On 24 February 2022, Russia began a military operation by invading Ukraine. Standing firmly in the way of the invaders was Ukraine’s President Zelensky. Just who is Volodymyr Zelensky? Comedian, Dancing with the Stars winner, Voice of Paddington Bear. Could this man save his country?
A new book by Australian authors Andrew L. Urban and Chris Mcleod, with foreword by Rebeka Koffler (author of Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America) looks at Zelensky the man, his motivation and methods, and how the world reacted when he reached out to it.
A SPECIAL MILITARY OPERATION
On the day the Russian hierarchy announced its invading forces had completed its first-phase objectives in the Donbas region of Ukraine, the Ukraine Government announced that the Russian bombing of a theatre in Mariupol where civilians had been sheltering had taken 300 lives – mostly women and children.
Such an attack could well qualify for a war crimes charge.
It was widely reported that Russia planned a hit-and-run mission (special military operation) against Ukraine, offering a variety of pretexts for doing so.
But Russia apparently did not expect the resistance offered up by Ukraine’s people and its seemingly fearless leader Volodymyr Zelensky.
There was no quick victory or surrender. Perhaps President Putin thought the comedian/actor who occupied the presidency in Ukraine would be a pushover in a couple of days.
If so, he clearly was wrong.
What was Putin hoping to achieve with his war on Ukraine? Occupy the country and install a puppet government and president; divide the country into whatever parts it wanted, including the Odesa region, having already annexed Crimea in 2014; establish a foothold to recreate the old USSR; or was it out of concern that the US-backed NATO alliance was getting too close and too big for comfort?
Whatever Russia’s objectives were, the killing of civilians did nothing to advance President Putin’s cause and engender much sympathy for it, whatever it was.
The invasion clearly didn’t go to plan, unless its aim was the complete devastation of communities the Russians were claiming to liberate. Days turned into weeks and then months as Ukraine bravely resisted.
President Zelensky refused offers to help him flee his country. “I need ammunition, not a ride,” was his response.
While Western countries baulked at sending in troops for fear of igniting World War III, they responded quickly with sanctions against Russia and its ally, Belarus, and set up supply chains of weaponry.
Russia had few friends in the world (India remained one of the few countries outside communist rule to stay loyal to their trading partner) as President Zelensky undertook a campaign of enlisting support via video hook-ups with the houses of parliament of the major democracies – The UK, the USA, Canada and Australia among them.
The lawmakers universally acknowledged his address with a standing ovation and pledges of continued support.
Many relief agencies were conducting fund-raising efforts to assist the massive refugees crisis that was unfolding, and stand by Ukraine.
An organisation seeking to get refugees to s safe haven via Poland:
This was President Zelensky’s address to the Australian parliament on 31 March 2022
Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, ladies and gentlemen, members of the government, senators and members of the parliament, the people of Australia.
Thank you for this honour to have this address. Today, in May 2016 thousands of Australians came to the city of Perth to see for the first time the Ukrainian plane Mriya – or Dream as we call it. Mriya in English means dream.
Having travelled almost 15,000 kilometres it had brought an urgent cargo – a power generator of 130 tonne – which was very important to one of your companies. If they had to wait for the shipment through the sea it would have taken months and the Ukrainian plane has done it in a couple of days.
We have always been proud of our Dream, not because it was the largest, but because it was helping people in all countries of the world bringing food, water, equipment for humanitarian and peacekeeping missions.
In 2019 after the beginning of the Covid pandemics, Dream was bringing the most urgent medical cargo, things that were saving people’s lives, adults and children, all over the world in different countries.
Dream was bringing life – now this is not possible. This is not possible because there is a country which holds to completely different values. Different from our values, from your values, from the values of the civilised world and this country started a full fledged war against us.
They are shelling our cities and villages, they are killing our civilians and children. They are creating sieges of our cities and holding hostages of hundreds of thousands of people in these cities without water and food. They are abducting thousands of children that they transport to their territories.
