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The Highest Heights of History – New Wing Opens at Narromine Aviation Museum

The Narromine Aviation Museum new wing will be official opened by Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston, AK, AFC Retired) and Mr Mark Coulton, MP, Federal Member for Parks on Saturday 11 June 2016.

If you have ever been caught in a conversation with two lovers of aviation you will know the passion with which these people regard their industry. Like a secret society, they identify each other in coded language and questions only known to those who will sacrifice almost anything to fly. It is an intriguing industry, full of bravery and romance, that runs its threads through the course of history.

These threads are beautifully woven together at the Narromine Aviation Museum, bringing to life the stories of Australian aviation in one of the best preserved Word War II aerodromes in Australia. This month, a new extension to the museum will further explore the undeniable impact that this small western NSW town had on a continent, where distance was such a defining part of its character.

The serendipitous museum, located in the town made famous by producing Glen McGrath, joins the threads of modern Australia to those two Wright brothers who more than a century ago had a plan to take flight.

For a country that had long suffered the tyranny of distance, the development of the aviation industry brought the world a whole lot closer. In the 1920’s, the race to establish a commercial airline route from England to Australia captivated the public. As the route were established between England, Java and Australia – Narromine’s location made it a key refuelling stop between Darwin and the capitals of Sydney and Melbourne. For a generation of children, their imaginations were ignited by news reels of dashing pilots and the almost unbelievable possibilities that aviation meant to the fledgling nation.

Tragically, that same generation of young boys and girls so enamoured with Charlies Kingsford Smith and Amelia Earhart would all to soon be aviation experts themselves as Word War II saw a war fought in the sky and an insatiable need for young pilots. Between 1940 – 1944, 2850 airmen would call Narromine home as they trained to defend Australia.

As the first Elementary Flying Training School located outside of the capital cities, The Royal Australian Airforce created a self sufficient village of 1000 men and women – green beginners who with limited training joined Bomber squadrons in the European, Middle East and Pacific theatres of war. In this young man’s war, you were considered a “grandad” if you were over 25 and whole generation of men were decimated. Of the first 10 courses completed at Narromine 50% of those 19 – 23 year olds never returned. Today as you walk on the site of those original huts and buildings at the Aerodrome ( a couple of which still stand) , it is hard not to be moved by the stories of bravery, loyalty and mateship …and of course a romance.

In October 1943, Marie Cleal and her sister Joyce arrived at the Narromine base as part of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF). At any one time around 50 women were stationed at the base, engaged in jobs from parachute packers to fabric workers on the Tiger Moths . While stationed at the base Marie met trainee pilot Herb Bell. A romance developed, marriage and children were discussed and for 12 months’ letters chronicled the growing relationship. But like something from the pages of romance novel, a chance meeting on a Brisbane street, a misplaced letter and a series of unfortunate miss understandings saw the two separated. Each went on to marry others and have children, but the wartime romance, started in Narromine, was not to be forgotten. Forty seven years after they had first met and fallen in love they found each other again, both now divorced, and married in 1994.

Thanks to a committed band of volunteers, The Narromine Aviation Museum is peppered with stories like Marie and Herb Bell, the threads forever entwined around the story started so long ago by two brothers with a plan to take flight. The appeal goes beyond those who have a love of aviation and entices all visitors to connect with its captivating stories.

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