1950 Australian National Airways Douglas DC-4 crash

Douglas DC-4 Amana crash

The Douglas DC-4 Amana, the aircraft destroyed in the accident.
Date26 June 1950
SummaryMultiple engine failure
Site19 km north-west of York, Western Australia
31.821°S 116.581°ECoordinates31.821°S 116.581°E
Aircraft typeDouglas DC-4
Aircraft nameAmana
OperatorAustralian National Airways
Flight originPerth Airport
DestinationAdelaide Airport

On 26 June 1950, a Douglas DC-4[GR1]  Skymaster aircraft departed from Perth, Western Australia for an eight-hour flight to Adelaide, South Australia. It crashed 22 minutes after take-off, 35 miles (56 km) East from Perth Airport. All 29 occupants were killed in the accident; one initially survived, but died six days later. It was the worst civil aviation accident in Australia.

As the aircraft flew eastwards over the outer suburbs of Perth numerous witnesses observed that it was flying at a lower altitude than usual for the daily Skymaster services, and at least one of the engines was running roughly and backfiring at regular intervals. In the minutes before it crashed, witnesses heard a number of different engine noises – sometimes operating normally, sometimes all engine noise ceased, only to be replaced by what was described as a very loud, high-pitched “scream”. When the wrecked engines were examined many weeks after the accident a significant amount of corrosion product was found in the fuel system within two of the engines. After a preliminary investigation, Investigators from the Department of Civil Aviation [GR2] believed the water responsible for the corrosion was also responsible for rough running of at least one engine, and ultimately temporary loss of power from all engines on at least one occasion. The Investigators did not find a likely source for the water.

All but one of the 29 occupants on board the aircraft died, either from multiple injuries and burns, or from incineration. One elderly male passenger survived the crash. The first rescuers at the crash site found him wandering about, dazed and distressed. He suffered serious burns and was admitted to hospital where he died six days later.

The accident became the subject of an Inquiry chaired by a Supreme Court judge. In the absence of evidence indicating the source of any water in the fuel, the Inquiry dismissed the submission that water was responsible for the accident. The Inquiry did not determine the cause of the accident but it made recommendations to enhance the safety of aircraft operations.

The flight

The aircraft was the Amana, a Douglas DC-4-1009 registered VH-ANA[GR3]  and the flagship of the Australian National Airways fleet. It flew for the first time on 28 January 1946 and was flown to Australia on 9 February 1946.

The Amana departed from Perth Airport at 9:55 pm for the 8-hour flight to Adelaide. On board were 24 passengers, 3 pilots and two air hostesses.

A radio report was received from the Amana at 10:00 pm advising it was on course and climbing to 9,000 feet. Nothing more was heard from the aircraft. As it flew east over the outer suburbs of Perth numerous people on the ground observed that it was flying unusually low, and heard at least one of its engines running roughly and backfiring repeatedly. Amana crashed at about 10:13 pm.


The debris field

A number of residents on farming properties to the west of York heard a large aircraft flying low over the area. The aircraft seemed to be in trouble because the noise from the engines was changing significantly. At times the engines seemed to be operating normally but on at least one occasion all engine noise ceased for a brief time and then returned as a very loud, high-pitched noise. One resident reported that when all engine noise ceased he could hear a rushing sound until the scream from the engines returned. Several residents reported seeing a bright flash of white light in the distance, followed by a loud crashing and scraping noise. Those closest to the crash could then see the yellow glow of a major fire.

Ten minutes after the Amana set course for Adelaide, a Douglas DC-4 operated by Trans Australia Airlines[GR4]  became airborne at Perth, also heading for Adelaide. As the TAA aircraft set course for Adelaide, the captain, Douglas MacDonald, saw a vivid white flash on the horizon in precisely the direction in which he was heading. It lasted about six seconds, long enough for him to draw it to the attention of the two other crew members. Eight minutes later, the TAA aircraft passed over a band of fire on the ground. MacDonald estimated the fire was 28 nautical miles (52 km) east of Perth Airport. As MacDonald approached Cunderdin, he was aware the Amana, flying about ten minutes ahead of him, had not yet radioed its position report at Cunderdin. He became concerned that the vivid white flash and the ground fire might indicate some tragedy had befallen the Amana so he advised Air Traffic Control about his observations. Air Traffic Control was also concerned about the Amana’s failure to report at Cunderdin so on hearing MacDonald’s observations of the vivid white flash and the ground fire they activated emergency procedures. They asked MacDonald to fly back to the fire and determine its position. MacDonald did so and advised Air Traffic Control of bearings from the fire to York and Northam, the towns nearest the crash site.

Search and rescue

Frank McNamara (62), an apiarist, and Geoff Inkpen (25), a young farmer, heard the sound of a big aircraft in serious trouble, flying low nearby. McNamara described the noise from the engines as “terrifying”. They investigated and saw the bright light of a flash fire. McNamara sent his two teenage sons in his utility truck to York to alert the police. McNamara and Inkpen then set out on foot in the direction of the fire. As there was bright moonlight, they were able to hurry through the bush. After about half an hour, they came upon a scene of devastation. They were astonished to find an elderly man in a dazed state wandering around the burning wreckage. He gave his name and explained that he had been a passenger on a large aircraft. He had survived the crash despite being badly burned. No one else was found alive.

In response to notification from Air Traffic Control, three ambulances from Perth were dispatched in the direction of the crash site, known to be somewhere between Chidlow[GR5]  and York. The crash site was several miles from the road so the ambulance crews travelled eastwards all the way to York without sighting a fire. The crews were eventually guided back along the main road and then along a dirt road that enabled them to drive to within three or four miles of the crash site. The crews then took their first-aid boxes and set out on foot.

Frank McNamara made a bed of leaves for the survivor and built a fire to help keep him as warm and comfortable as possible. McNamara stayed with the survivor while Inkpen went to summon help. After several hours, ambulance crews arrived and administered first-aid and morphia. Rescue workers constructed a stretcher using saplings, bandages and overcoats. They covered the survivor with an overcoat and carried him for two hours to cover about two miles through thickly wooded country to McNamara’s utility truck, which then carried him and his rescuers to a waiting ambulance.

Frank McNamara and Geoff Inkpen were publicly thanked by the Minister for Civil Aviation for the great assistance they rendered to the rescue effort throughout the night. In a public letter to Frank McNamara, the minister acknowledged the unrelenting effort of McNamara and his sons under extremely difficult conditions. He also acknowledged McNamara’s care of the survivor and regretted that McNamara was not rewarded by seeing the survivor recover. In a public letter to Geoff Inkpen, the Minister expressed his deep appreciation for Inkpen’s actions on the night of the crash. During World War II, Inkpen had served in the Royal Australian Air Force[GR6]  (RAAF) as a navigator and the minister acknowledged that, in peacetime, Inkpen had continued to uphold “the fine traditions” of the RAAF.

Fate of those onboard

The sole survivor was the 67-year-old Managing-Director of Forwood Down and Company Ltd., a South Australian engineering company. He was the oldest person on board the flight, and probably the most experienced air traveler. He was interviewed by police in hospital in Perth, but was not aware of much detail about the final minutes of the flight. He said there was no sign of fire prior to the crash and no announcement to passengers to fasten their seat belts. He died six days after the crash and was buried at the North Road cemetery in Adelaide, his home town.

Investigators believed the aircraft captain survived for a short time after the crash. His body was a short distance away from his seat and both were a few metres ahead of the wreckage where they had been thrown after the nose of the aircraft was split open in the impact with a large tree. The seat belt had not broken, but it had been undone. The captain’s tunic was pulled up over his head as though to protect his face from the heat of the nearby inferno. Investigators believed he survived the crash and undid his seat belt to drag himself away from the fire. His body was not burnt, but autopsy showed both his legs were broken and he died from a fractured skull.

Postmortem examinations were performed on the 28 victims of the crash. The two co-pilots died from multiple injuries. Twenty-three passengers and the two air hostesses were found to have died from multiple injuries and burns, or incineration. Only 12 of the 28 victims could be formally identified. The remaining 16 victims were either unrecognizable or unable to be identified and were buried in a mass grave at Perth’s Karrakatta cemetery.


On its fatal flight the Amana was carrying 24 passengers, including 2 infants. All but one died in the crash or the ensuing inferno.


