Perched high above the Leichhardt River at Mount Isa’s Grace St bridge is a piece of aviation history, the story of which is largely forgotten.
It’s not a bird, but it is a plane, a de Havilland Australia DHA-3 Drover to be precise, used by the Flying Doctors in the 1950s.
With plans now afoot to move the Drover to Cloncurry, we were reminded it was time to revisit its history by some old newspaper clippings sent in by reader Ruth Algie, whose father Bluey Mangan was an ex-RAAF man and who worked on the restoration of the plane.
The plane dates from 1950, one of only 20 built and only six or seven now survive.
The plane on display is in fact the composite of two planes, one of which was found rusting at Mooraberrie station near Bedourie after a 1952 crash.
The other crashed into a site on Austral Downs Station on the Northern Territory border in 1957.
RFDS Dr Ben Danneker knew about both planes through his involvement in the Aviation Historical Society and decided to restore them when posted to Mount Isa RFDS in 1979.
While the planes were in bad shape Dr Danneker realised they could assemble one good unit from them. He put the call out for assistance from metal workers and with the help of a team lovingly restored the aircraft.
Dr Danneker was the right man for the job as he told the Flying Doctor magazine in a later interview.
“Having started out as a RAAF engineering apprentice, I was in a ‘gun position’ to organise the project with willing helpers and an organisation approach learned during my days as an Army officer,” he said.
Dr Danneker said the decision was made to put it on high pedestal rather than on the ground due to the plane’s rarity.
“The original concept was to erect a memorial to the pioneers of the RFDS who began in Cloncurry in 1928 with another De Haviland type, the DH50,” he told the magazine.
Mount Isa Council provided the land, the design and the steelwork and a local engineering firm erected the steelwork.
On June 27, 1980 Mayor Franz Born unveiled the plane in George McCoy Park.
But 36 years later, the Drover is looking unkempt, corroded and needs new panels. The RFDS is looking at how it could be better used for tourism purposes.
RFDS Queensland general manager of marketing and fundraising Ian Finlayson said the Cloncurry community was looking to move it closer to John Flynn Place as a restoration project.
In March Friends of John Flynn Place Museum secretary Chris McDonald said the Drover would be perfect for Cloncurry but there was not enough room at the museum.