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Jennifer Wilson, National Museum of Australia with introduction by Kirsten Wehner, 18 July 2013

KIRSTEN WEHNER: Hello everybody. Welcome to the National Museum of Australia and to today’s talk. My name is Kirsten Wehner and I am the head curator of the Museum’s People and the Environment program. It is my great pleasure to be able to introduce Jennifer Wilson to you today.

A little bit of background, Jen joined the Museum as a curator in 2005. She reminded me that that was on International Museums Day, which she happily celebrates every year. Since that time she has contributed to a wide range of exhibition and gallery projects, such as the Museum’s Circa theatre, the Landmarks gallery and most recently the display of the large objects in the Museum’s Main Hall, which you will have seen on your way in, including the fabulous Percival Gull, which I suspect may have been Jen’s favourite object in that project.

Over the many years through a great variety of kinds of work, she has maintained a strong interest in Australia’s aviation history and over the past six months she has been a curatorial fellow in the Museum’s Research Centre. This has given her the opportunity to allow her interest in aviation history to blossom into something of an all-consuming passion – certainly if it goes by the conversations you have with her in the coffee queue. Today we are reaping some of the benefits of her long interest in aviation history and in the Museum’s collections relating to aviation.

Jen’s fellowship in the Research Centre focused on exploring how our National Historical Collection records and illuminates Australia’s aviation history. It has often been said that the Museum doesn’t hold very strong or very interesting collections in this area. I think Jen perhaps took a bit of umbrage at this and set out to disprove this myth and set the record straight. She delved into the National Historical Collection, which holds over 200,000 objects, and in it she discovered over 100 significant collections, which means several thousand objects that relate to our aviation history. She will tell you about some of those today but certain not all of them.

It is really important to know that over the last six months Jen not only researched what the Museum holds relating to aviation, but her work did a fabulous job about making these collections much more accessible to both the Museum’s staff and to the public, both now and in the future. As I said, the National Historical Collection is a large group of objects. It is always a piece of curatorial work to delve into and understand all the aspects of the objects and what they can tell us.

Relating to aviation, Jen discovered quite a number of objects that we didn’t really know that we held, identified many that we didn’t know what they really were and figured out that quite a few were something other than what we had written down. Fabulously, she documented the story surrounding these collections in a detailed, rigorous and engaging way, as I am sure you will hear today.

This important research work not only helps us learn about Australia’s aviation history but, as I said, it means that staff and our visitors well into the future can engage and draw on our collections. In many ways it makes them useful. It brings them into their own as part of the nation’s heritage.

Much of the work that Jen completed during her fellowship you will hear a little bit about it today, but there is much more. Much of it will soon be accessible on the Museum’s website. I would encourage you to check back over the coming months to our website if you would like to learn more about particular collections or about the aviation holdings as a whole.

Just before I call Jen up, a couple of important housekeeping statements: if I could ask you to make sure that your mobile phone is turned to silent. Also just to let you know that we are recording today’s talk and the question session that will follow afterwards. Basically, if you choose to speak up and declare your presence here, we regard that as consent to you being recorded. So if you shouldn’t be here, if you are meant to be somewhere else, just don’t ask a question and we won’t tell anybody.

It is my great pleasure to introduce Jen Wilson to you and to invite you to welcome her to give her talk ‘Joy flights, feats and disasters: a journey through 1920s and 1930s aviation in the Museum’s collection’. [applause]

JENNIFER WILSON: Thanks very much for the kind introduction, Kirsten, and thanks to everyone for coming today. As Kirsten illuminated, I have ranged over more than a century in my research over the past six months, but for today I have limited myself to just two decades of history, otherwise we would be here for quite a while.

My aim today is to leave you more familiar with some of the personalities, events, aircraft and companies of the 1920s and 1930s, as the National Museum’s collections reveal surprising, tragic, funny and complex aviation stories from the period. While the National Museum is not recognised as a repository rich in significant aviation history, I have identified thousands of individual objects across more than 100 collections. Many of those items are more important parts of aviation history rather than traditional ‘aviation objects’, but they speak to the growing popularity of aviation through the twentieth century.

The stories in the National Historical Collection incorporate diverse subjects, including boomerangs and paintings; Australian flown, designed or built aircraft; flying medical services; companies; and feats of aerial daring which captured the public imagination. These stories are as much about passengers as about pilots, and include famous, familiar and forgotten individuals and events.

I have had plenty of assistance throughout the past six months of research, and I would like to pay a special tribute to my colleagues in the Registration team for supporting this project, including placing several of our items on display for you today - thanks especially to the locations, documentation and photography teams - and thanks also to our librarians for their support in finding and purchasing useful books and having some of those on display today as well.

During the 1920s, many people believed that aviation would play an integral role in Australia’s future, but aircraft crashes and fatalities, and the expense of flying, among other reasons, meant that people were slow to realise the full potential. As we move through the 1920s and 1930, we see many processes of trial and error as pioneer aviators sought to fly at faster speeds over longer distances and attract support for new adventures and commercial opportunities in the process.

It was up to a new generation of young men and women to provide the energy, enthusiasm and inventive thinking to really get Australian aviation off the ground. This is one of the young, fresh faces of Australian aviation. This is a photograph of Harry Hawker flying over Caulfield Racecourse in Melbourne in 1914 and his portrait is inset in the top left. Harry Hawker, 1914

In 1909, American John Armstrong claimed: ‘It is the car without wheels whereon the excited gaze of the civilised world is now fastened.’ I like this photograph because it gives us a wonderful view of people looking up at the aircraft with a bit of wonder and amazement. The photograph was donated to the Museum by the family of two spectators, which we can identify in the front. This is Ms Hilda Maxwell and her young nephew James Maxwell, who helpfully is looking at the camera and not the aircraft.

Born in Melbourne in 1889, Harry Hawker became a qualified motor mechanic before he travelled to England in 1911 to pursue his dream of being an aviator. In 1912, he found employment at the Sopwith Aviation Company, where he started flying lessons and quickly gained his pilot’s licence – he was a natural. Hawker became a test pilot for Sopwith and led the design team for the Tabloid aircraft - which he is flying there - a short-winged biplane at the time considered the fastest and most manoeuvrable aeroplane in the world.