Part of the Amana’s fuselage

One of the Amana’s engines

The wreckage burned for several hours

Western Australian police examining the still-burning wreckage

Three investigators from the Department of Civil Aviation began work at the crash scene the day after the accident. They found the Amana had crashed in a heavily timbered area on the Inkpen family property Berry Brow, on the easterly track between Perth airport and Kalgoorlie, at a point where the elevation was about 1,100 feet (340 m) above sea level. The aircraft struck the tops of tall gum trees while descending at an angle of about 15° below horizontal. Its speed at impact was estimated at 250 miles per hour (400 km/h). It crashed through large trees, breaking them off as if they were matchsticks, before impacting the ground violently and gouging a long, wide furrow. The left wing was torn away from the fuselage and then the aircraft broke up and burst into flames. Only the rear fuselage with the fin and rudder were not affected by fire. The wreckage trail was about 280 yards (260 m) long and 35 yards (32 m) wide. At the time of impact the Amana’s left wing was lower than its right, suggesting it may have been turning left. It was heading north, not east towards Cunderdin. Investigators speculated that the crew may have been turning with the intention of returning to Perth airport; or they may have been preparing for a crash-landing in a large clear area to the north of the crash site.

Possibly as a result of rough-running of one or more of its engines, the Amana was observed flying over Perth’s outer-eastern suburbs at an unusually low altitude. No witness report was received from anyone along the next 16 nautical miles (30 km) of the Amana’s track from Perth’s outer suburbs to within 5 nautical miles (9 km) of the crash site. In the minute before it crashed, eight witnesses heard a large airplane in distress and reported unusual engine noise, including engine noise ceasing on at least one occasion, followed by the sudden return of very loud engine noise. This suggested that, on at least one occasion, none of the engines were producing power, followed by a resumption of power on some of the engines. The investigation team concluded that the Amana failed to reach its assigned altitude of 9,000 feet, and that it experienced intermittent engine problems of such severity that all engine power was lost on at least one occasion. Without power and with only one of its propellers feathered[GR7] , a Douglas DC-4 loses altitude at a great rate, possibly as fast as 100 feet per second (6,000 feet per minute).

Engines and propellers numbers 1 to 3 suffered substantial damage in the crash, but engine and propeller number 4 suffered much less damage. The investigators determined that at the time of impact, propellers 1, 2 and 3 were turning normally and their engines were producing power but propeller number 4 was feathered and its engine was not operating. There was also some evidence that action was taken by the crew to unfeather propeller number 4 in the moments before impact. None of the engines contained evidence of any internal failure prior to impact. All the magnetos were tested and the results indicated normal ignition was available to all engines up to the time of impact.

Engine number 4 suffered only minor, external damage. It was dismantled by the investigation team in an attempt to determine why it might have been shut down by the crew. A substantial amount of corrosion product was found in the passages of the fuel flow meter on engine number 4. Western Australia’s Deputy Mineralogist identified the corrosion product as magnesium hydroxide[GR8] . This is a corrosion product formed by reaction of magnesium and water, suggesting the fuel passages had been filled with water in the months between the crash and the detailed examination of the engine. Charles Gibbs, an engine specialist employed by the Department of Civil Aviation, estimated at least 45 cubic centimeters of water must have been involved. Rain falling on the crash site before engine number 4 was removed could not account for this much water in the fuel passages. Gibbs first examined the fuel system of engine number 4 and discovered the corrosion about two months after the accident. He conducted a test on an identical flow meter and found that after he left water in the fuel flow passages for approximately 8 weeks a similar amount of corrosion product developed. This suggested the rough running heard by witnesses on the ground may have been caused by water in the fuel reaching engine number 4. The steel rotor in the fuel pump of engine number 1 was slightly corroded but the fuel systems of engines 2 and 3 showed no evidence of corrosion. Investigators formed the opinion that the rough running heard by witnesses on the ground, and the crew’s decision to shut down engine number 4 and feather its propeller, may have been related to water in the fuel reaching that engine. Similarly, the intermittent loss of power on all engines in the final minutes of the flight may indicate that all engines were receiving fuel contaminated with water.

The only abnormality found in all four engines was the vapor vent float in the fuel strainer chamber of the carburetors. The floats had been crushed by extreme fuel pressure. Inquiries were made to the engine manufacturer and other civil aviation authorities but none had prior experience of vapour vent floats collapsing. Tests on carburetors were also carried out in Australia by the Aeronautical Research Laboratories but without finding any suitable explanation. Whether the floats were crushed in flight or in the crash could not be determined, but even if it had occurred in flight it would not have affected operation of the engines.

The earliest reports from the crash site speculated that the Amana was already on fire when it struck the tops of trees because those trees, and pieces of the aircraft’s left wing torn off in the impact with them, showed signs of scorching. Several eyewitnesses reported seeing flames in the sky before the aircraft struck the ground. Department of Civil Aviation investigators discounted this speculation because only one of the Amana’s push-button engine fire extinguishers had activated and this had most likely occurred during the crash or the fire.

Australian National Airways (ANA) ground staff in Sydney checked the Amana’s fuel tanks for the presence of water prior to its first departure on 26 June. They found none. The Amana was subsequently re-fueled in Melbourne and Adelaide but no check of the fuel tanks was made on these occasions. After being re-fueled in Perth immediately prior to the fatal flight, the fuel filters in all 4 engines and the fuel drain serving the cross-feed pipe in the wing centre-section were all checked for the presence of water. The fuel tanks themselves were not checked, partly because, on the night of 26 June, the ground staff were “pressed for time” because one despatch engineer was absent due to illness.

ANA was of the opinion that if a small amount of water entered a fuel tank during refuelling it would only reach the drain cocks when the aircraft was in level flight so it could not be detected immediately after re-fuelling. For 15 years ANA had operated in the knowledge that the only satisfactory time to check fuel tanks for the presence of water was prior to the first flight of the day, after the aircraft had been stationary overnight. Throughout this time ANA checked fuel tanks for the presence of water prior to the first flight of the day.

Prior to its final flight, the Amana received 1,756 US gallons (6,650 L) of fuel from a tanker operated by the Vacuum Oil Company. The tanker had been checked for the presence of water in the morning and again at 6:30 pm, about 2 hours prior to re-fuelling the Amana. It had also supplied fuel to 3 de Havilland Dove aircraft, none of which suffered any engine problems or were found to have water in the fuel.

The Department of Civil Aviation performed tests on parts of the DC-4 fuel system. Tests on the engine fuel system showed that when the engine boost pump was operating, vortex[GR9]  formed in the engine fuel tank. If a small amount of water was present, this vortex held the water in suspension and prevented it from entering the engine. The tests also showed that when the boost pump was turned off, the vortex dissipated and any water would soon find its way into the engine. Investigators believed this might explain why all engines were operating normally during the takeoff but at least one engine began to run roughly around the time the engine boost pumps would be turned off.


The Minister for Civil Aviation, Thomas White, appointed Justice William Simpson of the ACT Supreme Court to conduct an Air Court of Inquiry into the crash of the Amana. The Inquiry opened in Perth on 7 February 1951. Justice Simpson was assisted by two assessors – Captain J.W. Bennett, a pilot with British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines; and Mr D.B. Hudson, an aeronautical engineer with Qantas Empire Airways. The Commonwealth Crown Solicitor was represented by L.D. Seaton and B. Simpson. Australian National Airways was represented by George Pape. The Department of Civil Aviation was represented by Henry Winneke. The Air Pilots’ Association was represented by Francis Burt. The Inquiry sat in Perth for 12 days; heard evidence from 67 witnesses and concluded on Tuesday 20 February.

Western Australia’s Deputy Mineralogist gave evidence that he had identified magnesium hydroxide, a corrosion product, in fuel passages in one of Amana’s engines. Counsel for the Department of Civil Aviation explained that evidence gathered during investigation of the crash indicated water in some of the fuel on board Amana was responsible for the corrosion products found in engines numbers 1 and 4; for the rough running of an engine heard by a number of witnesses; and for the intermittent failure of all engines, leading to the aircraft descending to ground level. The Inquiry heard evidence from the Department of Civil Aviation’s Acting Chief Inspector of Air Accidents, C.A.J. Lum, a former RAAF Douglas Dakota pilot, who described his personal experience of a flight in 1946 in which all fuel tanks were checked for the presence of water prior to take-off and the flight proceeded normally for 20 minutes until both engines began running roughly. Lum returned to the aerodrome and checked again for water in the tanks, this time finding a significant amount of water. Counsel for the Vacuum Oil Co. explained that it was almost impossible for water to be introduced to an aircraft during refuelling, and vigorously rejected the theory that water in the fuel contributed to the crash.

