Monday, November 7, 2016


When a cyclone hit  Darwin  in March  1937 it caused  extensive damage  and at least one death , the  Sydney Morning Herald  went  to  great  lengths to get the   first  photographs of  the  disaster.  Reports had  come through  that  Government House ,  schools ,  many houses , including  all at   Myilly  Point , had been  damaged ;   places known  to  be out  of  operation   were  the   Customs  House   and  the Telegraph  Station .  The  Vic  Hotel , which lost its  roof in the 1897 cyclone,  had  again  been unroofed . There    were  grave  fears  for  the  safety of the  pearling  fleet.
By Peter Simon
The  Sydney Morning Herald , which  used  its  own planes to distribute  newspapers  in  rural  areas of  NSW,  discussed the situation  with   one of  its  reporters,  Jack Percival , who  was closely connected  with leading  aviation   figures , one of whom was  P.G.Taylor , author of  this  1944  published  book, recently  unearthed  in Townsville , which  includes coverage of  the  dramatic  two  day  event.
It was  decided that  Taylor would  fly  Percival  in a  Gull aircraft  from Sydney  to  Oodnadatta  or  Farina  in  South Australia  and pick up the cyclone photos flown down by a  Guinea Airway's  flight  from    Darwin  . Things did  not  go  as planned .

Heading for Broken Hill, they made a night time landing   at  Condobolin ,  with  the  aid of  a  smoke fire ,  for fuel .  On  take off , the  Gull hit a mound of dirt and the starboard spat was  crushed against   the   wheel     and the  undercarriage  ended  up  in  an "unnatural  angle ."

Consideration was   given to asking  Kiwi aviatrix  Jean  Batten  to be a  sport and lend the  undercarriage of  her  plane which was  the same as  the damaged Gull , but  there  was no  way of  getting  it  in  time .
Taylor began making  frantic repairs with the help of a local welder who had  an oxyacetylene  blowtorch .  While this was  going on ,  enterprising Percival   , still intent on  getting the photographs  to Sydney despite the mishap  , used his  knowledge of  the aviation industry  to save  the  situation .

Taylor had  great confidence in Percival's capacity to resolve   difficult situations  and  wrote of  past  experiences where  the reporter  had   been able to get  telegraph offices in various places  to open  at impossible times.  He  provided  the  following  example of  his  skill :I think his best  effort was  at the village of  Laboen Hadji on the island of Lombok in the Netherland  Indies  when  he opened  the local post office  at some extraordinary  hour  and sent   a  cable to Australia  through a Chinese  Malay  who could not  speak or understand   English ."

Percival was  able to  contact  pilot  Cyril  Kleinig  in  Adelaide who had a  single seater   1917 Scout   who  subsequently  picked  up  the photos  at  Farina , flew to Broken  Hill  , where the  mended   Gull   duo   took possession   of the precious cargo of  photographs.

Another fuel stop  was  made at Condobolin to make the run to  Sydney. However, bad weather was encountered  and the plane  was  forced  down at Orange , and  taxied   up  against  the  hedge  of  a  farm  for shelter .

While they were invited for a meal, Percival  telephoned  the manager  of  Orange  picture theatre who arranged  for a local  man to  speed through  driving  rain  in a car  to the Sydney Morning  Herald , arriving at 11.24pm , with the  photographs .  At the Orange Hotel , a jug of  beer was drained    to  honour  the  brave   car  driver  who had    finished  the  run .
UPCOMING : More  adventures  of  Percival  and  Taylor, including what happened  when   Percival  and  his  wife were captured  by  the  Japanese.