Stinker’s History: Development on Broughton Island

Unable to take to the air from Broughton Island this Cessna was ‘ferried’ back to Nelson Bay by trawlerman Ron ‘Clanka’ McLean.

IT is not generally realised that there was a time in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the development of Broughton Island as a holiday resort was under close consideration.

This development was to be done by an American financier who thought that the island would make a first class tourist resort.

It had the advantage of being close to Sydney and with its picturesque topography, good swimming beaches, snorkelling and fishing, it had unlimited potential.

To achieve that potential, it was necessary to guarantee reliable transport to and from the island.

Boating was not the answer because of the unforgiving sea.

Holiday makers could be stranded for weeks at a time – not good for business.

A helicopter couldn’t handle the expected influx, however an aeroplane would solve all the problems.

It was decided that an airstrip be constructed.

This was not one of your high-tech places with a control tower and a proliferation of equipment that could handle Boeing 747s but a rather humble strip that would stretch on the only piece of reasonably suitable land, from the far side of Esmeralda Cove towards North Beach.

It was envisaged that the landing site would be equipped with the best windsock that money could buy.

The strip could be described as a little rough and ready but the grass had to be mowed, the swamp drained and the rabbit and mutton bird holes filled

So to the strains of ‘123 Red Light’ by the Fruit Gum Factory, the number one hit tune of the moment, the crew included Bobby Phillips, Kevin Harris, Bob ‘Toofy’ Letchert, Clive Robinson and his thirteen-year-old son Chris.

Getting equipment onto the island proved difficult, particularly the ride on mower, the self driven mower and the push mower.

A tractor was flown over by helicopter.

The going was tough with the extensive swamp proving difficult to dry and level and the drier ground being honeycombed with warrens and burrows.

There were a few successful landings in a fixed wing aircraft.

One director landed on the island with his wife and children in a plane flown by a pilot from the Illawarra Flying School.

Another, from the aerodrome at Bankstown, landed successfully in a tri plane.

Finally however after one plane, approaching from the south, ran off the runway and nosed down onto North Beach and another found it impossible to take off, was dismantled and taken back to Nelson Bay on the deck of a trawler, it was decided to call it quits.

The project, like the planes, didn’t get off the ground.

Aviator, explorer and thrill seeker Wac Whiteman recalled his Broughton Island experiences.

“I first heard of Broughton Island during 1956 at the time of the first Redex Trial.

“I had been approached by an American financier, who had a very large boat and he was interested in leasing Broughton Island.

“His idea was to put in tourist cottages and he needed an airstrip so I went over.

“We took a small bulldozer over on a small barge and we levelled an area in the vicinity of where the spring was and we had to put in a pipe to redirect the water.

“Presumably this was across from Esmeralda Cove and the strip extended towards North Beach.

“We had to insert pipes to drain the area because it was quite moist.

“It was a short trip for it went across towards a skillion and we had to land uphill.

“I used to land at Dark Point or what is more commonly known as the Little Gibber and I could fly over and check the strip out from there.

“The American formed a company, a syndicate of six, to develop the island, and at that time I used to commute from Dark Point by helicopter.

“There apparently was some difficulty obtaining a satisfactory lease and the development did not go ahead.”

Whiteman says he landed a fixed wing aircraft about three or four times on Broughton Island.

“I used to go there more frequently by helicopter where I would buy very large lobsters up to twelve pounds in weight from the Greek fisherman, Jim Karageorgis, who lived on the island.

“If it had been a public landing strip it would have been registered with all sorts of restrictions placed on it.

“As it was, I still had to get permission each time I wanted to land on it.

“On more than one occasion I was warned that I was ‘flying in RAAF airspace’ and faced the possibility of being shot down.

“We would fly in and land up the hill but it was not possible to take off that way.”

Once when he was flying down from Queenscliff, Whiteman crashed in the Myall Lakes.

“I owned the plane and apparently wasps had crawled into the air vent of the petrol tank and built a nest there.

“I was flying over Seal Rocks and waved to a friend there but as I flew inland over the Myall Lakes, the engine suddenly stopped.

“I could see the reflection of water shining through the trees of what appeared to be a shallow swamp so I landed and as soon as the wheels touched the water, the plane flipped over and I was trapped in the aircraft.

“The water was shallow but unfortunately while I was suspended upside down, a lot of gold sovereigns that I had in the fob pocket of my pants trickled out and fell hitting me under the chin before falling into the water.

“I was unable to retrieve the sovereigns at the time so I took a number of compass bearings to fix the location and included in these was one off a Dutch submarine that was stranded on the beach.

“It had broken away from a tow whilst travelling north.

“Search parties were sent out to search for me from Bulahdelah and another from Seal Rocks.

“Someone spotted me from an aircraft as I was walking along the beach towards Seal Rocks so they sent out a jeep to pick me up.”

By John ‘Stinker’ CLARKE

Leave a Reply