Counsel for the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor presented evidence that the Amana was on fire before it first struck trees. Counsel for the widow of one of the victims suggested the crash may have been caused by the elevator trim tab [GR10] jamming in the diving position.

In April 1951 Justice Simpson advised the Minister for Civil Aviation that new evidence had become available. The Minister gave permission for the Inquiry to be re-opened. The Inquiry re-opened in Melbourne on 4 June 1951. The Department of Civil Aviation had recently completed tests on the DC-4 fuel system. The tests showed that when an engine boost pump was operating, a vortex in the engine fuel tank prevented water from entering the engine. The tests also showed that when the boost pump was turned off, any water would soon find its way into the engine. The Department of Civil Aviation believed this might explain why all engines were operating normally during the takeoff but at least one engine began to run roughly around the time the engine boost pumps would be turned off. However, Justice Simpson stated that the re-opened Inquiry served only to confirm his view that the Amana’s loss of power was not due to water in the fuel.

Justice Simpson’s report was tabled in the House of Representatives on 28 June 1951 by the new Minister for Civil Aviation, Larry Anthony. The Inquiry found that the Amana suffered total loss of engine power on at least one occasion, followed by rapid loss of height until it struck the ground. However, the evidence did not allow the court to determine the cause of the total loss of engine power. Consequently, the court was unable to determine the cause of the accident. Simpson stated he was satisfied water had not been introduced into the Amana’s fuel system in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth.

The Inquiry uncovered two deviations from the Air Navigation Regulations although it did not consider these deviations contributed to the accident:

  1. ANA was not in the practice of performing a fuel-drain check immediately after each re-fuelling, as required by Air Navigation Orders.
  2. On the fatal flight, 8,545 feet of photographic film were carried as cargo. Air Navigation Orders specified that a maximum of 3,000 feet of photographic film may be carried.

The Inquiry also uncovered three irregularities in the safety regulation of civil aviation in Australia although none of these irregularities contributed to the accident. Justice Simpson’s report contained recommendations to deal with the irregularities:

  1. fuel companies that supply fuel to aircraft should be required to check every compartment in a tanker wagon for the presence of water each time fuel in the tanker wagon is replenished.
  2. when fuel was being drained from an aircraft’s tanks to check for the presence of impurities, the sample should be collected in a transparent vessel to allow more reliable identification of any water that might be present.
  3. when pilots who regularly fly four-engine aeroplanes perform 6-monthly checks for renewal of their commercial pilot licenses, the check should be carried out in a four-engine airplane rather than in a two-engine airplane as was the common practice.

During the House of Representatives debate on the report, the Minister, Larry Anthony, stated that he had already asked fuel companies to check their tanker wagons for the presence of water after each replenishment, and the relevant Air Navigation Order would be amended to require fuel to be drained into transparent containers. He stated that his Department did not intend to amend the relevant Air Navigation Order to require pilots of four-engine aeroplanes to perform the periodic checks in a four-engine airplane because it considered it was more challenging to fly with one engine inoperative in a two-engine airplane than in a four-engine airplane.

Subsequent speculation about cause of the crash

Investigators from the Department of Civil Aviation believed water in some of the fuel tanks of VH-ANA was responsible for rough running of one or more of the engines; and this ultimately led to intermittent failure of all the engines. The Inquiry led by Mr Justice Simpson found no evidence that there was significant water in the fuel tanks. No radio call was received from Amana to indicate the nature of any problem, or even that the crew was aware of a problem. The Inquiry concluded without determining the cause of the crash.

In the weeks and months after conclusion of the Inquiry one possible explanation of the crash began to circulate among employees of ANA. This possibility began with one piece of evidence uncovered by the Inquiry during cross-examination of ANA’s ground staff. It was reported that after sunrise the morning after the crash the one-gallon container used to check Amana’s fuel filters was found empty and lying on its side on the apron a short distance from where Amana had been parked. The Inquiry attached no significance to this evidence and did not explore it further.

Employees of ANA believed the container had last been used to drain fuel from the cross-feed drain cock, the fuel cock that serves the pipe in the wing centre-section for cross-feeding of fuel from tanks in one wing to engines in the other wing. Moments after this procedure commenced, the staff member was advised of a telephone call from his wife and he went to answer the telephone. With the cross-feed selector valves closed, little fuel ran out when the drain cock was opened. Some employees believed that because no fuel was running out neither the staff member nor anyone else noticed the drain cock was still open. Due either to the wind or the slipstream from Amana’s propellers as it began to taxi prior to take-off, the almost-empty container was blown over and rolled some distance along the apron where it was found the next morning.

Some employees of ANA speculated that approximately ten minutes after take-off the crew of Amana were aware of the seriousness of rough running on number 4 engine so decided to shut it down. Company procedures specified that if an operational problem occurred prior to reaching Kalgoorlie[GR11] , 290 nautical miles (540 km) east of Perth, the aircraft was to return to Perth; but if a problem occurred after reaching Kalgoorlie the flight could continue to Adelaide. The Douglas DC-4 was capable of flying from Perth to Adelaide with one engine inoperative. The crew of Amana on the fatal flight might have decided to wait until past Kalgoorlie before making a radio call to report one engine had been shut down, and then continue to Adelaide. To manage fuel usage and balance the weight of fuel across the wing, the crew might have selected some of the operating engines to draw fuel from number 4 tank. The DC-4 had a complex fuel selection system and, either deliberately or inadvertently, all operating engines might have been connected to number 4 tank. If the drain cock in the cross-feed pipe was still open to the atmosphere, air would be drawn into the pipe, causing an interruption of fuel supply to the engines, all engines to stop operating and their propellers to move to fine pitch. When the crew realized engines 1, 2 and 3 had all suddenly failed and that cross-feeding of fuel was the source of the problem they would have changed the fuel selections and restored fuel to the engines, causing the sudden screaming noise heard by witnesses as the engines burst back into life with their propellers in fine pitch. Amana had been flying at lower altitude than usual so there was inadequate height for the crew to arrest the high rate of descent before the aircraft struck high ground on the Inkpen family property. (At the Air Court of Inquiry, George Pape, representing ANA, described as “fantastic” any suggestion that the crew of the Amana would be cross-feeding fuel from one wing to the engines on the other wing at such an early stage of the flight.)

The Flight Superintendent and the Technical Superintendent of ANA simulated some of these events during a test flight in another DC-4. They were satisfied that the time intervals between events were compatible with the likely sequence of events leading to the crash of the Amana, and that it was a plausible explanation of the accident. However, on legal advice this possible explanation of the crash was not made public. Two accidents involving Douglas DC-4s, one approaching Dublin Airport, Ireland, in 1961 and another approaching Stockport Airport, Manchester, United Kingdom, in 1967 were attributed to interruption of fuel supply when engines were supplied from the cross-feed system which was open to an empty fuel tank, allowing air to be drawn into the cross-feed pipe.

Recent archaeological finds and re-evaluation of Amana’s final moments[GR12] 

Around 2002 further wreckage from Amana’s port wing outboard of the engines was investigated about 1.5 miles from the crash site. This wreckage had not been located during the 1951 investigation, although it had subsequently been located during farming operations and shifted to a barren area where it avoided significant subsequent degradation by grass fires. It suggests that having attained substantially level flight, Amana hit one or more trees several seconds before reaching its final impact site, causing sufficient damage to result in the in-flight fire observed by witnesses at the time, and a deviation from its original flight path. Part of this wreckage is now on display at The Civil Aviation Historical Society & Airways Museum at Essendon Airport.

A high-speed impact on part of the wing and fuel system might explain a surge in fuel pressure sufficient to cause the crushed vapour vent float found in the carburetor of each of Amana’s engines.


After the accident, souvenir hunters proved to be such a problem that the owners of Berry Brow kept all gates locked. Geoff Inkpen stated that after completion of an Inquiry a bulldozer would be used to dig a ditch at the crash site and what remained of the Amana would be buried.

A small memorial to the loss of the Amana, its passengers and crew, has been created in the aeronautical museum in the town of Beverley, 29 miles (47 km) south-east of the crash site. The memorial includes the nose undercarriage from the Amana. A memorial plaque was erected in the main street of Beverley on 26 June 2001, the fifty-first anniversary of the crash.


Australian National Airways (ANA) never fully recovered from the crash of the Amana. Since the beginning of 1945, 77 people had been killed in accidents in aircraft operated by ANA. In late 1948, ANA suffered 4 crashes in 4 months. The loss of ANA’s reputation as a safe airline, together with the unblemished safety record and growing commercial success of its rival Trans Australia Airlines, sent ANA into decline. In 1957 ANA was taken over by Ansett Transport Industries Limited and merged with Ansett Airways to form the domestic airline Ansett-ANA.

