How Drage museum took flight

Excerpts from a supplement, Albury-Wodonga: The Growing Place, printed in November 1980 by the Border Mail. Other information from our archives.

An announcement was made that Albury-Wodonga could be the site for Australia’s first national aviation museum.  It was to occupy a 40ha site near the Albury airport.

At the time Wodonga already had the biggest privately owned collection of flyable vintage aircraft in the Southern Hemisphere.  It was established in 1972 by flying enthusiast Joe Drage and had grown to a rare collection of 21 planes.  This included several planes that were the only ones of their kind remaining in the world.

Mr Drage, a former earthmoving contractor, bought his first plane, a Tiger Moth, in 1965.

He bought about 60ha of land in Wodonga, constructed a 10,000 square foot shed and opened his own historical aircraft museum with five planes.  (In the general area of Victory School today.)

The 21 planes were in flying order, all flown by Joe, serviced and maintained every 100 hours or 12 months.  He received numerous offers, mainly from U.S. buyers, but resisted the temptation to sell his planes.

In June 1980 Drage Historical Aircraft Museum was the site for the annual fly-in by the Antique Aeroplane Association of Australia.  The fly-in attracted 105 vintage planes from all parts of Australia.

During the event enthusiasts took to the sky with 60 old planes in a memorial spectacle to Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia in 1930.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen offered a substantial sum of money to move the collection to Queensland but Joe wanted to keep it in Victoria and he was worried about the salt air damaging the planes.

The land occupied by the Museum was compulsorily acquired by the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation and Wangaratta council bought the aircraft collection for about $2 million and opened Drage Airworld in 1984.

The cost of maintaining the collection became too much for the council which shut it in 2002.

Wodonga lost another collection in the National Museum of Australian Pottery which was in South Street and relocated to Holbrook in 2006.