On the 27 February as a result of fighting in the city of Hostomel our plane, our Dream, was destroyed. We can say that Russia destroyed our Dream? No they just burnt down a plane – hardware, a shell, but not the essence, not the freedom, not the dignity, nor our independence.
We know that our dream is undefeatable and undestructed especially if we can count on the support of the free world. On your support, on your assistance and like in the history that I just told, we need it not just in a couple of months, but we need it urgently now.
Ladies and gentlemen. The people of Australia. The distance between our countries is big. There’s thousands of kilometres we are separated by oceans, seas and territories of dozens of other countries and time zones. But there is no such thing as distance for the brutality and chaos that Russia brought to the east of Ukraine into the region of our Black Sea and Azov Sea, to our Ukrainian land.
Whatever is happening in our region because of the Russian war is destroying the lives of people. It has become a real threat to your country and to your people as well, because it is the nature of the evil – it can instantly cross any distance, any barriers, destroy lives.
For dozens of years there hasn’t been this threat of nuclear attack as we have now because Russian representatives, officials, official propagandists they are openly discussing the possibility of using nuclear weapons against those who don’t want to subdue to Russian commands.
And for dozens of years it has never been that a country would block the whole sea for other vessels of any country but this is exactly what was done by Russia. Part of the Black and Azov sea is a dead seas these days. Any vessel that will try to come in can simply be destroyed by the Russian navy.
More than hundreds of trade vessels under different flags have been blocked by Russia in our ports.
For dozens of years we haven’t seen this in the world, for a country to start a war against their neighbouring country, openly declaring their enslavement or destruction. Not to leave even the name of that nation, not to have even any opportunity for this nation to live freely.
The worst pages of the 20th Century have been brought back by Russia already the biggest threats of that century came back. The evil that humanity thought they had forgotten about a long time ago.
But the most terrible thing, if we don’t stop Russia now, if we don’t hold Russia accountable, then some other countries of the world who are looking forward to a similar war against their neighbours will decide that such things are possible for them as well.
The fate of the global security is decided now. No one can manage winds or precipitations, it means no one can save any part of the world from radioactive contamination which will come if nuclear weapons are used.
No country in the world should have even the theoretical possibility of blocking trade fleets and block the seas for other countries. There shouldn’t be even theoretical possibility to do so.
No leader of the world can count on being unpunishable if he is thinking about back to war.
Ladies and gentlemen, the nation of Australia. After more than a month of the full-fledged war against Russia we can surely say that there is only one way of bringing the global security as bringing Russia to peace and silence and responsibility and accountability for everything that Russia has done against the global security.
The country which is using the nuclear blackmailing should receive the sanctions which would show that such blackmailing is destructive for the blackmailer itself. There has to be an effect toolkit to hold responsible any country which is blocking the trade navigation, so for no one to have a temptation to close any sea and make a dead sea out of them.
So far we don’t have such instruments, so the leadership of Australia can be paramount for the global security which is now strengthened by our anti-war coalition which is working in bringing peace back to Ukraine.
We need to also enhance the capabilities of the international institutions which were created to hold military war criminals responsible and anyone who would commit such crimes to have them punished by the solidarity of the whole world and not one country.
Had this been done on time, in a timely manner, life on this world would have been more secure and I’m sure that any of you, any of us, remembers the 17 May tragedy, the Malaysian Boeing that was shot down by Russian occupants over the Donbas Sea.
290 people died at that time and my condolences to all those who have lost relatives and their kins.
But did we manage to hold accountable those who caused this tragedy? No, they are hiding in the territory of Russia. Obviously they’ve got security guarantees from Russia.
Has Russia paid the compensation to the dead and their families? No, and they are still denying their fault in this tragedy.
Eight years later the justice was not achieved and we don’t know how much longer it will take for at least one tragedy to have a proper response from an international community, from all of us and how many new tragedies Russia has created or will create.