Amana Memorial


Photographs supplied by Father Ted Doncaster

The memorial and mass grave commemorate the victims of the Amana Plane Crash.

In June 1950 the Australian National Airways Skymaster Amana, the flagship of the company`s fleet, crashed into a wooded hillside northwest of York. Of the twenty-four passengers and five crew, only one man managed to get out alive. His name was Edgar W. Forwood, aged sixty-seven. Unfortunately, his condition steadily deteriorated and he died on Saturday of the same week. This crash is the worst aviation disaster in Western Australia’s history.

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This photo of the late forties shows the graceful ANA flagship VH-ANA Amana at Essendon Airport Melbourne. Not long after this picture was taken she would be smashed to pieces a long way from home.

On the 26 of June 1950 in Perth West Australia a typically fine and moonlit evening greeted the 24 passengers and 5 crew that boarded Amana for a scheduled flight to Adelaide and then on to Melbourne.

By 21:50 the DC 4 was taxiing for a departure off Perth Runway 29, the same strip, but opposite direction to that used by the R4D-5 Blue Goose five years earlier and unfortunately destined for a similar fate.

Looking down Guildfords (Perth) Runway 29 off which Amana departed.

Making a left turn to set heading overhead the Airport, Amana tracked due east towards her first waypoint Cunderdin. Unfortunately fate intervened less than 30 nautical miles later when the aircraft inexplicably crashed in the West Australian bush.

The port undercarriage leg from Amana, taken in 2001 lying under a tree near the crashsite

Witnesses that night from along the route taken by Amana reported rough running, backfiring and even periods of silence from the engines. The accident investigation team determined that earlier in the short flight, number four engine had been shut down by the flight crew and subsequently, the remaining three engines had all failed for indeterminate periods.
There was evidence that immediately prior to impact, number four engine had been un-feathered in an attempted restart, and that power had been restored to the other three. Additionally the aircraft had commenced a left turn apparently returning to Guildford. Unfortunately it was all too late to save VH-ANA. In the dark, in a 15 degree turn to port, the aircraft barely cleared a ridge line, struck a tree 30 feet off the ground and ploughed into a downward slope shredding itself and contents into small pieces as it went.

Notice where Amana sheared off the top of this tree immediately prior to impact with the ground.

It is difficult to imagine the magnitude of the forces that reduced this flap actuating mechanism to a single component of twisted stainless steel.

Above: Looking back in the direction of the impact tree (note the small piece of aluminium protruding from the ground). Below: Taken close to the initial impact site, looking in the direction of travel, 330 Magnetic. Despite years of cultivation you can still see small pieces of wreckage that litter the ground.

In the course of the accident something, possibly a fuel tank, has burned fiercely here; consequently nothing has grown on this spot in the ensuing years.

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 [GR1]The Douglas DC-4 is a four-engine (piston) propeller-driven airliner developed by the Douglas Aircraft Company. Military versions of the plane, the C-54 and R5D, served during World War II, in the Berlin Airlift and into the 1960s. From 1945, many civil airlines operated the DC-4 worldwide

 [GR2]Due to the inherent dangers in the use of flight vehicles, national aviation authorities typically regulate the following critical aspects of aircraft airworthiness and their operation:

  • design of aircraft, engines, airborne equipment and ground-based equipment affecting flight safety
  • conditions of manufacture and testing of aircraft and equipment
  • maintenance of aircraft and equipment
  • operation of aircraft and equipment
  • licensing of pilots, air traffic controllers, flight dispatchers and maintenance engineers
  • licensing of airports and navigational aids
  • standards for air traffic control.

Depending on the legal system of the jurisdiction, a NAA will derive its powers from an act of parliament (such as the Civil or Federal Aviation Act), and is then empowered to make regulations within the bounds of the act. This allows technical aspects of airworthiness to be dealt with by subject matter experts and not politicians.

An NAA may also be involved in the investigation of aircraft accidents, although in many cases this is left to a separate body (such as the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) in Australia or the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the United States), to allow independent review of regulatory oversight.

An NAA will regulate the control of air traffic but a separate agency will generally carry out air traffic control functions.

In some countries an NAA may build and operate airports, including non-airside operations such as passenger terminals; the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines being among such national authorities. In other countries, private companies or local government authorities may own and operate individual airports.

 [GR3]An aircraft registration, alternatively called a tail number, is a code unique to a single aircraft, required by international convention to be marked on the exterior of every civil aircraft. The registration indicates the aircraft’s country of registration, and functions much like an automobile license plate or a ship registration. This code must also appear in its Certificate of Registration, issued by the relevant National Aviation Authority (NAA). An aircraft can only have one registration, in one jurisdiction, though it is changeable over the life of the aircraft.

 [GR4]Trans Australia Airlines (TAA), renamed Australian Airlines in 1986, was one of the two major Australian domestic airlines between its inception in 1946 and its merger with Qantas in September 1992. As a result of the “COBRA” (or Common Branding) project, the entire airline was rebranded Qantas about a year later with tickets stating in small print “Australian Airlines Limited trading as Qantas Airways Limited” until the adoption of a single Air Operator Certificate a few years later. At that point, the entire airline was officially renamed “Qantas Airways Limited” continuing the name and livery of the parent company with the only change being the change of by-line from “The Spirit of Australia” to “The Australian Airline” under the window line with the existing “Qantas” title appearing above.

 [GR5]The Chidlow townsite was originally known variously as Chidlow’s Flat, Chidlow’s Springs or Chidlow’s Well after a well and stockyard on the old Mahogany Creek to Northam road. The well was sunk by William Chidlow, a pioneer of the Northam district, who originally established the Northam road. Chidlow arrived in the Swan River Colony in 1831. Settlement began in 1883 when it became known that Chidlow’s Well was to be the terminus of the second section of the Eastern Railway, which was opened in March 1884. Chidlow’s Well railway station and townsite were renamed Chidlow in 1920.

 [GR6]The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) is the principal aerial warfare force of Australia, a part of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) along with the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Army. The Air Force is commanded by the Chief of Air Force (CAF), who is subordinate to the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF). The CAF is also directly responsible to the Minister of Defence, with the Department of Defence administering the ADF and the Air Force.

Formed in March 1921, as the Australian Air Force, through the separation of the Australian Air Corps from the Army, which in turn amalgamated the separate aerial services of both the Army and Navy. It directly continues the traditions of the Australian Flying Corps (AFC), formed on 22 October 1912.

 [GR7]On most variable-pitch propellers, the blades can be rotated parallel to the airflow to stop rotation of the propeller and reduce drag when the engine fails or is deliberately shut down. This is called feathering, a term borrowed from rowing. On single-engined aircraft, whether a powered glider or turbine-powered aircraft, the effect is to increase the gliding distance. On a multi-engine aircraft, feathering the propeller on an inoperative engine reduces drag, and helps the aircraft maintain speed and altitude with the operative engines.

Most feathering systems for reciprocating engines sense a drop in oil pressure and move the blades toward the feather position, and require the pilot to pull the propeller control back to disengage the high-pitch stop pins before the engine reaches idle RPMTurboprop control systems usually utilize a negative torque sensor in the reduction gearbox which moves the blades toward feather when the engine is no longer providing power to the propeller. Depending on design, the pilot may have to push a button to override the high-pitch stops and complete the feathering process, or the feathering process may be totally automatic.

 [GR8]Magnesium hydroxide is the inorganic compound with the chemical formula Mg(OH)2. It occurs in nature as the mineral brucite. It is a white solid with low solubility in water (Ksp = 5.61×10−12). Magnesium hydroxide is a common component of antacids, such as milk of magnesia.

 [GR9]fluid dynamics, a vortex (plural vortices/vortexes) is a region in a fluid in which the flow revolves around an axis line, which may be straight or curved. Vortices form in stirred fluids, and may be observed in smoke ringswhirlpools in the wake of a boat, and the winds surrounding a tropical cyclonetornado or dust devil.

Vortices are a major component of turbulent flow. The distribution of velocity, vorticity (the curl of the flow velocity), as well as the concept of circulation are used to characterise vortices. In most vortices, the fluid flow velocity is greatest next to its axis and decreases in inverse proportion to the distance from the axis.

