It would be difficult to have imagined that the current vast network of airline routes throughout Australia stemmed from a government contract granted to a single person in 1921. That person was Norman Brearley and he went on to forge a significant and vital contribution to Australian aviation.
Norman Brearley was born in Geelong, Victoria in 1890. In 1906 his family relocated to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia and later young Norman trained as an engineering apprentice in Perth.
At the outbreak of war in 1914,Brearley joined the Royal Flying Corps in Britain and after graduating from the Officers Training School ultimately became an instructor. Brearley was soon in action over the Western Front and was awarded the Military Cross for destroying a German observation balloon. He flew other daring sorties and was shot down over no-mans’ land and seriously wounded, crawled back to the Allied lines. For this he received the Distinguished Service Order. His injuries required him to work hard to convince authorities he was fit to fly again.
Already planning a peacetime career in aviation in Australia, Brearley brought home two war-surplus Avro 504 bi-planes. His intention was to establish an air-service in Western Australia. However, transport was closely regulated and one large problem was avoiding routes operated by the government railways. Beginning with a series of demonstration flights over Perth, Brearley secured the support of Michael Durack MLA, representing the Kimberely. He erected a hangar below Durak’s house in Adelaide Terrace and used the Esplanade, on the banks of the Swan River, as a runway to show what aviation could provide.
Brearley was awarded the first regular airmail contract in Australia to fly between Geraldton and Derby and imported six Bristol Tourer bi-planes to form Western Australian Airways Ltd (later becoming West Australian Airways in 1926). This service began on 5 December 1921 with a team of five ex World War 1 fighter pilots, including Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, flying the 1900 kilometre route along the coast. The inaugural flight of three aircraft flying together ended in tragedy when one plane crashed on Murchison House Station killing the pilot and his mechanic. Brearley blamed the accident on the lack of suitable emergency landing strips. Supported by Durack he persuaded the civil aviation branch of the Department of Defence to upgrade the airstrips. The service was extended to Perth in 1924 and operated continuously until 1934.
In 1927 Brearley established the Perth Flying School at Marylands aerodrome and he became the founding President of the Royal Aero Club of Western Australia.
In 1928 West Australia Airlines won the contract to carry mail between Perth and Adelaide, using a De Havilland 66 Hercules carrying fourteen passengers. To ensure accurate navigation at night, Brearley installed the Sperry rotating beacon system along the flight path. In 1934 they lost the north-west mail contract to MacRobertson-Miller Aviation Co and in 1936 Brearley sold the airline to a group which would later become Australian National Airways and even later, Ansett Airlines.
During the Second World War Brearley joined the RAAF and served as the Commanding Officer of a number of flight training schools.
Appointed CBE in 1965 and knighted in 1971, he published his autobiography “Australian Aviator” the same year. He was a member of the Rotary Club of Perth from 1926 to 1989.
Sir Norman Brearley passed away on 9 June1989. His bust is displayed at Perth International Airport and the main access avenue to the Domestic Airport is named in his honour.