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 to me. 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

Sadly this adventurous aviator crashed close to the aerodrome on 22 May 1921. It is poignant that Shaw should have survived the war only to crash into ‘a small cottage, half hidden in the sand rises between the aerodrome and the pier.’  The Argus of Monday 23 May 1921 gives a detailed account of the causes and circumstances of the crash.
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. 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 football ground.

Sources and more information
www.slv.org.au – search by Charles Pratt


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

    • 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.

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