The 1934 London to Melbourne Air Race was fancied by the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Harold Smith, as a celebration of the centenary of Victoria’s statehood. The race showed that Australia could ease its isolation by air travel with relative speed when compared to a three-week steam ship route to Europe. It also proved the life-saving potential of communication technologies.
The Royal Netherlands Airways entered a Douglas DC2 plane ‘Uiver’ in the Race – the largest aircraft in the race, and the only one to carry passengers as well as crew. In the last leg of the race, the Uiver lost its way and its radio communications in an electrical storm over the Riverina region of Victoria.
At the instruction of race headquarters, Albury locals Clifton Mott, Lyle Ferris and Reg Turner signalled A-L-B-U-R-Y in Morse code by utilising the town’s electrical substation as a makeshift Morse key, turning the town’s street lights on and off to communicate with the Uiver. As the Uiver changed course towards Albury, local ABC radio station 2CO called for locals to light up a makeshift landing strip at the town’s racecourse using vehicle headlights. The plane landed safely and the next morning, with the help of the townspeople who pulled it out of the mud, took off and finished the race in second place.