The initial move in the establishment of this Memorial was made when Mr. C. B. Tilbrook, Chairman of Directors of Aviation Services (S.A.) Ltd (and former resident of Minlaton) saw the monoplane of the late Captain Harry Butler slung to the roof of a hangar at Guildford Airport, Western Australia. Always an admirer of the late flyer, he knew that the plane had great historical value and he began a series of moves which culminated in the aircraft being given free of cost to the people of Minlaton by its owner, Captain H. C. Miller, of McRobertson-Miller Airlines Ltd. The original Le Rhone engine was donated back by the Adelaide Museum to be displayed alongside the plane.
Mr. Tilbrook contacted the Minlaton Branch of the R.S.L. who rightly felt the matter was of civic and district importance. At a public meeting held in October 1936, the people of Minlaton endorsed Council action in accepting the plane for housing in a Memorial to be established at Minlaton by public subscription. The builder, O. A. Klaebe & Sons, laid the foundations in December 1957, and constructed the building at a cost of £2,238.
The building was opened on the 11th October, 1958, by Mr. Tilbrook, whose efforts to return the plane to Minlaton had finally been made worthwhile. The plane was restored at the time in every detail at Parafield by Aviation Services (S.A.) Ltd. A scale model of the Bristol Monoplane (built years earlier by Mr. Jack Barclay, of Warooka) was housed alongside its “big brother”.
During the years since, the condition of the plane was notice to be deteriorating with the continued exposure to the western sun. A public meeting was called in March 1987 and authority given to the Council to finance redevelopment of the Memorial Building and restoration of the aircraft.
The new building was completed in February 1989, by Newbold Constructions Pty. Ltd. at a cost of $57,000. Throughout the planning stages consideration was continually given to construct a building which could both complement and keep in character with the aviation theme. The new hangar-style design would also prevent further solar damage to the place, while providing an eye-catching and impressive housing for the Red Devil display.
The plane itself was refurbished by members of the Balaklava Gliding Club and restored to its original design as when flown by Captain Butler.
The new Butler Memorial was officially opened at a ceremony on the 6th August, 1989 – exactly 70 years after Captain Butler’s historic flight to Minlaton in 1919. The survival of a letter, written by Harry Butler after his last crash, to the South Australian Museum offering his Le Phone aircraft engine for public display, is a clear indication that the flyer himself would have approved and appreciated these efforts to preserve his beloved Red Devil.
For more information on Captain Harry Butler please contact the Minlaton National Trust Museum, Main Street, MINLATON SA 5575.