Women honoured in Warwick street names

Val Wilkinson was one of several accomplished women honoured in the new Warwick Aerodrome street names. Picture: FILE

By Dominique Tassell

Southern Downs Regional Council has passed a motion to name three new access roads at Warwick Aerodrome. The roads will be called Ronald Way, Jean Burns Drive, and Valerie Way.

Names for the three roads, which are access roads into the Warwick Aerodrome western hangar subdivision, were suggested by the community.

Ronald Way is being named in honour of Ron Bellingham, who has a long history with flying in the area.

In a submission to the council, it was stated that Ron Bellingham “understood the value of Warwick as a safe field when Stanthorpe and Toowoomba were subject to low cloud or when there were storms on the range preventing flights to Brisbane. He was also instrumental in the purchase of the land to the east to build hangers.”

Jean Burns Drive is being named in honour of Jean Burns, the first woman to parachute over Australia and the youngest female pilot for 15 years.

In the submission to the council for this name, Nancy-Bird Walton and Freda Thompson were also nominated, and the submission stated they were “pioneers of our airways” that would be an excellent choice for our airport.

Valerie Way is being named in honour of Val Wilkinson. She and her husband, Bill, are “living legends” in the Southern Downs’ gliding community.

Val is highly accomplished, achieving the Australian women’s height record flying 26,825 feet above Cunningham’s Gap in 1980, a record unbeaten to this day.

She was also given the Australian Women Pilots Association award in 2012 for her outstanding contributions to gliding.

“Bill Wilkinson has supported club activities as an airworthiness officer for many years and has kept the clubs aircraft operational to the present day. Both Val and Bill are much valued life members of the gliding club being continuous members for 50 years,” the submission stated.

Councillor Tancred stated that “its’s great to see that on three new streets, two of them are named after ladies that have made a contribution to the gliding and aerodrome sport”.

Other community-suggested names included Nancy Bird Walton Drive, Bill and Val Wilkinson Road, Mary Bradford Shepherd Drive, Bill Wilkinson Road, Bob Keogh Drive, Freda Thompson Way, and Dr John Best Drive.

Nancy Bird Walton was the founder and patron of the Australian Women Pilots’ Association, and at 19 was the youngest Australian woman to gain a pilot’s licence.

May Bradford Shepherd was the first woman in Australia to hold first class Pilot’s A, B, and C licences concurrently. She also held a D electrical ground engineers’ certificate and was the only known woman at the time to hold an X certificate in oxy-welding and metallurgy.

Freda Thompson was the first Australian woman to fly solo from the UK to Australia, and was the fifth woman in Australia to hold a C licence. She was also a qualified flying instructor and was reported at the time as the first woman in the British Empire to obtain instructors licence.

Bob Keogh was a prominent local figure who wore the hats of train driver, flying instructor, family man, and more. He was a flying instructor for many years at the Warwick Aerodrome.

Dr John Best and his wife Dr Judith Best were well-known residents of Warwick who owned a twin engine aircraft which John flew all over Australia. The gliding club now use his original hangar, which is the first hangar to the west of the fuel facility on Road 3. There is an acknowledgment plaque on the hangar.

SDRC stated that “all of the nominated names are recognised for their contribution to aviation and the Warwick Aerodrome. All are worthy of being considered of having a road named after them”.

Names were chosen to avoid confusion with existing road names, such as Bellingham, Bradford, Shepherd, Keogh, Thompson, and Best.

New street signs will be ordered; totalling an estimated cost of $270 to the council.

Councillor Gale moved the motion, with Councillor Gliori seconding it.

The official opening of the new roads is expected to occur at the end of July, once signs have arrived.