In the absence of external forces, viscous friction within the fluid tends to organise the flow into a collection of irrotational vortices, possibly superimposed to larger-scale flows, including larger-scale vortices. Once formed, vortices can move, stretch, twist, and interact in complex ways. A moving vortex carries some angular and linear momentum, energy, and mass, with it.

 [GR10]Trim tabs are small surfaces connected to the trailing edge of a larger control surface on a boat or aircraft, used to control the trim of the controls, i.e. to counteract hydro- or aerodynamic forces and stabilise the boat or aircraft in a particular desired attitude without the need for the operator to constantly apply a control force. This is done by adjusting the angle of the tab relative to the larger surface.

Changing the setting of a trim tab adjusts the neutral or resting position of a control surface (such as an elevator or rudder). As the desired position of a control surface changes (corresponding mainly to different speeds), an adjustable trim tab will allow the operator to reduce the manual force required to maintain that position—to zero, if used correctly. Thus the trim tab acts as a servo tab. Because the center of pressure of the trim tab is farther away from the axis of rotation of the control surface than the center of pressure of the control surface, the moment generated by the tab can match the moment generated by the control surface. The position of the control surface on its axis will change until the torques from the control surface and the trim surface balance each other.

 [GR11]Kalgoorlie is a city in the Goldfields–Esperance region of Western Australia, located 595 km (370 mi) east-northeast of Perth at the end of the Great Eastern Highway. It is sometimes referred to as Kalgoorlie–Boulder, as the surrounding urban area includes the historic townsite of Boulder and the local government area is the City of Kalgoorlie–Boulder.

Kalgoorlie-Boulder lies on the traditional lands of the Wangkatja group of peoples. The name “Kalgoorlie” is derived from the Wangai word Karlkurla or Kulgooluh, meaning “place of the silky pears“. The city was established in 1893 during the Western Australian gold rushes. It soon replaced Coolgardie as the largest settlement on the Eastern Goldfields. Kalgoorlie is the ultimate destination of the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme and the Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail. The nearby Super Pit gold mine was Australia’s largest open-cut gold mine for many years.

 [GR12]Essendon Fields Airport (IATAMEBICAOYMEN), colloquially known as Essendon Airport, is a 305 ha (750 acres) public airport serving scheduled commercial, corporate-jet, charter and general aviation flights. It is located next to the intersection of the Tullamarine and Calder Freeways, in the north western suburb of Essendon Fields of MelbourneVictoria, Australia. The airport is the closest to Melbourne’s City Centre, approximately a 13 km (8.1 mi) drive north-west from it and 8 km (5.0 mi) south-east from Melbourne Tullamarine Airport. In 1970, Tullamarine Airport replaced Essendon as Melbourne’s main airport.

The ugly past of Australia’s ‘lock hospitals’ on Bernier and Dorre Islands slowly revealed

Copied, Compiled & Edited by George W Rehder

Ugly past of ‘lock hospitals’ slowly revealed

Between 1908 and 1919, more than 800 Aboriginal men, women and children were removed from their homelands across Western Australia and taken to ‘lock hospitals’ on Bernier and Dorre Islands for treatment for suspected venereal diseases. Many never returned home.

This article contains images of Indigenous people who are deceased.

For generations, Aboriginal people across WA were not allowed to talk about the islands because it was too traumatic.

Kathleen Musulin was told a story by one elder in Carnarvon, the remote town closest to the Bernier and Dorre Islands.

“As a young girl she would overhear the older women talking about their loved ones being taken over to the islands never to return,” Ms Musulin said.

“She asked her mother, ‘What’s all that about?’, and her mother said, ‘Don’t talk about it. You are not allowed to talk about the islands. Just cover your eyes and just point to the islands’.

“The reason being was because it was so traumatic and having that hurt inside, you can’t really let that go.

“It is time that we need to let that hurt go. Not only for ourselves, but for our future generations.”

A shocking history

Over a period of 11 years women and children were taken to the lock hospital at Dorre Island, while the men went to Bernier Island.(Supplied: Battye Library (725B-22))

After being diagnosed by policemen as having suspected venereal diseases people were rounded up, many placed in chains, and taken to the islands.

This was facilitated by the Aboriginal Act of 1905.

The islands’ facilities were inadequate, people had no contact with their families back home, and they were made to undergo experimental medical treatments.

Academics have said about 40 per cent of those confined never returned home, and more than 100 people died on the islands and were buried in unmarked graves.

WA Minister for Regional Development, Alannah MacTiernan, said she was shocked by the story, including the fact she had never heard of it before it was raised with her earlier this year, even though she had worked in Carnarvon in the 1980s.

“I’ve never, ever heard of this story, so I was really very surprised,” she said.

“Because of the degree of trauma and the shame surrounding it meant that it was not an issue that was raised by Aboriginal people.

“It was such a shameful experience, such a horrific experience, that they never spoke about it.”

The WA Government said it is the first in Australia to acknowledge the lock hospital history.

The Government is funding a statue to be built near the historic One Mile Jetty in Carnarvon, where the people would have been loaded onto boats bound for the islands.

A map outlining Australia’s history of medical incarceration.(Supplied: Melissa Sweet)

‘A truly disgraceful story’

The Bernier and Dorre Island lock hospitals are part of a wider story of the medical incarceration of Aboriginal people across Australia.

Lock hospitals also existed in Port Hedland, in WA, and later in Barambah and Fantome Island in Queensland.

Leprosy field hospitals were also established in WA, the Northern Territory and Queensland.

“This is a truly disgraceful story,” Ms MacTiernan said.

“This [the statue] is saying, ‘This is part of our story’.

“We’ve got to be grown up. We’ve got to acknowledge what happened if we as a community are to move forward.”

The Shire of Carnarvon has also acknowledged the history, and is working with members of the local Aboriginal community on plans for a ceremony in Carnarvon on January 9, 2019.

This will be one hundred years to the day since the last person was removed from the islands and the hospitals closed.

Ms Musulin grew up in Carnarvon hearing stories of how her grandfather had been searching for her great-grandmother, who was taken away from the Broome area.

She has been instrumental in pushing for greater acknowledgement of the lock hospital history, along with Bob Dorey, another member of the Carnarvon Aboriginal community.

Kathleen Musulin and Bob Dorey have been working together for four years to bring the histories of the lock hospitals on Bernier and Dorre Island to light, and have the dark chapter in Australia’s history acknowledged.(ABC North West: Karen Michelmore)

“There were a lot of people who didn’t know the true history of the islands and what happened to our ancestors over there,” Ms Musulin said.

“My great-grandmother, she’s still buried over there, with a lot of other Aboriginal people still buried over there in unmarked graves.

“It’s important, not only for myself, but it’s important for my children and grandchildren to know what happened to their ancestors.

“It’s important for other families because of the trauma and the hurt that we have suffered, knowing what happened to our ancestors and the horrific things that were done to them.

“They were experimented on to find a cure for venereal diseases, they were taken over there and locked up on the islands.

“A lot of them didn’t even have STIs [sexually transmitted infections]. There were many healthy Aboriginal people who were taken over there, children as well.

“And what I think is, one form of that was to remove them from stations and other areas, to get them off the land so the stations could be opened up.”

Mr Dorey, who will perform a ceremony with other elders in Carnarvon next year, said he wants the wider Australian public to know the story of the lock hospitals.

“I would like them to know everything about them, what happened over there,” he said.

“It’s our story. We’ve learned everybody else’s story in school but nothing like this.”

History slowly emerges

The history of the lock hospitals has emerged through the work of several academics working on separate projects.

Health journalist Melissa Sweet picked up a travel book at an airport a decade ago that had a few pages which mentioned the lock hospital history.

“I was transfixed when I read it, because at that stage I had been a health journalist for many years and I had never heard this history of the lock hospitals,” she said.

Ms Sweet started asking around, and was surprised at how few people had known about this history.

“That’s where my journey began to work with community members to bring wider awareness to the history.”

Archaeologist Jade Pervan has found a number of medical artefacts from the lock hospital history.(Supplied: Jade Pervan)

Ms Sweet travelled to Carnarvon where she met Ms Musulin.

The pair have since worked closely on the issue.

As Ms Sweet dug further, she realised the history was part of a much bigger national story about medical incarceration and said while historic the story is still relevant today.

“It’s not about saying it’s all in the past and this doesn’t go on any more,” she said.

“I was always asking people why does this history matter, and people would bring up the current history of over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the prison system.

“A lot of the concerns still remain.”

Medical artefacts uncovered

Archaeologist Jade Pervan grew up in Carnarvon and had heard a little bit of the story.

