Thursday 15 May 2008

Flying Boats: Sydney’s Golden Age of Aviation

On 5 July 1938 the first international commercial passenger flight left Sydney’s Water Airport for the United Kingdom. The flight took 10 days, included 30 stopovers and cost the equivalent of a year’s wage.

Coinciding with 70th anniversary of this maiden flight, a new exhibition at the Museum of Sydney explores the early days of international air travel in Australia, a time that became known as ’the golden age of aviation’.

While hard to imagine today, the affluent harbour suburb of Rose Bay was home to Sydney’s first international airport and from 1938 to 1974, its Sydney Water Airport serviced the mighty flying boats — large, luxurious, four-engine aircraft.

Rose Bay was the arrival and departure point for air travellers from Melbourne, Canberra and other parts of Australia en route to destinations then considered exotic such as Singapore, Rangoon, Athens, Rome and Southampton.

In an era when air travel was new, exciting and glamorous, passengers on the flying boats enjoyed a leisurely ten-day trip in first class comfort complete with plush, spacious seating and silver service dining. This was a time when pilots were celebrities and jobs on board were highly coveted, as it was a chance to travel the world.

Highlights of the exhibition include a re-created flying boat cabin and a specially commissioned film capturing the fascinating anecdotes and personal stories of travellers, air crew and ground workers at the busy Rose Bay flying boat base.

With the outbreak of World War II, the flying boat service was interrupted when the aircraft were called upon by the RAAF to support the war effort, ferrying supplies and carrying out reconnaissance operations. Some even believe the base was a target of the Japanese shells launched against Sydney in June 1942.

The advances in aviation technology throughout the War resulted in the flying boats losing their status as the number one carrier for international travel. However, Rose Bay continued to operate with a new focus on South Seas destinations that could only be accessed by water-based aircraft.

Places such as Lord Howe Island, Fiji and Noumea for the first time became affordable and popular with tens of thousands of Australians for holidays and honeymoons.

Rose Bay had long been one of Sydney’s most prestigious suburbs and the Federal Government’s decision to create an air base there had been met with much opposition, but with the closure of the base in 1974 came the end of a glorious era.

Featuring rare historic photographs and film, relics, models, uniforms, artworks, route maps, timetables and posters from a range of private and public collections including the Qantas Heritage Collection, Flying Boats celebrates the early days of trans-oceanic air travel evoking the novelty and luxury of this extraordinary chapter in Sydney’s history.

Where: Museum of Sydney, Cnr Bridge & Phillip Sts, Sydney

When: 10 May – 14 September 2008, open daily 9.30am – 5pm

Cost: Adults $10 Children $5 Family $20

Enquiries: T 02 9251 5988 or

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