Airfield unearthed

History of Darton Field - now known as Gisborne Airport.

History of Darton Field - now known as Gisborne Airport.

DEPRESSION WORKERS: In this photograph, taken by the late Alec Denham and found recently by his daughter, Pam Peach, men work at Darton Field - now known as Gisborne Airport - in 1931. Development of Darton Field, with the help of Government subsidies provided much needed work during the Depression. Picture supplied
SO LONG: “Good bye Smithy” is how ​Charles Kingsford-Smith was farewelled when he left Gisborne in his famous Southern Cross in January 1933. Despite being pictured at Darton Field, the famous Australian landed and took off from Waikanae Beach. Picture courtesy of Tairawhiti Museum
N THE BEACH: Charles Ulm, the famous co-pilot of Charles Kingsford-Smith, on Waikanae Beach in January 1934 in his Avro Ten monoplane named Faith in Australia. Picture courtesy of Tairawhiti Museum

Never before published photographs of Depression era men working on Darton Field led to the Gisborne Herald’s Wynsley Wrigley looking into the history of what became known as Gisborne Airport.

Newly discovered photographs of Darton Field — now known as Gisborne Airport — dating back to 1931 highlight the prominent role this district has played in New Zealand’s early aviation history.

Mrs Pam Peach has found among the possessions of her late father, Alec Denham, photographs of workmen further developing the airfield a year after it began operating in 1930.

The history of Darton Field is all- encompassing, with links to pioneering aviators like Jean Batten, the development of New Zealand’s aviation industry, the reluctance of pre-Keynesian governments to fully support Depression-era work schemes, and, according to the Poverty Bay Herald, the ‘‘value of air transport in an emergency’’ in the immediate aftermath of the 1931 Napier earthquake.

The area that was to become the airport was bought and developed by Gisborne Borough, Cook County Council and Waikohu County Council with the support of the Gisborne Aero Club and a group of visionary aviation enthusiasts who had been looking for a suitably large plot of land.

The airfield was named Darton Field after the Gisborne Borough Council engineer of the time, George Darton.

Mrs Peach recognised her father’s handwriting on the back of the photographs she found. He worked for the council. He has noted that the land being cleared was purchased from the Machell estate.

It is known that the first 100 acres of the airfield was purchased from the estate of the late Mr J. Machell and was called Machell’s Paddock.

The airfield began operating in 1930 with Gisborne Borough Council making plans for hangars and other buildings to be erected in 1931 at a cost of £700.

On January 17, 1930 The Poverty Herald reported Gisborne Borough Council would pay four-sevenths of the cost of purchasing and levelling the site. Cook County Council would pay two-sevenths and Waikohu County Council one-seventh.
The Local Government Loans Board would lend £5000, £3100 for the land and £1900 for employment funding.

In April, Cook County Council described Machell’s Paddock as needing extensive filling, but recommended the purchase go ahead.

The land was well drained and not subject to flooding.

There was land to the west and south, which would not be required by the town and was suitable for airport expansion.

But the Poverty Bay Herald also reported on what was to become a recurring theme.

Prime Minister and Minister of Finance George Forbes “could not give an understanding that subsidies would resume for the relief of unemployment’’.

In September, the Gisborne Herald published several reports on negotiations with the Government over unemployment subsidies.

Mr Forbes practised financial orthodoxy in a time before the pump-priming policies of the New Deal and New Zealand’s first Labour Government.

Civic reception for ‘mystery flyer’

On September 1, MP Douglas Lynsar, formerly the mayor of Gisborne, said the Government would not grant a subsidy “in view of the maintenance of the economy campaign initiated by Prime Minister George Forbes”.

Only days later the Herald reported that Gisborne Borough Council had exhausted its funds and 75 men working at the airport would be dismissed.

The 75 men, working since August 4, were responsible for 350 dependants.

The end of work would mean “a return to the verge of destitution’’ for the families.

Only when mayor Billy Coleman, soon to be Gisborne’s MP, travelled to Wellington, did the government agree to the unemployment subsidy.

The Hawke’s Bay and East Coast Aero Club would also make a grant as would the RSA, as some of the unemployed men were returned servicemen.

