14 August 1940

15th Parliament · 2nd Session

The President (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.

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DeathofCommonwealthMinisters andofficialmilitaryofficersand AirForcePersonnel.

Senator McLEAY:
Minister for Trade and Customs · South Australia · UAP

by l eave - To-daywe meet in anatmosphere filled with sorrow. Our hearts are heavy with the thought of yesterday’s tragedy. Ten valuable liveswere lost when a Royal

Australian AirForce monoplane, carrying three Federal Cabinet Ministers and other personnel, crashed near the Canberra aerodrome.

This disaster has taken from us three prominent members of the Commonwealth Ministry - the honorable G. A. Street, M.C., Minister for the Army; the Honorable Sir Henry Gullett, K.C.M.G., Vice-President of the Executive Council; and the honorable J. V. Fairbairn, Minister for Air and Civil Aviation.

Accompanying our colleagues in the plane at thetime of the disaster were General SirBrudenellWhite, Chief of the GeneralStaff; Lieutenant-Colonel F. Thornthwaite, Stall Officer attached to the Chief of the General Staff; Mr. E. E. Elford, private secretary to Mr. Fairbairn; and the crew of the plane, comprising Flight-LieutenantR. E. Hitchcock, officer in charge of the machine; Pilot-OfficerR. F. Wiesener, assistant pilot; Corporal J. F. Palmer, wireless operator; and Aircraftsman C. J. Crosdale, fitter.

When the first news of the accident reached Canberra, ministerial colleagues, parliamentary associates, and friends of thedecreased were stunned at its appalling nature. Our first thoughts were for the bereaved families, with whom many of us were personally acquainted, and who. wo know, would be prostrate with grief at their sudden and irreparable loss.

Mr. Street had been a member of the Federal Parliament since the general elections of 1934. He was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence on the 15th July, 1938, and attained ministerial officeasMinister for Defence in the LyoasMinistry on the 7th November of the sameyear. He con- tinued in that, portfolio until the 13th November, 1939, when he was appointed Minister for the Army. On the reconstruction of the present Ministry on the 14th March, 1940, he was appointed also Minister forRepatriation. Mr. Street’s public service, apart from that rendered in Parliament, included membership for several years, of the Hampden Shire Council, Victoria, distinguished military service abroad during the Great Warof 1914-1918. and since with the Mili tin Forces in Australia. He was prominently connected with the pastoral industry, and was a well known figure in werai branches of sport.

Sir Henry Gullett had been a member of the House of Representatives since 1935. Ho was Minister for Trade and Customs in the Bruce-Page Ministry from the 24th November, 102S, to the 22nd October, 1929, and in the Lyons Ministry from the 6th January, 1932, to the 14th January, 1933. He was a member of the Australian delegation to the Imperial Economic Conference in 1932. In 1933 he was honoured by His Majesty the King with the Order of Knight. Commander of Saint Michael and Saint George. From the 12lh October, 1934, to the 11th March, 3937, he was again a member of the Lyons Ministry, being a Minister without portfolio directing negotiations for trade treaties. During this period he was a member of the ministerial delegation which visited England and conducted trade negotiations in the various European capitals. When the Menzies Ministry was formed in April, 1939, Sir Henry was appointed Minister for External Affairs. In September, 1939, lie was appointed also Minister for Information. On the reconstruction of the Ministry on the 14th March last he was appointed Vice-President of the Executive Council, which appointment he hold at the time of his death. He served with the Australian Imperial Force during the Great. War, and will be remembered for his work as editor of part of the official history of Australia in that war.

Mr. Fairbairn entered the House of Representatives as member for Flinders, in succession to Mr. Bruce, in November, 1933, after over, twelve months’ service in the Legislative Assembly of Victoria as member for Warrnambool. He was re-elected at the general elections of 1034 and 1937. When the Ministry was formed in April, 1939, Mr. Fairbairn was appointed Vice-President of the Executive Council and Minister for Civil Aviation. In November, 1939, he was appointed also Minister for Air. On the reconstruction of the Ministry in March, 1940, he was appointed Minister for Air and Minister for Civil Aviation. Mr. Fairbairn served with distinction in the Royal Flying Corps during the war of 1914-1918, and had always been prominently connected with aviation activities in Australia. lt is with great sincerity that I record my appreciation of the very valuable service which each Minister rendered te Australia in his particular sphere of activity. I feel a deep sense of personal loss at the passing of these three colleagues.

