BSC 30 Years Ago
Neville Wran, as Premier of NSW 30 years ago, often said, "New friends are good but old friends are best." While I don’t necessarily agree with him, it is rather nice to see so many friends from 30 years ago here tonight. Thank you for inviting me to this 30 year celebration.
1978 - A YEAR TO CELEBRATE: In 1978, BSC had broken from its formative years and, after a period of rapid membership growth, found a permanent home and was firmly established. The club relocated its operation from Raglan to Pipers Airfield and made a substantial investment in land, buildings and aircraft:
• The airfield was purchased and named after our benefactor Roger Piper;
• Members began building the Doc Heydon club house;
• We purchased our first Pawnee PPC and
• Bought our first two-seater fiber glass glider, a Twin Astier.
This year marked our giant leap from what, only a few years early, had been a very new, tenuous association with the following goals:
• The retention of the operation close to Sydney but with good cross country facilities;
• The security and independence of a permanent site;
• An airspace essentially free from restrictions;
• An environment attractive to families with a country club atmosphere;
• Financial stability and flexibility without full-time operations with the caveat that there be no external debt; and
• The capacity to accommodate the growth of syndicate gliders.
A few years earlier, BSC had set out to be master of its own destiny. By 1978, that watershed had truly been achieved.
THE FORMATIVE YEARS
But I get ahead of myself. Without wishing to venture too far into the past, I should put 1978 in context. BSC had formed at Raglan when the operations of several independent groups had merged:
• The first began in the 1960s, eventually incorporating as Sydney Technical College Gliding Group (STCGC) in 1969 with John (Jack) Haddock as president and some 25 members. Until it moved to Raglan in 1968, it was a footloose group operating from several airfields including Warkworth and Nowra, first with a ES 50 purchased under lease, a Blanik GTN and a Tripacer. Early contributors that come to mind include Col Turner, Blair, Rolf Hayler, Meldrum, Rundel, Matchett, Llewellyn, Burns, Felton, Jackson, Rhodes and Tost. At the end of 1969, Werner Geisler was elected president of STCGC and remained in that role for 11 years.
• The second group, BSG, including Geisler, Brown, Coolhaus, Riley, Hanneman, Watts, Wylde and Blackwell, operated at Raglan with DCA approval, using Monty Cotton's Tiger Moth, a Blanik GFS, Kestrel 17, Sagitta GQS and Foka 4.
• The third was BMGC, with John O' Shea and others, and leased GFS.
Col Turner has prepared a detailed chronology of the formative years well worth your perusal.
STCGC then started operating an Auster and a Super Cub, and leased a Skylark. Its name changed to Bathurst Soaring Club in 1973 and operated on the merger with two Tugs, a Tiger on call, two Blaniks, a new Libelle GGS and 8 or 9 syndicate gliders, one of which was a Kestrel 19 that Paul Mander flew, entering the world comps at Wakerie. While the club had built a hangar at Raglan to David Hart’s design with the generosity of Monty Cotton's saw mill at Oberon, in 1973 we nevertheless began looking for a new site and a permanent home in an area 10 to 25 miles from Raglan. We had airspace restrictions at Raglan, which included not being able to fly within 5 miles of the aerodrome 30 minutes before landing and 5 minutes after take-off of RPT traffic. The Fokker from Sydney came twice a day.
The club grew rapidly and by 1975 had gained 180 members, the second largest gliding club in NSW. Many had come from STCGC, including Hall, Sweeny, Phillips, Chamberlain and Pappas. With Nick and Betty Bartha to take phone bookings, year in and year out each weekend was filled to capacity - we had a mission. Many found Saturday night lodgings in town. a lot jammed into the only caravan on the field owned by Jack Frances, often to be woken in winter to Harry Crossans' cry that "there was wave out east" a call made no matter how long or liquid the previous night had been at our Bathurst "club house" at the Acropole restaurant.
ROGER BEDE PIPER
The most important letter BSC ever received came, late in 1974, from Roger Bede Piper of Westbourne. The original is on the clubhouse -wall. and was written after Col Hayler met Roger when reading his electricity meter. Quoting from that letter "I wish you could call on me a I want to get a glider building concern going and am trying to contact persons interested as later when I sell some of the land I will be in a position to finance it. In the meantime I can offer hanger ground space and flying field up to ¾ of a mile radius".
