Southern Cross Minor - wreckage

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Object detail

Box frame aeroplane in exceptional state of wreckage. Fuel tank significantly displaced, no frame covering remaining, cross brace wires severed, various sections bent out of original shape. Wood wing leading and rear edge broken. Undercarriage broken and missing wheel. Tail section broken off.
CH classification TRANSPORT Aviation relics
CH classification TRANSPORT Aviation avro avian
L 6800 W 800 H 1920mm
Media/Materials description
Indeterminate (Metals - Indeterminate), Indeterminate (Woods)
History and use
The Southern Cross Minor began its career as an Avro Avian belonging to Charles Kingsford Smith, who had it specifically commissioned in 1930 and primarily used it for cross country mail runs. In 1931 he attempted to break the Melbourne to London record in the Minor, but was forced down over the Pacific Ocean and picked up by a passing cargo ship. In 1933 he sold it to Bill Lancaster, a British airman who had been living in Australia with Jessie (Chubbie) Miller following their highly publicised flight from the UK in the Avro Avian Red Rose. Lancaster planned to break the London to Cape Town record in the Minor, then held by Amy Mollison (née Johnson). He left London on the 11th of April, 1933, initially making good time. He was delayed in Oran over a customs issue, however, and this meant that he had to abandon dedicated sleeping breaks for the remainder of the flight in order to maintain a chance at the record. After leaving Oran he became disorientated. He crashed in the Tanezrouft, uncertain of his own location, on the 12th of April. Unable to repair the Minor, Lancaster spent eight days in the Sahara hoping for rescue. He kept a diary during this time in his flight log book, and then on a fuel card he had with him when he ran out of paper. Though search teams were deployed to find him, they were unsuccessful, and on the 20th of April, Lancaster died of dehydration and heat exhaustion.

Lancaster and the Minor remained in the desert until 1962, when a French Foreign Legion party came across them unexpectedly and removed Lancaster’s body and the diary he had kept while he waited for rescue. The Minor was left where it lay, as the party did not consider it valuable enough to justify the effort of moving it. In 1979, a team of researchers including Queensland Museum librarian Ted Wixted and British entrepreneur Wylton Dickson set out to recover the plane. They were successful in locating it, and after a brief stint in London, the wreck was returned to Brisbane and acquired by Queensland Museum in 1980.

The wrecked state of the plane provides an interesting aesthetic element, as well as testifying to its long stint in the Sahara through wood, fabric and paint degeneration, and metal corrosion. The Minor’s engine has been removed and is stored separately, and several small wood and metal components have detached from the main body of the wreck. The aircraft’s condition also speaks to the remarkable process undergone by Wixted and the recovery team to bring the Minor back to Brisbane: an almost unique undertaking in the history of Australian aviation heritage. The decision not to restore or replicate the plane adds nuance to its interpretative capacity, as does its more recent history of disassembly and reassembly in its wrecked state.
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