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Port Melbourne’s early aviation history

Kevin O’Reilly, aviation historian, shared his astonishing collection of photographs and deep knowledge of his subject with members. What follows is not an account of Kevin’s wide ranging talk – just some observations arising from it.

The Shaw-Ross aerodrome was the first to be licensed. The proximity of the aerodrome to Princes Pier and to the bay was a surprise. As described in The Argus: ‘From the New Pier Port Melbourne to the aerodrome of the Shaw-Ross Company is only a few hundred yards westward. Behind, where the aerodrome is built, the ground is sandy and flat, and makes a good landing place for aeroplanes’ – as shown in the picture below.

‘Flyers of Time’ collection – Kevin O’Reilly

In 1920 Major Harry Turner Shaw and Lieutenant Hubert Galsworthy Ross founded the Shaw-Ross Engineering and Aviation Company behind the sand dunes on Ferry Road, Port Melbourne. In May 1921, Fishermans Bend Aerodrome became the first licenced aerodrome in Victoria. Later that same month, on 22 May 1921, Lieutenant Ross crashed into “a small cottage, half hidden in the sand rises between the aerodrome and the pier” in which he and two passengers were killed.

The  Argus of Monday 23 May 1921 gives a detailed account of the causes and circumstances of the crash. This resulted in one of the first air crash investigations in Australia.

Kevin’s current research interest is Charles Daniel Pratt, aerial photographer. Pratt’s output was so prolific that its hard to know where to begin exploring his body of work, all online at the State Library of Victoria. Starting with the Society’s current interest in Kitchens, there are seven amazing pictures of great clarity of the complex from various angles, showing sites of interest such as the Port Melbourne Football Ground.

Sources and more information
Kevin O’Reilly (2012) Flyers of Time
State Library of Victoria, search by Charles Pratt


  • Hazel
    Posted October 15, 2020 5.59 pm 0Likes

    Does anyone happen to know the name of the ship or the event this photo was taken?

    • Tom
      Posted December 27, 2020 8.41 pm 0Likes

      The ship shown in the photo departing Princes Pier was the P&O liner Naldera, taken in June 1922. The building visible at the top left of the photo was the hanger of Shaw-Ross Engineering and Aviation Company. Both Major Harry Shaw and Capt. Hubert Ross were ex Royal Flying Corp. Unfortunately, Ross was killed on 22 May 1921 while piloting a joy-flight in which the heel of a shoe of a lady passenger apparently became wedged under the rudder control bar. The resulting crash into the backyard on one of the houses on the foreshore killed all 3 on board. The airfield shown in the photo was the first licensed aerodrome in Australia on 1st June 1921, shortly after the Civil Aviation Branch was established. Shaw continued on and successfully ran Shaw-Ross Aviation until the combination of the Depression and a hanger fire that destroyed 4 aircraft in August 1931 brought the business to an end.

      • David Thompson
        Posted January 4, 2021 11.29 am 0Likes

        Thank you for such a detailed response Tom

        • Tom
          Posted December 2, 2023 1.25 pm 0Likes

          Just as a correction to the above, Hubert Ross was in fact a Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps. The rank the press of the era had given him varied between Lieutenant, Captain and Major.

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We respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet and work, the Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation and pay respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.