Apr 12, 2012

SMH gets lost in Sydney’s west trying to find Wilton

Things are bad at the Sydney Morning Herald. The above photo that purports to show Wilton, the Gillard Government's favored site for a 2nd Sydney Airport, is actually the Picton sky

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

This is what the SMH thought was the Wilton Airport site

Things are bad at the Sydney Morning Herald. The above photo that purports to show Wilton, the Gillard Government’s favored site for a 2nd Sydney Airport, is actually the Picton sky diving airstrip.

To get to where the photo was taken from Sydney, the photographer would have had to drive right past the massive new housing estate that now covers the Wilton site, and then misread a very clear highway sign that says Wilton (left) and instead turn right, to Picton, also abundantly clearly sign posted.

There is nothing wrong with the Sydney Morning Herald’s story which the amazingly wrong photo illustrates. That story is about the determination of the Government, and many in the Opposition for that matter, to get on with the job of getting a second airport for Sydney, and provides an accurate overview of some of the essential steps that the Infrastructure and Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, would take, without impolitely pointing out that he doesn’t actually have much political time left in which to do this.

But misidentifying it in such a gratuitously stupid way as being the open rolling (and pocket sized) Picton strip, complete with a sky diving club sign in the foreground, is a joke, or a very lame attempt to pretend Wilton is not the disaster-in-waiting it will become if those new homes have to be bulldozed live to air because Badgerys Creek, the site favoured by the independent Federal/State inquiry for the 2nd airport is politically unacceptable.

‘Tis  a dilemma. Either the SMH is so out of touch with its own city it can’t navigate around it, road signs notwithstanding, or it has such a contempt for its readers that it thinks they will fall for a green fields photo of the Picton strip as being the current housing estate at Wilton that the Gillard Government wants to pull down.

There is a classic video vox pop observation about the Premier Barry O’Farrell claim that the 2nd airport should be Canberra Airport, reached by fast train, shown at the top of the story online.

The traveller concerned, interviewed at Sydney Airport asks ‘why should I get a train to Canberra to catch a plane, when I can catch a plane to Canberra now?’

It is a very good question, and does raise doubts as to whether O’Farrell has thought this through.

If Canberra is really going to become Sydney’s new airport, won’t those global companies who he expects to come to Sydney in preference to Melbourne or BrisVegas in the near future just take their jobs and economic activity to Canberra anyhow? There is a lot of room in the ACT, which is far more conveniently connected to Melbourne and Brisbane as well, and which could have its economy transformed by being chosen as a business centre over Sydney.

C’mon Barry. Concentrate. Get out a map. Read the report into Sydney’s airport options, and pop in to a business luncheon or two to explain your vision for how Sydney copes with hundreds of extra flights a day from China, India, Vietnam, Korea and Japan.

Are you serious about the city’s relevance to business? Without proper air access?

Oh and while we are being picky, when it comes to noise, have you ever heard the noise of a very fast train’s dozens of wheels hitting metal tracks at more than 300 kmh in a set of cars weighing more than 500 tonnes?  If you don’t want to dump jet noise all over SW Sydney you won’t want a very fast train either, and the noise doesn’t diminish the further you get from an airport.

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11 thoughts on “SMH gets lost in Sydney’s west trying to find Wilton

  1. ff79

    Ben, time is running out for many of us to vigorously and vociferously voice our opposition to any new Sydney airport site other than Badgerys Creek. Maybe a massive write-in campaign, with the help of Get Up, to Albanese and O’Farrell should be mounted to ensure a huge government – federal and state – boondoggle does not come to pass. It really is time for both these politicians to be made aware that the new airport is for the greater good of the entire Australian flying public as well as for increased international visitors and that POLITICS should be kept entirely out of the equation. It is to be fervently hoped that both of these politicians can be big and man enough to rise above the party sparring and get on with making the right decision for the national interest and not just for the state of NSW.

    Whatever another analysis of Winton turns up, Badgerys Creek is the stark staring obvious choice. It is close to the city centre and, as you have pointed out many times, practically all of the transportation infrastructure is already in place with only minor additions needed to complete easy access. Please tell me why Albanese cannot see the bleeding obvious. As for O’Farrell, I truly shake my head at his totally misguided logic about Canberra. His stand shows utter contempt for his state’s well being.

  2. Dave


    The Picton dropzone used to be called Wilton. A couple of student fatalities a long time ago led to a name change. The DZ is ~12km from Picton and ~2km from Wilton.

    It’s the most obvious local landmark for the SMH to illustrate the plan.