So the unpunished evil comes back and I would say unpunished evil comes back with inspiration, with the feeling of almightiness. If the world had punished Russia in 2014 for what it did, there wouldn’t be any of this terror of invasion in Ukraine in 2022.
We have to correct such horrible mistakes and correct them now. The bipartisan support of Australia of Ukraine for the support that has been provided we are extremely grateful. 70,000 tonnes of coal for our energy, this is only the beginning, together we can and should do more.
We need new sanctions against Russia – powerful sanctions – until they stop blackmailing other countries with their nuclear missiles and they have to pay the highest price for blocking the sea.
No Russian vessel should be allowed in other international ports. Buying their oil means paying for the destruction of the global security. We have to stop any business activity of Russia. No single dollar should be spent for the destruction of the people.
We have to stop any intention of Russia to bypass the sanctions. So what kind of sanctions are those if you can bypass by using simple, un-cunning schemes?
But most of all we have to keep those who are fighting against this evil armed, for the evil to be looking for peace, and this has to be decided on the battlefield.
For example you have very good armoured personnel vehicle, Bushmaster, that could help Ukraine substantially and other pieces of equipment that could strengthen our position in terms of armament.
If you have an opportunity to share this with us we would be very grateful. In Ukraine they will do much more for our common freedom and our common security than staying parked on your land.
Ukrainian people have demonstrated to the whole world how much we appreciate the freedom and how committed are we to the protection thereof. our heroes are fighting against the army which is considered one of the strongest in the world, but all our people without exception already are thinking about the future, about how we are going to live after the war. About restoring our country, our Black Sea region, and we invite prominent countries of the world, leading companies and the best experts to join the project of restoration of Ukraine. To take the city or the sector under your auspices that would require restoration.
Your country has provided a special status, a like-minded country. And we are like-minded not only in our thoughts but also in our longing for peace.
So I would like to invite and welcome your country to have a look at our southern regions, at the Azov and the Black Sea shore the development of such ports and cities like the city of Kherson which is now fighting for its freedom.
The rebuilding of the naval sector in Ukraine could also be a great contribution in the restoration after the war with the protection of the free naval training would be a big contribution because those who can protect freedom in the sea can protect it in the world.
I’m sure and I believe that you can do it and I am sure that our Ukrainian community will join this common work of ours and that it will support us as strong as they have done it in the past.
Dear friends, the geographical distance between us is huge, thousands of kilometres. but what does this distance mean for tho9se who have common understanding, who see the world with the same vision, for those who are similarly hurting what is happening when the enemy comes, when children are killed and cities are destroyed. When refugees are shot at on the highways. When Ukraine is turned into the burned out territory then any distances disappear. Geography doesn’t matter then.
What matters is humanity and the dream. The dream of bringing back the peaceful life. The dream that we will implement indeed, together.
Thank you Australia.
Standing with Ukraine
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison praised the “incredible courage” of Ukrainians, adding “We stand with you Mr President”.
“And we do not stand with the war criminal of Moscow.
“The people of Australia stand with Ukraine in your fight for survival … yes you have our prayers but you also have our weapons,” Mr Morrison said.
The Australian Government agreed to provide a further $25 million in military support to Ukraine, taking its total military assistance to $116 million.
At just 25 years of age and after just on 120 weeks of being the World No. 1 women’s tennis player, Australian Ash Barty announced her retirement on 23 March 2021.
That was followed later in the year by announcing her engagement then in July 2022, she revealed her and longtime partner Garry Kissick had married in a quiet family ceremony in her home state of Queensland.
The couple met at Queensland’s Brookwater Golf Club in 2016.
Since her retirement she had been out and about promoting her series of children’s’ books, the Little Ash series, encouraging young tennis players and watch major golf. She ruled out a switch to a golfing career.
She said retiring from tennis at the top of her game hadn’t been an easy decision.
