The Southern Cross at Woodbourne
The Southern Cross Arrives to a Tumultuous Welcome in September 1928
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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.
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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.
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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
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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Further sources - The Southern Cross at Woodbourne
- Davis, P. (1977). Charles Kingsford Smith the world's greatest aviator. Sydney, Australia: Summit
- Fitzsimons, P. (2008) Charles Kingsford Smith and those magnificent men. Pymble, NSW: Harper Collins
- Kingsford-Smith, C. (1978) The Southern Cross Story. Adelaide : Rigby.
- McNally, W. (1966). Smithy: the Kingsford-Smith story. South Brunswick, New Jersey: Barnes
- Neal, T. (2006). Flying start: aviation in Motueka. Dunn A. (ed.) Richmond, New Zealand: Tasman District Council. 7-9.
- The Southern Cross flies again / [research and editing by Jim and Mary Barr].(1990) Wellington, N.Z. : ANZ Banking Group
- Stevens, B. (1985) Flying Home: a history of aviation in Nelson. Nelson, New Zealand: Nelson City Council. p. 3, 15
- A range of aviation objects related to the Southern Cross are housed at Marlborough Museum http://www.marlboroughmuseum.org.nz/
- Aimer, P. (2006). Aviation-Crossing the Tasman. In Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved April 22, 2020, from http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/6573/crew-of-the-southern-cross
- Frederick, H. (1983). Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith (1897-1935). In Dictionary of Australian Biography. Retrieved April 22, 2020 from http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kingsford-smith-sir-charles-edward-6964/text12095