By Aleksandra Bliszczyk
Fundraising is underway for a plaque and memorial to recognise eight young Royal Australian Air Force pilots and crew who died in crashes near the mountain’s summit in the 1940s and ‘50s.
A Mount Disappointment Facebook community, Friends of Disappointment, and Wandong History Group are banding together with a goal to raise $3000.
The money will go towards the plaque, a ceremony at the mountain at 12.15pm on August 5, exactly 79 years after the first plane – called the Bristol Beaufighter – crashed, and a memorial at Wandong Hall.
Trevor Viénet, the self-titled amateur historian behind the Facebook group, who lives near the state forest, took an interest in the men’s stories, particularly Terence Hallinan, the last of the eight who died in 1953.
“The average age was only 23, and I was certainly drawn to the last guy who died in 1953,” Mr Viénet said.
“He was only 19 and a trainee pilot and it was 13 months before his plane and body were found.”
Mr Viénet and the history group had not sourced outside funding for the memorial because it wanted both the plaque and the event to be locally supported, giving residents the opportunity for stewardship.
“It started off as something small so I thought ‘okay the funds for the plaque, it’s not that much, it’s like a $1000, I can nearly cover that myself’, but I thought if I did that it makes it more about me, so I wanted to open it up so other people could be a part of it,” he said.
His idea was cemented after he contacted the family of Mr Hallinan in Queensland, who now plan to travel to Victoria for the event.
“Once I got in contact with the families in Maryborough, Queensland … I thought we need to have something other than just unveiling a plaque,” Mr Viénet said.
The seven other deaths occurred during World War Two, usually attributed in part to poor weather.
In 1944, two RAAF Vultee Vengeance Mk1 dive bombers were flying in formation on a flight from the Laverton airbase when they both crashed into the mountain, killing all five on board, aged between 19 and 32. Three were from Melbourne, one was from the Yarra Valley, and the fifth from Queensland.
Cloud was reported at 457 metres above sea level at the time of the crashes – Mt Disappointment is 796 metres – completely obscuring the mountain from the pilots who were instructed to fly at 306 metres. Evidence of the crash remains, including a large radial engine that was rolled downhill into a creek bed.
Mr Viénet said there was little public knowledge of the deaths; the only information boards on the mountain are of Hamilton Hume and William Hovell, the colonialists who named it but never reached the summit.
He is hoping the memorial, which will be attended by an RAAF representative, will be the recognition of Mr Hallinan that his three sisters in their 80s, nieces and nephews and grandniece never received.
He also hoped it would draw more interest to both World War Two RAAF servicepeople, and the state forest.
“It’s also going to make the walking track to the summit much more popular,” he said.
Join the Facebook group for updates at www.facebook.com/mountdisappointmentclonbinane, and donate via bank transfer: A/C Wandong History Group BSB 633 000 Ac/ No 147326292 Ref DonTVPL.