Calling for Adelaide Airport to be named the Adelaide Harry Butler Airport

11 Sep 2019 media release

I was pleased to stand up in Parliament yesterday and deliver a speech on the merits of renaming the Adelaide Airport after Yorke Peninsula-born aviation pioneer Captain Harry Butler.


Such are his exploits and achievements I advocate that Harry is deserving of such State-wide recognition, thus I have  made a formal submission to the review of the Adelaide Airport’s new 20-year master plan, which includes the completion of the $165 million terminal expansion project in 2021 and a new Airport East Precinct.

Public consultation on this strategic plan is open until October 28, and I encourage anyone interested to also make a submission, pushing Harry's case for naming rights.

You can participate in the consultation process by mailing your written comment to:

Adelaide Airport Limited Master Plan Submission
1 James Schofield Drive, Adelaide Airport SA 5950

OR by emailing: [email protected]

Submissions must be received in writing by 5.00pm on 28 October 2019.

I was proud to recently unveil new interpretive signage during the centenary celebrations held at Minlaton to mark the 100 years since Captain Butler became the first person to fly over the Gulf St Vincent and any significant body of water in the southern hemisphere, when he delivered the first air mail run, on 6 August 1919.

The thousands who attended Harry’s centenary celebrations, mostly proud locals and aviation buffs from across the state and nation, well know what a celebrity pioneering aeronaut Harry Butler was, and the significance of his many achievements. But I believe his legacy is deserving of more widespread acclaim.

Harry was a household name, hailed a rock star of his time, a magnificent man in his flying machine and a charismatic young daredevil with the brain of an engineer. In fact, it was impossible to find a paper printed in Adelaide between late 1919 and the end of 1920 that did not carry some story about the latest exploits of Harry Butler. 

The Harry Butler story is an inspiring one – about a young boy born on a remote farm near the bottom of Yorke Peninsula in 1889, who taught himself to fly, to build planes, who led daring raids in World War I and as head instructor in the Royal Flying Corp trained thousands of pilots on ways to outmanoeuvre the enemy in the skies to stay alive, his brave exploits earning him the Air Force Cross in 1918.

He is best known for his historic St Vincent gulf flight, his war service, and for introducing to the state stunt flying and aerobatics, putting on air shows to raise money for Peace Loan and repatriation causes, watched by tens of thousands of people who had never seen a plane before.

But I advocate that it is his lesser known ‘firsts for South Australia’ that really warrant further recognition, and that is my quest.  

Historian and Author Les Parsons provides the following formal list of achievements of Captain Henry John “Harry” Butler, of Koolywurtie, near Minlaton:

  • The first crossing of a significant body of water in the Southern Hemisphere (Gulf St Vincent)
  • The first aerodrome at Northfield (1919) then the first real airport at Hendon which he sold to the Commonwealth Government to make it the first official Adelaide airport (from 1922 until 1927 when it was moved to Parafield, then its current location at West Beach)
  • The first air passenger carrying business in Australia
  • The first aerial photographs (Including in a commercial capacity for real estate purposes)
  • Among the first to recognise that the aeroplane could be used for mail purposes
  • The first aviation business (Butler and Kauper Aviation company including a shareholder and huge supporter in MP HC Richards)
  • Helped set up the first Aero Club in SA to facilitate the new aviation business and look at things like safety, infrastructure, etc

Captain Butler can also be credited as being the first to consider air flights to take doctors and nurses to injured people in remote pastoral areas, heralding the advent of the Royal Flying Doctor Service ultimately set up in 1928 four years after Harry’s death.

He also won Australia’s first Aerial Derby in 1920, and when in March 1920 Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith famously flew their Vickers-Vimy in the historic first flight from UK to Australia, it was at the Harry Butler airfield at Northfield they landed.

When he died at age 34 in 1924, Harry Butler was given the honour of a military funeral, his cortege flowing down King William Street; and the City also decided that no more fitting memorial could be achieved than by the inclusion of his portrait in the Hall of Fame of the Art Gallery of South Australia, where it has hung since its unveiling in 1925.

Whilst it was a welcome pledge earlier this year by both State and Federal Government to invest $4 million ($2 million each) into provision of a safe transfer of the famous Smith Brothers’ Vickers-Vimy from its current home in a shed in the back blocks of the airport to a prime location within the new Adelaide airport terminal, many agree that Captain Harry Butler is equally deserving of significant recognition at our airport.

They were SA-born comrades as aviation pioneers and it would be something of a fitting reunion in celebration of our State’s aviation history to name the airport after Harry, our most famous airman who has rightly been credited with single-handedly inspiring the aviation industry in South Australia.