    The development going in between the Hume Highway and the current village of Wilton is Bingara Gorge: http://www.bingaragorge.com.au/


  3. Ben Sandilands


    I did see this differently. In my view the appropriate illustration would have been the housing estate the photographer drove past to take an idyllic view of the Razorback across the Picton strip. However on reflection, had the photo taken shown the real site the sense of loss might have been similar. My concern was the social impact more than anything else, as the photo ignored an image of the houses that will be variously destroyed physically or rendered uninhabitable.

  4. Geoff

    Ben – I know it’s off subject but could you stop using the term BrisVegas to belittle my home town? I know you Sydneysiders think you are the centre of the world but some jokes lose their gloss after a while and become tedious.


  5. Ben Sandilands


    It wasn’t a joke or an effort to belittle, but an alternative to MegaBrisbane which will grow to an extended metropolis including the Gold Coast. However to avoid any unintended insensitivity or mirth I’ll use SEQ as an alternative.

  6. gikku

    “Either the SMH is so out of touch with its own city it can’t navigate around it,…”

    sorry to be pedant but c’mon, when did Picton, or Wilton, become part of Sydney? seriously?
    It’s even stretching the friendship to consider Badgery’s Creek in Sydney.
    They might now be on the commuter belt, that alone doesn’t make them “Sydney”.

  7. Lofi

    The suggestion by O’Farrell to make Canberra Sydney’s second airport is so bizarre it’s laughable. I’m surprised he was allowed to make it, given he’s basically duck-shoving a decision onto another state (territory), and that no government in Australia has ever built high-speed rail. Albanese is symbolic of everything negative about the word ‘politician’ and looks to have achieved absolutely nothing whatsoever in his portfolio of ‘Infrastructure and Transport’. With these two around, you can guarantee nothing will happen. Nothing demonstrates the malaise of our political system better than this whole Sydney second airport issue. Unfortunately, there’s no alternative short of rewriting the constitution to allow the commonwealth full powers over infrastructure….and getting some decent politicians.

  8. Aidan Stanger

    Ben, are you absolutely sure they’ve got the wrong place?

    With the Google map zoomed in, the site just W of the Hume Hwy and N of Picton Road is shown as Sydney Parachute & Skydiving Centre. But zoom out a bit and it’s shown as Wilton Airport.

  9. Toby Fiander

    If the main runway at Richmond was turned about 30degrees, it would be possible to have a 4km runway using land already in public ownership. There are low hills for 10km at one end, once you clear the Terrace beside the River at RL70, at the other end there are relatively few houses for more than 10km. There is already a railway, and high level bridge to Windsor. The excuses offered are fog, but every other site, including Wilton and Badgery’s Creek has fog. It is possible to work around the flooding and there is already an airport there.

    The RAAF uses Richmond as its heavy lift base, but there are transport planes at Williamtown already which do not fit at Richmond, and there will be more soon. So rationalisation makes some sense.

    The most pressing constraint is that the politics is unsuitable, but if it was possible to have a second airport at Richmond for a tenth of the cost, I am not sure that politics would be a good reason to go somewhere else.

  10. Ben Sandilands


    Dave in the comments above is I think even more of a local than I am and has provided us with a note about the history of the name. In an earlier post on Wilton Dave also provided us with an annotated Google image that relates the site selected in the MANS report as second best, and drew in the contours of the housing estate, some of which has been completed and is so obvious from the freeway that I can’t imagine what the SMH photographer was thinking, or where the professional news values went at the time.

    I worked for a long time at the SMH, and if you didn’t have street smarts in those days you weren’t there for very long at all.

  11. Graeme Harrison

    The truth is that the SMH and Ben are both way off the mark.
    The actual Wilton site for the proposed Second Sydney Airport is actually 5km South of the traditional township of Wilton with runways ENE-WSW, so Bingara houses would remain in place and have quite a low ANEF (noise affectation levels). Site is the other side of the M5/Hume – about 7km away from the sky-diving drop-zone, with no over-flying of that sky-diving field.

    But there IS an old airstrip at the point 5km S of town, just visible on Google ‘satellite’ image, though this strip was replanted with trees growing on parts, while under NSW management. If you follow the river due S of the township about 5km, there is a long North-South section that is dead-straight before a bend. Indeed, that section looks like a capital-J in mirror-image (left-right reversal). The airport site is horizontally level with one-third up the long N-S segment and about that same ‘one-third’ length to East of that point. The centre of the mid-line is at 34 17′ 09″S 150 42′ 47″E to locate precisely. That is centre of two ENE-WSW runways, one 4km long, the other potentially shorter, with the spacing between teh parallel runways of 1600m. This is the precise location details, derived from the 1985 Kinhill Stearns study which ranked Wilton equal to Badgerys Creek (before BC got ‘built out’).
    Graeme Harrison, Chair, Sydney Airport Community Forum (SACF) Inc
    prof at-symbol post.harvard.edu

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