Sunday, November 27, 2022

Flying high

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Zoe Walker in replica spitfire
Zoe Walker, 20, sits in the cockpit of a replica Spitfire and is dwarfed by a mighty DC-3 restored by her father Robert Walker on the family farm at Barellan. Photo Kim Woods.

Barellan is now on the map when it comes to historic aircraft with the Whispering Pines Aviation Museum securing the naming rights to the Australian Aviation Museum.

The museum was officially opened on Saturday by Bland Shire deputy mayor Rodney Crowe.

Guests flew in from Bankstown and Wagga Wagga for the occasion with around 13 planes on the property’s dirt airstrip.

Among the planes surrounded by red dust and cropping paddocks are a De Haviland Dove, Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneer, a 1963 Cessna 172D, a replica Spitfire and a Clancy Sky Baby, reputedly flown by pioneer aviator Charles Kingsford Smith.

Robert Walker and Rodney Crowe cut the ribbon
Robert Walker and Bland Shire deputy mayor Rodney Crowe cut the ribbon.
Photo: Kim Woods.

Museum founder and Barellan farmer Robert Walker paid tribute to friends and family for helping to prepare the collection for the opening.

“The museum has been a dream for a long time – I’ve always liked old stuff, it is rusty gold,” he said.

“John Cameron was the man who made this happen. I appreciate him telling me these aeroplanes were coming available.

“I started off with one or two aeroplanes and then it became another, then another.”

Robert Walker
Robert Walker with a Cessna-172 formerly flown by legendary Laurie Crowley and once owned by Temora Aero Club. Photo: Kim Woods.

The Australian Aviation Museum originally opened at Bankstown in 1996 and grew into one of the most significant collections of aircraft and engines in the nation before it was closed to make way for the Bankstown Business Estate.

Mr Walker thanked the transport companies who helped truck the planes from the Bankstown airport to Barellan, the volunteers for dismantling the planes and Richard Wetherburn of the Derelict Aircraft Museum for donations of models, books and aircraft.

The memorabilia and model aeroplanes collected over the years by Robert are now housed in a weather proof building.

He also paid tribute to pioneering Papua New Guinea aviator and Solomon Airlines founder Laurie Crowley for encouraging his love of planes.

Mr Walker said an Isuzu truck, a car trailer, a glider trailer and a Landcruiser ute were used in 24 trips to Sydney to collect the planes.

His son estimated Rob had travelled the equivalent of half way around the world in his effort to see his dream realised.

Rod and Dianne McDermott
Rod and Dianne McDermott, Ardlethan, were among the crowd at the opening.
Photo: Kim Woods.

Former Australian Aviation Museum director Bill Hamilton said the Bankstown museum had fallen victim to “real estate mania development” about three years ago.

“Where the museum was is now an enormous warehouse,” Mr Hamilton said.

“We had about 30 aircraft but a lot of the displays were unique such as on loan was Sir Charles Kingsford Smith’s leather flying suit he used in the Southern Cross.

“We had a pile of memorabilia from the man who flew the first Flying Doctor Service.

“The centrepiece was an ex-RAAF Mirage jet – some of the major exhibits are now sitting in this paddock today.

“A number of them were sold or donated to other museums – we had a big collection of aircraft engines, particularly from the 1920s and 1930s. Some of those went to the Queensland Air Museum at Caloundra and others to the Qantas Museum at Longreach.

“It was very sad to see it all go.”

Mr Hamilton first met Rob and Betina Walker when they arrived to inspect the exhibits being sold off.

“This is fantastic what they have here – not just the aircraft part but the rest of Rob’s quite amazing collection,” he said.

“I hope the next generation looks after it as none of us live forever.”

Bland shire deputy mayor Rodney Crowe said the museum was a great asset to the shire.

“Unlike at Bankstown, I don’t think you will have the same issue with real estate developers here,” he said.

Narrandera Argus 15 April 2021

This article appeared in the Narrandera Argus, 15 April 2021.

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