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Air Disaster Canberra
Air Disaster Canberra
The plane crash that destroyed a government

Australia 1901 - 2001
Australia 1901 - 2001
a narrative history

Air Disaster Canberra

Air Disaster Canberra - Andrew TinkIn August 1940, Australia had been at war for almost a year when a Hudson bomber – the A16-97 – carrying ten people, including three cabinet ministers, crashed into a ridge near Canberra.

In the ghastly inferno that followed the crash, the nation lost its key war leaders.

Over the next twelve months, it became clear that the passing of Geoffrey Street, Sir Henry Gullett and James Fairbairn had destabilised Robert Menzies’ wartime government.

As a direct but delayed consequence, John Curtin became prime minister in October 1941.

Controversially, this book also tells the story of whether Air Minister Fairbairn, rather than the Royal Australian Air Force pilot, Bob Hitchcock, had been at the controls.

Click here to watch the ABC 7.30 Report's programme The Long Shadow of Calamity.

What the critics say

The Australian:  ‘Air Disaster Canberra, a fascinating, well written and thoroughly researched book, provides convincing evidence…that at the time of the crash it was [Air Minister] Fairbairn – an accomplished pilot but with no direct experience of Hudson bombers – who was flying the plane. It now seems certain Fairbairn was at the controls instead of the designated RAAF pilot…This is an important tale that needed to be told. Tink has done himself and this crucial slice of Australian history proud’.    

The Canberra Times: ‘Even if…[this book] was just an air crash investigation and a political whodunit about the fall of a minority government in a hung parliament it would make compelling reading. The fact that it is so much more than this, opening, as it does, a window onto the surreal Australian political landscape in the early years of World War II is a very pleasant bonus that makes it a valuable addition to the libraries of all serious students of the history of the period. Tink is a gifted storyteller, with an easy narrative style, who entertains and informs at the same time’.

The Age: ‘There’s a hole in the literature about this event, and…Andrew Tink has filled it with this thorough, well-told book examining the men’s careers, the political situation and the unresolved circumstances of the crash’.

Click here to order a copy of this book

Campaign to upgrade the Air Disaster memorial

The final paragraph of Air Disaster Canberra describes the unsatisfactory state of the memorial to the victims. And this has triggered a campaign to upgrade access to the site.

On 6 May 2013, I accompanied ABC Canberra radio’s Alex Sloan, ACT Government Minister Shane Rattenbury, and campaigner Estelle Blackburn, on an walk to the memorial. Alex interviewed us along the way and this tape was later played on air as that day’s ‘Capital Constitutional’. Minister Rattenbury acknowledged that the track needs upgrading and undertook to do so.

Listen to the interview here.

 Canberra Air Disaster Memorial

Alex Sloan interviews Minister Rattenbury in front of the memorial, while Andrew Tink looks on.

The Canberra Times has also been supporting this campaign. Click here to view an article which appeared on 6 May 2013.

73rd anniversary commemoration

Following some upgrading to its approaches, it was possible to hold a commemoration at the memorial on 13 August 2013. The families of all ten victims of the crash were represented.

Click here to listen to ABC Canberra’s Alex Sloan interviewing some of the next-of-kin who were present.

Pictured here are some of those who attended.

73rd anniversary

The Canberra Times also covered the commemoration. Click here to view Fleta Page’s article.

National Science Week 2013

During National Science Week 2013, a forum of forensic experts re-examined the Canberra Air Disaster. As part of that sell-out event held  at the National Science and Technology Centre (Questacon) in Canberra on 14 August, the following video, prepared by Australian Science Communicators, was screened.
Click on the link below to view the video.

Air Disaster Canberra