A bottled boost for the crowd
The US Navy flew from Invercargill to McMurdo Sound at intervals between 1958 and 1968. The first departure was a Skymaster on October 1, 1958, followed on October 6 by two RD4 aircraft (Navy version of the DC3).
These aircraft attracted large crowds who watched the spectacular take offs with the assistance of JATO (jet-assisted take off) bottles to get airborne.
On one take off the JATO bottles failed to fire and the demise of many people lying in the grass at the end of the runway was avoided when the overloaded plane just got airborne in time.
One of the pilots broke the rules and intentionally dropped his nine empty JATO bottles on Oreti Beach instead of well out to sea. These were collected by a waiting truck and given to secondary schools to dismantle to study the workings of a rocket engine.
Southland’s first ship rats – also called Black rats – possibly came ashore at Dusky Sound from Captain James Cook’s ship Resolution, but certainly with sealing ships in the 1790s.
They quickly displaced the kiore, or Polynesian rat, as the main pest mammal in New Zealand. Active pest control can reduce rat numbers to low levels and new types of traps are helping in the battle to save New Zealand’s birds, reptiles and insects from rat predation.
Of the three species of rats, the Ship rat is the most widespread, the kiore is reduced to small populations on islands and in Fiordland, and the Norway rat lives mostly in wetter areas such as ports, swamps, rubbish dumps and sewers.
Southland’s first brush with an enemy vessel in World War II came at the outbreak of war when the German steamer Erlangen made a hasty departure from Dunedin to avoid internment.
The Erlangen had a crew of 63, including 50 Chinese seamen. The nearest neutral harbour was in Chile but as she only carried five days’ supply of coal the captain decided to make for Auckland Island where the crew of the Erlangen spent five weeks cutting 400 tons of rata wood with improvised saws.
Rata is very hard and heavy but makes excellent fuel.
With the help of sails, the rata wood and eventually everything burnable on the ship, she made it to Puerto Mott in Chile in November 1939.
While attempting to return to Germany via Cape Horn in 1941, the Erlangen was intercepted by the British cruiser HMS Newcastle off Montevideo.
The ship was scuttled to avoid capture, and the captain and crew were taken prisoner.
The story of the Erlangen is told in the Subantarctic Gallery at Southland Museum and Art Gallery.
Jet-assisted take-offs from Invercargill for McMurdo Sound aircraft were a public spectacle in the late 1950s and 1960s.