He brought the aircraft to Australia for a series of exhibition flights in January through March 1914, accompanied by his friend and fellow Melbourne mechanic Harry Kauper. Kauper had found employment at the Sopwith Company only a few months before Hawker, and also had great success there. One of his inventions was the interrupter gear which synchronised the firing of a machine-gun through a rotating aircraft propeller. Hawker and Kauper, two Harrys from Melbourne, made significant contributions to the Sopwith Aviation Company during the First World War. Hawker was denied his opportunity to serve on the war front as his skills were considered in better service in the design and manufacture of war aircraft. After the war he founded the Hawker Engineering Company, which became Hawker Aircraft Limited, one of Great Britain’s most famous aviation companies – although Harry himself did not live to see the company’s success as he died in a plane crash in 1921.

Young Australian men, like Hawker and Kauper, proved themselves during the First World War, whether on the front or in the factories, cementing partnerships and reputations that saw them found Australia’s first airlines when they returned home.

Hudson Fysh [image shown] enlisted in the Australian Light Horse Brigade in 1914, transferring to the Australian Flying Corps [AFC] in 1916, part of No.1 Squadron then also known as No.67 Squadron Royal Flying Corps [RFC], which is why the collection features AFC and RFC badges from Hudson’s uniform. During a number of missions, Fysh flew as a gunner and observer for fellow Australian pilot Paul McGinness.

After returning home, Fysh and McGinness were commissioned to survey suitable landing sites in Queensland and the Northern Territory for the 1919 Air Race from England to Australia. During that very challenging journey in a modified Model T Ford, shown here on a commemorative postcard [image shown], the two aviators began developing plans for an aerial service across regional Australia. The Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service, today known as Qantas, was formally established in 1920, placing its headquarters first in Winton, Queensland, and then in Longreach, and securing an airmail contract with the government in 1922.

Hudson Fysh was managing director of Qantas from 1923, overseeing the company headquarters’ moves from Longreach to Brisbane and to Sydney, the partnership with British Imperial Airways, the company’s contributions during the Second World War, a federal government acquisition, and the introduction of jet aircraft in 1959. Fysh was knighted for his services to civil aviation in 1953, retiring as managing director of Qantas Empire Airways in 1955 and then as Qantas chairman in 1966. Smith brothers badge – 1919 flight

Brothers Keith and Ross Smith were born in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1890 and 1892 respectively. Both entered aviation during the First World War, Ross with the Australian Flying Corps and Keith with the Royal Flying Corps in 1917. Keith did not see active service, being posted to several squadrons as an instructor. Ross served as a pilot with No.1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, flying with Fysh and McGinness, carrying out reconnaissance work and attacks on Turkish ground forces. He was highly decorated for his gallantry and devotion to duty.

Following the end of the First World War, Prime Minister ‘Billy’ Hughes declared his enthusiasm for the possibilities of aviation in Australia, and the Commonwealth government announced a competition with a prize of £10,000 to ‘the first successful flight to Australia from Great Britain, in a machine manned by Australians’. There were many critics of the competition in Australia and England, and there were not as many entries as Hughes had hoped.

On 12 November 1919, Ross Smith as pilot and with Keith Smith as co-pilot, took off from Hounslow in a Vickers Vimy with mechanics Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett. They arranged with the Shell Company to have fuel available en route, and they carried spare parts for repairs during their journey. They experienced hazardous flying conditions, but completed the journey to Darwin on 10 December in 28 days, and won the competition. Four of the six entries failed to complete the journey, and the Airco DH9 flown by Ray Parer and John McIntosh departed London on 8 January 1920, arriving in Darwin 206 days later. The Smith brothers were both given knighthoods and travelled around Australia on aviation lecture tours. Their celebrity status is evidenced in the autographs captured here for a fan in 1920 [image shown]. Harold Treloar – England training photo, 1914

Born in Hamilton, Victoria in 1889, Harold Treloar was employed as a driver for Young Bros Auctioneers in Horsham from 1908, and then as a motor mechanic and driver in Hamilton and Ballarat. Treloar developed an interest in aviation and travelled to England where he was accepted as a pupil at the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company in June 1914 for training in piloting and maintenance of aircraft.

Treloar continued his training in Australia at Victoria’s Point Cook aviation school after enlisting with the Australian Imperial Force in 1914 and began service with the Australian Flying Corps in 1915. Treloar was one of the first members of the AFC to enter war service as part of the ‘Half Flight’ sent to assist the Indian government against Turkish forces in April 1915. In August 1915, Treloar was reported missing and then confirmed a prisoner of war, Australia’s first pilot POW, and he remained in captivity until the end of the war in November 1918. Harold Treloar – 1920s Australian flights

After returning to Australia, Treloar explored a number of commercial aviation interests, entering aerial races and offering joy flights during tours of Victoria and parts of New South Wales. His aircraft, an ex-military Airco DH6, became known as the flying billboard, as it featured advertisements for a number of different companies on the fuselage and wings, such as ‘Barnett Glass Tyres’, to help finance his work. He was employed as an aviation officer for the British Imperial Oil Company in Adelaide, a subsidiary of Shell Transport, from 1920 to 1940. Horrie Miller photograph (Treloar collection)

One of Treloar’s associates was Horatio Clive Miller, otherwise known as ‘Horrie’. [image shown] I like this photograph as it shows Horrie refuelling the aircraft - he’s the only one in the photo doing any work - with Treloar very helpfully leaning on some of his Shell products at the front of the photograph doing nothing.

This is where we start to see further connections between our 1920s aviators. Miller worked with Harry Hawker at the Sopwith Aviation Company before serving in the Australian Flying Corps, No.2 Squadron, during the First World War. Back in Australia, Miller explored a number of commercial aviation activities before meeting Sir Macpherson Robertson, owner of MacRobertson’s Confectionary Company. The two men established the MacRobertson-Miller Aviation Company for which Miller was managing director, chief pilot and engineer. It was a very successful venture, continuing to operate passenger, freight and medical aerial services until it was purchased by Ansett in 1963.

