NEXT January will mark 80 years since Sir Charles Kingsford Smith took off in the Southern Cross from Seven Mile Beach for his historic first commercial flight to New Zealand.
The Southern Cross took 14 hours and 10 minutes to make the journey to New Plymouth.
That was January 11, 1933.
The flight started at 2.50am, watched by a crowd of thousands of visitors and local residents, some of whom had their car headlights turned on to assist Kingsford-Smith in his take off.
Seven Mile Beach was selected for the take-off area as it allowed a long, smooth take-off for his heavily laden aircraft.
The Gerringong and District and Berry Historical societies are joining forces to celebrate that remarkable feat on January 11-12 next year.
Berry Historical Society member Nancy Bevan said a huge weekend of activities has been planned.
On the evening of Friday, January 11, it is hoped Dick Smith will be guest speaker at the Gerringong Town Hall.
On Saturday, January 12 there will be a display by the Gerringong District Historical Society at the community hall at Gerroa.
There will be a formal meeting at Black Head, where it is hoped that a number of people who were actually present for the take off in 1933 will attend.
“A number of people have already come forward who were present 80 years ago and relived their memories; we would love to have more,” Mrs Bevan said.
Speeches will be held to mark the occasion, while throughout the day there will be flybys by historic aircraft from the Historical Aircraft Restoration Group at Albion Park.
Meanwhile, back at the large picnic area at the intersection of Gerroa and Beach roads in Seven Mile Beach National Park there will be a host of activities, including a display of veteran motorcycles by the Shoalhaven Classic Motorcycle Club and vintage vehicles from the collection of Gerringong resident Murray Alcock.
The Historical Aircraft Restoration Group will display pieces of a plane they are restoring as a replica of Southern Cross and the Gerringong Lions Club will stage a barbecue.
There will be displays by the Berry Historical Society from its records covering the historic flight.
“It’s pretty appropriate that we stage our event there, as this was the site of the Berry Surf Club shed and that’s where the radio shack was located which was used during the take-off,” Mrs Bevan said.
The flight path Smithy, his two crew and two passengers took off on was in the middle of the beach heading north towards Gerroa.
Flares in 44 gallons drums marked the left hand side of flight path while on the right it was the waves.
“I suppose as long as you stayed between the drums and the surf you were safe,” Mrs Bevan said.
“The plane lifted up over Gerroa banked back around and completed a fly past of the beach.
“Apparently the fuel for the flight came from someone who had a fuel depot in Nowra.
“We would love to have a huge crowd present. Estimates were there was more than 1000 people present back in 1933 – we’d like to equal if not better that.”
Margaret Sharpe of the Gerringong and District Historical Society said the take-off was a huge event in the local area.
“Kingsford Smith was fairly good at advertising his upcoming events and everyone knew about the flight,” she said.
“I know Dave Johnson, who now lives in Gerringong, actually came down from Sydney with his family to watch it.
“The local farmers all milked their cows in the afternoon and then came out to have a picnic tea with their families and many of them waited all night for the take-off.
“He (Kingsford Smith) waited until 2.30am so the tides would be right and that provided as much beach as possible and the wet sand packed down extremely hard.
“They had also estimated how long the flight would take and they wanted to land at New Plymouth in daylight as although there was an aero club there, there were no lighting facilities.”
The Gerringong Museum has a photography display to celebrate the historic flight, while there is a written account by Bruce Winley and a DVD featuring interviews with the late Clive Emery and Dave Johnson about their experiences on
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