“Today is difficult and filled with emotion for me as I announce my retirement from tennis,” she posted on Instagram.
“I am so thankful for everything this sport has given me and leave feeling proud and fulfilled.
“Thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way, I’ll always be grateful for the lifelong memories that we created together.”
Ash was removed from the WTA rankings list after the Miami tournament in March after 117 consecutive weeks as World No 1. She hailed her successor at No 1 Iga Swiatek, saying there was no-one better to take over the top spot in women’s tennis than her 20-year-old Polish friend.
Ash will long be remembered for her achievements on the world’s tennis courts among the elite players:
2022 Australian Open Champion
2021 Wimbledon Champion
2019 French Open Champion
Becoming, Australia’s newest tennis champion, Ash added another record to her already incredible list of achievements when at the end of the 2021 season she became just the fifth player to be world women’s number one for three years in a row.
Ash has been women’s singles world No.1 ranking since she took over from Naomi Osaka on September 9, 2019.
She has been No 1 for a total of 120 weeks, 113 weeks consecutively as of March 21, 2022, and can look forward to more weeks there as her closest challengers remain well behind even after the Indian Wells tournament in March.
Then to get 2022 started she won the prize she had much sought – her home championship, the Australian Open. Unfortunately she didn’t recover as quickly as expected and had to withdraw from the Indian Wells tournament in the US in March. Then followed the shock announcement of her retirement.
But in an interview afterwards she gave a strong indication that she would not be lost to sport altogether, switching to something else likely to be her next move. She already had shown prowess in other sports, including cricket and golf.
She was bowing out tennis with three Grand Slams to her name.
It all started in 2019 when she won the French Open championship. In 2021, she won the Wimbledon championship and titles in Melbourne, Miami, Stuttgart and Cincinnati.
At year’s end in 2021 Ash joined Serena Williams, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert as the only women to achieve three consecutive years at No. 1.
As the year-end WTA finals series wrapped up in Mexico (missing the Australian) Ash posted her 95th week in a row atop the WTA ratings and her 102nd week as No 1 overall.
In December, she was named the Women’s Tennis Association’s Player of the Year, for the second time in her career. Then came the International Tennis Federation who named her as champion player of the year for 2021, going back-to-back on her 2019 honour (there was no award in 2020).
That wasn’t the end of it. She was also awarded her fourth Newcombe Medal for Australian tennis player of the year, an award she shared with wheelchair ace Dylan Alcott.
2022 – a flying start
In January 2022, Ash Barty ended a 44 year drought for Australian women in their own national championship; her victory over American Danielle Collins at Melbourne Park was the first by an Australian since Chris O’Neil’s victory over American Betsy Nagelsen in 1978.
She won all her seven matches in straight sets and was on court for a total of seven hours and 33 minutes over the Melbourne fortnight.
When it was all over she increased her lead in WTA world ranking points to 2,600 as one challenger after another fell by the wayside before they could even take Ash on head-to-head.
Ash began the year earlier in January in Adelaide where she claimed two WTA titles in her first tournament for the year – The Adelaide International.
She swept aside French Open champion Iga Swiatek in the semi-final and did the same to Elena Ryabakina (Kazakastan) in the women’s singles final on January 9.
Just a few hours later, she joined fellow Australian and her Olympic doubles partner Storm Sanders to take the women’s doubles final, defeating Andreja Klepac (Serbia) and Darija Jurak (Croatia) 6-1, 6-4).
Ash defeated Rybakina 6-3, 6-2 to win the title that was also hers in 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic threw the world tennis calendar into chaos.
The 2022 victory took the world number one’s record against top-20 rivals to 17-1 since the beginning of 2021.
As well as Swiatek, Ash defeated Coco Gauff and Sophie Kenin (her conqueror in Melbourne in 2021) in preliminary rounds.
The Adelaide titles meant Ash was in good form as she set herself for a tilt at a title she would dearly love to have, the Australian Open.