It. is appropriate that special reference should he made to the death of General Sir Brudenell White, K.C.B., KC.M.G.. K.C.V.O., D.S.O., Chief of the General Staff of the Australian Military Forces, who was proceeding to Canberra on official duty. Sir Brudenell White had a distinguished record in the Great War of 1914-1918, and in governmental and civil life had filled many important positions with great credit to himself and to his country. He was recalled from retirement recently to take over the duties of Chief of tho General Staff, and the Government regarded itself as fortunate in having the advantage of his very valuable experience. The loss of his services will indeed bo a severe one.

Lieutenant-Colonel Thomthwaite wa* Army Liaison Officer on the General Staff, and had a fine military record. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Military CrossRecalled from his peace-time activities ns a pastoralist soon after the outbreak of the present war, he quickly established himself as one of the most efficient and popular senior staff officers.

Mr. R. E. Elford was private secretary to Mr. Fairbairn and, as my leader, tho Right Honorable the Prime Minister, said yesterday, was at the beginning of u career full of promise. His work had shown him to possess outstanding ability, and his knowledge of aeronautics was of great value to his late chief.

Flight-Lieutenant Hitchcock joined the Royal Australian Air Force over five years ago, and had proved himself u most competent airman. The other members of the craw of tho ill-fated plane, Pilot-Officer Wiesener Corporal Palmer, and Aircraftsman Crosdale won: all men of the calibre which ultima tei y will win the war. The loss of such skilled personnel is indeed a serious om-, and is deplored by all.

Those who met their deaths in the disaster were engaged on important public service. This fact, we trust, may be some consolation to their sorrowing relatives in their hour of trial. It is particularly sad to recall that the journey was practically completed when the crash occurred. I invite honorable senators to join in an expression of deepest sympathy with the relatives of those who lost their lives. I move -

That the Senate places on record its great sorrow at the loss of lives in the tragic air disaster at Canberra on Tuesday, the 13th August, 1940, and extends to the relatives of all those who perished its heartfelt sympathy.

That the Senate expresses its deep regret at the tragic deaths of Brigadier the Honorable Geoffrey Austin Street, M.C., Minister of State for the Army and Minister of State for Repatriation and Member -for Corangamite in the House of Representatives; the Honorable Sir Henry Somer Gullett, K.C.M.G., VicePresident of the Federal Executive Council and Member for Henty in the House of Representatives; and of the Honorable James Valentine Fairbairn, Minister of State for Air and Minister of State for Civil Aviation and Member for Flinders in the House of Representatives; places on record its appreciation of their long and distinguished public service, and tenders its heartfelt sympathy to their widows and families in their bereavement.

QueenslandLeader of the Opposition

– We meet this afternoon in a shadow of a great tragedy, assembled as we are for the express purpose of honouring the memory of those who, but a few hours ago, were with us, but now .are no more. We are more than a gathering of senators; we are a community of friends united in a common grief. We submerge our differences, and in deepest sympathy, with profound respect and great reverence, we bow our heads and say, “ We are sorry “. On occasions such as this one realizes the utter inadequacy of words. I desire, however, to say that just as it gives one pleasure to share in the joy of others, so we hope that our sharing in their great grief may bring some meed of comfort to those who to-day mourn the death of their loved ones. Their suffering is very great indeed, and to them our hearts go out in fellowship. The loss to each of ns here assembled is also great, for we have been bereft of those whom we respected because of the signal service which they had given to the nation, in the course of which service, they made the supreme sacrifice. Australia will mourn them too. Each of those ten men so tragically removed from our midst had been called to a position of great responsibility in this tragic national crisis of war. To this duty, as he saw it. each man gave of his best. For every member of the party which I lead in this chamber I say, with a full heart, “We are sorry “.

Senator GIBSON:

