Albury achieved world attention during the running of the London to Melbourne MacRobertson International Centenary Air Race. The story of the Dutch DC-2 airliner 'Uiver' and the role Albury residents played in its rescue in 1934, is a fascinating and important event in the city's history.
Built in 1933, the Uiver was the first of 18 DC-2 aircraft acquired by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines for passenger transport. It was the first flying machine with automatic steering and one of the few aircraft with retractable landing gear. It was also the first plane to feature an entirely separate cockpit and food preparation area.
Keen to exploit the possibilities of world air travel, KLM entered the Uiver in the 1934 London to Melbourne air race. The event was sponsored by Sir MacPherson Robertson, the chocolate millionaire who believed it a fitting way to celebrate Melbourne 's centenary.
On 20 October, 20 aircraft, including the Uiver, took off from Mildenhall, England for the epic 19,800 km event across the globe to Melbourne, Australia.
The Uiver carried a crew of four, under Captain K.D. Parmentier, and three passengers. It was the only race entrant with fare-paying passengers.
The aircraft performed well and was only a few hours behind the leader when it left Charleville, Queensland on the last leg to Melbourne. But a fierce electrical storm cut wireless contact and the Uiver drifted off course, becoming hopelessly lost.
RAAF signallers at Laverton were trying in vain to contact the plane. They alerted all towns along the route to be ready to help. Radio stations broadcast messages, navy ships switched on their searchlights and railway stations along the Melbourne to Albury line put on signal lamps.
Albury's municipal electrical engineer used the entire town lighting system to flash the word ALBURY in Morse code. Just after midnight, the aircraft was heard circling the town.
Arthur Newnham from the local ABC radio station 2CO broadcast an appeal for listeners to take their cars to the Albury racecourse and line-up so a landing strip could be illuminated with headlights.
At 1.17am, the Uiver dropped two parachute flares and made its approach to land. It bumped several times on the undulating centre of the racecourse and slithered to a halt 100 yards short of the inner fence. The aircraft was safe.
Around the world, millions of people huddled anxiously over their wireless, breathed a collective sigh of relief.
But the drama was not over. Daybreak saw eight tonnes of DC-2 bogged in thick Albury mud. The Mayor, Alderman Alf Waugh rallied 300 people to dig it out and haul the Uiver to firmer ground.
Later that morning, the Uiver resumed its flight to Melbourne, taking second place in the great race and winning the handicap. The flight was the first commercial passenger flight between Europe and Australia, and the Uiver’s emergency landing and success in the race contributed to the development of air travel in Australia.
Sadly in December 1934, the Uiver crashed in the Syrian Desert during a mail flight from America to Jakarta killing all onboard. Following the tragedy, the people of Albury contributed to a memorial erected in Holland to honour those killed in the crash.
The Uiver Collection is listed on the State Heritage Register of New South Wales. It documents and commemorates the flight of the Uiver in the MacRobertson International Centenary Air Race of 1934, and covers the themes of the 'Uiver Story', the Douglas DC-2 aircraft and Dutch/Australian relations.
The collection contains over 300 items, including photographs, objects and audio-visual material, and is the largest collection of items relating to the Uiver in Australia.
Highlights from the collection include original passenger tickets, a parachute from a flare that illuminated the makeshift landing strip in Albury, items discarded when the plane lightened its load to complete the last leg of the trip, and footage of the Uiver and passengers filmed in Melbourne after its arrival.
You can search the Uiver Collection, and other items in the Museum & Social History Collection here
In 1934 Thea Rasche flew as a passenger aboard the KLM Uiver aircraft, flown by Koene Dirk Parmentier, to report on the MacRobertson Air Race from England to Australia. Thea was a journalist and an accomplished pilot herself. She was a contemporary of fellow women’s aviation pioneer, Amelia Earhart. This video has been produced to commemorate the anniversary of the emergency landing of the Uiver in Albury on October 24, 1934.
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