Kenneth Elston Dalziel (1916-2000)
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Ken Dalziel was born in Sale, Vic, on 26 February 1916. Growing up during a period of great technological advances, Ken Dalziel became interested in radio from an early age and earned an amateur radio licence, callsign VK3SK, shortly after his 16th birthday in 1932. Ken quickly got a job as an engineer at local radio station 3TR.

Ken was also enthralled by the activities of the RAAF Wireless Reserve and so enlisted with his radio station, VK3SK. A network had been established with ham stations across Australia and this provided a well-trained nucleus of staff should the need arise.

Left: 'Melbourne Approach', 1947 (click on the image for more)

In 1934 Ken's father, Hugh, was fishing on the Ninety-Mile Beach when an RAAF Supermarine Southampton flying boat developed engine trouble and made a forced landing on Lake Reeve nearby. Wading out to the aircraft, Hugh told the crew that his son would radio RAAF Point Cook for help immediately. The flying boat was subsequently dismantled at Lake Reeve and reassembled in deeper water on Lake Wellington. Ken was invited to occupy the co-pilot’s seat at the re-launching.

Impressed by Air Force life, in 1935 Ken applied for a flying cadetship. Ken did not pass the course, but subsequently soloed at a civil school at Essendon. In later years he spent many hours flying with childhood friend and pilot 'Herbie' Fenton to many parts of the outback.

Still very interested in radio, Ken enlisted in the RAAF as a wireless operator and was initially posted to RAAF Richmond in 1936/37. Subsequently posted to Darwin, Ken was part of a two-man detachment that provided a direction-finding service in support of the Qantas Empire Airways (QEA) air service across the Timor Sea to Singapore. In 1938 QEA introduced the new Empire Flying Boats on the Australia-England service. These aircraft carried a dedicated Radio Officer. Having already made many friends among the QEA crews, Ken decided to resign from the RAAF and join QEA.

Although enjoying the airline life, the outbreak of the Second World War brought the threat of QEA's Empire boats being impressed into RAAF service. Facing an uncertain future, in 1939 Ken resigned to join the Department of Civil Aviation in Melbourne. Within a few weeks, Ken Dalziel was promoted by the head of DCA's radio branch, C.S.Wiggins, to the position of Radio Inspector and, shortly afterward, posted to Darwin for the second time.

Whilst in Melbourne Ken met May and they were married in Darwin on 20 November 1941. However, May was evacuated from Darwin along with other women and children after the bombing of Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, a scant three weeks after they were married.

On 19 January 1942 the Japanese bombed Darwin for the first time. The DCA Aeradio staff was based at Darwin civil aerodrome and, in addition to Ken Dalziel, included Arthur Tarlton, Ted Betts, Bruce Acland, Fred Riley and Len McIntosh. At 9.45 am Ken was on duty when Japanese aircraft appeared over the aerodrome. After transmitting the code for an air raid in progress and waiting for an acknowledgment, Bruce Acland, Len McIntosh and Ken cut power to the transmitters, locked their secret documents in the safe and only then took shelter in a slit trench near their quarters. After the raid the DCA transmitters had been knocked out, but the Aeradio men were able to establish communications with the south using the AWA coastal shipping radio station. Within three days they had re-established Aeradio communications using temporary equipment.

Following the raid, May was evacuated south and DCA Head Office decided that Aeradio communications should be at Katherine. Ken Dalziel was sent there, to be greeted by the only Japanese air raid on Katherine! At Katherine, the Aeradio men lived and worked in tents set up in the scrub. Captain Harold Shelton of Guinea Airways recalled "As time went on we got to know Ken Dalziel, who was in charge of Radio Communications at Katherine. Ken lived in his Radio Shack in the thick scrub, close to the Airstrip under very primitive conditions, his only companions being snakes, lizards, mosquitoes, ants and all sorts of bush insects. We relied very much on Ken for our flight into Darwin. Ken was in a very key position, as far as we were concerned, and would advise all incoming aircraft, on weather conditions and pending air raids on Darwin. At times we used to visit Ken when we forced to stay at Katherine overnight, and he used to make us most welcome. I remember leaving Katherine one afternoon bound for Darwin and was within 20 minutes of landing and a message was received in plain language. 'Please return to Katherine at once' and was again repeated. We landed back at Katherine Airfield to be told of another Japanese air raid on Darwin.”

Ken was later transferred to Townsville and placed in charge of the civil aerodrome. Following that job, he was posted to Perth to become a Flight Checking Officer in the fledgling air traffic control organisation. Ken and May were provided with a house at Guildford aerodrome.

At Ken's request, he was eventually transferred back to Melbourne's Essendon Airport to be closer to May’s family. Ken recalled "My appointment was Approach Controller and basically it was to prevent aircraft from all directions meeting together over Essendon Airport in fair and foul weather. This was before the days of Tullamarine and navigational aids were few. Furthermore, the airline companies were driving their pilots on 'the mail must go through' policy. This made the Approach Controller’s job even more hazardous. The procedure was to stack the aircraft into 1,000 feet levels and lower the stack as one landed, 12,000, 11,000, 10,000 and so on down. Of course in bad weather, with low cloud, this in itself presented a problem, as pilots would seize any opportunity to break through the low cloud and fly visually to the airport. A standing joke amongst controllers was 'How high are the spires on St Paul’s Cathedral?' ”

Happily settled in Melbourne and concerned that further DCA service would result in a posting to some outback location, Ken talked the situation over at the suggestion of a friend with Dr Phillip Law, director of Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) from 1949 to 1966. Dr Law suggested that a year in the Antarctic would open up alternative opportunities. As a result, Ken spent 1953 as the head of the radio station on Heard Island. In addition to communications duties, Ken undertook research into upper winds and the correlation of the earth's magnetic field with the movement of the ionosphere.

Left: Heard Is, 1953

In January 1954 Phillip Law arrived at Heard Island in the Kista Dan with an expedition. Taking some of the Heard Island men including Ken Dalziel, Law set out to establish Australia's permanent base at Mawson on the Antarctic mainland.
Following his return to Australia, Ken published a well-received book of his letters to his children called Penguin Road. Although offered a position with ICAO in Montreal, Ken declined and instead resigned from the Public Service to enter business in the private sector where he had successful careers in several industries.

Ken Dalziel passed away in Melbourne on 21 September 2000.

Much of the information above comes from Ken Dalziel's unpublished personal memoir Sale to Success, with thanks to the Dalziel family.

(Photos: Top-CAHS collection / Bottom-via Wendy Beech (nee Dalziel))

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