The History of the New South Wales State Aviation School
In March of 1912, the Australian Aviation Pioneer and Parramatta Dentist William Ewan Hart bought part of Ham Common, near Clarendon and Richmond in New South Wales. He claimed the area was;"the finest site in Australia for an aviation ground."
The land Hart bought was originally part of the original land grant made by the Governer of New South Wales to William Ezzy. Hart had a serious accident in September of 1912 flying his self designed and built aircraft, Hart didnt return to flying with any haste and Ham Common saw no aircraft take off within it's boundaries until in September of 1914 a Frenchman, Maurice Guillaux started a flying school on the Common. Guillaux was to carry the first air mail in Australia from Melbourne to Sydney, but Guillaux left for France in October of 1914 and another Frenchman took his place, M.J.C. Marduel. Marduel also left to return to France and enlist with the French Services. Before Marduel departed he took the then NSW Government Minister for Public Instruction, Mr Carmicheal, up in flight from Parramatta to Richmond.
The flight Mr Carmicheal took with Marduel may have had some influence on NSW government thinking, as one year later the NSW Government took the decision in Parliament to establish a civil aerial training school in Sydney with the intention of producing military pilots for the Australian Flying Corps while Australia was still at war, and after hostilities had ended, training civil pilots. This was a particurely far sighted Government decision for it's day but an unusual one, as NSW had no defence powers, these being the responsibility of the Australian Federal Government, and a military Central Flying School was already established in Point Cook Victoria. It is possible New South Wales was vying with Victoria for influence and prestige, or the previous Militia mentality for it's defence which had been NSW's responsibility pre-1901 may still have existed in the NSW Parliament. Either way the patriotism of the NSW Government could not be doubted in this decision.
The NSW Government purchased for the flying school four Curtiss Jenny biplanes, JN3 and JN4 two seaters powered by 90 hp eight cylinder engines and one Caudron GH two seater with a 35 hp Anzani engine. A large hangar was built at Ham Common along with a repair shop to complete with repair machining tools. The hangar cost a total of 12,000 pounds, the two Curtiss aircraft cost 2,840 pounds. Other purchases the NSW Government made included a motor car, a lorry, plant and equipment and a spare Curtiss engine.
As instructors for the new school two Australian pilots, Mr William J Stutt and Mr Andrew Lang arrived in mid 1916 from England. Both had flown for military work in England. It was reported Stutt had made 6,000 flights, of which 2,000 of them had been for the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough. Stutt had flown most british aircraft types, had ferried aircraft across to France and flown many captured aircraft types as well. Stutt made his first flight on the 21st of July 1916. He was later to take several local Hawkesbury dignitaries and NSW Government officials in flights over the Hawkesbury and Parramatta area's. The school was officially opened by the State Governer, Sir Gerald Strickland, on the 28th of August 1916 to an audience of 4000 people including the then NSW Premier, Mr William Holman. The large crowds were afterwards entertained with a flying display.
The first course at the school began in August 1916 and applicants had to be between the age of 18 and 30, having passed a strict medical examination, and undertake enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force, making them eligable for overseas service. By Australian law any Australian who did not volunteer for military service could not serve outside of Australia and it's territories. The new applicants were also required to pay a fee of 60 pounds, which would be refunded upon enlistment. The course was to last twelve weeks and twenty four cadets were chosen from a list of two hundred and thirteen applicants. The Windsor and Richmond Gazette detailed the requirements of applicants;
Applicants must be 18 to 30 years of age. After the termination of the war applicants, male or female, from 18 to 35 will be admitted to the school.
During the continuance of the war applicants must undertake to enlist immediately upon completion of course, for active service in such branch of the Australian Imperial Expeditionary Forces as the Commonwealth authorities may determine.
Applications must be accompanied by a medical certificate, stating that the applicant is physically qualified for aerial service, and especially that he has a sound heart and good eyesight. A furthur examination will be made before an applicant is admitted to the school.
Preference will be given to applicants qualified in one of the follwing ways: - He must hold or have held a commision in the senior cadets. He must be an officer or non commisioned officer in the citizen forces with the rank of sergeant, or higher. He must be a graduate in engineering, or have completed at least two years course of instruction in engineering at some university. He must be a mechanic, or in an apprentice of more than three years standing engaged in one of the following trades, and at the time of application must present certificates showing that he has has satisfactorily completed a course in engineering, or an allied subject, at some technical college or trades school : - Boat Builder, cabinet maker, coachmaker, carpenter, or joiner, motor mechanic, turner and fitter, machinist, patternmaker, blacksmith, ironfounder, brassfounder, moulder, boiler maker, shipwright, electrical fitter, or electrician, or be or have been employed in the engineering workshop. He must also possess a fair knowledge of internal combustion engines. After the termination of the war such male or female applicants as may be approved by the committee. All students entering the school do so at their own risk. No compensation will be payed on account of death of, or injury to, a student attending the School of Aviation. The committee reserves to itself the right to remove at any time any student whose progress and conduct are not considered satisfactory.
Applications were invited and nearly 300 applicants expressed a desire to enter the school. All those who were eligable on the score of fitness and suitability were interviewed personally by the committee of control, who made a selection based upon the latest advice of the British authorities.The applicants were thinned out to 25, which is at present the limit of successful tuition. These students will enter upon 12 weeks course of practical training on August 12.
At the termination of the course an examination will be held by examiners appointed by the Commonwealth military authorities, and if succesful a certificate will be issued to that effect. If unsuccessful in passing the examination, the student, provided he has the necessary mechanical ability, will be given a certificate stating that he is suitable for employment as an aviation mechanic.
During the continuance of the war students will be given an allowance of 6s a day for seven days per week while actually in attendance at the school.
Arrangements are now being made for the official opening of the school of aviation a few days subsequent to the entry of the students upon the course.
Of the twenty four students in the course, ten were selected for commissions in the Australian Flying Corps, eight others left for England to join the Royal Flying Corps and one, David Williams was chosen to remain as an assitant instructor. Five others failed the course. The second course ended in April 1917 and David Willaims was anxious to fulfill the requirement that he join the AIF. At his own expense and despite the friction between the Ham Common School and Point Cook, Williams travelled to Victoria and was accepted into the AFC with a commision. Williams was later asked to re-establish the NSW Government Flying School in Sydney in 1920 after the war.
In May of 1919, Billy Stutt recommended Ham Common was undesirable as an aviation school due to it's distance from Sydney and that courses in aviation and air mechanics, aircraft building and aircraft engineering be undertaken at the Sydney Technical College. Stutt's recommendation included that the Australian Defence Department be allowed to purchase the land at Ham Common for a fair valuation. In July 1920 Ham Common was offered to the Commonwealth of Australia for 14,118 pounds for the land and buildings. The following year the newly formed Royal Australian Air Force secured RAAF Airbase Richmond as the aerodrome of No.2 Wing Headquarters and the home base of No's 3 and 4 Squadrons RAAF. Today the Richmond Airbase is still active as part of the Australian Defence Forces.