The MacRobertson Trophy Air Race

1934 Air Race Poster

This famous 1934 air-race was sponsored by wealthy Melbourne businessman and philanthropist Sir Macpherson Robertson, founder of the MacRobertson Confectionary Company.

The race was initiated as part of the Melbourne Centenary celebrations on the conditions that the race be named after MacRobertson and that it was organised to be a safe as possible. A trophy and a cash prize of £15, 000 were provide by Robertson.

The race was divided into two divisions – speed and handicap – with no limits to aircraft size, power or crew. 20 aircraft from seven countries competed in the 18,200km race from London to Melbourne.

James Knightly, in an article for the ABC, 2007, states:

“The world interest in the air race was all Sir Macpherson Robertson could have hoped for and more. Even over 70 years later it remains the most important air race ever. Only an event like the moon landing had a greater public awareness; bearing in mind that in 1934 it was all dependent on telegrams, newspapers and, critically, the radio. It was through the radio broadcasts that the race was followed in real time, in the UK, Australia, Holland and the USA and the rest of the world, and it was radio that caught and saved Uiver over Albury.

Radio and Uiver put Albury on the map for a worldwide audience and the townspeople can be proud of the remarkable efforts to save the DC-2 and to help to place so high in the race.....

It’s difficult today to appreciate the significance of the effect the DC-2 PH-AJU had at the time. Although brand new, and top-of-the-line, it was also a standard airliner. In the 1934 air race, despite flying an extended stopping KLM route, it came second only to a dedicated, newly built racing aircraft. It’s like a new bus coming second at Bathurst, while dropping off passengers at the bus stops.”

The actual events that took place while on the last leg of the London to Melbourne Air Race have been recorded in various forms, and the details are verified by a number of the participants involved in that rescue.

Uiver, meaning “stork” in Dutch, hit an electrical storm while passing over the outskirts of Albury. Residents of farms in Tawonga heard the plane flying overhead late in the night and contacted local radio station 2CO who put out the alert for assistance. The quick responding chief engineer of the post office, went to the power station and signalled “Albury” in Morse code by turning the town’s lights on and off. Arthur Newnham, the radio announcer, called for cars to go to the Albury Racecourse to light a makeshift runway for the plane to land in the early hours of the night. The aircraft successfully landed, but ended up deep in mud.

Uiver DC-2 Crew

The KLM Uiver crew. Left to right: Cornelis van Brugge (Radio Operator), Koene Dirk Parmentier (Pilot), Jan Johannes Moll (Co-pilot) and Bouwe Prins (Flight Engineer).

The stalwart crew were determined to finish the race, for the good name of KLM and Holland, so Albury residents, some 300, helped pull the aircraft out of the mud so that it could continue the race to place second overall and first on handicap.

The Dutch Government were so appreciative of the efforts made by the Albury community that the Mayor Alf Waugh, received a title of Dutch Nobility, and they donated significant funds to the Albury District Hospital.

Sadly, in December 1934, while flying mail from the Netherlands to Batavia the Uiver crashed in the desert near near Rutbah Wells, Iraq, killing the four crew and three passengers on board.

Air Race Route

Map of The MacRobertson Trophy Air Race route, 1934.

Uiver DC-2 Bogged on Albury Racecourse

Uiver bogged at Albury Racecourse
AlburyCity Collection (ARM 10.387)

Pulling bogged Uiver DC-2 at Albury Racecourse

Pulling the bogged Uiver at the Albury Racecourse
AlburyCity Collection (ARM 11.182)

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