On December 19, 1930, only seven weeks before the Napier earthquake, one of the country’s most famous aviators, Oscar Garden, landed at Darton Field during a celebratory tour of his homeland.
Garden, now largely forgotten, proved to be a star attraction after flying from England to Australia in 19 days during October.

He had only gained his pilot’s licence in July and attempted the fourth solo England-Australia flight to accumulate flying hours to gain his commercial licence.

Garden was unknown to the public and the media, who referred to him as “the mystery flyer’’ during the long flight.
“No one was there to greet him when he landed at Wyndham (Australia) and his aeroplane was mistaken for the mail,’’ reported The Poverty Herald when he flew into Gisborne.

No such fate awaited Garden at Darton Field.

He was officially welcomed upon his landing by members of the Gisborne Aero Club.

More than 70 cars were parked at Darton Field and the Municipal Bus Department ran a service from the Chief Post Office to greet “the debonair young New Zealander”, as the Poverty Bay Herald described him.
Within 90 minutes of his arrival, Garden was attending a civic reception.

The following day he continued his tour flying on to Hastings in his second-hand de Havilland DH 60 Gipsy Moth named Kia Ora — the same aircraft he had flown from England to Australia.

In its early days, the airfield was too short for some aircraft.

New Zealander George Bolt and Australian legends Charles Kingsford-Smith and Charles Ulm were among pilots who landed on Waikanae beach, attracting vast crowds.
Kingsford-Smith and co-pilot Ulm made the first US to Australia trip in 1928, and the first trans-Tasman flight the same year.

On January 18, 1933 Kingsford-Smith flew into Poverty Bay in Southern Cross, the aircraft he used on his historic 1928 flights.

Large crowds gathered on Kaiti Hill and on the beach to watch him arrive, and when he left two days later.

During his stay he gave lucky residents the thrill of a lifetime with flights taking off from near the Beach Society building.

His departure ‘‘was a rousing one’’ with many among the large crowd calling out ‘‘goodbye Smithy’’.

Twelve months later, on January 3 1934, large crowds returned to Waikanae Beach to watch Ulm land.
“The crowds of people, restrained by common sense for the most part, and by the police in isolated instances, had left the lower portion of the beach clear for the monoplane (an Avro Ten called Faith in Australia), but once the plane was on the sand and halted, there was a breaking of the ranks,’’ said the Poverty Bay Herald.

“Mr Ulm’s machine was surrounded by a dense mass of people and as the famous pilot stepped on to the sand he was greeted with hand claps and cheery calls.”

Flights with Ulm proved popular with queues forming of enthusiastic ticket buyers.

A ticket-selling agent had arrived in Gisborne ahead of the celebrity pilot.

The Poverty Bay Herald said Ulm’s monoplane with its improved seating and spacious windows gave a better view of the district compared to Kingford-Smith’s Southern Cross.

Both Australians were shortly to pay for their pioneering spirit with their lives.

Batten a popular visitor

Ulm went down in the sea between California and Hawaii in December 1934 and was never found.
Kingsford-Smith disappeared a year later while attempting to fly from India to Singapore, in December 1935.

New Zealand’s other internationally known aviator, Jean Batten, landed at Darton Field at 11am on August 6, 1934.

Her visit was also part of a celebratory national tour after Ms Batten had broke Amy Johnson’s England to Australia record.

Her de Havilland Moth — the same plane used on her historic flight — like Ulm before her, was immediately surrounded upon landing by hundreds of people.

Ms Batten was welcomed by Mayor John Jackson and J.A. Nolan and George Nicholls of Gisborne Aero Club.

She later attended popular receptions at the Regent in the afternoon and at night on consecutive days.

Ms Batten stopped at Wairoa for 30 minutes after she left Gisborne bound for Napier.

George Bolt had been the first star aviator to fly into Gisborne — in 1930.
Bolt flew a Dominion Airlines’ (he was a company director) Desoutter 11 on a regular passenger service between Gisborne and Hastings.

The service proved invaluable after the Napier earthquake.

Bolt’s aviation career started as an apprentice mechanic at the Walsh brothers’ New Zealand Flying School in Auckland during World War 1. By 1919 he was the school’s chief pilot.