[slide shown of1934 Centenary Air Race game] One of the most memorable moments for the MacRobertson-Miller Aviation Company was its sponsorship of the 1934 Melbourne Centenary Air Race. The MacRobertson Centenary Air Race, as it became known, from Mildenhall, near London, to Melbourne had a very attractive prize pool of £15,000, with 20 planes representing seven nations starting the race on 20 October 1934. Only 11 entrants finished the 18,000-kilometre trip, which stretched across 19 countries and seven seas. Pilots could choose their own route but had to make five compulsory stops in Baghdad, Allahabad, Singapore, Darwin and Charleville. It is not surprising then that a number of games manufacturers encouraged public interest in the event by creating games like this one [image shown] for the public to follow the race events, which were reported daily in newspapers, and to have their own competitions. The race was won by British aviators [CWA] Scott and [Tom] Campbell Black in a de Havilland 88 Comet in a time of two days, 23 hours and 18 seconds.

[slide shown of Bert Hinkler’s 1928 medal] This was certainly the period for setting, breaking and then setting new flight records, especially those for speed and endurance. It was an area in which Australian aviators seemed to excel. In February 1928, Herbert Louis Hinkler, or Bert Hinkler, became the first person to fly solo from Britain to Australia, completing the journey in just 16 days. [image shown] This bronze medallion was issued in 1928 in conjunction with Melbourne radio station 3LO to commemorate Hinkler’s flight, amidst the publicity surrounding his achievement. Amy Johnson, badge, 1930 flight Amy Johnson, apron, 1930 flight

It is important to note that it was not only male aviators during this period who broke records and captured the public’s attention. The arrival of English aviator Amy Johnson in Australia in 1930 was one of the most widely reported events of the year. Johnson was the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia, piloting a Gypsy Moth biplane that she named ‘Jason’ from London to Darwin in just 19 days, falling short of breaking Bert Hinkler’s record by only two days, although the fact that a woman came so close to breaking Hinkler’s record was widely reported by the media. The Australian public read daily newspaper reports of Johnson’s flight and it was felt that by the time she landed in Darwin many Australians felt they knew ‘Johnnie’ personally.

After her flight, Johnson toured Australia, visiting Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, and in each location was greeted by thousands of well-wishers. Johnson met Scottish aviator Jim Mollison while she was in Australia - he was working as a pilot for Australian National Airways at the time - and the two were married in England two years later. Johnson and Mollison set a number of flight records together and separately during their years of marriage, entering the 1934 MacRobertson Melbourne Centenary Air Race together, though they were not able to complete the journey. They divorced in 1938.

[Slide shown of Jim Mollison with kangaroo, 1931] This is my favourite photo of Jim Mollison looking very tired and dishevelled, and there is footage of this same event on the National Film and Sound Archive website, which I encourage you to have a look at. [insert link] Jim Mollison was indeed greeted by a large crowd and an enthusiastic kangaroo at Croydon Aerodrome in August 1931 after setting a new record of eight days and 19 hours for a flight from Australia to England. Edgar Percival – WW1 necktie, 1920s photo Edgar Percival – WW1 RAF badge, 1920s photo

Edgar Percival was born in Albury on 23 February 1897. He was inventive and mechanically minded from a young age, working with his father on their property, Clarendon Park, at Richmond in New South Wales. He was lucky enough there to be able to fly with Bill Hart, the first airman to qualify as a pilot in Australia. It was great inspiration for a young man. In 1915, Percival joined the Australian Infantry Force and achieved a commission with the Royal Air Force in 1917.

Percival was part of the Royal Air Force No.111 Squadron after its formation in Palestine in August 1917. This necktie and badge show the insignia and motto of the squadron: crossed swords, three saxes over a cross and the word ‘Adstantes’, which means ‘standing by them’. Percival served on numerous successful missions with No.111 Squadron, before suffering hearing damage, when he was transferred to No.123 squadron as an instructor.

After the war, Percival returned to Australia and undertook a variety of commercial flying activities. This is a photo of Percival with some of his passengers on a beach, probably in New South Wales. Percival’s helmet and gloves

These are some of Percival’s flying equipment [image shown]. This is the flying helmet which we have on display in the showcase today and a pair of gloves. They were essential for what were very cold and uncomfortable conditions in flying in an open cockpit.

Percival made a number of flying tours through New South Wales and Victoria, and yes, as one newspaper reported, a number of ladies made trips with him. These flights were not cheap for passenger or pilot. In 1921, he was charging just over two pounds for a five-minute flight, and in 1926 just over 1 pound, which was a lot in the day. Unfortunately, Percival encountered some difficulties with passengers and spectators not accustomed to aircraft, as on several occasions he had to swerve suddenly in his aircraft to avoid children and adults in his path during take-offs and landings –damaging his aircraft and on one occasion resulting in a fatality. On a lighter note, this photo highlights some of the wonderful aviation fashion. Neil Jensen – Gull G-AERD

Percival believed the existing aircraft he was using, many of which were ex-military aircraft, were inadequate for Australian flying conditions – and they were. In 1929 Percival travelled to England hoping to sell his aircraft designs to an English manufacturer to get something better, but he was without success. Instead, Percival founded his own company, the Percival Aircraft Company, to design and manufacture Great Britain’s first low-wing cantilevered monoplane, the Gull.

The Museum holds a Percival Gull Six aircraft, with registration G-AERD, which you would have seen walking through the Hall. Made by the Percival Aircraft Company in 1936, this aircraft was first purchased by Ariane Dufaux of Switzerland and registered as HB-OFU. After passing through several owners in Switzerland, the aircraft was sold to a collector and restored by Cliff Lovell in England where it was featured on the airshow circuit for many years. Neil Jensen purchased the aircraft in 1983. While it was based with him in Surrey, it was awarded the Percival Trophy by the Cotswold Aircraft Restoration Group. It’s a lovely example of an aircraft and, just as a special treat, a view of the inside of the three-seater.

A selection of photographs on the Percival Gull monoplane digitised for the Hall exhibition:

Percival won many competitions and awards flying his own aircraft, and the Gulls quickly established a reputation for high performance. It was a reputation reinforced through Percival’s very active advertising campaign, of which these are a few examples. Mew Gull painting 1935 Kings Cup Air Race cigarette case

This painting by renowned aviation artist Herman Bollin shows Edgar Percival flying his Mew Gull, the racing version of the Gull, in the 1935 King’s Cup Air Race, which is an annual British cross-country air race, first contested in 1922. Percival was a competitor in the 1928, 1930, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937 and 1938 Kings Cup air races. He never won the competition, with his highest placing being third in 1937. In 1935, Percival placed fifth overall, competing in a Mew Gull of his own design and his company’s manufacture, reaching over 200 miles per hour (about 320 kilometres per hour) for the first time in the race’s history.

