Wings and windsocks: Archerfield Aerodrome within the Australian airport system 1920 - 1988

Dennis, Valerie R. (2004). Wings and windsocks: Archerfield Aerodrome within the Australian airport system 1920 - 1988 PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Dennis, Valerie R.
Thesis Title Wings and windsocks: Archerfield Aerodrome within the Australian airport system 1920 - 1988
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2004-03-08
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Fisher, R.
Total pages 382
Collection year 2003
Language eng
Subjects 8803 Aerospace Transport
L
430101 History - Australian
780199 Other
Formatted abstract In Australia from 1920 two large technological systems evolved when people believed aircraft had the capacity to redress the tyranny of distance. The first was the system of air transport; the second was the airport system. In loose combination they constitute today's aviation industry.

As aviation has a wide, generalised appeal, segments of these systems have been studied from different directions by a number of people. Some have focused on the 'actors' involved, to a large extent popularising the myths surrounding the nation's early pilots, especially those who disappeared. While the achievements of these aviators should not be forgotten, the study of aviation history must be more than just this.

The history of aviation is more too than the assiduous collection of data concerning individual aircraft types. Technological advances in aircraft design, while important, were not the only influences on how the Australian air transport and airport systems developed.

At first the tension between Federal and State politics decided air routes and the placement of Commonwealth-owned aerodromes. In the interwar years, regulation of intrastate aviation became a constitutional matter requiring debate and resolution. Postwar legislation was used to control airline competition.

Fiscal policy influenced the rate at which new technology was introduced. Both the Commonwealth and air-service companies grappled in particular with the 1930s Depression. As time progressed the costs associated with the system's artefacts — the latest aircraft and the infrastructure required to protect and serve them —spiralled. Over the period though, economies of scale and improved technological efficiency made journeys cheaper by comparison. As aviation lost its novelty value, airminded Australians adopted flying as the quickest means of crossing this vast continent.

In the early 1980s, American historian Thomas P. Hughes advocated that the study of large-scale technological systems should not be conducted in scientific isolation, rather in combination with the political, economic and social forces which were influential to that development. While clearly an approach from within the discipline of technology, Hughes' 1983 text on the evolution of electrification systems provided a model which historians studying other technology-based industries could use.

Hughes system model is applicable to a study of the Australian airport system, and by association to that of air transport. However, just as historians of technology and the sociology of technology since Hughes have considered variations to this approach, so too has this thesis. A close study of the development of civil aviation administration and the commercial success or otherwise of air-service companies provides the social construction behind Australia's aviation development. Investigation of the origins of the system artefacts-specifically the hangars and other special- purpose buildings on the case study site of Archerfield Airport-reveals how difficult was the task of providing up-to-date ground infrastructure for an evolving technology. A consideration of environmental factors, those features beyond the control of system managers, proves they were just as unpredictable as the directions in which technology was developing, and equally as important.

Other more traditional themes also underlie the role played by political, economic and social forces in the development of the air transport and airport systems in Australia. Initial funding was justified as essential for communication and defence purposes. Subsidies were granted to companies to establish air routes which reduced isolation. The Second World War hastened technological growth of aircraft, highlighting the need for commensurate improvements in civil airport buildings and runways, the most important of which, like the exclusively military installations, were owned by the Commonwealth.

Australian air transport matured into the separate spheres of international and domestic operations. The latter split again into regular public transport (RPT) and general aviation (GA). Each had different requirements. This channelling was part of the evolution of the airport system and is evident in the buildings on Archerfield Airport, and within the written documentation concerning Brisbane's other airport facility at Eagle Farm.

This thesis concludes that Hughes' system model, with modifications to allow for the importance of aviation administration and commercial organisations, provides a most suitable means through which to explore the nature of Australian air transport. How the Australian airport system developed proves individual sites are more than just patterns of concrete runways and utility buildings. The evidence indicates that places where aeronautical activity is focused, such as Archerfield Airport, are worthy of serious study.
Keyword Archerfield Aerodrome.
Airports -- Queensland.
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