly-In program,
  • Developing plans to site a new hangar/museum at the aerodrome for the restored Avro Anson and other aviation memorabilia, and
  • Sponsorship of ‘The Dream of Flight’ art competition at Nhill College.

2010

Hindmarsh Shire Council owns, manages and operates Nhill Aerodrome: the Federal Government transferred the title to the (then) Lowan Shire in February 1962.   The Federal Government continued to fund the aerodrome until about 1980. Since then Lowan Shire and now Hindmarsh Shire have met costs.

Three groups lease parts of the aerodrome property from the Shire Council – Freeman Aerial Spraying, Nhill Aero Club and the Donnell Family cropping enterprise. 

The aerodrome is subject to Federal Government-set standards and inspected at least annually by the Department of Civil Aviation.

The Avro Anson restoration is progressing well, and larger premises will soon be needed.

The Committee of Management plans to house the restored Avro Anson, which will be restored to taxiing status, permanently at the Nhill Aerodrome.

The NAHC Inc Committee of Management, after deciding to investigate plans and costs for a hangar, sent a delegation to the headquarters of the Ahrens Group Pty Ltd in Sheoak Log, South Australia – a  large construction and engineering firm. A meeting with Stefan and Bob Ahrens resulted in an offer from that Company to design and cost hangar plans at no cost.

Looking forward -The aerodrome in 2019 - Nhill’s Aviation Century

  • Hindmarsh Shire Council in collaboration with NAHC and interested parties will have developed a Nhill Aerodrome Master Plan – achieved in 2012.
  • Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre and the Heritage Walk will be in place and boosting the viability of the Shire Council-owned asset.
  • A collection of ‘eye witness’ accounts of aviation highlights will have been electronically recorded.
  • Effective signage at Nhill and on the Western Highway will indicate the existence of a Second World War RAAF air base at Nhill Aerodrome – and give directions to vehicular traffic to the Aerodrome.
  • The Aerodrome will be flourishing as an important venue in a tourism trail which includes other places of interest within the Shire and Region, such as the Wimmera Mallee Pioneer Museum at Jeparit, Yurunga Homestead at Rainbow and Ebenezer Mission at Dimboola.  Motor homes, coaches and private tourists will regularly travel the tourism trail.  There will be increased patronage for Nhill businesses which cater for tourists.
  • Tourists will arrive by aircraft.
  • Transport arrangements will be in place between the Aerodrome and the Nhill town.
  • All-seasons parking will cater adequately for vehicles and coaches.
  • The hangar will be completed, housing the restored Avro Anson and memorabilia.
  • A designated area will be in use for a self-contained stop-over for motor homes.
  • Landscaping, quality signage and donation boxes will be completed.
  • Fuel storage facility will be installed and in use.
  • The existing Second World War hangar will be well maintained.
  • The Second World War’s original Flight Office will be renovated to an acceptable standard for educational purposes, to exhibit Second World War memorabilia associated with Nhill and District families – with the existing toilets and shower facility upgraded appropriately.

How will this be achieved?

  • This project will have a ‘whole of community’ approach with workshops in the short term with participants including Hindmarsh Shire Council, Business Nhill, Service Clubs, West Wimmera Health Service, Victoria Police, Ambulance Services, Angel Flight Australia, Parliamentary Representatives, Tourism Operators, Country Fire Authority and the State Emergency Service.
  • The Board of Management will follow national governance standards and seek external expertise as required.
  • The Board will seek grants through appropriate government and philanthropic sources.  Bequests, donations and corporate sponsors will be sought.
  • Income will continue through Kevin O’Reilly’s generous donation following sale of his two books,In Just Five YearsandFlyers of Time.
  • Membership numbers will increase, with active participation in the Association’s affairs and activities.
  • The ‘Nhill Anson Newsletter’ will continue to inform people across a wide area about the efforts and achievements of the Association, Nhill’s Aviation history, and Nhill Aerodrome attractions.
  • The Aerodrome will continue to be used as a venue for special events.
  • DVDs, photo post cards and booklets will be sold to raise funds.

Outcomes

  • A community which is aware and respectful of the achievements and sacrifices made by former generations, especially by RAAF servicemen and women.
  • Financial gains to the community and business sector through increased use of the Nhill Aerodrome as a community-owned and irreplaceable asset.
  • A grand 2019 Centenary Celebration – centred on the Centenary of flight into Nhill, and the birth and development of the Nhill Aerodrome through the century.