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John Oxley Library

Tom McDonald - Aviation Pioneer

By JOL Admin | 19 July 2011

Bundaberg had Bert Hinkler but Cairns had its own aviation hero in Tom McDonald who opened the way for aviation in north Queensland. Tom was born in Rockhampton but moved to Cairns in 1923. A jewellery shop owner, Tom McDonald used planes to overcome the poor transport routes from North to the South where he bought his jewellery stock.

Tom bought a Gypsy Moth from QANTAS, although there was no official airport to land it in at Cairns so he landed it on a runway he made from ashes from  the gas works and laid a 100 yard runway on a saltpan, now the site of the current Cairns airport.  In 1936 he formed the company North Queensland Airways with Puss Moths, Dragons and Rapides.  He founded the first commercial flights between Cairns and Townsville and Cairns and Cooktown and the post office used his services to transport airmail between the centres.

Tom McDonald with the Gypsy Moth de Havilland - John Oxley Library image number 69595

Although initially a transport service operator Tom Mcdonald soon became known for his daring exploits in rescue operations in his plane in the 1930s.  He answered calls for help from people in isolated parts of North Queensland and other parts of the state when there were no real roads, saving countless lives in mercy dashes, flying in terrible conditions and landing on beaches, paddocks and any other makeshift airstrip he could find.

Modest about his heroic exploits he said “ I am more or less used to bad flying weather in the north”.  The Tom McDonald air race was held in 1976 for the Cairns centenary and a memorial was erected at the Cairns airport in recognition of his bravery and contribution to aviation.

Information on Tom McDonald can be found in the John Oxley Library newspaper clippings files, Picture Queensland and on Trove digitised newspaper database.

I found this information on Tom McDonald whilst answering a query for a client about him.

Karen Hind

Librarian, John Oxley Library


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