In the heart of the tropical rainforest in the wild, beautiful and treacherous Macpherson Range in south-east Queensland, there is a garden. Its plantings of exotics are subtle and modest, almost hidden among the lush plants of the native jungle. The Green Mountains Garden commemorates tragic and remarkable events that occurred 82 years ago today.
That event was the Airlines of Australia Stinson crash of 1937.
The airliner disappeared on the 19th of February, in the midst of a massive tropical storm, whilst en route from Brisbane to Sydney (a distance of 730 km by air) carrying five passengers and two pilots. Both pilots and two passengers were killed.
Official rescue efforts focussed on areas close to Sydney. But Bernard O’Reilly, one of the pioneering settlers in the remote Macpherson Range, had other ideas. He saddled his horse and made his rounds of the isolated neighbouring properties. The neighbours told him when and in what direction they had heard aircraft noise on the fateful day. Bernard concluded that the aircraft had crashed into the Macpherson Range.
On the 28th of February, with all hope officially lost, Bernard O’Reilly, a consummate bushman, packed basic supplies (bread and onions) and walked out into the mountains to look for the plane. After camping overnight, he saw, on a distant hillside, a patch of brown in the midst of the miles and miles of green jungle. This turned out to be the trees burned by a fire which ignited when the aircraft crashed. Bernard found the wreckage of the Stinson on Sunday 1 March.
Two injured survivors were waiting- Joseph Binstead and John Proud. On seeing O’Reilly they asked to shake his hand and then asked what the cricket score was. They had been able to get water from a creek about a mile (1.6km) from the crash site but had had no food.
They told Bernard that the other survivor, J G Westray, a 25 year old from London, who had sustained minor injuries, had gone to find help. His body was later found. Having crawled several miles through precipitous terrain and dense jungle with a broken ankle, he had fallen over a waterfall and tragically died from exposure.
An epic rescue effort followed, in which all the mountain people banded together to bring the survivors to safety. The rescue operation gained national headlines with reports broadcast live on the radio.
The understated simplicity of this garden is profoundly moving. The lovely blue hydrangeas, and the occasional small glimpses of colourful flowers, evoke a sense that elusive spirits, perhaps those of the crash victims, the survivors and their rescuers, are here still, wild and free.
The commemorative garden was established in 1966 by Col Harman, OAM, and is now maintained by the Green Mountains Natural History Association.
Bernard O’Reilly wrote three books on the theme of Australia’s Great Dividing Range which lies inland from its east coast and is where he lived: Green Mountains (1940) (a great read, which I thoroughly enjoyed), Cullenbenbong (1945), and Over the Hills (1963). Green Mountains includes his own account of finding the aeroplane. O’Reilly was played by Jack Thompson in the 1987 TV movie The Riddle of the Stinson. [Source: Wikipedia].