Woven by Fate: A Serendipitous Connection in Bardon

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the gentle slopes of Bardon, where jacaranda blossoms add a flare of purple that fades with the day, the houses hold stories of past and present. One of these stories is about two women, Kathryn Gow and Connie Wilmer, whose lives are intertwined in a way that feels almost fated.

On the 10th of June 1960, a Bardon family tragically lost a loved one. Mary Katherine Wilmer was an air hostess on the fateful TAA Flight 538 to Mackay that went down in the ocean, taking with it 29 souls. Family friend Kathryn Gow has written a piece (as told to Brisbane Suburbs Online News) to remember her and her mother Connie Wilmer, and the devastation wrought on a Bardon family in 1960.

Echoes of a Shared Name 

Connie, a long-time resident of Bardon, is known in her community for her quiet strength and unwavering kindness. She provided services as a childminder to her neighbours’ children, showing virtuous motherly love and care. However, she harboured a lot of sorrow that she managed to keep under wraps. 

Decades ago, she experienced great sadness when one of her daughters, air hostess Mary Katherine, died in the Fokker Friendship crash of 1960 in Mackay (Trans Australia Airlines Flight 538). This incident left Connie with a silent pain that she kept hidden behind closed doors as a secret thought.

Kathryn, also a Bardon resident, moved through life with a similar spirit of care and curiosity. With two school-aged daughters and a full-time job, her life was a bustling diary of commitments. She decided to entrust the care of her children to Connie, which led to a discovery that was as touching as it was unexpected.

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“Mrs Wilmer mentioned her daughters only a little as the elder daughter had moved to live in the USA and her younger daughter had died many years before in a plane crash,” Kathryn told Brisbane Suburbs Online News.

As Kathryn delved into Connie’s past, driven by genuine care, she not only uncovered the story of Mary Katherine’s premature death but also found a reflection of her own life. The Christian names of Kathryn Mary and Mary Katherine reflected reverse symmetry, a serendipitous link that hints at deeper connections between their lives.

“I only discovered her daughter’s name on the 4th of April 2024 and was stunned by the fact that her Christian name matched mine, except in reverse. It was clear that Mrs Wilmer was a wonderful childminder and cook,” Kathryn said. “However, on review…did life send me to help her while she was assisting us all, while I worked full-time with two school-aged girls?” 

Anniversary and Reflection 

The absence of closure has tormented Connie and other families impacted by the crash on the 10th of June 1960. No bodies were ever recovered from the site, leaving many questions unanswered and the grief unresolved.

“It seemed that little was done in the early days to notify the Australian public of what had occurred (which on reflection was technically understandable), and a lot of conjecture followed over the years.”

“The unanswered questions have particularly weighed on my mind in the past 18 months, and I started to search for what I could find (which was not easy); unless you wanted to fork out a lot of dollars,” Kathryn said. 

A long-term friend from her school days, who had an extensive career spanning 22 years in the RAAF, followed by two years in Air Ambulance services in Rockhampton and 17 years in Sunstate Airlines, recommended a book. “Air Crash: The Story of How Australia’s Airways Were Made Safe” by Macarthur Job (Volume 2), provided key insights into aviation safety. This source proved instrumental in answering several lingering questions about the crash, offering valuable knowledge that could benefit the general public.

Fokker Friendship crash of 1960 in Mackay (Trans Australia Airlines Flight 538).
Photo Credit: Amazon

Investigation Insights and Safety Reforms

The investigation into the crash of Trans Australia Airlines Flight 538 could not conclusively determine the exact cause, but several theories were explored:

  • Altimeter Malfunction: It was speculated that the aircraft’s altimeter may have malfunctioned, leading to an inaccurate altitude reading.
  • Misinterpretation of Altimeter Readings: The type of altimeters used was known for being difficult to interpret, potentially causing the pilots to misread the actual altitude.
  • Low Flight Path: Another theory was that the crew attempted a low flight path and inadvertently hit the sea while turning to approach the runway.

In response to the tragedy, the Board of Accident Inquiry recommended the installation of flight data recorders in passenger-carrying aircraft of the size of the F-27 and larger. This tragedy significantly influenced global aviation safety standards. 

Australia became the first country to mandate cockpit voice recorders on civil transport aircraft, setting a precedent that would later be adopted worldwide.

In Memoriam

As Mary Katherine’s death anniversary approaches, the Bardon community and the wider Australian public are reminded of the devastating impact of the crash.

“Hopefully when the families and friends of the passengers and staff (who passed over to another realm after that unique traumatic crash) met up with loved ones, they could finally feel at peace again,” Kathryn concludes. 

As the jacarandas continue to bloom, their purple blossoms falling like tears on the quiet streets of Bardon, they bear silent witness to the beauty and pain of life’s intertwining journeys. In this community, the stories of Kathryn and Connie, of Mary Katherine, remain not as mere footnotes of the past, but as enduring narratives that celebrate the hidden destiny behind human connections.

Published 8-June-2024