THE AUSSIE ICONS
Ash certainly has joined elite company in world tennis, alongside other Australians who made their mark on the world’s courts.
Margaret Court (nee Smith) and Evonne Goolagong Cawley have long been icons of Australian women’s tennis.
Margaret Court won her first significant tennis title in 1960. She went on to win 24 Grand Slam women’s singles titles in her career, 19 Grand Slam doubles titles, and 21 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. Some would argue that women’s tennis back then wasn’t as competitive as it is now.
But Margaret Court’s record speaks for itself. She has won more Grand Slam titles than any other player in history and is considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time.
She retired in 1977 and later became a minister of the church, her views on some aspects of lifestyle dividing the community, even tennis players. Regardless, her tennis record is what it is.
By the time Margaret Court retired, Evonne Goolagong had established herself as an outstanding player on the women’s tennis circuit, with four Australian Open championships – in 1974, 75, 76 and 77. She collected two Wimbledon championships.
At the age of 19, she won the French Open singles and the Australian Open doubles championships (the latter with Margaret Court). She won the women’s’ singles tournament at Wimbledon in 1971. In 1980, she became the first mother to win Wimbledon in 66 years. Goolagong went on to win 14 Grand Slam tournament titles: seven in singles (four at the Australian Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the French Open), six in women’s doubles, and one in mixed doubles. She represented Australia in three Fed Cup competitions, winning the title in 1971, 1973 and 1974, and was Fed Cup captain for three consecutive years.
She retired from the professional tennis tour as a player in 1983.
There was a dearth of victories in tennis singles Slams for Australians in the decades that followed.
It was not until 2019 that another Australian name was etched on a women’s singles Slam trophy when young Queenslander Ashleigh Barty, by then a recognised champion in the making, claimed the French Open championship.
She was revealed to the world as an unassuming young woman with one heck of a tennis game. She first came to notice on the big stages in 2011 when she won the Junior Girls Wimbledon championship after collecting junior titles in Thailand, Malaysia and Belgium. She had only turned professional just a year earlier, after her 14th birthday.
She could be anything, the pundits said. By 2012 Ash was ranked among the top 200 female players in the world.
Injury in 2014 curtailed her rise somewhat and in 2015 the rigour of the women’s tennis tour was taking its toll. Very much a family-oriented person, being away from home for so long was a problem. She decided to take a break.
But she didn’t abandon sport altogether and turned up in the Queensland women’s cricket team, playing for the Brisbane Heat in the Australian Women’s Big Bash team. But cricket at the top level proved to be a one-year wonder for Ash and in 2016 she reappeared on the world’s tennis courts.
Just a year later she claimed her first Women’s Tennis Association title, in Malaysia.
The Ashleigh Barty story from then on becomes one of fulfilled dreams and outstanding success. She took the French Open title in 2019 on her way to becoming world No 1 in women’s tennis.
Who’s to say what would have followed had the world-wide Covid pandemic not intervened.
Nevertheless, Ash retained her No 1. ranking through the lost year before bouncing back to win the most prestigious title of them all in 2021, the Wimbledon championship.
Tennis, and many other sports at all levels, took a big hit from the pandemic. Schedules were hurriedly revised, some tournaments were cancelled. But still Ash was Number One.
By the end of the 2021 season she had been world number one for more than 100 weeks. Securing the spot at the top of the ladder at season’s-end for the third year in a row, she emulated the feats of women’s tennis legends Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Serena Williams.
Ash had won titles on all playing surfaces, collected two Grand Slam titles and amassed more than $US 21 million in career prizemoney. Her career win/loss record at the end of her 2021 season was 294/102. Her career record included 13 singles titles, five in 2021.
Her 2021 earnings were almost $US 4 million and she had a win loss record of 42/8. In her bag also was a bronze medal from the Tokyo Olympics that had been postponed from 2020.
