Last updated 15 July 2019
Australia's first airline

A pictorial history compiled by Geoff Goodall

Photographs from the compiler's collection, some taken by WAA ground engineer Frank Colquhoun.
The majority are
from personal photo album of WAA founder Sir Norman Brearley


WAA pilot Charles Kingsford Smith about to depart Wallal Station in Bristol Tourer G-AUDF in September 1922 .
A hardy passenger climbs into the two-seat cabin behind the cockpit.

Kingsford Smith departs Wallal Station, a regular stop on the North West service to Derby
Both heading photographs taken by Ernest Brandon-Cremer in September 1922, courtesy Lee Brandon-Cremer

          Founded in August 1921 as Western Australian Airways Ltd, this pioneering air service was created and managed by West Australian  businessman and aviator Major Norman Brearley.  The fledgling airline's first route was to connect Perth with Derby, 1,500 miles north with stops at all main West Australian coastal towns.  Such an air service was not viable without a Federal Government subsidy, which stipulated that the southern terminus must be Geraldton WA, to protect the Government owned railway. Passengers, mail bags and air freight would travel by train between Perth and Geraldton, with WAA flying between Geraldton and Derby.
        A fatality on the inaugural northbound service from Geraldton on 5 December 1921 was a tragic start. Undaunted, Brearley got the service running to schedule over the long distances of deserted inhospitable terrain. During the 1920s WAA maintained the coastal service with increased schedules and better aircraft. In 1926 the company name was changed to West Australian Airways Ltd and in 1929 a dramatic expansion came with the introduction of the first Transcontinental air service between Adelaide and Perth. WAA proved it was a world leader by boldy importing four new DH.66 Hercules, then the largest aircraft seen in Australia.
       WAA survived poor loadings during the Great Depression period, but continued scheduled services on the North-West coastal service as well as Perth-Adelaide. The company suffered a mortal blow in 1934 when the Federal Government allocation of Empire Air Mail connecting services took the North-West subsidy from WAA in favour of a small Adelaide company MacRobertson Miller Aviation Co.
        West Australian Airways struggled on for two years on the barely profitable Transcontinental Service between Perth and Adelaide until Managing Director Norman Brearley and the Board agreed to sell out to Adelaide Airways in 1936. Later that year Adelaide Airways was absorbed by the formation of Australian National Airways Pty Ltd (ANA), which grew to become Australia's major domestic airline.

The Joyriding Period 1919-1920

       At the outbreak of World War One, a young air-minded Norman Brearley worked his passage by ship from Perth to Britain. where he enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps as a pilot. His DH.2 was shot down in France 9 November 1916, Norman receiving serious injuries which ruled him unfit for further active service. He continued as a flying instructor, promoted to commander of instructor training at Gosport.
After the Armistic, Major Norman Brearley, DSO, MC, AFC purchased two Avro 504Ks from the Aircraft Disposals Board. He had them modified to Avro 504J standard by his own groundstaff at RAF Station Lilbourne, prior to having them shipped to Australia.
       Back at home in Perth, Brearley used the two Avros for extensive joyriding in Western Australia, to raise funds for the airline he was determined to establish.

Major Norman Brearley's two Avro 504Js were shipped to Fremantle on board the Port Napier, arriving in July 1919.
Here they are being assembled at the Belmont Racecourse in Perth at the end of that month.
Both were powered by 100hp Gnome Monosoupapes rotary engines

Brearley flying one of the Avros. Their previous RAF serials were painted over and their identities have never been traced

The Avros flew joyriding tours across Western Australia. Brearley is in his flying gear at a property near Carnarvon
with an Afghan camel team, at that time widely used to carry supplies overland

Brearley's 16 months of barnstorming tours proved very profitable. Most people had never seen an aeroplane at that time

Joyriding scene with the farm dog taking advantage of the shade under the Avro.
Note the stitching in the fuselage fabric

One of the Avro 504Js at Kalgoorlie Racecourse during a joyriding tour to the Goldfields

Brearley (in the white suit) established Perth's first airfield, on The Esplanade between Government House and the Swan River.
A larger hangar was later constructed on the site to house six Bristol Tourers

The surviving Avro 504J became G-AUCL when the Australian Civil Aircraft Register was created in June 1921.
Here before an admiring crowd at the Perth Esplanade, with Government House in the background

