THERE are plenty of high flyers up at Rutherford Aerodrome, out of Maitland.
And, if these aviators really want perfect flying weather, they might seek divine help from the weather gods by praying at their own chapel.
If they could find it, that is.
For the Hunter Valley airstrip holds a secret. One of its administration buildings is a former colourful chapel recycled from the old Greta Migrant Camp site just a few kilometres up the New England Highway.
Just a month after the massive camp closed in January 1960, the federal government disposed of 267 buildings on site. Then in August the camp site, near the main northern railway line behind the township, was officially handed back to the army (its original owner). This then prompted another frenzied round of sales of buildings and stores.
This week, Herald reader Trevor Kedwell recalled a memory of organised chaos about that time.
One of history sleuth Schulha's biggest finds was also one of his strangest.
"As a kid I remember the constant heavy traffic on the highway after contractors dismantled lots of Greta camp buildings to transport them elsewhere. And they all went," he said, rather surprised.
Kedwell was also able to solve the mystery posed in last week's history page about the origin of the big hangar-type building left like an orphan structure at the back of a Branxton business.
But more about that shortly.
The former chapel recycled at Rutherford was once noteworthy for having a large sanctuary, a whole wall of religious panels depicting "The Last Judgement" painted behind the altar. The end and side walls were also decorated with religious motifs. The hut windows were even painted to resemble stained glass.
It was called St Anthony's Chapel and served both as a primary school and a chapel for thousands of children and their parents. But all trace of the artwork has disappeared, possibly painted over. But no one seems to know when or why.
The striking sanctuary mural was painted by the Mader clan, a Hungarian migrant family who once lived briefly at the camp. Within days of arriving at the camp in 1949, the father, Marcel Mader, his wife and son started to scrub, paint and decorate a former wooden army hut to "transform it into a chapel of beauty".
The old CUSA (Catholic United Services Auxiliary) hut had been built in 1939 for army trainees, then served the migrant camp from 1949 to 1960 before later forming part of the Royal Newcastle Aero Club (RNAC) at Rutherford.
"It's a real puzzle what happened to all the craftsmanship and talent of the Mader family. I've tried to find out, but without success," Maitland writer Alek Schulha said.
Schulha is the author of the impressive, recently published history of Greta Camp from 1939 to 1960, Beneath the Shadows of Mount Molly Morgan.
The former Herald journalist's quest to find out more about the place where he was born of migrant parents occupied his spare time for eight years. By the end though, he'd interviewed 130 former camp residents to tell their stories for his best-selling, 508-page book ($55).
As the former camp is now nothing but empty paddocks, Schulha also took the time to try to track down major buildings once there. In total, there were originally more than 450 structures, from Nissen huts to bulk stores. That's probably not surprising when you consider that, during its 11-year lifespan, the camp took in 100,000 migrants comprising 18 nationalities.
One of history sleuth Schulha's biggest finds was also one of his strangest. It was at Tahlee, near Karuah, on the northern shores of Port Stephens.
There, decades ago, the then Tahlee Bible College had been expanding, so the operators were able to buy 10 old huts fairly cheaply. The huts had been dismantled at the old Greta Camp and ranged from round corrugated iron buildings (Nissen huts) from Greta's 'Silver City' to long, brown wooden barracks-style structures from 'Chocolate City".
As Schulha writes: "As a former Greta Camp resident, walking around the grounds of Tahlee is like being in a time warp. Everywhere you look you can see evidence of the former army/migrant camp at Greta. Credit must be given to the (Bible) college for preserving so many of our heritage buildings. I encourage former residents of Greta Camp to visit Tahlee. You will have goose bumps all day," he writes.
The biggest surprise, however, was spying Tahlee's main office/meeting hall standing proudly by the waterfront. Still attracting a crowd 80 years after it was first constructed at the old Greta Army Camp is the huge, former cinema hall (pictured).
The imposing timber structure could once accommodate 1000 soldiers for live vaudeville shows and movies in World War 11. Later (from 1949), thousands of displaced people fleeing war-torn Europe used it for regular entertainment.
Once the first building of its type in Australia, it was bought by Tahlee staff in 1963, dismantled and shifted. It was officially opened in 1976. Rather remarkably, Schulha also discovered that all of the trailers used to shift many huts, and the crane and winch used to dismantle and re-erect the giant cinema hall, were still to be found on the Tahlee site.
Meanwhile, there was a good response from readers to last Saturday's history tale of the huge "mystery hangar" structure at Branxton. Because of space, I'll confine the response to just one story today.
Trevor Kedwell said the large Nissen hut at Branxton was the last remaining building of what was Standen's Engineering, which operated there between 1960 and 1985 and once employed 140 people.
"The business expanded at a time when the Greta Migrant Camp was being sold off and Jim Standen bought many buildings from there," Kedwell said.
"The business was involved in the design and manufacture of specialised earthmoving and mining equipment. They used to make 'dozer blades and vehicle cabins. It was big business, a very big business.
"That big (Nissen) hut still left was used profile cutting; cutting out shapes in three-inch steel. Jim Standen had a close working relationship with a Mr Bruce Moore who had a local earthmoving business. They were both avid flyers and were involved with the RNAC at Rutherford.
"They were instrumental in obtaining buildings for the air club from the Greta Camp. Mr Moore had his own airstrip at Elderslie, which still exists today. On private property, it's used by skydivers.
"Unfortunately, Moore died in a plane crash, along with others, at Coffs Harbour in the early 1970s, I think."
And as for the other yarns left out today (such as mirages on the once hidden old red gravel wartime airstrip near Woy Woy) well, that's a tale for another day.
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