Bolt took New Zealand’s first aerial photographs in 1912 and delivered the country’s first official airmail in 1919.
He achieved a number of early aviation milestones, including long-distance and altitude records before working in commercial aviation.

Bolt served as an engineer with the RNZAF during World War 2 and later became chief engineer of Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL), the forerunner of Air New Zealand.

The long road leading to Auckland Airport is name George Bolt Memorial Drive.

Dominion Airlines collapsed in 1931 when prominent Gisborne businessman Walter Findlay, another passenger called W.C Strand and the pilot were killed over Wairoa during a Gisborne to Hastings flight.

It was reported that the plane crashed at “terrific speed” into the railway yards at North Clyde as pilot Ivan Knight attempted to drop a bag of letters.

It was the first fatal accident on a scheduled air service in New Zealand.
George Nicholls, A.B. Williams and E.R. Black established Gisborne Air Transport Ltd in place of Dominion Airlines with Harry Lett as their pilot.

Mr Nicholls, a bomber pilot in World War 1, had already played a leading part in the search for an aerodrome site.
With a DH 60 Cabin Moth and a Soutter monoplane, the company established the district’s first locally-based air service.

Most of the Gisborne Air Transport shareholders went on to form East Coast Airways in 1934, which operated a daily service between Gisborne and Napier.

The company, which used twin engined Dragon 10-seater machines, was absorbed into Union Airways in 1936.
During World War 2, Darton Field became larger as the Royal New Zealand Air force operated there with 8 (General Reconnaissance) Squadron operating Vickers Vincents and Vildebeeste bi-planes for coastal patrol work.

Later 30 Squadron, formed from 8 Squadron, operated Grumman Avengers.

One aircraft failed to return from an operation, possibly falling victim to a Japanese submarine.

Most of the airmen went on to serve overseas.

In 1947, Union Airways, like many other private airlines, became part of National Airways Corporation (NAC).
NAC merged with Air New Zealand in 1979.

Never before published photographs of Depression era men working on Darton Field led to the Gisborne Herald’s Wynsley Wrigley looking into the history of what became known as Gisborne Airport.

Newly discovered photographs of Darton Field — now known as Gisborne Airport — dating back to 1931 highlight the prominent role this district has played in New Zealand’s early aviation history.

Mrs Pam Peach has found among the possessions of her late father, Alec Denham, photographs of workmen further developing the airfield a year after it began operating in 1930.

The history of Darton Field is all- encompassing, with links to pioneering aviators like Jean Batten, the development of New Zealand’s aviation industry, the reluctance of pre-Keynesian governments to fully support Depression-era work schemes, and, according to the Poverty Bay Herald, the ‘‘value of air transport in an emergency’’ in the immediate aftermath of the 1931 Napier earthquake.

The area that was to become the airport was bought and developed by Gisborne Borough, Cook County Council and Waikohu County Council with the support of the Gisborne Aero Club and a group of visionary aviation enthusiasts who had been looking for a suitably large plot of land.

The airfield was named Darton Field after the Gisborne Borough Council engineer of the time, George Darton.

Mrs Peach recognised her father’s handwriting on the back of the photographs she found. He worked for the council. He has noted that the land being cleared was purchased from the Machell estate.

It is known that the first 100 acres of the airfield was purchased from the estate of the late Mr J. Machell and was called Machell’s Paddock.

The airfield began operating in 1930 with Gisborne Borough Council making plans for hangars and other buildings to be erected in 1931 at a cost of £700.

On January 17, 1930 The Poverty Herald reported Gisborne Borough Council would pay four-sevenths of the cost of purchasing and levelling the site. Cook County Council would pay two-sevenths and Waikohu County Council one-seventh.
The Local Government Loans Board would lend £5000, £3100 for the land and £1900 for employment funding.

In April, Cook County Council described Machell’s Paddock as needing extensive filling, but recommended the purchase go ahead.

The land was well drained and not subject to flooding.

There was land to the west and south, which would not be required by the town and was suitable for airport expansion.

But the Poverty Bay Herald also reported on what was to become a recurring theme.