Western Australian Airways begins - The Bristol Tourer era

                Brearley had submitted detailed proposals for a scheduled mail and passenger air service from Perth to the North of the State, (referred to as the Nor'West in the parlance of the day) stopping at towns along the mostly coastal route.  In May 1921 the Federal Government called for tenders for a air service from Geraldton to Derby, over a route of 1,260 miles in each direction. Brearley's tender, based on 6 new Bristol Tourers, was accepted, requiring an initial annual subsidy of 25,000 for one return trip per week. The southern terminus of Geraldton rather than Perth was to avoid competiton with the railways.
               Brearley immediately formed Western Australian Airways Ltd and a prospectus was issued.  He placed orders for 6 new Bristol Tourers plus a spare fuselage, which were basically WWI Bristol F2B Fighters modified for two passengers in a small cabin with coupe top, pilot in open cockpit, and storage compartments for mail and baggage. The engine was a 240hp Siddley Puma.
               The Government sent a RAAF survey party to select airfield sites along the route to Derby, and Brearley went to RAAF Point Cook in Victoria to select prospective pilots from those answering newspaper advertisements.
               The Bristol Tourers arrived from the Bristol factory on board a cargo ship at Fremantle on 20 November 1921. They were assembled at the Perth Esplanade aerodrome and test flown, in preparation for the inaugural service of Australia's first airline on 5 December 1921. The Bristols were:

                                      Bristol 28 Coupe Tourers                                      240 h.p. Siddeley Puma

ex G-EAXK Bristol Aeroplane Co, CofA 21.6.21
Destroyed 27.1.25 by engine-start fire Onslow WA, mail saved
Sold .28 to Wilson Air Service, Sydney

spare fuselage: see UDX
Crashed 15.7.24 Port Hedland WA. Used in rebuild of G-AUDZ
Crashed 5.12.21 Murchison River WA
sold 1.27 to Charles Kingsford-Smith & Keith Anderson, Sydney
sold 1.27 to Charles Kingsford-Smith & Keith Anderson, Sydney
Spare fuselage assembled 3.23 at the Esplanade as G-AUDX.
Sold .27 to F.T.O'Dea, Sydney
Assembled Maylands 11.24, based on wreck of G-AUDH
Sold .29 to F.T.O'Dea, Sydney

Newly-assembled Bristol Tourers at the large WAA hangar on Perth Esplanade in November 1921.    Frank Walters collection

Perth Esplanade 4 December 1921. Norman Brearley (centre in flying gear) about to depart for Geraldton to commence the
inaugural North-West air service the following day. The first WAA pilots and mechanics are assembled, including Bob Fawcett
second from left and Charles Kingsford Smith second from right.
The gentleman with coat over his arm was the airline's first passenger, Mr. M. P. Durack

Tragedy on the first day. G-AUDI crashed at Murchison River, killing pilot Bob Fawcett and mechanic Edward Broad.
They had been circling G-AUDG in which Len Taplin had made a forced landing without any damage

            In WAA service, the Bristols gained advertising on the tailplane

A dashing WAA pilot admires a lady passenger at Onslow. UDH's tail now has advertising for Sun Insurance and Dunlop Tyres.
Photo: The Collection

The metal box attached under the fuselage carried suppies and tools. It was referred to by WAA staff as the"Gubbins Box".
Photo: The Collection

           Remote "Wallal"Station, between Port Hedland and Broome was the scene of great scientific activity in September 1922.  Itt was chosen as the Australian location best suited for a scientific recording of a rare solar eclipse. Five international groups of scientists headed for Wallal, giving WAA valuable charter work carrying the personnel, provisions, large telescopes and delicate measuring equipment. Most of these flights were carried out by Norman Brearley and Charles Kingsford Smith, in addition to maintaining the northern section of the regular air service to Derby. After the eclipse, photographs taken at Walla were flown by WAA to Perth for developing and printing. Norman Brearley later wrote "After the scientific equipment had been dismantled, its despatch back to Perth was another big job for Airways. The surplus stores and food left at Wallal enabled the station folk to live high for some time. For weeks after, whenever a pilot was late arriving at Port Hedland he always claimed he was "delayed at Wallal".
          The following three photographs were taken by Ernest Brendon-Cremer, senior photographer for the Australian scientific party at Wallal for the eclipse, courtesy his grandson Lee Brendon-Cremer. Ernest's recollection was that Brearly and Kingsford Smith were the two pilots who flew into Wallal Station and also made mail drops to the scientific groups camped on the propery.