When she was undertaking research at the University of Western Australia she knew academics were talking about it, and wanted to dig further.

Ms Pervan uncovered a lot of archaeological materials on the islands dating from the lock hospital period.

She discovered European artefacts associated with the doctors and nurses at the hospitals such as expensive ceramic ware, personal items like combs and shoes, and even a piano.

This contrasted sharply with the items connected with the Indigenous people.

“The Aboriginal patients didn’t live in the houses. They were confined to the islands themselves so they had to make makeshift humpies or houses,” Ms Pervan said.

“They were given rations, so if the rations didn’t come in off the boat in time they would have hunted and foraged for the food off the islands.

Ms Pervan said the lock hospitals were established with racial motives.

“We know that these lock hospitals were set up after the 1905 Aboriginal Act which was where they didn’t want supposed diseases that Aboriginal people had passed onto the Europeans,” she said.

“It was likely that a lot of the Aboriginal people didn’t have any of those diseases, in this case it was venereal disease or syphilis, and they were probably placed on there for other reasons.

“It was a very racially-based removal of people to these islands. Europeans at the time were not interned for having the same diseases.”

Acknowledge the brutal history of Indigenous health care – for healing


  1. Melissa Sweet

Independent journalist and health writer; Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney; Founder of Croakey.org. PhD candidate, University of Canberra

Associate Professor, Communication, University of Canberra

Senior Lecturer, Centre for Nursing and Midwifery Research, James Cook University

Disclosure statement

Melissa Sweet received an Australian Postgraduate Award to support her PhD candidature. The APA ended in late 2015.

Kerry McCallum receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Lynore Geia does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


This article was co-authored by Kathleen Musulin, a Malgana/Yawuru woman living in Carnarvon and a member of the Carnarvon Shire Council lock hospital memorial working group.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains images of deceased people.

In March, a small group of people joined the musician, environmentalist and former politician Peter Garrett on a deeply moving journey to a remote island, about 58 kilometres off the coast from the Western Australian town of Carnarvon.

For Garrett, the boat ride was retracing travels that his grandmother had made almost a century earlier, en route to Dorre and Bernier islands, where Aboriginal people were incarcerated on medical grounds between 1908 and 1919.

Part of the journey was filmed for the SBS documentary series, Who Do You Think You Are?, which screened on Tuesday night. The episode revealed some of the history of Garrett’s grandmother, who worked on the islands as a nurse.

For Kathleen Musulin, a Malgana/Yawuru woman living in Carnarvon (and co-author of this article), the trip to Dorre with Garrett was also an opportunity to connect with ancestors, particularly her great grandmother, who was one of hundreds of Aboriginal people imprisoned on the islands, many of whom died there.

The stated reason for the removal of Aboriginal people to “lock hospitals” on Bernier and Dorre islands was “venereal disease”, though many questions surround this non-specific diagnosis, particularly given the role of police and non-medical people in diagnosing and removing people, often in chains and using force.

A plaque remembering those who were imprisoned and who died on the islands. Memorial at Dorre Island, Author provided

Lock hospitals were an invention of the British Empire. In the 1800s, they were used to confine women in English garrison towns who were thought to be engaged in sex work and to have venereal disease, under a series of Contagious Diseases Acts designed to protect the health of soldiers rather than the prisoner-patients.

Following vocal opposition, lock hospitals were abandoned in Britain, although similar measures continued elsewhere in the British Empire into the 20th century. In Australia, lock hospitals for “common prostitutes” existed in Melbourne and Brisbane into the 1900s.

However, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, lock hospitals operated in a different context – firmly rooted in the institutionalised racism of White Australia. Legislation providing for the “protection” of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people resulted in human rights abuses, intrusive surveillance, control, disruption, institutionalisation, and harm.

Facilities recorded extremely high death rates. Hospital Ward Dorre Island/State library of Western Australia

In the early years of the Bernier and Dorre lock hospitals, inmates were subjected to invasive interventions, while in latter years there was little medical care. The facilities recorded extremely high death rates, as did a lock hospital that operated from 1928 to 1945 on Fantome or Eumilli Island in the Palm Island group near Townsville in Queensland.

The removal of people to Bernier and Dorre islands was occurring at a time when authorities sought to prevent sexual relationships between Aboriginal women and white men as well as so-called “Asiatics”, as enacted in the WA Aborigines Act of 1905. As historian Dr Mary Anne Jebb has observed in an unpublished manuscript, this legislation:

…institutionalised Aboriginal women as immoral and intimacy between races as a problem which needed to be stamped out.

The lock hospitals were also interlinked with other traumas of colonisation, including the removal of Aboriginal people as prisoners or witnesses (mainly to do with the killing of stock), and the removal of children (some of the travelling inspectors who took away people with disease also took children). It was a time when senior doctors considered neck-chaining of Aboriginal people, often for prolonged periods, to be “humane”.

The lock hospitals were interlinked with other traumas of colonisation. Library of Western Australia

Around the time of the lock hospitals, Aboriginal people in WA were active in drawing public and political attention to wide-ranging injustices, including police brutality, their exclusion from schools and general health services, and other policies of segregation.

While the early decades of the 20th century were marked by concern about venereal diseases in the wider population, the policies and practices for non-Indigenous people stood in stark contrast to treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In 1911, a meeting of Australasian doctors recommended that general hospitals and dispensaries, rather than lock hospitals, “should provide the necessary accommodation for venereal cases”.

Male Aboriginal patients outside the hospital at Bernier Island. State Library of Western Australia

When many states introduced compulsory notification and treatment for venereal diseases for the general population following the first world war, non-Indigenous patients were provided with education and free treatment. By contrast, the lock hospitals of Queensland and WA provided penal rather than therapeutic conditions.

As a Yamaji researcher Dr Robin Barrington has observed of the Bernier and Dorre lock hospitals, they were:

…places of imprisonment, exile, isolation, segregation, anthropological investigations and medical experiments made possible by laws of exception.

At the time, even authorities acknowledged that Aboriginal people saw the Bernier and Dorre lock hospitals as penal institutions. In 1909, newspapers reported WA’s Chief Protector of Aborigines, Charles Gale, stating they were seen “as a sort of gaol”.

It was not only the island confinement that was punitive; people often faced traumatic long journeys, on foot and by ship, as well as long periods in prisons or other lock-ups awaiting transport to the islands.

Garrett says it would have been terrifying to be sent to to Dorre Island. Screenshot/Who Do You Think You Are/ SBS

In an interview some weeks after his visit to Dorre Island, Garrett told me (Melissa Sweet) that it had made him appreciate how terrifying it would have been for those Aboriginal people taken there. He compared the lock hospitals to a form of “gulag”, and described the island’s harsh landscape.

He said:

Even by Australian standards, it is remarkably barren, remote, inhospitable and, to be there for weeks on end, never mind years on end, yes, it really brings you up with a start… You can’t fail but to come away with a very strong feeling of loss and of unhappiness and of confusion.

During his short visit to Carnarvon, Garrett was struck by the lack of local acknowledgement for this internationally significant history. He noted, for example, its absence from a large new historical display at the town’s landmark One Mile Jetty, from where many inmates and staff departed for the islands.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want greater public acknowledgement of the Bernier, Dorre and Fantome island lock hospitals and their traumatic impacts. University of Western Australia

For Kathleen Musulin, visiting Dorre was a deeply moving and spiritual experience, which is part of a bigger journey to increase public awareness and understanding of the lock hospitals’ histories. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want greater public acknowledgement of the Bernier, Dorre and Fantome island lock hospitals and their traumatic impacts, according to findings from my (Melissa Sweet’s) PhD research.

This is seen as important for healing and justice, with interviewees wanting the wider Australian community to know “what Aboriginal people went through”. Efforts are now underway, through a Carnarvon Shire Council working group, to develop memorials to pay respects to those taken to the islands.

Peter Garrett and Kathleen Musulin on Dorre island. Screenshot/Who Do You Think You Are/ SBS

Knowing and acknowledging this history is particularly important for health systems and professionals, given that current Australian health dialogue supports the development of culturally safe services and practices, and this requires an understanding of one’s own profession’s historical complicity in such events.

Learning from history opens the way to moving forward with respect in health professions, to provide services that will ensure better health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, many of whom continue to experience adverse and traumatising experiences with health care.

The lock hospitals are part of a wider history of medical incarceration, as exemplified by Fantome Island, which also housed a leprosarium for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people from 1940-73. These histories remain very present in the memories and lives of many families on Palm Island.