Then followed Werner Geisler's enthusiastic late night call to me, Werner and I flying to Westbourne and landing on Rogers' original strip. The sheer joy on Roger's face was a once in a lifetime experience. Then tea in Roger's home, a caravan parked next to the old homestead, conversation with his parrot, gone bald from the kerosene heater fumes, a tour of all the model aircraft and trains, the rusty T-model fords lost in the undergrowth and fond memories of Roger's day's with Tiger Moth's. There was little discussion about the lease we suggested, Roger trusted us and it was taken as read that we were coming to Westbourne. For those who did not have the pleasure of meeting Roger he had, like his famous great grandfather, a sunny generous disposition and an honorable trusting simplicity that rebuked worldliness; but most of all he was a romantic dreamer with a passion for all things aeronautical.
Rogers, great grandfather, Ensign John Piper, who became know as "The Prince of Australia", arrived in Sydney in 1792 to join the NSW Corps; became a captain in 1800 then Governor of Norfolk Island, but unlike his brother officers, didn't prosper from the rum trade. His star began rising when appointed Naval Officer for Port Jackson in 1813 and by 1822, when he received a 2000 acres land grant Alloway Banks (now Peter Hannemans) he had a further 2500 acres in Sydney including 190 acres at what is now Point Piper. All this was lost with mortgage foreclosures and WC Wentworth gave John Piper the then 500 acre property, Westbourne in exchange for his Point Piper mansion. In 1827 Piper moved to Alloway Banks, lost it to over spending by 1845 then moved to live at Westbourne. He died in 1851 and Westbourne progressively passed under trust to his wife, son Henry, grandson David, and then great grandson Roger in 1955.
A LICENCE TO OPERATE
But I digress. In 1974 Roger simply wanted to guarantee the Clubs security. We drafted a license agreement to operate on the property including access from Freemantle Rd, the right to build a new realigned airstrip, a club house, hanger etc, for $1 per anum for 10 years. We insisted Roger have independent legal advice paid for by the club, and that delayed signing the license until August 1975. But the real delay came from Bathurst Council and the Department of Transport (DOT). We needed DOT approval to operate from Westbourne. Our application included a detailed safety and operational report by David Llewellyn and the written support of both Roger Woods then NSWGA president, and the local member. The sticking point ultimately became the DOT rule that no airfield could operate within 10 miles of a field (ie Raglan) for which instrument approach procedures are prescribed. Westbourne was 8 miles away. They eventually agreed to a realign the NDB approach to Raglan, but approval was not received until April 1976 though we had in principle approval in late 1975.
After the DA was lodged with Bathurst Council it took a year to wear down their concerns. Their last condition involved a very expensive road widening at our proposed entrance off Freemantle Rd. Thanks to Joe Browns intervention this was ultimately resolved. The Council then belatedly referred the DA to P&E and the DMR who objected because of a long standing proposed motorway just north of Westbourne because quote "gliders may land on the highway". To cut it all short formal DA approval was not received until June 1976, however we had survived the bureaucrats best endeavours.
TO BUILD AN AIRSTRIP
Werners hair had gone grey, and Roger, despite our constant updates, and a number of daily flvng excursions at Piper's, projected puzzled confusion. It was 15 months after his generous offer. But Joe Brown was already in action (on the basis of in principle approvals) with the heavy equipment and soon a new realigned and extended strip was prepared and weekend fly-ins from Raglan, to operate at Pipers. were more regular. The working bees began. The hanger was taken down and re-built at Pipers and we mo-ved into our new home.
WE OWN OUR NEW HOME
W'ith the legal mess having being sorted out on Roger's fathers (David Piper's), intestate estate in November 1977, Roger offered to sell BSC the airfield. We drew up a subdivision, Roger retaining the land around the Westbourne homestead. and drafted a contract for sale. The contracts details were of little interest to Roger except that the contract should include Roger's right to land his Tiger on the strip and to conduct model aircraft fly-ins on one day a year. I should say the earlier license agreement included Roger's right to conduct a general store on the airfield. And that is the wonderful romantic measure of the man. This time the DMT (previously DMR) blocked the transfer; they had recently devised "The Bathurst Traffic Relief Route", a major highway that ran straight across the property. The lobbying began again and the conveyance because of this was not finally lodged until July 1978.
HOW DID WE PAY FOR IT?
With age the eyes and memory go a little dim. That is my only excuse for not recounting the flying and the flying records of the time. I would surely get them all out of sequence. After all it was 30 years ago. A time when we were getting out of Vietnam, Gough Whitlam had been sacked as PM, Richard Nixon was going down to the first scandal gate called Watergate. I do recall the world comps in France and the nationals at Narromine. But I should recount two final things.
