November 2008
The Coffee Royal-Kookaburra Affair
Objective: To apply to the Government of the Northern Territory for support and a grant that would cover the cost of employing an empathic script-writer and for promoting The Cross in the Sky: The Coffee Royal-Kookaburra Affair, for either a) a three part TV series or, b) a full length film production for Australian and international distribution.
Synopsis: The search for the Southern Cross in March 1929 in Western Australia, and the subsequent heroic deaths of Anderson and Hitchcock after their aircraft Kookaburra forced landed in the Tanami Desert, is the most compelling drama in Australia’s aviation history (Davis & Smith, 1980). By the amalgamation of three Episodes of The Cross in the Sky, which portrays the life and adventures of Charles Moth Eaton, the core themes of the story are centred on:
  • The controversial disappearance of Kingsford Smith’s mono-plane the Southern Cross.
  • The month-long search, commanded by Ft/Lt Charles Eaton with 7 RAAF and civil aircraft, for the missing Kookaburra and its ultimate finding by Capt Lester Brain, 21 April 1929.
  • The journey of Eaton’s ground party, guided by Daylight Parunja Janama and Brisbane Sambo Jangurra, into the Tanami Desert to locate the stranded Kookaburra and find out the fate of the two missing aviators. The ten-day torturous journey resulted in 11 of the party’s 22 horses perishing of thirst.
  • The national media hullabaloo over the incident and accusations of conspiracy and fraud.
  • The Thornycroft Expedition that exhumed the bodies of Anderson and Hitchcock and returned them for a State burial in Sydney and private one in Perth respectively.
  • The Court of Inquiry that investigated the disappearances of both the Southern Cross and the Kookaburra, the deaths of Anderson and Hitchcock and the loss of 3 out of the 5 RAAF aircraft involved in the search. Eaton’s evidence exonerated Kingsford Smith from any impropriety.
  • The controversy that continued years after the Coffee Royal-Kookaburra incident. In 1975 the ABC’s Big Country TV series opinions were expressed that Anderson had committed suicide. This allegation sparked an incensed reaction from Eaton it only showed some mud-raking of (a) gallant Australian airman and who, for the first and only time in his life went to the nation media to vigorously refute the accusation.
  • The successful recovery of the Kookaburra wreckage by the adventurer Dick Smith in 1978.
Profile: Charles Moth Eaton
Born in London 1895, Eaton served in WWI as a trench bomber soldier then as a reconnaissance pilot before being captured in June 1918. He was twice court martialled for escaping and sentenced to solitary confinement in the notorious fortress Festung Neun in Bavaria. In 1919 he ferried delegates to the Paris Peace Conference, and in 1920, carried out the first aerial survey of the Himalayas and India with 28 Squadron RAF. On migrating to Australia in 1923 he joined the RAAF then commanded two air searches in Central Australia; the first for the Kookaburra, and the second in 1931, for the Second Lasseter Expedition’s missing Gypsy Moth aircraft the Golden Quest II.
Eaton led secret missions to the Netherlands East Indies before and during WWII. These missions helped identified targets for 79 Wing RAAF, a bomber unit which he later commanded based in the Northern Territory. In September 1947 he monitored the cease-fire during the Dutch-Indonesia conflict. Eaton’s initiatives assisted to lay the foundations for United Nations peacekeeping; aviation historian Mark Lax wrote Australia’s post-war association with the North and Timor really began with him. Eaton is honored in the Northern Territory with a memorial display in Parliament House Darwin, a National Trust Memorial in Tennant Creek and the naming of the suburb encompassing the Darwin International Airport, Eaton. He died in 1979 and his ashes were dispersed by the RAAF over the Tanami Desert west of Tennant Creek in 1981.
Prime Sources
Eaton Family Trust. Extracts from an unpublished manuscript ‘The Cross in the Sky: The Life of Charles ‘Moth’
Davis, Pedr and Smith, Dick. Kookaburra: the most compelling story in Australia’s aviation history. Lansdowne
Press, Sydney. 1980.
Farram, Steven. Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton Pioneer Aviator of the Northern Territory. Charles Darwin University
Press, Darwin. 2007
Lax , Mark. Charles Eaton. In Proceedings of Air Force History Conference. RAAF Air Power Development,
Canberra, 2001.
Dr Charles S Eaton, 62 Nightcliff Rd, Rapid Creek, NT 0810. Tel 08) 89218094

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