These and other episodes of medical incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can be seen as archetypal examples of the role of health care professionals and systems in colonisation, contributing to intergenerational traumas.

The Australian Psychological Society recently issued an apology for the profession’s role in contributing to the mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including its failure to advocate on important matters such as the policy of forced removal, which resulted in the Stolen Generations.

Far more could be done across health systems to acknowledge the wider histories of harmful health care policies, systems and practices that institutionalised, excluded, segregated and harmed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Acknowledgement is one important step towards healing and reparation.

* Our next article will investigate what can be learnt from the extensive newspaper coverage of the lock hospitals.

1932 Kimberley rescue

The loss of the Seaplane Atlantis

Hans Bertram and Adolf Klausmann were flying the Junkers W33 seaplane Atlantis from Cologne, Germany on a goodwill mission to Australia for the aircraft maker, Junkers, when they ran into a severe storm between Timor and Darwin. Flying during the night of May 15, 1932, they became lost in thick cloud. Eventually at dawn, running short of fuel, they spotted the coast and landed in a sheltered bay. After a sleep and a think, they decided to use their remaining fuel to fly further down the coast, closer to where they believed the nearest town was located. In fact, they moved further away from civilisation, finally landing near Rocky Island, about 105 miles NW of Wyndham.

Thinking they were on the northern side of Melville Island, they decided to walk along the coast in a westerly direction, where they assumed they would be able to find rescuers. After a few difficult days of this, and meeting no-one on their travels, they returned to their plane and tried a new plan. Removing one of the seaplane’s floats, they converted it into a small boat and tried that. For a few more days they traversed the coastline stumbling ashore looking for food and water. Strong tides and currents carried them back and forth, and eventually, having totally run out of provisions, they decided to give up the makeshift boat and made a final landfall, seeking shelter from the heat in a rock cave. Ironically, they were only a few miles from the aircraft.
The search

When the Junkers had failed to arrive in Darwin, a massive land sea and air search was mounted, but to no avail. Weeks passed with no sign of them, and hopes faded. The German Government requested that the search continue and offered to pay the costs. A month after the airmen had disappeared, an Aboriginal from Forrest Mission found a handkerchief and a cigarette lighter inscribed with the initials H.B. near Elsie Island, about 14 miles south of Rocky Island. The search intensified. Two days later, the abandoned Atlantis was spotted by Captain Sutcliffe, a pilot for West Australian Airways. The news flashed around the world, and a rescue party was organised out of Wyndham, led by Constable Gordon Marshall. It took the party two weeks to reach the area, but still no sign of the airmen was found. Speculation grew that the two men had been murdered by unfriendly Aborigines, and in fact a number of Aborigines confessed to murdering them (or were dobbed in by others) and were taken prisoner and kept in chains with the rescue party.

Klausmann and Bertram with rescuers
(we’re not sure which is Andumeri unfortunately).
Source: Courtesy of the WA Maritime Museum
The rescue

On the 40th day of their ordeal, the aviators, too weak to stand, lay down in the shelter of some rocks to await their fate. They had spent the previous month wandering up and down the coast, looking for signs of life and grubbing for snails and shellfish, and eating gum leaves. Apart from two lizards they had caught earlier, that was the sum of their food. They were ready to die. But early next day, they were found! Two young lads from Drysdale Mission came across them. One immediately ran back to the Mission for help, and the other (Minnijinnimurrie) stayed with them feeding them with honeycomb and a fish he caught and chewed up for them so that they could eat it. Bertram later recalled that he had undoubtedly saved their lives. Other Aboriginals arrived from Drysdale and over the next five days, they caught, cooked and chewed kangaroo meat for them and helped nurse the men back to life. Finally, on June 28, Constable Marshall and the ‘official’ rescue party arrived.

The run
Next day, Marshall sent two runners to Wyndham via Forrest River with the news that the aviators had been found, and requested that the Wyndham meatworks boat be sent up the coast to bring the men out. Owenba (or Ernest) and a companion set off with the letters. Marshall also freed the prisoners, obviously realising that the confessions of murder were spurious. That night, Klausmann’s condition worsened and he went berserk. Even in his weakened condition it took three men to hold him down. Marshall eventually chained him up.
He decided to send a second, more urgent message to the police in Wyndham, not only to hurry, but also to include a straitjacket. Emphasising the urgency of the request, he also wrote a note to the Forrest River officials, asking them to despatch the message to Wyndham via the mission launch. In Marshall’s report he wrote: “I chose the two best runners I had. They claimed they could be in Forrest River in two days, in Wyndham in four days. I promised them a new shirt and a new pair of shorts if they could do it and sent them off.” Andumeri (Ronald Morgan) and Jalnga (Hector) ran off into the Kimberley heat, following the trail of Owenba.

Two days later they arrived in Forrest River, just after Owenba and his companion who had left a day earlier. But the Mission launch, which was to relay the message to Wyndham, was not there. Ironically, it had gone to Wyndham to report that there was still no news of the missing airmen. So, not knowing when the boat would return, Andumeri decided to keep going. After a brief rest and a reviving cup of sugary tea, he headed off to Wyndham on his own. Taking the most direct route, he crossed the Forrest River and headed in a south-easterly direction between the rugged Milligan Ranges and the tidal reaches of the West Arm of the Cambridge Gulf. He headed for The Gut, the narrowest crossing point in this part of the Gulf, and notorious for the strong currents which surge through its constricted passage. Bundling up his clothes with Marshall’s letter securely tied inside, he attached them to a log which he pushed in front of him across the water. About 3am on the morning of July 4, he entered the deserted streets of Wyndham, less than four days after he’d set off. Truly a marathon run.
The outcome

Again the news flashed around the world and, due to the time difference was printed in the European papers that morning. The rescue boat set off and, two days later, 53 days after their forced landing, the pilots were brought ashore at Wyndham to rousing welcome. Klausmann never recovered his sanity and was sent home to Germany. Bertram recovered, reclaimed the plane and carried out a festive tour of Australia. His main aim was to raise funds for the two Aboriginal Missions in gratitude for their help.
When he left Australia in 1933 he said “I hope after I get back to Germany, to returned here as Ambassador to Australia.” He did return to Australia, in 1941, as a prisoner of war. He’d joined the Luftwaffe and been shot down and captured in the Libyan desert. He died in Germany in 1993. Andumeri’s story was finally published in the West Australian on January 15, 1994 in an excellent article by John Burbridge.

1932 Kimberley rescue

Atlantis refueling in Kupang
On 29 February 1932 four aviators flew out of Cologne, Germany on a round-the-world flight attempt in a seaplane. The group comprised pilot Hans Bertram, co-pilot Thom, mechanic Adolph Klausmann and cameraman von Lagorio, and was intended to find potential markets for Germany’s aviation industry and to be a goodwill tour by visiting German communities along the route.
The plane was a Junkers W 33 seaplane (float configuration), registration D-2151 and named Atlantis

After enduring a storm between Timor and Australia two of the men became lost and stranded on a remote area of the north-western Australian coast. The aviators spent the next 40 days in severe deprivation and were both close to death when rescued.



Over ten weeks, they successfully flew through Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Malaya, Indonesia and Timor. After arriving in Jakarta, it was agreed that Thom and von Lagorio would travel separately and the four would rendezvous in Shanghai, China. Bertram and Klausmann would continue flying down the Indonesian archipelago and onto Australia.

They had their engine overhauled in the Dutch naval aerodrome in Soerabaja (Surabaya), Indonesia and departed there on 13 May, stopping for fuel at a bay near Kupang in the western part of Dutch Timor the next day.
At midnight on 14 May Bertram and Klausmann departed Kupang for Darwin, expecting the 450 nautical miles (830 km; 520 mi) trip to take about 5 or 6 hours. Flying over the Timor Sea, they had intended to land at dawn the next day. They encountered a severe storm, and low on fuel, the aviators were forced to land their seaplane in the first sheltered bay they found which unbeknown to them, was on the Kimberley coast and hundreds of kilometres west of the intended destination.
They incorrectly guessed that the place was part of Melville Island, north of Darwin. The location was actually Cape St Lambert

14°20′1.2″S 127°46′45.4″E14.333667°S 127.779278°E), just north of the mouth of the Berkeley River on the western coastline of the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf and about 370 kilometres (230 mi) south-west of Melville Island.

