History of the Trust

The Connellan Airways Trust was established by a Deed of Trust dated 12 June 1981 and officially launched by the Deputy Prime Minister, Doug Anthony, on Friday, 11 February 1983 at the Aviation Museum in Alice Springs.

The Founder
The Trust, the brainchild of E.J. Connellan (EJ) the eldest of the seven children who was born in western Victoria, was founded to help alleviate the effects of isolation on the people of Outback Australia using an air service. This mission was one to which he had devoted the greater part of his life. He knew station life but completed a secondary education at boarding school. He taught until 1933 before returning to both the NT and station life which was one of his great loves; the other was flying which he mastered and became fully licensed, as a private pilot, in 1936. His return to the NT foreshadowed the development of remote regions which was detailed in his report, “Notes on proposals for Aerial Freight Transport in Australia” which he prepared in October, 1937.


With support from Riverina pastoralists EJ conducted two aerial surveys for the Federal Government to assess the potential for aviation in the north and to select a cattle station from vacant Crown land for himself, his brother and two friends. After meeting Federal Minister John McEwen, it was agreed to trial a scheme for three years with a negotiated subsidy to run mail between Alice Springs and Wyndham in WA including a contract with the RFDS based in Alice Springs. The first official mail run began in 1939 operating fortnightly thereafter. Their mandate recommended 'render at all times the greatest possible SERVICE TO SETTLERS, in Northern Australia, and to FACILITATE AND EXPEDITE DEVELOPMENT of the pastoral and other industries in Northern Australia'. EJ registered the new name, Connellan Airways, on 23 July 1943 following the outbreak of WWII to further consolidate his service which had secured extra routes.

Pioneering this air service resulted in an expansion of his ideas leading to the formation of the Northern Territory Development League in 1944 enabling expansion to occur. Consolidation and continued growth followed the war years with the air service becoming incorporated as a limited company by 1951 with shares owned by locals. New routes and equipment to service them were added to the network. In 1963 Connellan was an acknowledged public transport operator with all the added responsibilities for schedules, safety and maintenance that this required, along with continued charter work. EJ was a shy man yet paradoxically, his involvement in the pastoral industry and his obsession with the development of the Territory meant that he was continually being thrust into the public eye. In response to these popular credentials, formal acknowledgement followed with the Queen's Coronation Medal in 1953, then in 1957 he was made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) and he also received a singular honour from the aviation fraternity when he was awarded the 1965 Oswald Watt Trophy. In 1978 he was promoted in the Honours List to a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) and three years later, in the Queen's Birthday Honours List of 1981, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) all of this for his generous service to aviation and the wider community.


Business pressures surrounding equipment upgrades saw Connellan undergo major changes through the 60s and 70s but both the RFDS and Connellan benefitted from each other’s need with a range of aircraft for the RFDS and guaranteed income for Connellan with experienced pilots who knew the outback intimately. Changing conditions soon realized the need to sell the airline and a deal was sealed by 1980 with a sale to East-West Airlines. EJ always believed that the over-riding purpose of his air service remained that of promoting development in Outback Australia and helping to alleviate the problems of isolation and until it was sold, he insisted that the policy of the company should be the service of people on remote stations. EJ remained busy with many things. He devoted more attention to his pastoral property, Narwietooma, and in 1981 was able to undertake his new responsibilities as the first Territorian to be appointed a director of the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame. But perhaps the cause that attracted most of EJ's remaining energies was the establishment of the Connellan Airways Trust. He hoped that the Trust would ensure the survival of many of his policies, aimed at developing the Outback for which he had striven for so long and the Connellan Airways Trust (as identified in the introduction) became EJ's last obsession.

This successful launch announcement satisfied EJ’s final goal but he died later that year on 26 December 1983.

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