12 June 2021

A Mount Cook Badge Mystery

In the last few days someone wrote to me saying, "You don't know me, but I got your contact details from your '3rdlevelnz' blog - which I've dipped into and is v.interesting & informative reading, even to a non-aviation buff, like myself. So, thanks for making such a resource publicly available.

I'm hoping I can pick your brains a little, to help solve a couple of small, but longstanding conundrums - which I think are probably NZ aviation related." Here are his conundrums and questions...

As part of a large estate lot, I came by an unassuming but interesting little badge (below) which I recognised as a Mount Cook Lily and thought was v.reminiscent of the Mount Cook Group's logo. Having lug-type fixings, I think means it must most likely have been a cap badge, but probably not from a pilot/F.O.'s uniform, since aircrew tended to have more elaborate bullion/embroidered badges.

Comparing it to examples of the Mount Cook Airlines/Group logo, it's clearly of identical design, especially with the white/turquoise colourway. This makes me think it has to be somehow related to the company, if not the airline itself... the best suggestion I can come up with, is that perhaps it's part of a Mt.Cook Line bus driver's uniform?

If it is part of a ground rather than air transport Mount Cook Group uniform, then you may not be familiar with it, but I'm hoping you might perhaps recognise it.

I've also recently picked up another old Mount Cook Lily enamel badge (although it's a well-known misnomer, as I understand they're actually members of the buttercup family!). This one obviously bears far less similarity to the company logo, but since it's definitely of NZ origin ('Mayer&Kean' of Wellington maker's mark), I'm sharing it on the off-chance it might have some sort of connection. Just a wildcard, this one!

Finally, I come to the real curiosities: I have two other rather intriguing Mt.Cook Lily badges, below, completely different to the others - separately acquired, but clearly a pair of the same origin. I originally thought the 'Q'town 1938' badge could've been linked to a horticultural or floral event, perhaps (there was a floral event held that year, by the Queenstown Horticultural Society... but in Queenstown, Tasmania!). However, then finding the 'Mt.Cook 1937' version meant there must be some common theme that explained the geographical connection - and the only thing linking them that I can think of, is the Mount Cook & Southern Lakes Tourist Co. My best guess is that maybe the badges were produced to mark the beginning of the company's first passenger air services at these locations? Perhaps given out to staff and/or passengers on the inaugural flights?..

As I understand it, from my limited researches - mostly your excellent blog! - the Mount Cook Tourist Company's aerodrome at Birch Hill Flat was officially opened in May 1936, with the company announcing in August of the following year that they hoped to start an air service between Christchurch, Mount Cook and Queenstown as soon as the summer of 1937-38. However, with delays in government approval of the entirely new aerodrome at Frankton and then the required construction works, Queenstown aerodrome wasn't licensed & operational until late 1938 - I'm guessing scheduled services started around early November (I've searched newspapers online, but can't find any more detailed info).

This timeline would be consistent with the 1938 badge being to mark the commencement of services from Queenstown. However, with the aerodrome at Mt.Cook licensed & open in mid-1936, but the license for scheduled services not being applied for until Oct 1938 and approved soon after, the timeline of the 1937 badge doesn't align quite as neatly. My best guess is that, as the aerodrome at Mt.Cook was completed in 1936, passenger flights of some sort between there and Christchurch/Timaru were trialled the following year, before full operations commenced in late 1938. This would comport with the earlier badge's date, but I'm really not sure if I'm right as it's pure conjecture on my part - and if the 1937 badge can't be tied to the introduction of airline services at Mount Cook, then it casts doubt on the 1938 one for Queenstown... nonetheless, though, the combination of the Mount Cook Lily with its strong company association, the 1937 & '38 dates right around the period when the critical infrastructure and Mount Cook Airways, itself, was being established and the badges' obvious link with Mt.Cook & Queenstown; this all compels me to think there really must be some connection with the company and its prewar commercial airline operations.

This is the best sense I can make of these timelines. I'd be v.interested to hear your opinion and whether you've seen either of these badges before... or perhaps, corresponding ones for Christchurch and/or Timaru?

Anyway, this is just a bit of personal research to better identify some items in my collection... but, I think they've all got a 'story to tell', so if you're able to cast any light on the possible history of any of these badges, I'd be fascinated to hear and most grateful.

If anyone can help can you please write a comment or email me at westland831@gmail.com and I will pass your message on. My one thought would be the last two badge might relate to Queenstown Mount Cook Airways http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2017/05/queenstowns-first-scenic-flyer.html but the 1937 and 1938 dates aren't quite exactly right for when the service started... And would pilot badges be used that early? And why date them? Or it might relate to the bus service? Any thoughts? 

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