The year done, Ash retreated home to Australia in October 2021, quarantine requirements meaning travelling to further overseas tournaments would impact on her preparations for 2022. On her agenda for that year would be her home championship, the Australian Open, where she was yet to reach a final.
RIP: Sadly, Ron Reed passed away suddenly in June 2022. Few journalists/authors could boast the wide variety of sporting experiences of Ron Reed. Potentially a high level cricketer and footballer, he chose to write about sport from the spectator’s side of the fence. He did that with great skill and was highly regarded in all sports and sportspeople that he wrote about. Ron could turn his hand to write about pretty much any sport, including the Olympic Games. I had the great pleasure of working with him in newspapers for many years and collaborating with him recently on books about the Australian champions Ash Barty and Pat Cummins. His work will be sorely missed by sports enthusiasts. CHRIS McLEOD
Trivia question: Who performed the first controlled flight over Australian soil?
Answer: Ehrich Weiss, at Diggers Rest, Victoria, on 18 March 1910. You may know of him as escapologist Harry Houdini.
That is what the record shows, but some conjecture remains about who really was the first to fly in Australia.
The credit that went to Houdini was largely due to his ability to get publicity for his stunts, whether he was being thrust into the Yarra River fully bound only to surface free of his chains, or flying over a paddock at Diggers Rest in a primitive biplane.
To be fair, there was probably a technicality about what constituted “controlled” flight. Lack of witnesses to some attempts also cast a shadow over claims.
That apparently is why self-taught flier and Melbourne Motor Garage owner Ralph Banks was not credited with the feat of the first flight in Australia.
The Argus newspaper noted: “Banks made his flights without any fuss and although he was entirely inexperienced in flying he kept to his task persistently for months, takings his Wilbur Wright machine out at daybreak. Despite crash after crash eventually he succeeded in making many flights before Houdini was in Australian waters.”
This is the record as its stands: “At dawn on 18 March 1910 famous American escapologist Harry Houdini made the first Australian powered, controlled, sustained flight of an aircraft in Australia at Plumpton Dam, Diggers Rest.”
UP, UP AND AWAY
The first “heavier than air flight” (unpowered) in Australia was made by George S. Taylor in a glider at Narrabeen on 5 December 1909.
Before that, Lawrence Hargrave was the first person in Australia to be lifted from the ground in flight.
From 1893 Hargrave worked on box kites. On 12 November 1894, after several trials, Hargrave lifted from the beach at Stanwell Park near Sydney on a four-kite contraption tethered to the ground by piano wire.
Hargrave sought to find or make an engine that would be light and powerful enough to get flying machines into the air, keep them there and send them in a horizontal direction. From February to August 1892, he built 17 steam engines— all unsuccessful for the purpose of flight. He gave that idea away, returning later to study flying engines when he heard of the Wright brothers’ history-making venture. His work went virtually unrecognised by Australian authorities and his models eventually went to the Deutsches Museum at Munich, courtesy of the Bavarian Government.
In 1910 several powered aircraft were imported when the Commonwealth Government offered a 5000 pounds prize for development of the first Australian flying machine suitable for military purposes.
Colin Defries claimed to have flown a Wright Flyer at Victoria Park racecourse in Sydney on 9 December 1909. He tried several times – mostly unsuccessfully – to get airborne using an imported Wright biplane and a Bleriot. He didn’t get the acknowledgement that was afforded Houdini; perhaps it was the absence of “control”.
Fred Custance, a 19-year-old mechanic from South Australia, supposedly flew a Bleriot machine at Bolivar, near Adelaide, on 17 March 1910, the day before Houdini flew at Diggers Rest. But the claims of Defries and Custance were not backed by signed witness statements or photos and were rejected by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.
One report years later said there was only one witness to Custance’s flight, his sponsor, who afterwards admitted the flight was “mythic”.