There are many trophies awarded to Percival in our collection, but this is perhaps the most significant [slide shown of Oswald Watt medal], and is on display in the showcase here today. The Oswald Watt Gold Medal is regarded as the highest honour in Australian civil aviation. First awarded following the death of decorated First World War pilot Oswald Watt in 1921, the medal is presented to individuals for ‘a most brilliant performance in the air or the most notable contribution to aviation by an Australian or in Australia’. Percival Gull received the award in 1936 for his flight to Africa and back to England in one day.

In 1936, Percival moved his company to larger lodgings from Gravesend in Kent to Luton in Bedfordshire, where he continued to be an active personality in aviation. [image shown of Percival and ‘Wrong Way’ Corrigan] He is photographed here with another aviation personality American Douglas Corrigan. Corrigan was famous because in 1937 he took off in a single-engined aircraft from New York, intending to fly west to San Francisco, but made what he claimed was an intentional navigation error and flew east, arriving in England. Percival was there to greet Corrigan at Luton airport and presented him with a Luton straw hat, the town being famous for its straw hat production, for his achievements. They shared a few laughs at the same time. Gull painting, Beryl Markham

Percival’s Gull aircraft were flown by many famous aviators of the period, including Kingsford Smith and Jean Batten, with the speed and performance of the aircraft responsible for setting many records of the 1930s. This is a painting of the Vega Gull flown by British-born, Kenyan aviator Beryl Markham in September 1936, when she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic east-to-west solo, and the first person to fly from England to North America non-stop travelling east to west.

There is an amusing story shared between Percival and Markham, and I would like to read it today just as Percival wrote it for a speech in 1967:

A month or two before Beryl’s flight, a nightclub entertainer named Harry Richman planned to fly the Atlantic from America to England as a publicity stunt for his engagement at a London nightclub. He engaged well-known airline pilot Dick Merrill to fly him in a Vultee aircraft. The flight was planned for some time before and, as the day of the flight approached, Harry became more and more frightened. He was being told by all and sundry how foolish he was. He was being given plenty of advice. One piece of advice he accepted was to fill the wings, fuselage and all hollow parts with ping pong balls so that the aircraft would float if forced down on the water. This he did, filling every available cavity he could find. The ping pong balls attracted great publicity. The flight was successful and they landed in Wales. A few weeks later, Beryl took off and crossed the Atlantic. When she returned to London, she asked me to accept a large photograph of herself on which she had inscribed ‘to Percival, designer of a wonderful aircraft, from Beryl Markham, across the Atlantic in a Vega Gull – and no balls at all!’

I must admit when I first read that, I thought she meant something else. Amy Mollison’s flight log in a Percival Gull

In May 1936, Amy Johnson, then known as Amy Mollison, made her last record-breaking flight, regaining her Britain to South Africa flight record in a Percival Gull Six. [image shown] This logbook in the Museum’s collection records Johnson’s record flight: all the way from her test flights with Percival at Luton Airport to her arrival in South Africa.

Back in Australia, one of the main activities behind the progress of aviation was the carriage of airmail, and moves in that area were made quickly. In 1914, visiting French aviator Maurice Guillaux carried the first official airmail from Melbourne to Sydney, then the longest airmail delivery in the world. When Harry Butler returned from service with the Australian Flying Corps in 1919, he flew an airmail delivery from Adelaide to Minlaton, South Australia, stating: ‘The plane was great in War but it will be greater in Peace.’ Between May and October 1920, Harold Treloar was employed by the Sunraysia Daily newspaper to deliver it to locations throughout South Australia. In December of that same year, Sydney retailer David Jones commissioned the first delivery of Christmas parcels by aircraft – as commemorated in this postcard [image shown of David Jones card and 1934 airmail flight cover]

As airmail services expanded across Australia and internationally, it created its own type of collectable product – aerophilately. This example from the collection is a flight cover flown in Faith in Australia by Charles Ulm, as part of the first official airmail delivery to New Zealand from Australia in February 1934.

Another key contributor to aviation’s development during this period was the provision of aerial medical services across regional and remote Australia. [image shown of CWA mural – Nancy Bird] This mixed media artwork subtitled ‘Royal Flying Doctor’ was made by the Darling River Group of the Country Women’s Association of New South Wales. The central features of this artwork are Nancy Bird Walton and her Gipsy Moth aircraft.

Nancy Bird Walton made a significant contribution to Australian aviation, especially for female aviators, founding the Australian Women Pilots association in 1950. In 1935, Bird was hired to operate an air ambulance service in outback New South Wales, including the district of the Darling River Group, which included Broken Hill, Ivanhoe, Menindee, White Cliffs and Wilcannia. It was named the Far West Children’s Health Scheme, and Bird used her own Gipsy Moth aircraft for the service.

[image shown of AAMS transceiver] This transceiver came to the Museum from the Australian Broadcasting Commission, or ABC, with no story as to its exact use, but it is an important example of important equipment developed to support the Royal Flying Doctor Service. In 1928, Reverend John Flynn began experiments for the provision of an aerial medical service to rural and remote areas of Queensland from a base in Cloncurry using Qantas aircraft. In 1934, several state and territory-based operations were amalgamated into a national network, called the Australian Aerial Medical Services, which was renamed Flying Doctor Service in 1942, and received its Royal charter to become the RFDS in 1955.

Young engineer Alfred Traeger began working with Flynn in 1926 in the Northern Territory to develop radio transceivers for the then proposed aerial medical service that would provide support for flying doctors and provide assistance to isolated Australians. The resulting ‘pedal wireless’ was introduced to Queensland in 1929, and Traeger’s time was divided between his workshop and the field where he taught radio operating and Morse code.

[image shown] This transceiver dates from the period 1935 to 1942. It has a switch or switches to move between Morse code and telephony. This unit became standard for many years.