The makeshift canoe
Extremely isolated and surrounded by harsh bush and desert, on the first night they were visited by an Aboriginal man. They were unable to communicate and were overwhelmed by swarms of flies. The aviators, with only 15 litres of fuel left, decided to head west towards what they thought was the direction of Darwin. They managed to take off but were forced to land again in another bay, their engine cutting out as the plane ran out of fuel and rolled up a small beach.
Being unable to find water, they could only think that the Aboriginal they saw in the other bay might be able to provide help, so they secured the plane and set out to walk back to the previous bay. They were plagued by heat, thirst and hunger and their walk was a nightmare. After attempting to swim across an inlet they were chased by a crocodile and lost their clothes. Barefoot and naked they lay beneath a burning sun. They gave up their search and returned to the plane without clothes or footwear. After seven days of walking without water, ravished by mosquitoes and completely exhausted they arrived back at the seaplane.

They decided to remove one of the seaplane’s floats to use as a makeshift kayak. Now thirteen days into their ordeal they drained the radiator of the remaining water, climbed into the float and started paddling. The ship MV Koolinda passed by only 500 metres away but didn’t see them. They paddled for four days and nights and eventually came ashore north of Cape Bernier, east of King George River.

Still thinking that they were on Melville Island they decided to walk overland to find civilisation, but found out that they weren’t on an island so they returned to the float. After arriving back, the float had been damaged so to be able to paddle it again they had to cut a section off. With the float being shorter it wasn’t as seaworthy as before so they only got a few kilometres before deciding it was too dangerous and returned to shore where they found shelter under an overhang at Cape Bernier, remaining there until they were finally rescued.

Klausmann, Bertram and rescuer Constable Gordon Marshall with the aboriginal trackers who located the two men
A Dutch gunboat Flores set out from Surabaya four days after the disappearance to search along the planned route across the Timor sea. At the request of the German Consul-General, the Western Australian government also commenced a land, sea and air search of possible landing sites. A West Australian Airways de Havilland DH.50 mail plane was chartered for the purpose. Coastal ships from the State Shipping Service were also notified to be on the lookout.

On 13 June a foot search by native trackers found a cigarette case bearing the initials “HB” and a handkerchief which were handed to a passing missionary in a boat. The details of the location were vague however and a malfunctioning telegraph delayed the information getting to the correct authorities. Eventually it did however and the land search resumed with increased vigour. 60 people were directly involved in the search which by now had received widespread publicity.
The seaplane was located by a search aircraft on 15 June and the men were found sheltering in a cave near Cape Bernier several days later. They had been lost for 40 days.
Klausmann had become demented as a result of the ordeal and needed to be restrained when they were returned to the hospital at Wyndham on 6 July by boat. The total ordeal had taken 53 days. Both men were later taken from Wyndham to Perth – Klausmann in the Koolinda as he was considered too unwell to fly.

Klausmann returned to Germany by steamer but never fully recovered. Bertram returned to the site of the abandoned plane on 18 September with Fred Sexton, a Western Australian Airways mechanic. They brought with them fuel and a replacement float from a de Havilland DH.50 and managed to fit it to the Junkers and fly the plane to Perth. They landed in Matilda Bay in the Swan River on 24 September 1932. After removing the floats Bertram flew around Australia for several months, visiting cities and towns and giving talks. He returned to Berlin on 17 April 1933 where he received a hero’s welcome.
Bertram wrote a book of the experience called Flug in die Hölle (Flight into Hell). He also had a successful career as a film director. In 1985 a four-part television miniseries named Flight Into Hell based on Hans Betram’s book was made by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Gordon Flemyng was the director.
The makeshift canoe was recovered by staff from the Western Australian Museum in 1975 and is held by the Western Australian Maritime Museum in Fremantle where it is occasionally displayed.
Atlantis Seaplane Float

It was 15 May 1932. The seaplane Atlantis was on its way to Darwin from Kupang in Timor, when bad weather caused it to become well off course. Running out of fuel, the pilot, Captain Hans Bertram, had to land in a remote part of the northwest coast. He and his mechanic, Adolf Klausmann were then to spend 40 days of privation until they were found by Aborigines in a cave where they had all but given up and prepared to die. When the two airmen first landed, they began to convert one of the seaplane floats into a type of canoe. Although ingenious and practical the makeshift craft was not very useful on the open sea. They ended up washed ashore, still with no real idea of where they were and with no food and water. Search parties were looking for the men to no avail, but a cigarette case with Hans Bertram’s initials on it was found by an Aboriginal. A search spreading out from this area found the missing plane, but it was of course empty. Now an even bigger search was put in progress using Aboriginal trackers from missions in the area, and one of these trackers found the men holed up in their cave waiting to die. This Aboriginal is thought to have been Minnijinnimurrie from the Drysdale Mission. He and other Aboriginals with him from the mission looked after the two aviators for a week before the first group of police rescuers arrived. The condition of the two men was very poor and two runners were sent to Forrest Mission with messages to arrange a boat to be sent to pick them up. Overnight Klausmann’s condition had deteriorated and it was decided to send more runners to the police in Wyndham via Forrest Mission requesting a strait jacket also be sent. The second pair of Aboriginal runners then performed what was to become a marathon feat. They were told that if they managed to overtake the first runners they would get a new pair of shorts and a shirt. The pair made it to Forrest Mission in two days. It had taken six days for the rescue party to travel that distance. Although the role that Aboriginals played in finding the aviators and keeping them alive until the rescue party reached the cave is well known, the story of Andumeri and Jalnga’s marathon run is not often mentioned.

Another aspect of this story is also not often told. While the search parties were under way, there were reports that Aboriginals had killed the two aviators. A number of Aboriginals were taken prisoner by Superintendent Johnson, including Wajana and Yorgin, the suspected murderers. Three different stories arose. An Aboriginal woman, Mooger, said that Wajana and Yorgin saw the plane land, asked the aviators for tobacco and when they were not given any, speared the men. Then some of the prisoners told Johnson that they had found one man dead in the plane, and tracks of the other man. Finally a third story from other Aboriginals of the Brinjin tribe said that three other Aboriginals had killed the aviators. Regardless of the fact that these stories conflicted, and that no evidence of a dead person had been found in the seaplane, the Aboriginals were kept chained with the search party until they found the men. They were released after finding Bertram and Klausmann and given some food and tobacco as recompense. The Aboriginal group associated with the Drysdale Mission was possibly the Miwa and the runners were from the Forrest Mission and possibly associated with the Aboriginal Yiiji group.
Associated Tribe Miwa, Yiiji
Contact Evidence Verified
Type of contact Helpful
Year 1932
Nationality German
Location Kimberley
Source European
Klausmann Still In Hospital
Temporarily Deranged ^45 DAYS LIVING IN HELL”
.»’ WYNDHAM, TaurwUjr.
Flight-Captain Bertram ia well I aad dMerhl» and announces that h« will- repair the ‘plane and con-1
HUM* til« fligkt to Sydney and Mci- j bonnie., Klausmann, tke mechanic, it in aàddar caáe. He ia temporarily deranged and in hospital, bat there an atrong kopea that when his bodily wanta are thoroughly cared 1er he will make . complete mental reeoTery.
Bertram stands revealed as a de- bonair young airman possessed of ¡superlative courage and apparently ste.el nerves. He indicates that he will never tell the full details of the weeks of horror in the wilderness, but it ia known now that Klausmann be- came mentally affected comparatively early in their wanderings, and that in addition to the worry and suspense of looking after him Bertram had to con- duct the search singlehanded and fend for tha pair of them. Singlehanded ha turned ona of the ‘plane’s floats into . boat and paddled for days miles out to aea. He managed to do all this, to davis« lighting apparatus from the ‘plane’s magneto, to make fires, to keep a daily diary, and to endure the mental anguish of seeing help pass him and his comrade by on three oc- casions, and still retain courage and will power.

Constable Marshall, who brought the fliers back to Wyndham, says that if the Drysdale natives, who suc-coured the fliers had not found them.
CAPTAIN BERTRAM (left) and HERR KLAUSMANN. A photograph taken just before they left Batavia. they would have been dead when 1 earrived on the scene.
“We seem to have caused bother,” Bertram said. “We saw ‘planes and ships, but we could not make them see us. It would seem impossible that within a few days of reaching land two men could give up, but wo did. It all seemed so awful nnd ter- rible.”
Bertram could not be persuaded to
speak of his experiences. “Imagine for yourself,” he said. “Here I am just back from 45 days living in hell, and you ask me what hell is like. I cannot do ii. I will say that not for one minute or one .second has it been easy. It was a light all the time, and we were finished when we saw the natives from the mission.”