The Southern Cross at Woodbourne


The Southern Cross Arrives to a Tumultuous Welcome in September 1928

Alongside the aeroplane Southern CrossAlongside the aeroplane Southern Cross [Woodbourne], 1928 Alexander Turnbull Library,
1/2-022623-F [Permission of ATL must be sought prior to further use]
Click image to enlarge

When the Southern Cross touched down at Christchurch's Wigram Airfield at 9.30 a.m. on 11 September 1928, about 35,000 people were there to greet the four aviation heroes.

Australians, Charles Kingsford Smith (a former RAF pilot), Charles Ulm  and navigator Harry Litchfield were household names in 1928.  The New Zealand Government provided radio operator, Tom McWilliams, for the historic trans-Tasman flight.

The Southern Cross, a Dutch designed and constructed Fokker FVIIb 3m, built in 1925, was originally bought for an Arctic expedition by an Australian explorer.

The return flight of the Southern Cross - the first flight from New Zealand to Australia - was scheduled to take off from Marlborough, as a longer runway could be created for the fuel-laden plane's return flight. Preparations saw the landing field at Woodbourne filled and rolled flat, and a massive temporary hanger built.

Southern Cross plane at Woodbourne (1928)Southern Cross plane at Woodbourne (1928)  0000.900.0561 .Image courtesy of Marlborough Historical Society - Marlborough Museum Archives
Click image to enlarge

Excitement grew in Blenheim on 27 September, 1928, until just after 4pm, a small speck appeared in the south over the Wither Hills. "There she is!"  roared the crowd in an exuberant crescendo. When the flying heroes landed and stepped to the ground, they were greeted by a cheering crowd.  

That evening, crowds of people thronged to the brilliantly lit aerodrome for a close-up view of the Southern Cross. Squadron-Leader Kingsford Smith and his party attended a concert at the Masonic Hall organized by the Marlborough Officers' Association, Marlborough Aero Club and the Returned Servicemen's Association (R.S.A.). The ‘no speeches' rule was apparently strictly enforced throughout the informal evening where Kingsford Smith and Ulm performed several songs on the ukele and sang a memorable duet.

View of the Southern Cross (aeroplane) in flight. 1928View of the Southern Cross (aeroplane) in flight, 1928 Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-0813-24 [Permission of ATL must be sought prior to further use]
Click image to enlarge

About 4,500 people turned out at Woodbourne Farm to farewell the plane and crew in the early dawn of 13 October.

The Southern Cross returned to New Zealand in January 1933 and again in early 1934.  During the 1933 visit, thousands of New Zealanders enjoyed the new experience of flying. In Auckland, the plane took 416 passengers on joyrides in one day. While only licensed to carry ten passengers, there were usually 12 or 14 people onboard - each paying £1!

The aircraft, its crew and their achievements, created a massive wave of enthusiasm among the general public for aviation and the aero-club movement.

"We flew here to link two countries which have, hitherto, been outposts of the Empire - and little known outposts at that." - Charles Kingsford Smith, 1928

Souvenir photograph of Kingsford Smith (1928/1930) Souvenir photograph of Kingsford Smith (1928/1930) 0000.900.0558. Image courtesy of Marlborough Historical Society - Marlborough Museum Archives. Click to enlarge

Flight-Lieutenant  Ulm was lost on a flight attempting to break a speed record across the Pacific in 1934.  Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, the dashing and inspirational aviator, who proved to the world that air travel was possible, vanished during a flight from England to Australia in 1935.

Today the "Southern Cross" can be seen at Brisbane Airport.

This article  was written by Steve Austin, Chief Executive of the Marlborough Museum and published in Wild Tomato, 2009

Updated: 22 Apr. 2020


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  • there is a picture of the Southern Cross being worked on by a mechanic prior to its return flight from Blenheim to Sydney ,the mechanic was my grandfather Patchet .History can sneak up on you when you least expect it

    Posted by Malcolm Mills , 14/03/2015 9:27pm (9 years ago)

  • The caption on the photo top right is incorrect. The photo is in fact the Southern Cross being refuelled at WOODBOURNE and NOT Wigram.
    For a start the mechanic working on the plane is my grandfather William Patchett (Ernest William Patchett or "Son") and he never went to Wigram to work on it.
    The photo is one of a series or one taken at the same time as the Woodbourne take off in 1928 for the return to Australia.
    Ed. This image caption has been amended in consultation with ATL
    My Grandfathers job was to reattach the original propellers that had been taken off for maintenance (They had been damaged in some storm or other at some stage on the way over I think from memory)
    An Auckland weekly news article of the time confirms this fact.
    The plane was NOT loaded up At Wigram with all the fuel to get back to Australia. That was the whole idea of coming to Blenheim so that they could "Fuel Cram' with enough fuel to get Back to Australia and go around the Southern Alps and not over them as leaving from Wigram would have meant doing.
    There is a series of photos taken at the same time that show the flight preparations and the Union truck that unloaded the fuel drums in the photo. A receipt for these drums is still in existence.
    The caption on the photo should read "Woodbourne Airfield Blenheim taken on or around 13th October.

    Posted by Graham Brooks, 14/10/2013 1:51pm (10 years ago)

  • My mum took a photo (wee) of the plane under cover surrounded by crowd of people ...will try and send some time ta

    Posted by bill johnsen, 14/10/2013 11:19am (10 years ago)

  • I have a cousin aged 102 says she flew in Southern Cross in 1933 visit from beach near Waihi.Would anyone else still be alive to have flown in the plane?

    Posted by R. Pollock, ()

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