Stinson air crash commemorated in Mia Mia

By Vanessa Wiltshire

If you have wandered down Burke and Wills track at Mia Mia, you have passed the towering propeller. It is one of the originals from the Duigan pusher biplane — and it marks where the first Australian-made plane took flight in 1910.

Designed and built by two local brothers, John and Reginald Duigan, it is iconic.

What you probably don’t know, however, is just metres away is the site of a terrible aviation disaster. On January 31, 1945, nine months before the end of World War II, a Stinson aircraft fell apart in mid-air, killing 10. Two children were on board: Kevin and Peter Lawn.

So short is the distance between the two sites, you can walk.

Of the day, the McIvor Times reported it was “the worst aviation accident to occur in the Heathcote district. The Melbourne to Broken Hill mail plane crashed into a paddock at Spring Plains. The airliner was on its usual morning run when, it has been reported, a wing came off, causing the machine to lose direction, turn over and come to earth in a terrible crash.”

The plane was owned by Australian National Airways, and had been converted from three engines to two more powerful ones, just months prior.

Fast forward 74 years and a passionate group of Mia Mia and Redesdale residents have formed the Stinson Memorial Committee. Rob Chapman and members worked steadily through 2019 to develop a memorial site that will be located near the Duigan propeller.

“It all started when a friend of mine brought a friend to Mia Mia to do some metal detecting,” Rob said.

“A friend of a friend, Ian Kerr, introduced himself and said he had a connection to the area. His grandfather had died in the plane crash. I did some investigating and things went from there.

“Locals know about the crash — it’s almost legend — but knowledge in the wider community is poor. I, Grant and Wendy Hulls, Jim Coombe and others feel strongly about recognising the catastrophe, to pay tribute to the people who lost their lives.”

Wendy added there was a "very real opportunity to build an aviation trail at Mia Mia".

“It’s very uncanny the Duigan brothers took flight here, and then 35 years later, a disaster like the Stinson crash happened,” she said.

“Not to mention there was an emergency airfield (just over the road) during the war.

“Mia Mia has a lot of aviation history, it’s time for it to be recognised. Imagine if you had an aviation trail, perhaps with a bike path from Mia Mia leading out.

“It’s good for tourism and history, we can't lose the stories. If we can have these monuments and acknowledge them, it helps our community.”

The committee is holding a dedication ceremony, with a new commemoration stone and plaque, at 9.30 am on Friday, January 31. All are invited.

“Ellis Knight, an eyewitness will be there, as will Betty Kerr, the daughter of John Tayleur, one of the victims,” Wendy said. "Betty is 104, we are honoured she can be there. Two of the elder brothers of Peter and Kevin Lawn, Bruce and Murray are hoping to come. They’re very supportive of the initiative.”

The commemoration site has been funded by members of the committee, residents and the Kyneton RSL ($750).

“We've applied for grants, but unfortunately as yet, have not been successful,” Rob said.

“This is a project we feel strongly about. It’s part of the fabric of Mia Mia. It's our history and it's who we are.”

Following the inquest, the first session of which was held at the Heathcote Courthouse, important recommendations were made. The ramifications have been positive and widespread.

“After the inquest, the aviation industry took steps towards better aircraft testing,” Rob said. "Particularly to look for stress cracks and determine the ‘safe life’ of an aircraft.

“Planes had no ‘sunset life’ back then, they flew until they dropped. This accident was the catalyst for improved safety inspection changes. These changes were adopted worldwide.”

“All of this happened in Mia Mia,” Wendy said. "We want people to know this.”

Dedication of the Stinson Memorial
9.30am Friday, January 31
Burke and Wills Track, near the Duigan Monument (Mia Mia end)
Refreshments served afterwards at Mia Mia Hall.