BEEN to Canberra lately? I wonder if many folks down there in the nation's capital know they're missing an airport?
But they're not the only ones, as there are a few examples in the Newcastle area. More about that soon, however.
Canberra's missing airfield was originally conceived by architect Walter Burley Griffin as part of his grandiose design, but it only existed for probably two years around 1925 and 1926.
Today it's one of the capital's hidden secrets, and maybe that's to do with its short shelf life before another area - the present airport site to the south-east - was developed instead.
That may have had something to do with an air crash on the original aerodrome.
Meanwhile, in the Hunter, aviation is firmly in the news with last week's announcement of a $66 million upgrade of Newcastle Airport's runway to international standard, meaning we could be flying direct to Singapore, the US and the Middle East within two years.
And let's not forget more than $12 billion in economic growth forecast to follow the major decision.
Work on the civil airfield widening will be done at the same time as $120 million being spent on base works for Williamtown RAAF's Joint Strike Fighter jets at the joint-use airport.
It makes you wonder what would have happened if the RAAF base hadn't been established at Williamtown almost 80 years ago, in February 1941, to protect the Hunter's port and our then crucial steel industry.
The Williamtown civilian airport was set up in 1947, just after World War II, but other schemes to develop an airport reach back decades.
That's when all options were on the table with sites from Broadmeadow, Hexham, Redhead and even Kooragang (twice) under consideration.
The last big proposal for a Newcastle international airport was more than 20 years ago, in October 1998, and it was to be at Kooragang.
It was seen as a possible second airport for Sydney, and both cities were to be linked by a very fast train. Sound familiar?
Following local protests, including fears of bird strikes and engine failures, Greens Senator Bob Brown condemned the plan in March 1999.
He said the proposal would destroy the largest wetland rehabilitation project in the southern hemisphere and ignore three international treaties, including Ramsar, aimed at protecting migratory birds.
Brown said the flight route also came close to some of the most densely urbanised areas of Newcastle, exposing residents to flight path noise pollution.
Then in 2008, the NSW Government suggested Williamtown Airport instead as a possible second airport for Sydney. Nothing came of either scheme.
From the earliest days of Hunter Valley aviation, in the 1920s, flimsy biplanes made emergency landings at many places people today wouldn't consider proper airfields.
They include the old Newcastle racecourse, a former racecourse at Boolaroo and a long, bumpy paddock near the Redhead colliery.
But probably the most memorable airfield was behind the long defunct old Walsh Island Dockyard (1914-1933) in Newcastle Harbour. The site was opposite the former BHP Steelworks. Only the name Walsh Point is now commemorated on maps.
Walsh Island itself was a man-made miracle. It was created by combining a few small sand islands in north harbour. The island was developed by building about four miles (6.4km) of sea wall, then filling in behind it to eight feet (2.4m) above high water mark.
The arch of Stockton Bridge (from 1971) now stretches over the Hunter River from the northern part of this now lost island. It's also where some of the aerodrome was to operate.
A lone reminder of this airfield exists only in a photo, probably heavily retouched showing how it might have finally looked.
But people who once worked on the island can't recall an aerodrome existing there, and that's for a good reason - it never came fully into operation.
Despite at least two early aircraft landing rough there in 1920 and then 1929, it never opened for business.
Although about 5000 pounds ($10,000 today but probably costing 10 times more) was spent using primitive graders to level dredged river silt dumped there, it was an "unauthorised expenditure" by 1932. The money "was wasted" and the site was abandoned soon after.
Initial hopes for a successful future civil airfield on Walsh Island involved three runways, "each 160ft wide and about 2500ft long".
Famous aviation pioneer Sir Charles Kingsford Smith said in January 1929 that he preferred Walsh Island over sites he'd inspected at Hexham and Redhead.
He said a fleet of fast launches would compensate passengers for the island's remoteness.
By late August 1929, one runway was reported to be almost completed.
Fellow trailblazer 'Captain' Charles Ulm of Australian National Airways was also optimistic. He landed on the sand island in June 1929 and praised work progress. He declared when the aerodrome was fully operational ANA proposed to erect a hangar there.
The site would play an important role in the airline's regular Sydney to Brisbane service.
Lambton researcher and blogger Lachlan Wetherall also recently discovered that two separate airfields had been proposed for Walsh Island.
The smaller landing ground was to be used by the newly formed Newcastle Aero Club (NAC) and the larger one for civil aviation.
The NAC stayed keen to set up on the island until the Department of Lands in August 1932 said it instead favoured District Park, Broadmeadow (now the home of the Knights and Jets) for a future aerodrome.
For by December 1929 doubts had emerged if there was enough space for giant, triple-engine airliners to take off safely.
The other body blow during the Great Depression was the closure in mid-1933 of the nearby Walsh Island dockyard where 2500 people were once employed.
Today, Walsh Island is no longer an island. It was incorporated into the ambitious islands reclamation scheme in the 1960s.
Now it's part of the huge Kooragang industrial zone.
The NAC later became today's Royal Newcastle Aero Club and its popular District Park Aerodrome existed until 1963 when it moved to Rutherford, near Maitland.
So, to conclude, where was Canberra's missing airport?
What was once a hastily converted sheep paddock in the 1920s these days is buried under Dickson, one of the ACT's inner suburbs to the north of the city centre.
This lost "Northbourne Ave aviation ground" now comprising a busy shopping centre, homes and some sporting fields is sandwiched between the suburbs of Downer and Ainslie.
The national capital's first airfield is largely unmarked these days despite two airmen dying in the crash here of an RAAF De Havilland DH9 biplane in February 1926.
There are now calls for the airfield site to be surveyed afresh and to be heritage-listed as well.
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