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Adair, John Ronald Shafto (1893–1960)

by J. C. H. Gill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

John Ronald Shafto Adair (1893-1960), aviator and businessman, was born on 22 May 1893 at Maryborough, Queensland, son of Victorian-born parents John Hamilton Adair, surveyor, and his wife Constance Ada, née Smith. Educated at Maryborough Grammar School, Ron completed an engineering apprenticeship and attained sergeant's rank in the Australian Military Forces. On 21 February 1916 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was posted to No.1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, as a fitter. He reached Egypt in April and was reclassified air mechanic in November; after training as a pilot, he rejoined his original squadron in February 1918 and was promoted lieutenant in March. Adair saw action in the Middle East until the Armistice. On 10 February 1919 he married Rose Ethel Ellis at the British Consulate, Cairo; they were later to be divorced. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Sydney on 29 September.

Like a number of his contemporaries, Adair spent some years 'barnstorming': to promote air travel in outback Queensland, he flew to centres without landing fields and endeavoured to persuade local councils to provide facilities. In 1920 he ran a newspaper-delivery service from Brisbane to Toowoomba and carried passengers on the return flights. He demonstrated exceptional airmanship, safely landing an Avro Avian biplane near Bowen in 1928 after its engine had fallen out. On 24 March he registered his own commercial airline, Aircrafts Pty Ltd, which provided regular services between Brisbane and Toowoomba, and extended its reach to coastal and outback centres. Though he increased his original issued capital of £1400 to £5900 by October 1931, the company stagnated in the Depression. In May 1934 Adair flew from Brisbane to Darwin whence he escorted the New Zealand aviatrix Jean Batten to Sydney, thereby completing a 5000-mile (8047 km) trip. That year he joined Qantas Empire Airways and by 1938 was captaining Empire flying boats on the Sydney-Singapore run. He married a divorcee Bertha Ella, née Savery, late Kither, on 16 January 1937 at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Brisbane. On a Q.E.A. flight from Karachi to Sydney in December 1941, with Major General Gordon Bennett on board, Adair carried out refuelling at Mergui, Burma, while Japanese aircraft flew overhead. During that year he had ferried Catalina flying boats from San Diego, California, to Sydney for the Royal Australian Air Force; he remained on the R.A.A.F. active list throughout World War II.

Quiet, thoughtful and popular, Adair was not tall, but had presence; in his mattter-of-fact manner he told reporters of his sole ambition—to be 'the oldest living aviator'. After the war he was chairman of Coachcraft Pty Ltd, a Ford motor agency (1946-51), and of Airstream Ltd, refrigerator manufacturers (1946-53). Meanwhile, he remained managing director of Aircrafts Pty Ltd which became Queensland Airlines Pty Ltd in January 1949 and operated under charter arrangements with Butler Air Transport Pty Ltd. The company suffered a crushing blow on 10 March when one of its chartered aircraft, a Lockheed Lodestar, crashed at Coolangatta, Queensland, with the loss of twenty-one lives. By 1958 almost all of the company's shares had been acquired by Butler; that year, when (Sir) Reginald Ansett (Bungana Investments Pty Ltd) took over Butler Air Transport, including Queensland Airlines, Adair received stock worth £2300 and was employed by Ansett Transport Industries Ltd.

Adair had been appointed O.B.E. in 1955. He died of a coronary occlusion on 27 June 1960 at Ascot, Brisbane, and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife and their adopted daughter survived him, as did the son of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • F. M. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps (Syd, 1923)
  • H. Fysh, Qantas at War (Syd, 1968)
  • H. Holthouse, Illustrated History of Queensland (Adel, 1978)
  • N. Parnell and T. Boughton, Flypast (Canb, 1988)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Sept 1926, 22 Oct 1940, 17 Dec 1961
  • Queenslander, 1 Jan, 9 June 1927
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 2 June 1934, 28 June 1960
  • CAC (Q), Companies, 104A/1927, 38/1945 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

J. C. H. Gill, 'Adair, John Ronald Shafto (1893–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/adair-john-ronald-shafto-9307/text16331, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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