Dickson Residents Group

Wings of Dickson summary

On Saturday 10 April 2021, Dickson Residents Group was delighted to host 400 visitors at Wings of Dickson – Pioneers, Pilots and the Ploughman!

The event took place as part of the Canberra and Region Heritage Festival. It was funded entirely by North Canberra Community Council and Dickson Residents Group, with generous donations from the Hendersons in O’Connor, the Dyers in Downer, and assistance from the Officeworks Braddon store.

On a brisk and partly cloudy morning accompanied by bagpipes, played by kilted Ken Fraser (Piping Hot), some sixty people gathered on the historic aerodrome for the ceremonial unveiling of Dickson’s very first pair of Canberra Tracks heritage signs.

Among the audience gathered were former Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Geoff Brown, Group Captain David Fredericks representing the Air Force, Members for Kurrajong Rachel Stephen-Smith and Shane Rattenbury, President of the National Trust Gary Kent, President of the Canberra and District Historical Society Allen Mawer, Chair of the Heritage Council Dr Ken Heffernan, Mr James Oglethorpe representing 3 Squadron RAAF Association, and senior staff of the ANU Centre for Heritage and Museum Studies Dr Mary Hutchison.

Emceed by Dickson Residents Group President Jane Goffman, accompanied by Sergeant John Tomati (resplendent in uniform – holding one of Mildenhall’s extraordinary photographs of the 1926 crash scene), we heard from North Canberra Community Council’s Chair, Dr Jochen Zeil, and the former Director of the National Film and Sound Archives, Mr Ron Brent, before the ACT’s new Heritage Minister Rebecca Vassarotti MLA gave a short speech and invited Mr Mike Oldfield, whose great uncle’s heroism in the face of a blazing plane wreck was recognised with a national bravery award in 1926, to help her unveil the first sign.

Mr Oldfield spoke briefly about his great uncle, Walter Johnson, the ploughman, before Air Marshal Brown called for a vote of thanks, shared a little of the remarkable history of 3 Squadron, and declared the exhibition open.

As guests entered the exhibition in the Dickson Baptist Church’s Hall they were welcomed by the dulcet sounds of live jazz of the era played by retired Air Vice Marshal Brendan O’Loghlin on keyboard.

Inside the Hall, visitors were greeted by over 70 historical items and rare objects, beautifully curated. The kitchen crew did an outstanding job of provisioning morning tea that ran all day, supplying copious fresh baked scones with jam and cream, chocolate brownies, homemade cake and biscuits to a seemingly endless stream.

At 2 o’clock, the National Trust Heritage Walk hosted 30 lucky guests who had the privilege of being joined by the Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Hupfeld and his Aide de Camp, and the Oldfield family.

By the end of the day, a thrilled and exhausted crew packed down and left the church hall spotless in record time. Some bubbly from the local Dan Murphy’s went down very easily, and for this Dickson Residents Group president, a giant thank you to everyone who made the occasion such a massive success!!!

A very special thanks to Canberra Museum and Gallery, and the Australian War Memorial for entrusting us with their equipment. Thanks also to the Dickson Baptist Church for making their Hall available, the Oldfield and Hallam families for loaning us their family’s precious heirlooms, the Canberra and District Historical Society for loaning us the piece of the plane that crashed, the CSIRO Archives for loaning us Dr Bertram Dickson’s retirement album and the Experiment Station’s hand written weather records dating back to 1940, the Air Force History and Heritage Services for joining us there to talk to people, bringing Centenary related material and history books for sale, and loaning a 3 Squadron cloth badge for our display, and 3 Squadron RAAF Association for loaning a unique and wonderful leather aviator helmet and goggles made of tortoise shell, and 3 Squadron plaque. Thanks also to TEMPFENCE in Fyshwick for allowing us to use their temporary construction site fencing panels and kindly delivering and picking those up for free.

We would be remiss though if we did not thank several major media organisations for helping us reach people. ABC Canberra’s Kim Huynh and Adrienne Francis, Morgan McGoogan at Region Group’s The Canberra Page, The Canberra Times’ Megan Doherty, the Riot-ACT’s Lottie Twyford, together with Facebook pages like the Canberra and District Historical Society’s, really helped us get the word out. The Air Force News, Aviation Historical Society of Australia’s newsletter, North Ainslie Primary School newsletter, plus Dickson Residents Group flyers in local letterboxes all meant that people had a better chance of knowing this one day only event was happening. Our own Dicksonia Magnifica Facebook page did its bit.

We’ve been asked by quite a few people, What’s next? The plan now is to put together an online exhibition and find out whether the ACT Heritage Library might be willing to house the display panels that made up the bulk of the exhibition. We will be meeting on Tuesday to de-brief and discuss ideas, including using vacant ground floor premises to mount similar exhibitions at Dickson shops, and applying for a heritage grant by the end of April deadline. A self-guided heritage walk seems well worth investing further time in. However one of us will be heading off to the Three Capes Track in Tasmania at the end of this week so for now, it’s time for a well earned break and some quiet time gazing out to sea, sailing high and steady on the Wings of Dickson.

– Jane Goffman