Firstly, with the purchase of Pipers on track, we decided to build a club house. Chris Pappas an Ex-SCGC member was asked to design and supervise the building. With a very limited budget Pappas, then a fledgling architect, came up with a design that was simple, practical and comfortable, one that has more than stood the test of time. The rest is a blur of weekend working bees that also included the loft and ablution block at the end of the hanger. To pause, in 1978, BSC had 3 tugs and 4 gliders and the airfield now had a hanger, 4 or 5 caravans, Joe Brown's cross strip was underway, but T-glider hangers were not invented and the dozen or so syndicate gliders were rigged and de-rigged each day - hernia's were easy to come by. Today it looks very different with 50 caravans, 30 `T' hanger etc.
Secondly, there was the matter of money or, more precisely, how did we pay for all of this:
• With the prospect of the airfield purchase alive in 1977 a letter was sent to all members outlining a plan for the land, club house, Twin Astir and Pawnee; and asking for a loan from all members of, say, $200. The most important thing that letter emphasized was and I quote "what we would be getting is the closest permanent site to Sydney relatively free from DOT airspace restrictions." This was followed by a telephone call to all members then a special GM at the Concordia Club. I was astonished at the turn up and the unanimous support. I left the meeting with my pocket stuffed with cheques and the rest followed at short notice, even from people who had long since stopped flying. •
At this time Sel Owen was a trustee of monies from the SSG that had been significantly financed by the late Doc Heydon a long time gliding enthusiast. He had money that could be spent on a worthwhile gliding project. Invited to dinner at his Avalon home we discussed everything about the clubs progress. I can even recall over an excellent malt scotch Sel, a devotee of open fire -places, once assured there would be one in the new club house, outlined the principles of Benjamin Thompson Count Rumford, the 18`h Century fireplace expert. To stop fireplaces smoking, into the room, it depended upon firebox proportions and smoke chamber corbling. I tried to relay this to Chris Pappas but I think the malt got in the way. The fire smoked for years in the wrong places despite constant modifications. I left dinner with a $6000 cheque and a promise to name the club house after Doc Heydon.
• With a growing number of syndicates we sold, early in 1978, a 2/3 share of the Libelle GGS to Graham Horsnell and Ken Horlock with continuing club use and apportionment of costs and income.
• And last but not least we traded out of debt with a furious operation on the field often commencing at daybreak and ending at dark. With a constant flow of trainees the instructors were kept very busy.
• The one discordant note in the mid 1970's was that world oil prices increased dramatically with shortages and demand skyrocketed, Middle Eastern Countries took control of oil concessions or nationalized, embargoes and production restrictions were imposed, and OPEC began unilaterally fixing barrel prices. In 1973 alone the barrel price increased 400% from $2.70 to $11.65, Though the crisis diminished with discoveries in Alaska, Mexico, the North Sea, etc, some wise council cautioned against the purchase of the gas guzzling Pawnee and others quietly evaluated the site for winch launching. Today with a barrel at $140 retaining easy access to Sydney has taken on a heightened imperative - we face the greatest global oil price shock in 30 years.
I make no attempt to comprehensively chronicle BSC's operation 30 years ago. Rather I hoped to give a glimpse of a few years 130 years after Capitan John Piper first came to Westbourne and 30 Nears ago tonight. a short period when BSC had a clear mission and commitment and grasped an opportunity for its long term efficiency. The members of BSC took tremendous pride in the results. That pride is reflected in the stain-glass window made by Joy Ballard that depicts our original logo designed by David Hart. People are the building blocks of all endeavors and in this case BSC's success. 35 years ago the mission was to set up the framework of the club. I think this was achieved. From my observation congratulations are due not only for that but how, since then, the framework has been consolidated. But you must set the yardstick by which that must be measured.
But rather than what was done I remember most the people, some of whom are now departed and soaring with eagles
. To mention but a few:
• The persuasive. visionary and confident leadership of Werner Geisler;
• The enthusiastic, encouragement and quiet competitiveness of Harry Crossan;
• The unfailing tenacity of Nick Bartha;
• The commitment and lonely labours of Joe Brown on-the air strip;
• The considered and principled control of Bob Hall as CFI;
• The unfailing humor of Tim Galvin despite all the pranks we played on him;
• The assured resolution of technical problems by many people including David Llewellyn and Paul Drew;
• And Roger Pipers trust, patience, passion and above all friendship.
Terry Costello Pipers Airfield 5/7/08
BMGC Blue Mountains Gliding Club
BSC Bathurst Soaring Club
BSG Bathurst Soaring Group
DA Development Application
DCA Department of Civil Aviation
DMR Department of Main Roads
DMT Department of Motor Transport (formerly DMR)
DOT Department of Transport (fortnerly DCA)
NDB Non Directional Beacon
NSWGA NSW Gliding Association
P&E Department of Planning and Environment
RPT Regular Public Transport
SCGC Southern Cross Gliding Club
SSG Sydney Soaring Group
STCGC Sydney Technical College Gliding Club