Bristol G-AUDF at Wallal Station, showing the Sun Insurance advertising on left side of tailplane

Other side of G-AUDF at Wallal, showing advertising for Buick Cars on the right side

Two greats of Australian aviation: WAA pilot Charles Kingsford Smith (left) and Norman Brearley at Wallal September 1922

More pictures form the Bristol Tourer era:

The wreck of G-AUDH on 15 July 1924, after pilot Len Taplin crashed in Port Hedland creek.  The flight was a charter by
Mundabullunga Station owner Keith Mackay who drowned in the wreckage.
Taplin and his engineer received minor injuries.
The aircraft remains were shipped to Perth to be used in a major rebuild which was given a new registration G-AUDZ
Photo courtesy Lindsay Nothrop collection

G-AUDZ in November 1924 while under construction by WAA ground staff at Maylands, based on the wreck of G-AUDH.
L-R: Dave Colquhoun, Gordon Iles, Frank Colquhoun, Frank Poulton, Jack Hopkins, Jack Hammond, Bill Bland

G-AUDZ on completion at Maylands with the WAA-designed horn-balanced rudder which was fitted to all the Bristols

G-AUDF being dismantled after an accident at Koordarrie Station 50 miles south of Onslow WA.    
Photo by Joseph McGrath, owner of Koordarrie, via Roland Jahne collection

Locals inspect the remains of G-AUDF at Onslow Aerodrome after it was destroyed by fire on 27 January 1925.
The engine back-fired during start-up, igniting the fabric. The pilot removed all mail sacks and dragged them clear.
The loss was covered by WAA's insurance.                   Photo by Joseph McGrath via Roland Jahne collection

  During 1924 WAA moved its Esplanade hangar to the newly-opened Government Aerodrome in the Perth suburb of Maylands.
Maylands aerodrome was flooded by the Swan River in July 1926.  Inside WAA's hangar, aircraft were suspended from the
rafters by cables, engines and equipment stacked above the water level.  WAA's Avro 504J G-AUCL on the right.

Photo: Frank Walters collection

The WAA staff bus collects employees for a day's work at the airline's Maylands hangar circa 1923

Accidents were many, but WAA were able to rebuild most of the damaged Bristols. Carnarvon, pilot Saunders

G-AUDK struck a fence on takeoff Port Hedland 30 Janary 1923. Pilot Walter Cochraine received minor injuries but passenger
Mr. S. Harper of the Civil Aviation Board who was inspecting the service, was killed.                           Photo: The Collection

Loading the wreck of UDK on to a railway wagon at Port Hedland in February 1932 to move it to the port for loading on a
coastal steamer for return to Perth for rebuilding

G-AUDK yet again, at Midland Junction near Perth in August 1924. Pilot was Stanley Brearley, Norman's brother

G-AUDX at Geraldton circa 1924, pilot Stan Brearley.  The Bristol was rebuilt and continued in WAA service

1925 WAA map after Perth became the southern terminus

            In January 1924 the Government finally decided the air service was little threat to the Perth-Geraldton railway and allowed the the North-West service to operate from Perth. WAA settled into a steady schedule of a Bristol departing Maylands Aerodrome at 6am each Thursday, returning from Derby via all ports the following Tuesday.  The Bristol Tourers gave excellent service to WAA, flying over a half million miles and carrying over 3,000 passengers. A Civil Aviation Branch report quoted WAA Bristols as achieving 97% regularity on the NorthWest service. From 1927 they were retired and replaced by DH.50s.

The De Havilland DH.50 era

            In June 1924 WAA Managing Director Norman Brearley sailed for England to purchase replacement aircraft for the Bristols. He had decided on the De Havilland DH.50 unnamed biplane, which housed four passengers in an enclosed cabin, with the pilot in an open cockpit. Brearley ordered two new DH.50s, specifying the same Siddeley Puma engines as the Bristol Tourers. He also negotiated the rights for WAA to construct DH.50s and the new DH.60 Moths under licence.
          The first two DH.50s arrived by sea from the DH factory in September 1924. The pair were assembled at Maylands Aerodrome and the following month entered WAA service as G-AUEL & G-AUEM on the North-West service. At the Maylands hangar, preparations got under way for the big task of constructing complete airframes to DH drawings after the airline Directors authorised expenditure to build three DH.50s and two DH.60 Moths.
          As spares for the DH.50s Brearley had acquired a stock of DH.9 wings which were reconditioned to be basically interchangable.  He was also watching developments in England to increase the power of the Puma engines, which was urgently needed in the high temperatures of the Nor'West.  From 1928 onwards, the WAA DH.50s were re-engined with the new 300hp ADC Nimbus engine, developed from the Puma by the Aircraft Disposals Company. 
          On 3 December 1926 Western Australian Airways Ltd changed the company name to West Australian Airways Ltd, although it was always known to the people of WA as just "Airways".

