Home' Greymouth Star : May 20th 2017 Contents Saturday Afternoon
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PICTURE: Jos Divis, courtesy Ian Cummings
PICTURE: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1370-17-1
Southern Cross at Christchurch after the first successful trans-Tasman flight, in 1928.
PICTURE: Jos Divis courtesy Simon Nathan Collection
A group from Waiuta in front of Southern Cross. Jos Divis, photographer is standing, back row,
second from right.
The plane is on show in a hangar in Brisbane, at the
Charles Kingsford Smith.
PICTURE: Jos Divis courtesy Simon Nathan Collection
The Southern Cross at Ikamatua.
ustralian Charles Kingsford
Smith rivalled American aviator
Charles Lindbergh in an era
when pilots were as famous
as Hollywood actors or sports
Lindbergh was rather discreet in his
infidelities (news of his double life and three
mistresses did not emerge until 2003), but
Kingsford Smith was a larrikin who smoked,
drank and always had a woman at his side.
Even today, some Coasters who recall family
stories of his Ikamatua visit refer to him as
During World War One, he won the military
cross and later became a stunt pilot.
In 1928 he made the first flight across the
Tasman in the Southern Cross, landing at
Wigram aerodrome in Christchurch.
He was bigger than any sporting star or
politician of the times. Australia honoured him
by naming the Sydney airport after him.
According to the book the Life of Sir Charles
Kingsford Smith: “His mind was permanently
in the sky. On the ground he was a restless
roamer, never creating a stable home and
spending as fast as he earned. He ... gave
(his first wife) a very rough time — was a
bad drinker, never paid his debts, and was a
His party trick was to drink beer standing
on his head. During his 1931 attempt to set
speed record for flying between Australia and
England he “took an occasional sip of brandy
which kept me going”.
In March 1934, the larger than life
personality, accompanied by his wife and
brother, landed the famous Southern Cross
in Ikamatua. It was about 2.15pm on a
Wednesday afternoon and a crowd turned out
to see the celebrity in their mist.
Mr J Green, president of the Ikamatua
airfield, welcomed him. Kingsford-Smith took
flights in the Southern Cross, along with two
other planes. He told the crowd his “old bus”
had flown over 200,000 miles since crossing the
It is hard to imagine the excitement his visit
stirred. Thankfully, Waiuta photographer Jos
Divis came down from the hill to capture the
occasion, leaving a clear record of the day.
Women wore furs and dainty shoes, and men
were attired in the latest fedora hats. Children
were bathed, scrubbed clean and dressed in
their Sunday best.
According to one account, 13-year-old John
O’Malley went up for a flight and later went on
to become a Lancaster bomber pilot in World
Former Greymouth councillor Ian Cummings’
father Bert was among the crowd that day.
He rallied the men and boys of Ikamatua in
advance to cut the grass. The landing was in
Prendergast’s paddock, latterly O’Malley’s,
on the low terrace behind the present day
Ikamatua Domain. There is, Peter O’Malley
says, not a trace remaining of the airfield.
Bert Cummings left his recollections of the
trip, and the exciting build up to it. He helped
form the Ikamatua Aero Club, “which was in
name only as there was no aerodrome and they
did not own an aeroplane”.
Bert even went to Christchurch to interview
Kingsford Smith and negotiated with him to
Kingsford Smith flew many trips that day,
taking about 14 passengers at a time and
“making a lot of money out of those 15-minute
“I was fortunate enough to be invited for a
flight over Waiuta in the biggest aeroplane to
have visited New Zealand at that time,” Bert
Bert had nearly been killed in 1933 when
the biplane he was a passenger in crashed and
cartwheeled, killing one person, and another
time he changed his flight; the plane he was
meant to be on crashed into Mount Murchison,
killing everyone on board. After that he decided
to stop flying altogether.
Allan McInroe was one of those lucky enough
to get a flight that day, but as he was just two
years old, he remembers nothing of it.
He was taken up on his aunty’s knee, and his
grandfather, a contractor at Ikamatua, supplied
fuel to ‘Smithy’.
“The landing area was behind the school up
on the terrace, on the plains. All the planes used
to land there,” Allan says.
The airfield was just a flat area for planes to
land, he says.
Kingsford Smith spent that night in
Greymouth at the new Revingtons Hotel, and
the next day he inspected the airstrip at the
Grey Hospital and also Taylorville. He also did
a radio interview, though it is unclear if this was
recorded and archived.
From there he left for Westport, landing on
the beach before flying on to Christchurch.
Just two months earlier, Kingsford Smith’s
trans-Tasman co pilot Charles Ulm had landed
at Ikamatua, on January 15, 1934.
The newspapers reported a large queue of
people waiting for flights at 10 shillings a time
(about $55 in today’s value).
The men were interested in setting up an
airmail service, yet it was an era when aviation
was incredibly risky.
Ulm disappeared in December 1934 while
attempting to fly from California to Hawaii.
A year later, Kingsford Smith disappeared
while flying from India to Singapore during an
attempt to break the England-Australia speed
The first man to fly across Australia, the Pacific Ocean
and the Tasman Sea, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith was a
hero in the golden age of aviation, greeted by thousands
wherever he went. At the height of his fame he flew his
famous plane the Southern Cross to the West Coast,
landing ... in a paddock at Ikamatua. LAURA MILLS
looks into a near-forgotten chapter of West Coast history.
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