Not only were transceivers indispensable equipment for communicating during medical emergencies, but they also became a key instrument in social communication. The introduction of telephony with this model of transceiver opened regional and remote Australia to what became known as ‘galah sessions’, which were allocated periods during the day when the radio service was use for chatting, sharing news or recipes, and arranging gatherings. QSL card

Not surprisingly, the collectors of the world managed to find a side interest in the important work of these transceivers. QSL cards were used to confirm that a listener had heard a particular radio station, with QSL referring to the Morse code shortcut – a Q code – in the form of a question meaning: ‘Do you acknowledge receipt of?’ After a period of time stations realised that they were issuing QSL cards to people who were not actually hearing the station at all but simply collecting QSL cards, no doubt like this particular collector represented [image shown] – you can see his address is in Auckland, New Zealand, but he is still a fan of the Cloncurry Aerial Medical Service. Bark painting entitled ‘Spirit Islands’

As the possibilities of Australian aviation cemented themselves, commercial airlines looked increasingly to expand their services overseas. This bark painting by an unknown artist provides a link to one of those expanding networks.

In 1934, Qantas Empire Airways was formed, combining the interests of British Imperial Airways and Qantas for a new England-Australia service. Qantas started the service between Darwin and Singapore with DH86 aircraft but soon introduced flying boats to the service, ushering in a new era of travel.

The painting titled Spirit Islands was originally owned by Fred Gray, the founder of the Umbakumba Aboriginal settlement on Groote Eylandt.

Groote Eylandt is the largest island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, a Dutch name meaning ‘big island’. The Aboriginal settlement was established on the shores of Little Lagoon, Port Langdon, on the north-eastern coast of Groote Eylandt in 1938. The location of the settlement was determined by the establishment of the flying boat base on the northern shores of the lagoon. The base was initially created for Qantas Empire Airways as a refuelling facility and was leased to the Shell Company. The Royal Australian Air Force assumed control of the base from 1942, using it until the end of the war when it was completely abandoned.

[image shown - Painting of the Southern Cross by John Allcot] Although Qantas became ‘Australia’s overseas airline’, perhaps the most significant attempt to excite people to the possibilities of aviation was the trans-Pacific flight of the Southern Cross and crew in 1928. Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm, with American crew members Harry Lyon and James Warner, became the first people to cross the Pacific Ocean by air leaving Oakland, California, on 31 May 1928 and, via Hawaii and Fiji, landing in Brisbane on 9 June, having completed the 11,585-kilometre crossing in 83 hours, 38 minutes of flying time.

When Kingsford Smith and Ulm travelled to America to pursue their dream of completing the trans-Pacific flight, they were contacted by Antarctic adventurer and explorer Hubert Wilkins. Wilkins believed that he was the owner of the only aircraft at the time that could complete the journey successfully – a tri-motor Fokker aircraft that he had used in some of his Antarctic expeditions. Kingsford Smith and Ulm managed to get the funds together to secure the aircraft, and alterations were made at the Boeing factory in Seattle for the flight.

This is a bit of a look inside the Southern Cross. Some of the photographs in our collection really bring alive the actual conditions. Photo album from the Austin Byrne Southern Cross Memorial collection

This is the cockpit featuring the very large fuel tank, which was put behind the pilot and co-pilot’s seat, not allowing much space for the pilot and co-pilot.

This is the other side of the fuel tank, with the navigator and radio operator’s stations.

There is a great photo of radio operator James Warner at his post. You can see the writing on the Southern Cross fuselage indicating that there is not much between Warner and the outside world – very comfortable flying conditions for an 83-hour journey.

James Warner enlisted in the United States of America Navy in 1911. He served in the western Pacific and China. In 1916, Warner began training a new generation of electricians and radio operators. He became the first chief radioman in the US Navy. After the war, while working as a salesman in San Francisco, Warner heard that navigator Harry Lyon, whom he had served with during the war, was joining the trans-Pacific flight planned by Kingsford Smith and Ulm. At that stage, Warner had not yet flown in an aeroplane, but he joined the Southern Cross crew and began preparing radio equipment for the flight.

Warner’s radio equipment and skills played a key role in the navigation effort for the flight. As summarised, ‘A radio beam would be sent out from Wheeler Field in Hawaii to the US Army’s Crissy Field in San Francisco. If all went well, this meant that the Southern Cross was on course, and Warner would hear a constant reassuring buzz in his headphones.’

Warner’s achievements were widely touted as the first successful continuous radio communication on a long distance flight, and Warner received many accolades from the Australian radio community, including this certificate from the Wireless Institute [image shown of the James Warner collection, medallion and certificate].

Prior to their departure, the Americans Warner and Lyon were required to sign a contract prepared by Charles Ulm. The contracts were created to ensure that the accolades for the successful trans-Pacific flight would go to the Australians, emphasising that Warner and Lyons were hired for the job, but the real work had been done by Kingsford Smith and Ulm. The basis for this arrangement was no doubt related to Kingsford Smith and Ulm’s increasing debts and financial strain, which they hoped would be solved by receiving a government grant at the end of their journey. The contract, a copy of which is in our collection, stated that Warner and Lyon would leave the flight in Fiji, with the journey from Fiji to Australia less demanding on navigation, though this clause was later ignored. The crew members emphasised that their friendship and mutual respect had developed throughout the flight. Warner and Lyon were treated like heroes in Australia as well.

Returning to California, Warner and Lyon were each presented with a gold commemorative medal and $10,000 from the citizens of Oakland. The medal is engraved: ‘OAKLAND CALIFORNIA TO SYDNEY AUSTRALIA; MAY 31 1928; JUNE 10’ with portraits of Lyon and Warner. So they did get quite a lot of attention back in their homeland.

[image shown of Southern Cross arriving in Honolulu – see] This photo shows Kingsford Smith and Ulm at the centre with a crowd of well-wishers on their arrival in Honolulu. I like this photo because the crew were mostly deaf at this stage of the journey due to the noise of storm and of course the very noisy engines of the aircraft. But they were still faced with many questions and cameras from every angle. So it was an interesting landing. Cigarette case

Not surprisingly, Kingsford Smith and Ulm were very glad to reach Australia, and this is a gift presented to Smithy from Ulm, a cigarette case engraved with the simple message ‘We made it’. It is on display for us here today as well. Luncheon menu and ‘Hats off to our airmen’

The airmen were instant celebrities. This is just one of the many luncheons presented in their honour, a luncheon at Parliament House in Canberra. Kingsford Smith and Ulm were there presented with honorary appointments in the Royal Australian Air Force. And not forgetting the numerous poems and songs produced in their honour, with some very patriotic sentiments for the time.