                                     De Havilland DH.50           240 h.p. Siddeley Puma, later 300 h.p. ADC Nimbus engines

Sold to Adelaide Airways 7.36
Sold to Adelaide Airways 7.36
1 (WAA)
Crashed Geraldton WA 11.5.29
2 (WAA)
Sold to Adelaide Airways 7.36
3 (WAA)
Crashed Noonkanbah Station WA 20.9.31
ex G-EBFN. Sold to Adelaide Airways 7.36
ex G-EBFO. Crashed Mia Mia Station 1.3.32

Norman Bearley (centre) at Maylands in October 1924 with one of the first two DH.50As shipped from England

WAA DH.50s G-AUEY & UEM escort Bert Hinkler in his record-breaking Avian on arrival Perth in April 1928

The size of the DH.50 is evident in this view of Bert Heath checking the engine compartment

The second WAA-built DH.50 G-AUFE comes over the fence on a foggy morning at Maylands.

Pilot Stan Brearley (centre) and four passengers pose with G-AUFE

WAA DH.50 G-AUEM at Perth 1928 after a night arrival of the North West airline service.
Pilot Bert Heath is at the right with two passengers

G-AUFE again, returning to Maylands in February 1927 after a landing accident at Yallingup WA, where Norman Brearley
had been conducting joyrides at the popular Caves House Hotel. The DH.50 was quickly repaired.

1926 WAA flight souvenir postcard titled "Airways Motor Service Car conveys passengers to and from the aerodrome"

G-AUEL shortly after it was shipped to Perth from de Havillands in England in 1924

The same DH.50 circa 1930 at Maylands after a repaint and change to the new Australian VH- registration series.
Photo:  The Collection

Popular WAA pilot Bertie Heath flew VH-UMC in the 1929 West Australian Centenary Air Race from Sydney to Perth.
Here he has a spot of bother at Forrest WA, but reached Perth to take 2nd place in 23 hours 24 minutes flying time.
The newly-built WAA hangar and passenger hostel can be seen behind.      

VH-UFN at Noonkanbah Station in the Kimberleys September 1931, after a tyre burst on landing causing a severe ground-loop.
Pilot J. F. Nicholas was unhurt and the fractured undercarriage had been propped up against the fuselage by the time
Frank Colquhoun's recovery team arrived from Perth. They dismantled the DH.50, moved it overland to Derby where it was
loaded on a coastal steamer for Perth, where it was soon repaired in the WAA workshops at Maylands Aerodrome

VH-UFE flying from the Swan River at Maylands in November 1931 when it was fitted with floats built by Short Brothers.
This DH.50 reverted to a landplane only two months later but the floats were then fitted to VH-UEM, and one later loaned
to the German aviator Hans Bertram to fly out his Junkers W33 after being lost and rescued in northern WA.

Perth Flying School 1927-1930
              In a far-sighted policy, Lt. Col. Brinsmead of the Civil Aviation Branch (a predecessor of the Department of Civil Aviation) had encouraged the establishment of civilian aero clubs to provide pilot training.  He saw the value in clubs starting as adjuncts to existing commercial aviation companies to utilise their experience. In 1927 the CAB gave West Australian Airways a 2 year contract to create a flying school at Maylands Aerodrome which would be later taken over by the WA Section, Australian Aero Club. The Club held its first general meeting at the Savoy Hotel, Perth on 13 April 1927 at which Norman Brearley was elected President.
             With typical WAA flair, the following Monday the new flying school commenced with 33 listed pupils and two instructors Charles Nesbitt and Stanley Brearley. The airline was prepared for these events, having just completed the construction of two DH.60 Moths G-AUFI & G-AUFK under licence in their Maylands workshops. The name Perth Flying School was adopted and the demand for pilot training soon prompted another new DH.60X G-AUGO to be imported from De Havillands.
             The flying school was a success, the WAA contract being extended for another year until the Aero Club was ready to take over. WAA continued its close association with the Club, and maintained their growing fleet of Moths. From this start, the Royal Aero Club of WA became one of the most successful in the Australian aero club movement and is still operating today at Perth's Jandakot Airport.

West Australian Airways DH.60X Moth G-AUGO at Maylands circa 1928, operating for Perth Flying School
Photo: Frank Walters collection

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