Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Speaking of developers eating airports, how about Cooranbong, north of Sydney?

Bankstown, Mascot and Hoxton Park are clear examples of developers gradually surrounding an airfield and then absorbing it, either completely or at least on enough sides that the airport becomes "hemmed in" and unable to operate optimally - or to possibly expand (short of reclaiming Botany Bay, for example). And then the complaints start. The noise and the "danger" of it all. As if getting hit by a motor vehicle wasn't an order of magnitude more likely.  

I mentioned also the pressure on Warnervale airport due to changing patterns of land use and the incursion of residences into flight (and thus noise) zones - and then I stumbled on another airfield with an interesting history as well as pressure to convert and rezone its use: Cooranbong, to the northwest of Warnervale.

"Heritage Impact Assessment of the Cooranbong Aerodrome in the context of potential rezoning and a concept master plan. The property has been assessed to have some local community heritage value, primarily for social and historic association, in the use by the Adventist Aviation Association, established 1973, and their aircraft assisted volunteer country outreach and missionary programs. There are secondary levels of significance, such as the formation of the main strip by early Adventist community members in the late 1940s, and the development of a flying school in the late 1970s. The size and scale of the airstrips form distinctive landmarks when viewed from the air.

The proposal sets out the re-zoning of the site to allow for future development, and the concept master plan comprises pockets of developable areas set within retained areas and corridors of natural bushland. The airstrips have been incorporated into the future road patterns planned for the site and will remain prominent elements that contribute to the heritage nature of the place. Areas of open space allowing for specific heritage interpretation are planned into the scheme."


In many ways transport has defined European settlement in Australia and set the pattern for development. Where we found a sheltered haven we built a port. Where we laid tracks towns formed. Where roads joined or rail was laid junctions were created and new focuses and possibilities came into being. It's the timing of transport development that gradually shaped where we lived. Obviously we had reasons other than transport alone - arable land, water and adequate shelter were all factors, sometimes key ones. The Central Coast relied for many years on timber felling for example, which led to a need for tracks and trails, railways and ports. We then link isolated towns and create alternatives to the ports, leading to a de-emphasis on one mode of transport. It is this decison making - or perhaps non-making - that shapes our direction. Cooranbong is an interesting example of this:

"Cooranbong was an important river port with up to ten ships trading here regularly for timber and agricultural produce. The town had a courthouse, shops, hotels and a ship yard. When the northern railway was coming, it was expected to pass through Cooranbong with a branch line to Newcastle and the main line to pass under the Gap as it went further north. The town’s people saw the town as the administration centre of the south. But the line was eventually built through Morisset and over Dora Creek. This prevented the sailing ships from coming up the river and Cooranbong rapidly went into decline dropping the population from 700 to less than 200 in five years. About that time the Adventists arrived and moved the town a mile to the east ignoring the old town and to a large degree, the local people."   

‘Cooranbong’ is from an Aboriginal word meaning rocky bottom creek or water over
rocks. This is Awabakal peoples land. 

And Cooranbong also has an interesting aviation history:

"Between 1932-37 a few local aviation enthusiasts including Albert Harris built a Piertenpole, a high-wing monoplane, in the fowl houses and tool sheds in different parts of the town. The plane was made from crude parts including a ten-year-old, four-cylinder motorcycle engine; a homemade contraption mounted underneath the wing as an airspeed indicator, and barrow wheel tyres. The only instruments were an oil pressure gauge and a rev. counter.
"

First flight was from "Miller's paddock", now Meyers Crescent, off Alton Road.
Don't try landing there now.

With an early airfield as well...
"The same enthusiasts made the first airstrip on the southern side of Cooranbong near the Post Office (near present day Martinsville Road). The site was bounded at one end by a dry creek and at the other end by telephone lines. It was 300 yards long. The Civil Aviation minimum requirements at that time were 500 yards. Despite not meeting regulations, the site is reported to have been used by the group until the outbreak of WWII."

 Don't try landing there, either.

And interestingly there's a link between Cooranbong and 'Wamberal airstrip':

"Harris and the other notable local enthusiast, Frank Wainman, put a second remodelled plane together. Intermediate tests with some crashes were performed on the first early Cooranbong strip, however the main tests for that plane was at Wamberal airstrip. Frank Wainman’s first solo trip was during one of these tests at Wamberal and resulted in the wreck of the second plane."


And the current - now closed - airstrip was created by clearing land circa 1946. And an east-west strip was added circa 1977 and other upgrades led to a flying school being established. It's a fascinating history well worth reading at the heritage planning site I have been linking to.

That heritage impact assessment document concludes negatively in regard to conserving the airfield itself but recommends using the runway alignments as a feature of any new development. The argument sounds reasonable in a heritage sense but does mean that another aviation resource - and one hard to replicate - is lost. But we'll have a memory imprinted in the roadscape, won't we? Better than nothing, I suppose.

Making Time for Flying: Moisture in the air and water in the tanks
I flew past the Cooranbong aerodrome, which is no longer used as one can tell from the big white crosses at the threshold of each runway. It's sad because it looks like a very nice airport, with a long sealed runway. Apparently, Avondale College used to run an aviation degree out of here up until 2006.
Hmmm, no, I wouldn't land there, either. And this is what we've lost (all images via Google Maps):
Still, it's a free country. Well, it's free in some senses. And in the end economics - and regulation - win. The airport (and the adjacent Avondale College) shown above was developed by the Adventist organisation over many years. It's their back paddock, after all, and they need to make best economic use of the land they can, within the laws of the land and the bounds of their beliefs. So be it.

The airport was just an idea, a concept, in 1946, and was 'opened' in 1949. It's quite an interesting story in itself. 

Here is an updated list of Sydney's airports.  

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