Riding on this wave of popularity, Kingsford Smith and Ulm decided to establish an airline company. Australian National Airways Ltd (ANA) was registered in Sydney in December 1928, with Kingsford Smith and Ulm as joint managing directors. The initial vision for the company was to offer pilot training and operate passenger, mail and freight services between cities and towns in eastern Australia. [image shown of ANA prospectus]

Based on the success of their exploits in the Southern Cross, Kingsford Smith and Ulm ordered five tri-motor Avro X aircraft from AV Roe and Co in England for their new company. The Avro X were similar in appearance to the famous Southern Cross. They were actually a version of the Fokker aircraft manufactured by AV Roe under licence from Fokker. The new aircraft were named: Southern Cloud, Southern Star, Southern Sky, Southern Moon and Southern Sun.

In 1928, Australian National Airways called for tenders to construct a large hangar and maintenance workshops at the Mascot aerodrome in Sydney, suitable for their new fleet of aircraft and their intended operations. Kingsford Smith and Ulm decided to travel to England to inspect the aircraft under construction, while also surveying aerial flying routes, and to engage pilots, engineers and support for their venture.

They were forced to make an emergency landing north of Derby, Western Australia, and an aerial search party was sent to try to find the Southern Cross and crew. The Kookaburra, one of the aircraft involved in the search, crashed killing aviators Keith Anderson and Bob Hitchcock. Although Kingsford Smith and Ulm were rescued and eventually continued on to England, the forced landing and the subsequent inquiry damaged their reputations. Thornycroft expedition diary

The Museum holds this photographic and written account of the 1929 expedition to recover the bodies of aviators Keith Anderson and Bob Hitchcock from the wreckage of the Kookaburra. It was compiled by the driver of the expedition, Raymond Miles, with the assistance of his daughter. The expedition was undertaken in a British A3 Thornycroft truck, supplied free by the importer of the vehicle. The crew was made up of four men: Frank Nottle; Les Miles as the driver-mechanic; William Berg, a journalist; and Constable George Murray.

On 24 May, the Thornycroft and crew members were transported by train from Adelaide to the rail-head near Alice Springs. The expedition was directed to travel to Newcastle Waters and find the hoof marks of horses left in the ground by the party that had secured the crash site about one month before. That was the way they needed to guide themselves to the crash site. The Thornycroft expedition was also accompanied by four Aboriginal guides. The truck suffered numerous tyre punctures and travelled slowly through the loose sand, but on 11 June found the horse tracks, and eight days later located the Kookaburra wreck. The Thornycroft expedition could not recover the aircraft but cleared a runway in case it could be flown out at a later date. They recovered the bodies of Anderson and Hitchcock and transported them back to Alice Springs and then to Adelaide for burial. Paperweight Avro X model

Despite these early problems for the airline, Australian National Airways began regular services in 1930 between Sydney and Brisbane. [image shown] This paperweight of an Avro Ten aircraft was used by Ulm on his desk during that time. Kingsford Smith and Ulm worked vigorously to repair their popularity. Kingsford Smith set off to make a successful east-west crossing of the Atlantic in the Southern Cross and then set a new England-Australia record in the Southern Cross Junior. Ulm capitalised by promoting ANA flights as an opportunity to fly with the famous aviators. The ANA service was promoted as fast, efficient and safe, and by March 1930 had carried over 1000 passengers and 1200 kg of freight. Services were extended to Melbourne and Launceston, with Australian National Airways becoming the first daily interstate airline. The engineering and maintenance staff at the Mascot hangar were also increased, with a staff of 42 working in shifts.

[Image shown of Iris Flynn, Southern Sky] These photographs feature a group of theatre performers travelling between Melbourne and Sydney on the ANA aircraft Southern Sky. The passengers included dancer Iris Browne, wife of the tenor Herbert Browne, en route to board a ship to New Zealand, where they were to perform in several musicals. Iris in seated here beside this wonderful cane chair inside the Southern Sky. It looks pretty basic but these cane chairs were actually the latest in passenger comfort. They had seat pockets which contained reading material, the latest newspapers of the day, and mints to ward off travel sickness. So it was very fancy. Southern Cloud clock

On 21 March 1931, ANA’s aircraft Southern Cloud failed to reach Melbourne on a scheduled service from Sydney. It was believed that the Southern Cloud, carrying six passengers and piloted by [Captain Travis W] Shortridge and apprentice Charles Dunell, had crashed in severe weather conditions. Despite the suspension of ANA services and all pilots and aircraft being deployed in extensive search efforts, the tragic disappearance of the Southern Cloud remained a mystery.

The Air Accidents Investigations Committee could not assign a cause for the loss, but made a series of recommendations that led to new airline operating standards, including the adoption of radio communications which made aircraft travel safer for generations to come. The wreck of the Southern Cloud was not discovered until 1958 when Tom Sonter, a carpenter working on the Snowy Mountains Scheme, happened upon the crash site while bushwalking near Kiandra, New South Wales.

Within days of the discovery of the site, hundreds of people visited, collecting many souvenirs. Among the visitors was Canberra political journalist Alan Reid and his son Alan junior. Reid wrote a number of articles about the Snowy Mountains in addition to his regular work covering federal politics. Alan junior brought the clock back to Canberra where he showed it to fellow classmates at Canberra Grammar School. One fellow student, John Boddington, then in grade 8, sensed the historical importance of the relic and bought it from Reid for five shillings. Southern Cloud clock collection highlight Tachometer plate and Frank Proust and crash site

Another visitor to the site was Sydney Morning Herald journalist Frank Proust. The searchers found the aircraft’s three engines buried in the ground. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Southern Cloud was hidden in the long grass, where many instruments had been ripped out of the instrument panel by the force of the crash. Many were Byrnet beyond recognition, but the tachometer plate from the instrument panel, which is here [image shown], was found in good condition. Proust took the dial as a souvenir of the crash, and it is actually on display in the Eternity gallery downstairs.