Prime Minister and Minister of Finance George Forbes “could not give an understanding that subsidies would resume for the relief of unemployment’’.

In September, the Gisborne Herald published several reports on negotiations with the Government over unemployment subsidies.

Mr Forbes practised financial orthodoxy in a time before the pump-priming policies of the New Deal and New Zealand’s first Labour Government.

Civic reception for ‘mystery flyer’

On September 1, MP Douglas Lynsar, formerly the mayor of Gisborne, said the Government would not grant a subsidy “in view of the maintenance of the economy campaign initiated by Prime Minister George Forbes”.

Only days later the Herald reported that Gisborne Borough Council had exhausted its funds and 75 men working at the airport would be dismissed.

The 75 men, working since August 4, were responsible for 350 dependants.

The end of work would mean “a return to the verge of destitution’’ for the families.

Only when mayor Billy Coleman, soon to be Gisborne’s MP, travelled to Wellington, did the government agree to the unemployment subsidy.

The Hawke’s Bay and East Coast Aero Club would also make a grant as would the RSA, as some of the unemployed men were returned servicemen.

On December 19, 1930, only seven weeks before the Napier earthquake, one of the country’s most famous aviators, Oscar Garden, landed at Darton Field during a celebratory tour of his homeland.
Garden, now largely forgotten, proved to be a star attraction after flying from England to Australia in 19 days during October.

He had only gained his pilot’s licence in July and attempted the fourth solo England-Australia flight to accumulate flying hours to gain his commercial licence.

Garden was unknown to the public and the media, who referred to him as “the mystery flyer’’ during the long flight.
“No one was there to greet him when he landed at Wyndham (Australia) and his aeroplane was mistaken for the mail,’’ reported The Poverty Herald when he flew into Gisborne.

No such fate awaited Garden at Darton Field.

He was officially welcomed upon his landing by members of the Gisborne Aero Club.

More than 70 cars were parked at Darton Field and the Municipal Bus Department ran a service from the Chief Post Office to greet “the debonair young New Zealander”, as the Poverty Bay Herald described him.
Within 90 minutes of his arrival, Garden was attending a civic reception.

The following day he continued his tour flying on to Hastings in his second-hand de Havilland DH 60 Gipsy Moth named Kia Ora — the same aircraft he had flown from England to Australia.

In its early days, the airfield was too short for some aircraft.

New Zealander George Bolt and Australian legends Charles Kingsford-Smith and Charles Ulm were among pilots who landed on Waikanae beach, attracting vast crowds.
Kingsford-Smith and co-pilot Ulm made the first US to Australia trip in 1928, and the first trans-Tasman flight the same year.

On January 18, 1933 Kingsford-Smith flew into Poverty Bay in Southern Cross, the aircraft he used on his historic 1928 flights.

Large crowds gathered on Kaiti Hill and on the beach to watch him arrive, and when he left two days later.

During his stay he gave lucky residents the thrill of a lifetime with flights taking off from near the Beach Society building.

His departure ‘‘was a rousing one’’ with many among the large crowd calling out ‘‘goodbye Smithy’’.

Twelve months later, on January 3 1934, large crowds returned to Waikanae Beach to watch Ulm land.
“The crowds of people, restrained by common sense for the most part, and by the police in isolated instances, had left the lower portion of the beach clear for the monoplane (an Avro Ten called Faith in Australia), but once the plane was on the sand and halted, there was a breaking of the ranks,’’ said the Poverty Bay Herald.

“Mr Ulm’s machine was surrounded by a dense mass of people and as the famous pilot stepped on to the sand he was greeted with hand claps and cheery calls.”

Flights with Ulm proved popular with queues forming of enthusiastic ticket buyers.

A ticket-selling agent had arrived in Gisborne ahead of the celebrity pilot.

The Poverty Bay Herald said Ulm’s monoplane with its improved seating and spacious windows gave a better view of the district compared to Kingford-Smith’s Southern Cross.

Both Australians were shortly to pay for their pioneering spirit with their lives.

Batten a popular visitor

Ulm went down in the sea between California and Hawaii in December 1934 and was never found.
Kingsford-Smith disappeared a year later while attempting to fly from India to Singapore, in December 1935.

