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West Australian Airways

Norman Brearley in the 1920s (Wikimedia Commons)

The beginnings of commercial aviation in Australia arose from a call for tenders in 1921 by the Australian government, for operation of a subsidised air-mail and passenger service between Geraldton and Derby. Norman Brearley, an ex-Royal Flying Corps pilot recently returned to Australia, won the contract.

Brearley was born in Geelong, Victoria in 1890, but was brought to WA by his parents in 1906. He was inspired by the Boxkite flight by J.J. Hammond in 1911 and at the outbreak of World War I, he left for Britain to become a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. His RFC / RAF career was distinguished, winning a DSO and MC, and being wounded once.

After the war, he brought back to WA two war-surplus Avro 504 biplanes, which he used for demonstration flights. Initially he flew from racecourses and sports ovals, but he persuaded Michael Durack, the Member of Parliament for the Kimberley electorate, to allow him to construct a hangar at the bottom of his garden on the Esplanade in Perth - and so Langley Park airfield was born.

The company Brearley formed to service the mail contract, West Australian Airways Ltd, was the first air operation in Australia to commence regular services. Brearley purchased a small fleet of Bristol Tourers (commercial adaptations of the wartime Bristol Fighter) for the job.

langley park 1921 However, the very first Tourer used, G-AUDI (pictured at right, at the Langley Park airfield), crashed during the inaugural flight, on 5th December, 1921. Brearley believed a factor in the accident was the lack of adequate facilities on the route, and as a result regular operations did not commence until the following year, on 21st February.

WA Airways flew six Tourers, these being:

G-AUDG 1921-1925 Destroyed by fire
G-AUDI 1921-1921 Lost to accident
G-AUDJ 1921-1927 Sold
G-AUDK 1921-1927 Sold
G-AUDX 1923-1928 Sold
G-AUDZ 1925-1929 Sold (reconstructed from G-AUDG)

WA Airways' list of pilots includes several names that later became well-known. Apart from Norman Brearley himself, the first pilots were Charles Kingsford-Smith (until 1924), Len Taplin and Bob Fawcett (killed in the 1921 accident). Jimmy Woods, later of MacRobertson Miller Aviation and Woods Airways, flew with WA Airways from 1924 to 1933.

The Tourers were replaced over time with the de Havilland DH50s and DH84 Dragons; when originally bought, they received U.K. "G" registrations, but in 1930 they were re-registered with matching Australian ones.

DH50 G-AUEL / VH-UEL (2) (3) 1924-1931 Sold
G-AUEM / VH-UEM 1924-1936 Sold
G-AUEY / VH-UEY 1926-1933 Withdrawn from service
G-AUFE / VH-UFE 1922-1936 Sold
G-AUFD 1922-1929 Lost to accident
G-AUFN / VH-UFN 1927-1933 Withdrawn from service
G-EBFO / VH-UMC 1929-1934 Withdrawn from service
VH-URE 1923-1936 Sold
VH-URO 1923-1936 Sold

In the 1920s, the company was active in providing pilot training, using a fleet of DH-60 Moths:


G-AUFI 1927-1927 Destroyed in an accident
G-AUFK / VH-UFK 1927-1930 Sold
G-AUGO/ VH-UGO 1927-1930 Sold

In 1929, Western Australian Airways won a five-year contract for mail flights between Perth and Adelaide, South Australia, which it commenced that year using the much larger DH-66 Hercules aircraft. Reflecting the more leisurely pace of air operations in those days, the flight included two lunch stops and an overnight stay at Forrest, on the Nullarbor. Four Hercules were purchased, although two were sold soon afterward, apparently due to their high operating cost. As with earlier purchases, their initial "G" registrations were changed in 1930 to matching Australian ones.

G-AUJO / VH-UJO 1929-1936 Sold
G-AUJP / VH-UJP (2) 1929-1936 Sold
G-AUJQ / VH-UJQ 1929-1931 Sold
G-AUJR / VH-UJR 1929-1931 Sold

The two Hercules were replaced by Vickers Viastras, which accumulated a patchy record due to engine unreliability:

VH-UOM (2) 1931-1933 Written off in accident (no injuries)
VH-UOO 1931-1936 Withdrawn from service

For its northwest mail services, WA Airways also (through 1931-1935) operated two DH61 Giant moths, VH-UQJ and VH-UTL. These had the capacity to carry up to eight passengers, so were versatile options for lighter-traffic routes. A Dragon Rapide, VH-UUO was also added to the fleet in 1934.

The airline operated successfully for several years, including Great Depression of the early 1930s. However, in 1934 the contract for the north-west run was lost to MacRobertson Miller Aviation.

When the government subsidy ended at the end of the Perth - Adelaide mail contract, the route proved unprofitable, and in 1936 the airline closed, being sold to Adelaide Airways Ltd.



Alan Blencowe's Western Australian Aircraft Hall of Fame

Details on the Forrest airfield and hostel

The Ed Coates Collection