[image of Charles Dunell’s licence and photograph] Charles Dunell, the co-pilot who died in the Southern Cloud disaster, began his pilot-engineer apprenticeship with Australian National Airways in 1929, and was part of the company from its beginnings. Dunell moved into the accommodation at Coogee to be closer to his workplace in Mascot, despite misgivings from his family about the dangers of his chosen profession. His family donated Dunell’s licence, shown here and several photographs to the Museum. It is wonderful to have an employee of the National Airways represented in the collection. Ellen Rogers photo montage panel>

More images and information in the Ellen Rogers collection highlight:

Throughout every tragedy and triumph for Australian National Airways, there was company secretary Ellen Rogers, whom Kingsford Smith and Ulm called ‘Rog’. [image shown] This is a photomontage of ANA and its operations made by Charles Ulm and his wife Mary as a gift for Ellen Rogers. This is a photograph of Ellen at the centre of the montage. It also includes an original painted star from the original fabric of the Southern Cross. It was re-covered a couple of times.

Born in Maitland, New South Wales in 1906, Ellen Rogers was just 21 years old and working for Atlantic Union Oil Company in Sydney when the Southern Cross and crew completed their flight across the Pacific Ocean in June 1928.

The Southern Cross had used Atlantic oil and fuel when making its historic flight, so the company assisted the aviators on their return to. As the managing director of Atlantic was away at the time, Rogers was assigned to work with Kingsford Smith and Ulm through their hectic round of public receptions and interviews, and she carried out secretarial duties for the aviators. souvenirs, half main bearing and propeller hub

Rogers was given many gifts by her appreciative employers, who I think she kept pretty organised at the time. This half bearing from the centre engine of the Southern Cross was in place for the trans-Pacific, trans-Tasman and Australia to England flights made in 1928 and 1929. The steel bearing was probably removed during the complete overhaul the aircraft received at the Fokker Aircraft Company in Amsterdam, when Kingsford Smith visited there in 1929. The propeller hub, which is also on display here today, was removed from one of ANA’s Avro X aircraft.

[image of William Beausang photo album] The collection also includes material from another ANA employee. William Beausang was born in Ireland in 1900. He travelled to Australia in 1924 and began working with Kingsford Smith as an engineer for Australian National Airways. Like many of those who worked with Kingsford Smith, Beausang had a sense of commemorisation or memorialisation of his time with Australian National Airways, keeping photographs, newspaper clippings and writing poetry about the Southern Cross and her crews. I won’t read any of that today. It’s actually not very good, but the sentiment was there.

A sharp decrease in passenger numbers and financial difficulties attributed to by the Great Depression forced ANA’s directors to suspend all services in June 1931. After several failed attempts to salvage the company, in February 1933 ANA entered voluntary liquidation. Ulm’s attaché case

This attaché case was used by Charles Ulm from 1928 until 1934, including his preparations for the Southern Cross trans-Pacific flight. Following the demise of ANA, Ulm continued to promote the benefits and efficiency of air services, establishing a new company, Great Pacific Airways Ltd, to operate a San Francisco to Sydney service. The shipping label on the back of the case is inscribed ‘Olympic/5th October 1934’, recording the details of Ulm’s journey from the United States of America to England to collect the Airspeed Envoy aircraft Stella Australis in which he disappeared flying from California to Hawaii in December 1934 to start his new venture.

[image of Flight manifest, Lady Southern Cross, 1934] Kingsford Smith also continued to promote the future possibilities of air services after ANA by attempting further flight distance and speed records. This simple piece of paper tells an interesting story about a flight made by Kingsford Smith and Patrick Gordon (or Bill) Taylor in the Lady Southern Cross in 1934. Kingsford Smith and Taylor had a long association in Australian aviation. Both had served in the Flying Corps, and Taylor flew as a pilot with Australian National Airways.

Kingsford Smith and Taylor planned to fly together in the 1934 MacRobertson Centenary air race, but modifications to their aircraft named Lady Southern Cross were not completed in time. Disappointed to miss the lucrative air race, which they were hoping to win, and in an effort to reimburse their race sponsors, later that year Kingsford Smith and Taylor decided to fly Lady Southern Cross from Australia to California where they would sell the aircraft. Their flight completed in 51 hours was the first successful west-east crossing of the trans-Pacific.

[image shown] Completed and signed by Kingsford Smith, this simple flight manifest or customs form is a record of the first foreign-registered aircraft and crew to land in Honolulu, as when the Southern Cross had made the journey in 1928, it travelled under American registration. As no paperwork existed at the time for receiving an aircraft, this is actually a shipping manifest that was adapted. ‘Vessel’ has been crossed out on the form and ‘aircraft’ handwritten by Kingsford Smith to make the form more accurate.

From 1935 Taylor operated a succession of Percival Gull Four and Gull Six aircraft on private and charter flying. He became the agent for Percival Aircraft Ltd in Australia. He went on to make many important contributions to Australian aviation.

[photo of damaged Southern Cross propeller, 1935] In 1935, Taylor and Kingsford Smith flew together again, this time in the Southern Cross for what was a rather dramatic adventure. On 15 May 1935, carrying a cargo of Jubilee airmail, Kingsford Smith, Taylor and radio operator John Stannage were forced to turn back to Sydney en route to New Zealand when an exhaust manifold on the centre engine broke off and damaged the starboard propeller. This photograph shows the damage to the propeller [image shown] and there were numerous other problems. In an effort to make it back to Sydney safely, the crew jettisoned some of the cargo, which is bad when it is official royal mail, and Taylor climbed outside of the aircraft to collected oil from the disabled starboard engine, which he then transferred to the port engine. Taylor was awarded an Empire Gallantry Medal for his bravery, and he was possibly a bit crazy but if they wanted to survive, that’s what they had to do. We are lucky enough to have in our collection a fragment of the damaged propeller. [image shown] propeller fragment and case

We understand that a young Victor Piper was part of the crowd that greeted the aircraft and crew after their hazardous flight, and was given this piece of broken propeller by Kingsford Smith. The propeller fragment is on display just outside this theatre as part of the Journeys gallery.

[image of Andy Thomas and Dawn Casey with fragment] This is a very well-travelled piece of wood. The propeller fragment was actually taken by Australian-born astronaut Andy Thomas on board his Shuttle Discovery mission in March 2001. This is former Museum director Dawn Casey handing the fragment over to Thomas for his trip. Thankfully he brought it back safely.

