Recollections on Redland Bay’s Water Airport by Ernie Tickner

(Recorded by Brian Russell – Feb. 2015) 

Ernie Tickner, a resident of Wellington Point, was a qualified Draftsman when he migrated to Australia from the United Kingdom around 1949, and around 1952/3, he obtained employment with QANTAS. He was working at Archerfield as a draftsman, his job being to prepare drawings of aircraft components and modifications to his employer’s aircraft that were required for submission to the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) for approval.

QANTAS then decided to move the section he worked in to Sydney. Ernie and his wife Pam, who had been born at Cleveland, were building their new home at Wellington Point and Pam was a school teacher at the Wellington Point State School with no desire to forego her work there. Consequently, Ernie resigned from QANTAS rather than move to Sydney. 

He was able to obtain work with Barrier Reef Airways, then a division of Ansett Airways Pty. Ltd. Flying Boat Division, who had commenced regular services through Redland Bay, then known as the Brisbane Water Airport, to and from Sydney and the Barrier Reef Islands (Hayman), Cairns and Townsville, and Gladstone to Heron Island when required. Occasionally, aircraft would stop in at Grafton in NSW when there were passengers for that region of northern NSW. For a period the Redland Bay flying boat facility was the International Airport for Brisbane, being a stop-over for the QANTAS flying boats (Sunderlands) on the Sydney to London route. 

The following are some recollections of Ernie’s time spent working at the Redland Bay facility, where he found himself doing all manner of tasks associated with the operation of that facility. Barrier Reef Airways were operating two Sandringham and one Catalina aircraft (see photo), and there were some half a dozen employees responsible for all activities required including attending to the arrival and departure of aircraft, the maintenance of aircraft whilst at the facility, and the transferring of passengers to and from the aircraft. The base, along with the DCA’s Communication facility, was then at the end of Banana Street, Redland Bay. One of the other airline employees, Ewan Lahey, was in charge of Air Frames, whilst another, Leo DeGroot was an Engineer, and together with Ernie, they would usually meet at the Redland Bay Hotel a little before the scheduled time of an aircraft’s arrival, which would be telephoned through to them, be it day or night. Life then was pretty free and easy, with no requirement to clock on or off – Ernie just had to see that the work he was required to do was done, and his employer was happy. 

The Redland Bay Hotel was also the venue where the out-going passengers were assembled ready for departure, having travelled by company coach from Brisbane, and from there, those waiting could witness the arrival of the aircraft. All the paper work relating to the departing and arriving passengers was handled in Brisbane, so Ernie didn’t have to bother with that side of the formalities – he simply had to ensure their safe transfer between aircraft and shore. 

Once the aircraft was sighted, Ernie and his fellow employees would proceed to the base jetty and take the launch out ready to service the arriving aircraft. DCA operated the launch to clear the runway of any vessels that may interfere with the safe landing of the plane, and they were also responsible for the land/air communications with all aircraft. 

The operation of the service launch, INA (with a Chrysler engine) was done by Ernie and his compatriots, any of whom were expected to be able to drive it when required, as in those days there was no such thing as job demarcation – one just did what had to be done to achieve the desired result. 

They would secure the plane to its mooring buoy, and then commence the transfer of passengers, crew, mail and cargo to the shore. The refuelling and any maintenance tasks were done by these men, including oil changes if necessary, whilst the aircraft was at the mooring. The boarding passengers and crew were then transferred from shore to the aircraft by the same personnel, who then attended to the departure routine for the aircraft. 

In the event that an engine change was needed, the aircraft would be taken into Brisbane landing on the Hamilton Reach, and brought ashore up a ramp at Colmslie where there were workshop facilities that had been constructed during the war years to service these machines. Ernie and the other gentlemen in the team would go there to undertake this task, so he had to be quite versatile and multi-talented. Occasionally, other circumstances, including foul weather on the Bay, required the planes to land on the Brisbane River, however, this was rare as it did disrupt the then increasing river traffic, and when that did occur, then Ernie would go up there to do his usual work. 

One of the ‘perks’ of the job back then, and there is no way it would be even contemplated in today’s working world, was that he could ‘hitch’ a ride on an aircraft at the discretion of the its Captain, should there be available space on the flight, and Ernie was “free to go”. One such occasion that he took up the opportunity to go on a ‘freebee’, was when the Catalina was going on a special run to Heron Island, and it was to be the last flight for the flying boats to the island. The aircraft was to pick up and return the internationally well-known underwater photographer Hans Hass and his wife Lotte who had been doing an assignment on the island, plus all their filming equipment. As a bonus, Ernie was able to take his wife Pam along for the ride, and it ended up being an adventure they’ve never forgotten. 

It was found when they got to the island, that there was far more equipment to be returned than had been envisaged, so when loading was completed the aircraft was very heavily loaded and all available on-board cabin space was taken up. No way were Ernie and Pam going to be left behind, which meant that they found themselves seated in one of the aircraft’s ‘bubbles’, which during its war- time role served as a gunner/observer position, so they enjoyed a real bird’s eye view during the return trip. The loaded aircraft was also so heavy, it apparently took some time to actually get airborne and gain altitude, somewhat disconcerting for the passengers. 

One significant event that Ernie recalls vividly was the loss of the Short S.25 Sandringham Mark 4, VH-BRD. It was moored on the Brisbane River, and was struck by a Riverside Coal Transport barge in July 1952, causing damage to its port wingtip, which was repaired and it returned to service. Sometime later in the year, the aircraft sank overnight at its moorings on the Brisbane River, having been struck by an unidentified boat causing damage to the port float, resulting in the flooding of the aircraft. 

It was towed to Colmslie Slipway after being refloated, and declared a write-off following a detailed inspection. Following this, it was eventually sold to a Gold Coast interest who intended to convert it to a floating restaurant. Whilst on its way under tow to the Gold Coast it was swamped by waves after leaving the river and sank. Despite the size of this object, and having been under tow by a vessel which one would have presumed knew its position, the wreckage was never located. 

Ernie worked at the Redland Bay facility until the flying boat services ended in 1971. He was offered the opportunity to move to Sydney with Ansett, which he, along with a couple of his other workmates from Brisbane, took up for a short while before resigning and returning together to Brisbane. 

QANTAS also approached him again with an offer of work in Sydney, which he declined. Following his return home, he obtained a position with the Courier Mail newspaper in the artwork department, well before it became computerised, and went on to create many of the then well-known hand-drawn advertisements for some of Brisbane’s notable businesses.

Always a keen artist, Ernie naturally painted things very familiar to him, and he has to this day retained some wonderful oil paintings of the aircraft with which he developed such a close association. He is pictured here at his home (February 2015), the one he and Pam were building when he resigned from QANTAS back in the early 50’s, with some of his paintings.

Ernie Tickner (Photo courtesy Brian Russell)