Next Tuesday will mark the centenary of the landing made in Katherine by two daring aviators paving the way for the Great Air Race.
Captain Henry Wrigley and Sgt Arthur Murphy were the first fliers to cross Australia, and used Katherine on December 10, 1919 as their final stop before reaching Darwin.
Their hazardous trip from Melbourne to Darwin coincided with the first England to Australia flight.
It was their job to map the way for competitors across the Australian continent once they had reached Australia.
The two airmen left Point Cook in Victoria on November 16 and arrived in Darwin on December 12, having travelled some 4500 kilometres in 47 flying hours.
They were greeted as heroes by huge crowds in the country towns where they landed, many people had never seen an airplane before.
They arrived in Darwin just after the eventual winner of the race, Captain Ross Smith, co-pilot Lieutenant Keith Smith with mechanics Sergeants Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett.
Captain Wrigley and Sgt Murphy apparently flew in a wholly unsuitable single-engined Royal Aircraft Factory BE2 biplane with no radio, over unmapped and often hazardous terrain, and surveyed 17 potential landing fields along the way.
According to reports of the time, the "aviation ground" at Katherine at the time was largely uncleared.
The air strip ran along near the present-day hospital and in front of the Gallon License Store on Gorge Road, says Katherine Museum curator and manager Simmone Croft.
Again according to reports from the time, the two airmen had to wait at the Katherine "until enough trees could be knocked down to allow their machine to rise from the small patch already cleared".
"They jettisoned all their spare parts, sending them to Darwin by train, and rose from the ground at 8 o'clock this morning.
"Even with the machine running light, there was just room to clear the timber."
The Australian War Memorial has a transcript of an interview with Captain Wrigley about that Katherine landing:
"And then of course the final blow came at Katherine which - the landing ground there was being prepared by the Commonwealth Works people who'd been given the dimensions required: so many yards by so many yards and so clear of all obstacles.
"And they didn't consider 50 foot trees right up to the boundary on all sides as being obstacles. And I arrived over there and I thought, hell, how the hell are we going to get down in the spot. And I circled around and they'd put out a landing T and they'd put it down back to front.
"And of course when we came in that direction like bats out of hell and obviously it was wrong. Then fortunately somebody on the ground, whether intentionally or by accident, got a bit of smoke going and they had the T round the wrong way and on it's indication we were coming in down-wind.
"However, I went round and had a good look at the ground then and then the Gosport forced landing procedure came into good use, and I came in over the trees, slipped down, side slipped right down practically onto the ground and almost hard up against the trees, ruddered round and came in. And it just enabled us to get down. We finished up with the engine and the propeller over the fence.
"And then of course the problem is how the hell are we going to get out of this place. So the Works department and the local inhabitants were very good. And they sent to work straight away and worked all through the night and that, cutting a lane down through the trees in the direction of the prevailing winds and the clearance in this path allowed us about six feet from either wing tip, clear. And we took off down this lane and set course once more for Darwin."
After leaving Point Cook to make their aerial survey, the aviators flew to Cootamundra, Narromine, Bourke, Charleville, Cunnamulla, Longreach to reach Cloncurry in north-west Queensland, where they had to stop for for engine repairs.
They then continued to Anthony's Lagoon, Avon Downs, Newcastle Waters and then to Katherine.
There was some concern about the arrival of the wet season making "Katherine River" an impossible landing stop, and they considered diverting to Mataranka.
They followed the railway line to Darwin.
The Great Air Race was inspired by the Australian Government which offered a prize of £10,000 - nearly one million dollars in today's money - for the first successful journey by an Australian-crewed airplane from London to Darwin in under 30 days.
The winning Vickers Vimy aircraft landed in Darwin on December 10, 1919 just as the other two airmen landed in Katherine.
There is a road named in his honour in Darwin, Henry Wrigley Drive, at the airport.
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