For a business that started in a paddock, Max Hazelton’s empire has flown a long way.
Later this month former employees of Hazelton Airlines will gather in Orange for a reunion commemorating 65 years since the business began.
According to The Hazelton Story, a history of the airline by Denis Gregory, the company rose to employ 270 staff and carry 400,000 passengers a year to 23 country ports.
Former operations manager and former Orange Aero Club secretary Bob Nash said it was a family operation.
“The airline was very much like a family, it wasn’t like a Qantas or an Ansett,” he said.
“You always felt like you were part of a family and not an employee.
“Max said his name was on the plane but it could never have been without the people who worked for him.”
Mr Nash said there had been previous staff reunions but this one would be special.
“This is the 65th celebration, with Max and [wife] Laurel getting older it will be the last one we will do.”
The airline was very much like a family, it wasn’t like a Qantas or an Ansett.Bob Nash, former Hazelton operations manager
He said about 200 people, former staff and their families, were expected to attend the reunion at Orange Emus club rooms at Endeavour Oval from 11am on Sunday September 30.
“Max started in a paddock at Toogong [near Cudal],” he said.
“He borrowed money from his mother to buy an old aeroplane.”
The business started with crop-dusting but gradually expanded to a major passenger airline feeding country areas, initially based at Cudal airport.
“He wanted to move to Orange but the council was less than supportive,” he said.
“[At Cudal] Max built the runway, he built the facilities, it was a significant airfield.
“He drove the grader and some of his pilots from the early days helped him mix the concrete.
“He’s a real maverick, there’s nothing you couldn’t tell him he couldn’t do.
“By 1990, the late ’80s he had airline routes all over western NSW, he had a big network, he was operating out of Sydney.”
Along the way Mr Hazelton survived being lost in the bush for days after his plane crashed in bad weather returning from Sydney to Toogong and led developments including night aerial cropping, aerial fire fighting, flood relief and rescue work.
Eventually Hazelton Airlines, the Big Country Airline as it was known, became a public company before it was bought out by Ansett after a bidding war with Qantas.
However Ansett collapsed financially in 2001.
Later Hazelton and Kendall airlines were merged into the Regional Express airline which flies many former Hazelton routes.
For more information on the reunion contact Carolyn Egan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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