– It is with very great regret that I rise to associate members of the Country party in this chamber with the motions submitted by the Leader of the Senate (Senator McLeay). This is truly a sad day for this Parliament and for the people cf Australia. The district to which I belong is clouded with gloom and sorrow, for in this tragic national disaster it has lost three of its leading citizens, Mr. Street, Mr. Fairbairn and LieutenantColonel Thomthwaite, all of whom were neighbours and close friends. They all played a prominent part in the public life of the Western District of Victoria and will be greatly missed in the district. The late Sir Henry Gullett, who was a colleague of mine in the Bruce-Page Government, was a seasoned parliamentarian, but suffered a good deal from ill health. His inclusion in so many ministerial offices was evidence of his ability. We deeply regret his passing. The late Mr. Street was elected to represent the Division of Corangamite, from which I retired in 1934, and his ability and close attention to duty soon won him high ministerial office. His was a big job, and in this difficult time he was rendering a great national service. For many years he was a municipal councillor in the district in which I live, and two days before his death was returned unopposed to that position. For several years he was a Justice of the Peace, and in the Lismore district was an honoured, respected and worthy citizen. The late Mr. Fairbairn, who lived near the late’ Mr. Street, was also a member of the same council for some years, and in that capacity he rendered remarkable service. In 1932 lie was elected to represent Warrnambool - a difficult seat to win - in the Victorian Parliament. In the following year he contested successfully the Flinders seat in the Federal Parliament. His ability and industry were soon recognized, with the result that he, too, was entrusted with one of the most important portfolios in the Ministry. He was a popular and generous citizen in the district in which he lived. We deeply deplore the loss of these men who died in the prime of life, and with a full knowledge of the task ahead of them. The late General Sir Brudenell White waa one of Australia’s most distinguished soldiers. He was, indeed, one of Australia’s greatest sons, an experienced businessman, and a gentleman in every sense of the word. His position will be extremely hard to fill. We also deeply regret the death of those who accompanied these gentlemen in the ill-fated journey from Melbourne to Canberra. The nation has lost good men who were rendering valuable national service. The nation mourns with the widows and families of the bereaved, and we offer them our sincere sympathy. We know not what a day may bring forth.

Senator AMOUR:
New South Wales

– I associate myself with the motion submitted by the Leader of the Senate (Senator McLeay). The Commonwealth Parliament is to-day writing one of the saddest pages in its history. In the most tragic air disaster that this nation has suffered, three Ministers of State, the Chief of the General Staff., who is hoad of the Army, and six other Australians have been tragically taken from us at one blow. On behalf of the party which 1 represent in this chamber I extend sincere sympathy to those who have been left to mourn the loss of those who were near and dear to them. They may take solace iu the knowledge that those whose death we lament carried out their respective duties faithfully, and died in the- service of the country which we all love so dearly, and desire so earnestly to protect.

All of us are aware of the great demands that these perilous days make upon members of Governments. The day is not long enough to enable them to see Jill whom they wish to see, and to read and deal with all the problems so vital to the welfare of our country in this great crisis. In order to utilize to the full the time available for the discharge of their ministerial duties, and, no doubt, to give just a little of their society to their wives mid families, these men, as they often had to do, chose air travel as a means of speedy transport. They therefore, gave their lives in the service of the Government, a service demanding every ounce of their energy, in order to guard us from the terrors and destructive forces which are over-powering Europe to-day.

Not every man possesses in equal measure the gifts of friendliness and personal regard for others. Nature endows men in different ways. The final determination of these factors is judged according to our own personal reactions. I mention this because it is remarkable that one should find all of these qualities in the three Ministers linked so tragically and so suddenly in ‘death. On every occasion when I had to consult them I found them courteous and obliging and ready always to listen to my representations. They worked hard and long, and they faced the harassing problems of this strange new world, with the courage of their convictions and in accordance with the dictates of their judgment.

To all who a re left to mourn their loss, their sorrowing widows and children, my party extends its profound sympathy. May the memory of their many acts of kindness, and the high esteem in which they were held, be a source of consolation to their relatives in their darkest hour. I join with their families in the thought that these men have passed ©n to a brighter and better sphere, where the sufferings, turmoil and anxieties of this much disturbed and troubled world are unknown.

Senator KEANE:

– As a Victorian senator I should like to add my sincere tribute to the memory of the deceased Ministers and officers whose deaths we lament to-day. I knew each nf the three Ministers, intimately, particularly Sir Henry Gullett, when I was a member of the House of Representatives. I was associated with all of them, nor. only as a member of this Parliament, but also as a political opponent in several election campaigns. They were the elect of the people. Two of them were in charge of the fighting services of this nation, having been given the task of placing Australia on a war footing in an unprecedently short time. All of us agree that the three Ministers were at all times courteous and conscientious in the execution of their duty. Their loss is aserious blow to Australia. I pay my tribute also to the late Sir Brudenell White and the late Lieutenant-Colonel Thornthwaite who rendered outstanding military service to this nation. In the presence of death all political hostility is forgotten. The grief-stricken relatives of all whose end was so tragic and sudden, have the sympathy of everyman and woman in the Australian Labour movement. My fervent prayer is that the Almighty will comfort them in their great grief.

Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable senators standing in their places.

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Motion (by Senator McLeay) agreed to -

ThattheSenate,atitsrising,adjourntill Tuesday next, at 3 p.m.

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Senator McLEAY:
South AustraliaMinister for Trade and Customs · UAP

– As a mark of respect to the memory of the late Ministers, I move -


Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senateadjournedat3.25 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 14 August 1940, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.