New Zealand’s other internationally known aviator, Jean Batten, landed at Darton Field at 11am on August 6, 1934.

Her visit was also part of a celebratory national tour after Ms Batten had broke Amy Johnson’s England to Australia record.

Her de Havilland Moth — the same plane used on her historic flight — like Ulm before her, was immediately surrounded upon landing by hundreds of people.

Ms Batten was welcomed by Mayor John Jackson and J.A. Nolan and George Nicholls of Gisborne Aero Club.

She later attended popular receptions at the Regent in the afternoon and at night on consecutive days.

Ms Batten stopped at Wairoa for 30 minutes after she left Gisborne bound for Napier.

George Bolt had been the first star aviator to fly into Gisborne — in 1930.
Bolt flew a Dominion Airlines’ (he was a company director) Desoutter 11 on a regular passenger service between Gisborne and Hastings.

The service proved invaluable after the Napier earthquake.

Bolt’s aviation career started as an apprentice mechanic at the Walsh brothers’ New Zealand Flying School in Auckland during World War 1. By 1919 he was the school’s chief pilot.

Bolt took New Zealand’s first aerial photographs in 1912 and delivered the country’s first official airmail in 1919.
He achieved a number of early aviation milestones, including long-distance and altitude records before working in commercial aviation.

Bolt served as an engineer with the RNZAF during World War 2 and later became chief engineer of Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL), the forerunner of Air New Zealand.

The long road leading to Auckland Airport is name George Bolt Memorial Drive.

Dominion Airlines collapsed in 1931 when prominent Gisborne businessman Walter Findlay, another passenger called W.C Strand and the pilot were killed over Wairoa during a Gisborne to Hastings flight.

It was reported that the plane crashed at “terrific speed” into the railway yards at North Clyde as pilot Ivan Knight attempted to drop a bag of letters.

It was the first fatal accident on a scheduled air service in New Zealand.
George Nicholls, A.B. Williams and E.R. Black established Gisborne Air Transport Ltd in place of Dominion Airlines with Harry Lett as their pilot.

Mr Nicholls, a bomber pilot in World War 1, had already played a leading part in the search for an aerodrome site.
With a DH 60 Cabin Moth and a Soutter monoplane, the company established the district’s first locally-based air service.

Most of the Gisborne Air Transport shareholders went on to form East Coast Airways in 1934, which operated a daily service between Gisborne and Napier.

The company, which used twin engined Dragon 10-seater machines, was absorbed into Union Airways in 1936.
During World War 2, Darton Field became larger as the Royal New Zealand Air force operated there with 8 (General Reconnaissance) Squadron operating Vickers Vincents and Vildebeeste bi-planes for coastal patrol work.

Later 30 Squadron, formed from 8 Squadron, operated Grumman Avengers.

One aircraft failed to return from an operation, possibly falling victim to a Japanese submarine.

Most of the airmen went on to serve overseas.

In 1947, Union Airways, like many other private airlines, became part of National Airways Corporation (NAC).
NAC merged with Air New Zealand in 1979.

Early touchdowns beachside

Aviation was making headlines in Gisborne even before Darton Field was built.

On May 13 1920, a De Havilland DH6 owned by the New Zealand Flying School and shipped down from Auckland, made the first Gisborne flight from the racecourse.

In the summer of 1921/22 barnstorming planes from the Canterbury Aviation Company carried out joy¬rides, operating from Waikanae Beach including 31 ‘‘joy rides’’ on Christmas Day.

In April, 1922, a DH 4, piloted by Captain Maurice Buckley, made a non-stop flight from Gisborne to Auckland carrying three passengers.

It was the longest non-stop flight made in New Zealand up to that time, according to the Royal New Zealand Air Force Association.

In 1929 Captain T. W. (Tiny) White flew a Cirrus Moth from Napier in 70 minutes in an effort to establish the Gisborne Aero Club.

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winston moreton - 3 months ago
Good to see the story now corrected. Today Air NZ announced lower provincial fares to drive out competition as I predicted last week in this newspaper. But will ECT-controlled Darton Airport lower its sky-high PAX charges? Highest arrival and departure taxes in NZ . . .

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