29 March 2023

Riverina Rewind: The soaring legacy of Wagga's 'Flying Godfather'

| Michelle Maddison
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Wagga Flying School founder Eric Condon. Photo: S Preston.

Eric Enoch Condon was a well-known identity throughout the Riverina in the post-WWII period. Born on 4 August, 1906, in Benambra, Victoria, Eric, a motor mechanic by trade, had been pioneering aviation since the early 1930s.

He enlisted with the RAAF at Camden, NSW, in May 1941 and served with the 6 Communications Unit, reaching the rank of flight lieutenant, before his discharge on 24 October, 1945.

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After the war, Eric settled in Wagga and to “keep his hand in at flying”, he established the Wagga Flying School on Hammond Avenue.

Beginning with one Tiger Moth and two pupils, the school grew to seven aircraft, its own approved workshop and five employees, including two junior instructors and a flight engineer.

The business prospered, with Eric not only conducting a flying school but also becoming the proprietor of Wagga Air Taxis.

group of people and plane

Eric Condon with his Tiger Moth biplane and women preparing for flight training. Photo: Wagga Flying School.

This week, the Museum of the Riverina takes us back to the early days of aviation in the region and the tragically short life of a true pioneer.

In August-September 1947, Eric created a Wagga Flying School Social Club Women’s Scholarship competition, with a view to encouraging Wagga women to take up flying.

About 18 women entered, and each was given 15 minutes’ tuition in the air before taking the controls for five minutes.

The winner was given free tuition in flying from qualified instructors and was then also allowed to fly solo for one hour free in one of Eric’s planes.

Miss Irene Lowe, a 23-year-old stenographer from Docker Street, was the winner.

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Eric trained well over 500 pupils to fly solo and instructed more than 300 pupils to pilot standard. Pupils included Wagga’s Fred Burke (Agricultural Aviation) and Don Kendell (Kendell Airlines).

Eric also flew many ”mercy” missions, including transporting urgently needed blood plasma and assisting in bushfires and floods, and he organised an air ambulance service.

He became known as ”The Flying Godfather” as one of his ambitions was to see every Riverina town have its own airstrip.

Eric often made donations to shire councils to assist in the development of landing strips, including Tumut’s, to which he donated £50 in 1952.

Sadly, Eric succumbed to a short illness and died in Calvary Hospital on Sunday, 18 July, 1954. He was just 47 years old.

Even though his life was brief, his light burned brightly, and he is still remembered today in association with the Wagga Flying School.

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