Lake Macquarie History

Dalkeith Hilder - a determined man

The late Dalkeith Hilder (1911-1976) was an energetic, determined individual. From difficult and humble beginnings, Keith (Dalkeith) established and sold a number of successful businesses and when he passed away at the age of sixty-four, he owned and operated one of Australia’s most successful commuter airlines, AeroPelican.

photo: dalkeith llewellyn hilder

With both parents deceased, Keith ran away from an orphanage to live with his grandmother in Grenfell. His formal education began at seven years and at this young age, Keith started selling newspapers to help his grandmother financially. Keith left high school aged fourteen. In 1939, at the age of twenty eight, the NSW Legislative Assembly appointed Keith to a position as a teacher of oxy-acetylene and electric arc welding with the Technical Education Branch, Department of Public Instruction. In the same year he gained his aircraft engineers licence.

Keith Hilder was a keen aviator and in the 1940s he established Newcastle's first aerial photography business. Keith's technical abilities were evidenced through his design and construction of a low cost single seat monoplane. Unlike other “home-built” planes his aircraft conformed to existing regulations and as a result passed airworthiness testing and inspection by the Civil Aviation Authority. The closure of the Broadmeadow airfield by the Department of Aviation and the decision by the Newcastle Aero Club to relocate to the Rutherford airfield, led Keith to consider building an airfield closer to Newcastle. In 1959 he acquired miner’s rights and a twenty five year lease over twenty seven acres of scrub and swampy land at Pelican, located between Belmont South and Swansea. With the use of a manual grader and dynamite the land was drained, cleared and filled with thousands of tons of fill from local coal mines.

An old Tiger Moth was the first plane to land on the new airfield. Keith Hilder then acquired a Cessna 402 VH-MWE and later on a second Cessna 402 VH-MWF. From the granting of a charter and aerial licence in 1962, he battled the Department of Civil Aviation for permission to provide general aviation operations. A break through came with the granting of a special licence to operate a scheduled service between AeroPelican and Sydney in 1967. It took a further four years of battling bureaucratic processes to obtain a full charter licence for AeroPelican in June 1971.

photo: aeropelican ticket

Dalkeith Hilder died of a heart attack at a hospital in Sydney on June 3 1976, aged 64 years.