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Air Disaster Memorial, Pialligo Av, Oaks Estate, ACT, Australia

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List Register of the National Estate (Non-statutory archive)
Class Historic
Legal Status Registered (28/05/1996)
Place ID 18801
Place File No 8/01/000/0419
Statement of Significance
The Air Disaster Memorial is significant for its association with the 1940 aeroplane crash resulting in the deaths of its passengers who included three Commonwealth Cabinet Ministers and the Chief of the General Staff. The loss of these senior Commonwealth figures had a significant impact on the Government (Criterion A.4). The memorial is erected on the actual site of the crash and the eight eucalypt trees around it enhance the experience of the site (Criterion E.1).
Official Values Not Available
Description
HISTORY

Ten people, including three Commonwealth Ministers and the Chief of the General Staff, were killed on 13 August 1940, when their RAAF Lockheed Hudson crashed while circling prior to landing at Fairbairn Airport. The plane was bringing the Ministers and high officials from Melbourne for an important cabinet meeting when it nose dived into the hill and subsequently burst into flames. The tragedy assumed the proportions of a national disaster in view of the loss of the chief administrators of Australia's war effort. A memorial was suggested in Parliament by Dr Maloney (Labor) on 14 August 1940. However it was not until Dame Annabelle Rankin wrote to the then Minister for Air, William McMahon, about the request by Sir Brundenell White's relatives that a small cairn be erected at the point of the crash in memory of those who lost their lives, that the suggestion was given serious consideration. The request, in January 1952, was referred to Prime Minister Menzies, who was Chair of the National Memorials Committee and very supportive of the project.

The cairn and an associated plaque to be placed at Fairbairn Airport, were not supported by the National Capital Planning and Development Committee who felt that a plaque marking an air disaster was psychologically inappropriate at the airport. A cairn and memorial plaque on site was approved by W S Kent Hughes, as was a memorial plaque on one of the buildings at the civilian airport, on 9 February 1952. The plaque at the civilian airport however never eventuated. The site of the crash had to be marked with a cement peg at the time of the coroner's inquiry in 1940 by surveyor L C A Hope. It was on a portion of the Royal Military College (RMC) firing field and manoeuvre area (formerly Block 60 of the lease operated by D A Cameron, who subsequently disposed of his interests to W A Taylor). The permission of the next of kin of all victims was obtained and a design for the proposed memorial forwarded to them all. The concept was priced at 250 pounds in April 1958. Between April 1958 and August 1958, however, a change in proposal occurred. On 7 August 1958, a granite monolith was removed from the site of the Ainslie Rex Hotel to the site of the disaster and became what is now known as the Air Disaster Memorial. Wreaths were laid at the cairn on 13 August 1960, the twentieth anniversary of the disaster, in a simple ceremony attended by Prime Minister Menzies and twenty others. A National Memorial Service for the victims of the disaster was held on 16 August 1960 at St Paul's, Melbourne, as well as at St John's, Canberra and Westminister Abbey, London.

DESCRIPTION

A large granite monolith, 2m wide supported by two smaller stones at the back, form the cairn. The cairn is embedded in concrete, surrounded by a concrete kerb wall with a diameter of 5m. The space between is filled with granite chips. A plaque, made in Melbourne by Aron Engraving is centrally placed on the cairn bearing an inscription to: Brigadier the Honourable G Street, MP, the Minister of State for Army and Repatriation; the Honourable Sir Henry Gullett, MP, Vice President of the Executive Council; the Honourable J Fairbairn, MP, Minister for Air and Civil Aviation; Lieutenant General Sir Brudenell White, Chief of General Staff; Mr R E Elford, Private Secretary to the Minister for Air; Lieutenant Colonel Thornwaite, Staff Officer attached to Chief of General Staff; Flight Lieutenant R H Hitchcock, pilot; Pilot Officer Weisener, assistant pilot; Corporal J F Palmer, wireless operator; Aircraftman Crosdale, fitter, all of whom were killed at the spot. The erection of the monument was supervised by the Department of Works. Eight eucalyptus trees form a loose semi-circular shape round the monument and enhance the setting. They are thought to be vestiges of the original heavily wooded hilltop.
History Not Available
Condition and Integrity
The plaque is in good condition although it is not original. There have been several plaques provided through time, because of theft or vandalism. The stone is in fair to good condition as it has suffered some exfoliation. The surrounding landscape is in generally poor condition, especially the area planted with shrubs. (August 1994)
Location
Fairbairn Pine Plantation, Pialligo Avenue, 2.5km north of Oaks Estate, comprising the memorial and associated structures and plantings.
Bibliography
'CANBERRA TIMES', 13 AUGUST 1990.
'CANBERRA TIMES', 14 AUGUST 1940.
'CANBERRA TIMES', 15 AUGUST 1940.
RITCHIE, JOHN (ED), AUSTRALIAN DICTIONARY OF BIOGRAPHY, VOL 12,
MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1990.

Report Produced  Sat Sep 20 14:43:56 2014