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by Gordon Bigg


Gordon Bigg at the controls of an Anson.

In the latter part of 1945, I was posted to No 3 Communications Unit at Mascot, where I expected to remain until my projected discharge date of May 1946. No 3 C.U. was only a small unit comprising a couple of Avro Ansons, one D.H 84 Dragon, one D.H. Tiger Moth and for a short time one Norseman which was damaged in a landing mishap and removed from unit strength.

After 4 years in the RAAF I had a total of 1300 flying hours. Included in this total were 478 hours on Airspeed Oxfords, 190 hours on D.H. Dragons and 216 hours on Avro Ansons. Most of our flying at Mascot consisted of a daily return courier flight to the big RAAF stores depot at Dubbo. Other odd jobs were carried out by the Ansons, and consisted mainly of co-operative work for the School of Radio Physics, co-op work with HMAS Watson etc.

One of my last jobs with the RAAF was flying an Anson in formation with Kingsford Smith's "Southern Cross" for a camera crew from Cinesound Studios. The film "Smithy" was under production, and the producer wanted air to air footage of the "Southern Cross" against a background of large cloud build ups. I never did get to see the finished film.

Sometime in October or early November 1945, I learned that Adastra were converting a couple of ex RAAF Ansons for aerial survey work in addition to their D.H. 90 Dragonfly VH-AAD. More or less out of curiosity I contacted Adastra to see if they had a vacancy for a pilot. Following an interview with Capt Frank Follett, I was invited to submit a written application which was accepted on 13th November 1945, and from that point 'things' happened pretty quickly.

(See Gordon's employment letter from Frank Follett)

December 3rd 1945 marked my formal discharge from the RAAF. On 10th December 1945, I did a 60 minute conversion on the Dragonfly, followed by a few more circuits in the next few days.

During this time I was also busy becoming acquainted with the ground office, film processing and mapping staff, and Chief Engineer Eric Haynes and his hangar staff. It was also the time to get to know Harry Morrell, who was to be my camera operator/navigator. Harry hadn't had much in the way of previous flight experience, but we soon developed into a pretty good team, as well as good mates. On the 14th-17th December, we carried out a few practice over-lapping mapping runs. Our first actual job was photographing Baulkham Hills from 6,000ft on the 21st December.

By this time I was feeling pretty comfortable with the Dragonfly, and with Harry also coping well, it was adjudged time for us to head off to Victoria, to start mapping virtually the whole of that State. Accordingly, on the 22nd December 1945, we departed Mascot and flew direct to Essendon, flight time being 4:10. At Essendon we were greeted by Joe Linfoot, Jack Howard and Tom Carpenter who were crewing Anson VH-AGG.

After spending a pleasant Christmas in Melbourne, both crews moved to Ballarat, where the aerodrome was still an Air Force base. We lived in local hotels, but both aircraft had hangar space at the base, and we were extended the courtesy of being made honorary members of the officers mess.

In mid-March, Harry and I moved base to Hamilton. From then until June 1947 we covered a large area of the state, operating mainly from Hamilton, Kuong and Nhill. During this time we flew a total of 470 hours with the Dragonfly, with it proving to be a most reliable little aircraft. With just two Gipsy motors pushing us along, the climb from take off to our normal operating height of 12,000ft was not all that spectacular, but having reached there, it quite happily pushed along for hour after hour. Without the benefit of an auto pilot, or modern day satellite assisted navigation systems, the actual flight runs were pretty demanding, requiring a high degree of concentration from both the pilot and camera operator.

On 12th June 1947 we flew VH-AAD from Wagga back to Mascot and that was the end of what had been an interesting and enjoyable experiment with the Dragonfly.

The remainder of my time with Adastra was spent flying the Ansons (in total 1,464 hours in my time with Adastra). Tom Carpenter joined us as a flight crew member and highly skilled licensed aircraft engineer. Over the next few years we operated from various bases including Broken Hill, Adelaide, Mt Isa, Roma, Derby, St George, Moruya etc. Tom and I became good friends, and it was during this period that Tom met his future bride Vilma at Roma. Similar good fortune befell me at St George where I first met my wife Ishbel.

By the end of 1951, and with married life looming, it was time to say farwell to my somewhat vagabond days with Adastra. In March 1952, I joined Butler Air Transport and some 3 years later I moved to Lae, New Guinea to fly with Mandated Airlines. It was at Lae that I again met up with Adastra crews now operating Lockheed Hudsons.

Joe Linfoot and crew were the first to arrive, and it was great to catch up with them again. They were later relieved by Jack Howard and crew who were in turn followed by Allen Motteram. With Allen were Pat Murphy as navigator and Gordon Murrell as camera operator.

Pat had recently qualified for his commercial licence, and was keen to start a career as an airline pilot. As it happened, MAL were actively recruiting at this time, having lost two new recruits in fatal air crashes before they even arrived in Lae. I can't recall their names, but one died in a light twin accident at Archerfield. The second young pilot was killed in a solo crash, somewhere in NSW, possibly as a crop duster. When Pat approached MAL with a view to possible employment, we were only too happy to accept his application.

Unfortunately for MAL, and tragically for Pat, the old saying that "things happen in threes" was to prove only too true.

On the morning of 24th June 1957, Allen was carrying out a practice single engine approach and landing at Lae in Hudson VH-AGO. On final approach, the aircraft ran into turbulence and down drafts. With one motor feathered, landing gear down and full flaps extended, the pilot couldn't retain control when he had to apply full power to the operating motor to try to make the end of the runway. The Hudson rolled and plunged into the sea with no survivors. This tragic and sad day marked my final association with Adastra.

Gordon Bigg

April 2005



Gordon Bigg passed away on the Gold Coast on 14 February 2008. His funeral was held on 20 February 2008.