[image of Kingsford Smith, gifting Southern Cross, 18 July 1935] Following the unsuccessful trans-Tasman flight, plans were made to retire the ageing Southern Cross. It was repaired and then purchased by the Commonwealth government in order to preserve it for the nation, and it is now at the Brisbane airport. As a coincidence, today marks 78 years to the date that Kingsford Smith handed the Southern Cross over to the government. Austin Byrne, model of the Southern Cross

It is not surprising that, in these decades, someone would be inspired to create a memorial to the achievements of Kingsford Smith, Ulm and their aircraft the Southern Cross. Austin Byrne was born in 1902 at Newcastle, New South Wales. After his father died, Byrne and his younger brother were sent to St Michael’s Orphanage. Byrne later returned to the family home but left school at the age of 12 suffering severe depression.

In 1914 Byrne saw French pilot Maurice Guillaux fly his Bleriot monoplane to deliver Australia’s first airmail from Melbourne to Sydney, and in 1928 Byrne was at Mascot Aerodrome in Sydney as part of the crowd of thousands that greeted the Southern Cross after the trans-Pacific flight. In 1930, Byrne began constructing this model of the Southern Cross [image shown], dedicating around 5000 hours of his spare time across three years to the project. He intended the model to be a gift to Kingsford Smith on his return after another record-breaking flight from England to Australia. But when Kingsford Smith tragically disappeared, Byrne decided to mount the model on a marble pedestal as part of a tribute to the aircraft and its original crew.

Not stopping there, Byrne decided to create further metal and marble artworks, and established the Southern Cross Memorial, which he toured to New Zealand, America and Holland – all two tonnes of it. I’d like to show you some components of the memorial. They are quite stunning and amazing. Thanks to our photography team for making them look even better.

[Images of the rest of the Byrne memorial objects will be online in the collection highlight soon.] [Globe and Key] This is a globe of the world that Byrne made out of aluminium and mounted on this wonderful pedestal. It features in these studded jewels the paths that the Southern Cross flew. They are all colour coded on this wonderful key. So the journeys trans-Pacific to England, across Australia and over to New Zealand and every city and town that the Southern Cross visited is also represented by a jewel. It is large and very beautiful and shiny.

[Slide – Shrine] Next Byrne created what he called the shrine, which I guess explains itself in a way. This amazing piece of metal in a solid piece of marble features photographs of many of the contributors to the flights of the Southern Cross and inside these doors Byrne also hand-wrote an entire history of the Southern Cross with contributions from the aviators of the period.

He made the book himself. Oddly enough, with all these other pieces he thought that the book was the hardest thing he ever had to make, possibly because he actually shot the kangaroo that he then made the book with. It is bound in kangaroo hide. It is quite extraordinary. He made every single component of each artwork.

[Slide – Book of Remembrance] This is the last piece of the main memorial that he made, the book of remembrance. It is on its receptacle, platform, with three globes which represent the Pacific, the Tasman and the trans-Atlantic voyages of the Southern Cross with portraits of Kingsford Smith and Ulm in place. They are amazing pieces. Byrne in this what he called the book of remembrance encrusted with these black opals representing the Southern Cross in that he placed letters - he wrote to basically every famous aviator from the period who had worked with Smithy and Ulm and got them to write back with tributes. He placed those in this amazing box for people to read.

I will conclude with a quote from Amy Johnson:

I think it is a pity to lose the romantic side of flying and simply to accept it as a common means of transport, although in the end that is what we have all ostensibly been striving to attain.

The National Museum’s collection paints a very busy picture of aviation during the 1920s and 1930s helping to preserve and remember and the realities and the romanticism that this period inspired. Everything you have seen on screen today is from the National Museum’s collection. The successes and failures of these aviators form the foundation for Australia’s aviation industry. I have enjoyed exploring these stories, and I hope you have today as well. Thank you. [applause]

KIRSTEN WEHNER: Thank you so much, Jen. We are a little bit over time but we probably have time for one or two very short questions. We do have a microphone roving around. I will ask you if you would like to ask a question to put your hand up and call for the microphone so that we can record it. Any questions?

QUESTION: Is it true on the America to Australia flight that they could only communicate from the pilot by a fishing line with a note on the end?

JEN WILSON: That is right, not very efficient but the actual pieces of paper that they passed the messages are actually in the National Library’s collection. It was just the noise of the engine plus that massive fuel tank that was sitting between the navigators and the pilots. That was the only way they could communicate.

QUESTION: Are there any plans for a special exhibition of the museum’s artefacts?

JEN WILSON: Not in the immediate future. There are proposals in place but we are trying to get more and more up online on our website which is through the efforts of these pieces of photography. Then further biographies that are online, so it’s sort of an online exhibition at the moment but we do hope will be out physically some of it will be out physically in the future. Parts of it have been out in the past and, as I indicated, some of it is on display in our galleries at the moment. Fingers crossed but we will get as much out as we can.

QUESTION: Do you have any connection with the Aviation Historical Group in Melbourne?

JEN WILSON: I am a member.

QUESTION: That’s good.

JEN WILSON: They are a wonderful group and have done a lot.

QUESTION: I am just interested to know if the collection has anything more on the Australian women pilots of the 1930s besides Nancy Bird?

JEN WILSON: Unfortunately we are a little bit limited in that area. It’s wonderful to have some material from I guess female contributors and passengers but it’s a little bit light in that area at the moment. We do have some material for later with female contributions on flight attendants and that sort of thing from the 1940s onwards.

QUESTION: So none of the pioneering record breakers?

JEN WILSON: Unfortunately, no. A lot of that material is in the Powerhouse Museum’s collection and also the National Library and Melbourne Museum.

KIRSTEN WEHNER: Let’s finish with Heidi’s goofy anecdote.

QUESTION: I spent a lot of time growing up in Tumbarumba. Recently there has been a beautiful incredibly stunning memorial put up to the Southern Cloud which was rediscovered in 1958. But the truth is all the locals knew where it was; they just didn’t know anyone was looking for it.

JEN WILSON: It’s an interesting moment really. There were a lot of rumours over the years. That’s one of them.

KIRSTEN WEHNER: I think we might draw the session to a close. We are a bit over time. Thank you very much everybody for coming today. Please do take the time to stop and have a look at the objects on display. Finally, I would ask you to join me once again to thank Jen for the fabulous talk. [applause]

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Date published: 01 January 2018

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