1912 – 1983
Edward John (“Eddie”) Connellan was an aviator, a pastoralist and businessman, whose vision and commitment contributed to the development of the Northern Territory.
Born on 24 June 1912 at Donald in western Victoria, Eddie was the eldest of seven children. The family operated farming and grazing property in Donald, but later moved to the Riverina District in New South Wales.
Eddie completed his secondary education at Xavier College in Melbourne and for a brief time was a school teacher in Victoria before resigning to follow his dream of establishing a cattle station in the Northern Territory. While teaching, Eddie gained his private pilot’s licence in July 1936.
In 1937 he prepared an important report on the aerial freight possibilities for northern Australia. In 1938 he undertook two aerial surveys of the Northern Territory to investigate pastoral land for the government and to select a cattle station for himself, his brother and two friends.
After discussions with John McEwan, the Minister for the Northern Territory, regarding regional air services, Eddie agreed to a three-year trial of an air mail service between Alice Springs and Wyndham in Western Australia. The mail run began on 11 July 1939. He also provided valuable aviation services for the Royal Flying Doctor Service at Alice Springs.
Throughout World War II, Eddie developed and consolidated his air routes culminating in Connellan Airways being formally registered in July 1943. In June 1944 he became a founding member of the Northern Territory Development League.
In the post war years Connellan Airways grew, acquiring new routes and equipment. In February 1951 it became a limited company with many of the shares held by station people and staff. In 1963 Connellan Airways became a regular public transport operator and in 1970 the name was changed to Connair.
A tragic event in the Connair period was the suicide attack of an ex employee who flew a Beechcraft Baron in to the company’s hangar and office complex in Alice Springs on 5 January 1977. Four staff members were killed and two seriously injured. The tragedy affected Eddie and the Connellan family greatly.
Connair was sold to East–West Airlines in 1980 with the routes and services continued by the larger airline trading as Northern Airlines.
In 1981 Eddie established the Connellan Airways Trust. It was officially launched by Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon Doug Anthony on 11 February 1983 at the Central Australian Aviation Museum. The Trust aims to encourage knowledge and education in outback Australia and awards of over $150,000 to suitable applicants each year.
In 1953, for services to aviation, Eddie Connellan was awarded the Queen’s Coronation Medal. In 1957 he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the New Year’s Honours List, for services to civil aviation in Northern and Central Australia.
In 1965 he was awarded the Oswald Watt Gold Medal for his outstanding contribution to general aviation. In 1978 he was promoted to a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) and in 1981 appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for services to aviation and the community.
Eddie Connellan died on 26 December 1983 and is buried in the memorial cemetery in Alice Springs adjacent to a museum dedicated to Connellan and Connellan Airways.
He was a pioneer of general and commercial aviation in the Northern Territory. His drive and far-sightedness ensured that Northern Australia was able to enjoy the considerable economic and social benefits that safe and reliable air services bring.