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Three men examine rusted remants of a clock.
National Museum Senior Curator Matthew Higgins, centre, joins Alan Reid, right, and donor John Boddington with remnants of the 'Southern Cloud' clock. National Museum of Australia

Remnant from the wreckage of a major air disaster

Southern Cloud memorial, listing crew and passenger names. - click to view larger image
The memorial at the 'Southern Cloud' crash site. National Museum of Australia

A five-shilling school yard sale resulted in the National Museum of Australia acquiring a wrecked clock from Australia's first major civil air disaster.

The clock was salvaged from the wreck of the Southern Cloud, which crashed in the Snowy Mountains during bad weather on a Sydney to Melbourne flight in 1931.

An initial search for the Southern Cloud failed to find the plane. Its mysterious disappearance and the loss of the eight people on board captured the nation's attention.

Southern Cloud was one of five Avro X aircraft operated by Australian National Airways. The company was founded in 1929 by aviation pioneers Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm.

The aircraft wreckage was found by accident more than 20 years later.

A worker on the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme discovered the plane near Deep Creek in 1958. Within days hundreds of people visited the site, many collecting souvenirs.

John Boddington, of Dalton, near Goulburn, bought the battered clock components in 1958 from a classmate at Canberra Grammar School, Alan Reid.

Alan's father was the former Canberra political journalist Alan Reid. Alan junior visited the site with his father and souvenired the clock from the aircraft's instrument panel.

More than 75 years after the plane went down, John donated the clock to the National Museum in Canberra.

Metallic casing and inner workings of clock with broken glass face
Remnants of the 'Southern Cloud' clock. National Museum of Australia

Air travel safer for all

Bush scene showing dense undergrowth, bare tree trunks and hills in the distance.
The crash site in 2008. Bushfires have passed through the area, killing the alpine ash trees and resulting in thick regrowth as the forest re-establishes. The top of the 'Southern Cloud' memorial can be seen in the bottom right, beside the red tape on the tree trunk. Matthew Higgins

National Museum senior curator Matthew Higgins visited the crash site in the 1980s and again in 2008. He has an enduring interest in the disaster. Mr Higgins said the Southern Cloud tragedy played an important part in making air travel safer for Australians.

After the Southern Cloud crash, it was recommended that radios be installed in all regular passenger planes, so weather forecasts could be conveyed to pilots while they were in the air.

Remembering Southern Cloud

Matthew Higgins and Tom Sonter on their way to the wreck site
National Museum of Australia senior curator Matthew Higgins and Tom Sonter on the way to the wreck site, 26 October 2008. Stephanie Haygarth

The Southern Cloud story was remembered by many people on the occasion of the 50th anniversary in October 2008. At events organised by the Tumbarumba Historical Society and Tumbarumba Shire Council, over 100 people, including large numbers of descendants of the people killed in the crash, attended various events in Tumbarumba and at the newly opened memorial lookout south of the town.

Then, with added assistance from Snowy Hydro and the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, a large contingent visited the crash site in the rugged and wild upper reaches of the Tooma River valley. At the centre of the activities was Tom Sonter, the Snowy Scheme worker who had chanced upon the wreckage exactly 50 years before.

The National Museum marked the anniversary by displaying the clock in its Hall.

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