The Mountain View Hotel at Tooraweenah has been saved more than once, most famously by an amorous pilot.

Story + Photos Colin Whelan

Barely 25 years after the Mountain View Hotel at Tooraweenah was built in 1911, the Oxley Highway was diverted, leaving this village 3 kilometres from the main road, cut off like an oxbow from its stream of visitors. The bypass could have spelt the end of the town and its pub, midway between Coonabarabran and Gilgandra in central New South Wales, but the love between a couple – Arthur Butler and Doris Garling – saved them. 

Arthur was born in 1902 in England. He moved to Lithgow, NSW, with his family when he was eight years old. He became obsessed with flying, got his pilot’s licence and went on a barnstorming tour around the country.

In 1929 Arthur landed in Tooraweenah and fell in love with local Doris, later writing in his book Flight to a lady that her “indescribable charm thoroughly bewildered me”.

Concerned that staying near Doris could spell the end of his flying career, Arthur fled to England, until a letter from a friend a couple of years later alerted him that a rich grazier was courting his Tooraweenah love. To Arthur, this was not good news. “The idea of the lady being married to someone else set my mind in such turmoil,” he wrote.

To clear his mind, Arthur took a bike ride through English country lanes and, by pure chance, a tiny Comper Swift monoplane was landing nearby. Arthur chatted with the pilot Nicholas Comper, who was also the plane’s designer and builder. After Arthur detailed his flying experience, Nicholas let him take the aircraft for a spin. Three hours later, Nicholas suggested it would be wonderful publicity for the marque if Arthur were to fly it to Australia. Arthur accepted, and took just over nine days to reach Darwin. From there, it was a couple more days down to Tooraweenah where, after dodging the cattle in Alf Yeo’s paddock to land, he taxied up the main street to the petrol bowser in front of the general store owned by Doris’s parents and pretty much immediately proposed to her. They were married two years later. 

Arthur bought Yeo’s farm and in 1938 developed it into a 5000-foot (1.5km) landing strip and base for his fledgling Butler Air Transport. Soon more than 100 passengers were transiting through Tooraweenah each week en route to destinations such as Bourke, Charleville, Brewarrina and Sydney. The business kept the heart of this small town beating for two decades, and the pub afloat with customers. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #118

Outback Magazine: April/May 2018