Sydney Morning Herald Article - Thursday February 27, 1969

by Derril Farrar


Each week when the lumbering, rather endearing old Sandringham flying boats land at Lord Howe Island, tourists and the permanent residents turn out to welcome the new arrivals.

The welcome by the sprinkling of the 250 permanent residents in the crowd is as warm as any. The greeting, however, is not reserved entirely for the new guests, although the sincerity in that regard is obvious.

But if you were able to notice such hidden things, you would probably discover that their warmth, even affection, is directed largely at the reappearance of the old plane and its crew.

For over the years, the villagers have formed a strong bond between themselves and the aircraft, with which they feel an almost personal relationship.

No wonder. Apart from a cargo ship which occasionally calls at the island, the Sandringhams are the only tangible link the residents of this small island, 420 miles north-east of Sydney have with the Australian mainland or, for that matter, with any other country.

Nearly all the local people are concerned in some way with tourism, the island's only trade.

It has, through the flying boats, provided them with a comfortable if not lavish existence over the years.

In such a lotus setting little wonder that tourists return to the bustling cities firmly convinced that the residents have found their own form of paradise.

But say the flying boats were to stop. What then?

'It would,' said one elderly resident to whom we talked this week, 'become a form of hell. We just wouldn't be able to continue.'

Because of a fairly critical stage in the tide when the flying boat landed this week, it was only a matter of half an hour later that it was back in the air and on the way to Rose Bay.

And so we did not have more than a few minutes after having travelled to the jetty by launch to canvass local opinions.

But there is no doubt that the islanders realise the importance of the flying boats in their lives and know too that the aircraft cannot continue forever.

It will be a matter of general regret to learn that the life of these two comfortable old planes - a link with earlier, less hurried days of flying - is drawing to a close.

In June 1965 Airlines of N.S.W., which operates the service, advised the State and Federal Governments that five more years was about the limit to the life of the aircraft.

In the meantime, plans went ahead - at an unhurried rate - to establish a sealed strip on the island.

The stage has now been reached where it has been agreed that it is possible, and that the runway extending 600 feet into the lagoon could be constructed for $940,000.

But to date, not a sod has been turned.

It would be no gresat risk to say that there is not a hope in hell of the runway being completed by June of next year or anywhere near it.

It is for this reason that Airlines of N.S.W., an Ansett subsidiary, has told the islanders the flying boats will keep running as long as possible.

'We cannot leave the islanders in the lurch,' Captain Stewart Middlemiss, the airline's general manager said this week.

'We'll try to keep the service going but apart from the age of the planes, there are other factors which are making this continuation increasingly difficult.'

'From a nostalgic point of view I'd hate to see the old flying boats go,' Captain Middlemiss said.

In the meantime, the islanders are somewhat divided in their own reactions to the proposed airstrip.

'The older ones want the present conditions to continue, hoping that the Sandringhams will fly forever,' Captain Middlemiss said.

'The younger, more realistic ones recognise that change must come, that for their very existence it is inevitable.

'They do not do so happily, and I share their sentiments.

'For I have never known one instance where they have put an airstrip into a Pacific island,' Captain Middlemiss added, 'and not ruined a paradise.'