Enter Harry Houdini, inveterate showman, who made sure he had witnesses. He invited a film cameraman, press photographers and officials from the Aerial League of Australia to Diggers Rest where he was to try to become the first person to fly a plane in Australia.
He did not fly far in his Voisin biplane, just “a few hundred yards”. It was a small advancement on the Wright brothers’ effort six years earlier for 120 feet (36.5 m).
The aircraft was designed by Gabriel Voisin, a French aviation pioneer and the creator of Europe’s first manned, engine-powered, heavier-than-air aircraft capable of a sustained (1 km), circular, controlled flight that was made by Henry Farman on 13 January 1908 near Paris, France. About 60 Voisins were built.
Significantly, Houdini’s flight in his Voisin flight in Victoria just over a year after Farman’s, signalled the start of an aviation boom in Australia.
CHAINS COULDN’T HOLD HOUDINI
Houdini – dubbed “the Handcuff King” – built fame around the world as an escapologist by getting out of impossible situations, sometimes with the help of magic and trickery. He was signed to visit Australia by entrepreneur Harry Rickards. Rickards was born in England and gained some fame as a baritone, comedian and theatre owner, active in vaudeville and on stage. He emigrated to Australia in 1871.
According to The Secret Life of Houdini, Houdini’s Australian tour was encouraged by a British friend, Lord Northcliffe, who was eager to alert his country and her allies to the military potential of air power.
Be that as it may, it was reported Houdini was paid 200 pounds a week (some reports said the figure was 1,000 pounds a week) touring Melbourne and Sydney for three months with his famous magic act, escaping from handcuffs, chains and straitjackets. Winning the prize for flight would be a bonus.
Houdini’s first attempts to fly his 60-hp Voisin emblazoned with his “theatrical” name were hampered by weather conditions and mechanical problems. Worse was the appearance of a rival aviator Ralph C. Banks, who set up his new Wright Flyer on the same field. Houdini was accompanied by his full-time French mechanic, Antonio Brassac, who slept in a tent at night with the plane, such was his devotion.
READY, SET …
Said Houdini of his mechanic: “No mother could tend her child more tenderly than does Brassac my machine.”
The two aviators camped beside a dam on a farm in Plumpton Road, Diggers Rest, about 25 km northwest of Melbourne, in the hope of becoming the first to get airborne when the wind permitted.
Ralph Conningsby Banks was first to take to the air, on 1 March, in an imported Wright Model A Flyer. He covered about 320 yds (300 m) just less than 16 ft (5 m) above the ground when a wind gust sent the flimsy plane into a dive into the ground. Banks was thrown clear and suffered only minor injuries. He was badly shaken and damage to the plane two weeks to repair.
Next up was Hungarian-born Houdini in his imported Voisin biplane, bought in Germany. His first attempts at flight were thwarted by strong wind.
But just after 8 am on Friday 18 March He became airborne and flew a full circle of the paddock before landing safely almost a minute later. Two further flights followed the same day lasting up to 3¼ minutes at heights up to almost 100 ft (30 m).
Back to Banks, still acknowledged by some as Australia’s first aviator.
The Argus newspaper (C. J. Johnston) reported in 1939: “Banks took his lead from Defries. He had been mechanic for the unsuccessful attempts in Sydney by Defries.
“After Defries had made many unsuccessful attempts to fly the machine Banks became eager to try. Defries agreed. The machine was of the type built by the Wright brothers, who made the first successful flight in the world in December 1903. It was a four-cycle water-cooled engine with a 4½ in. bore and 4 in. stroke. The output of power was 30 to 35 hp at 1,200 revolutions, and the total weight 180lb. A vertical radiator was placed to the right of the pilot’s seat—a Vienna chair with the legs sawn off.
“Ralph Banks made his first attempt at the Moonee Valley racecourse. He started the machine up the straight. As it gathered speed a hurdle suddenly came into view. Back went the joystick and the machine lifted its wheels from the ground. But it was too late. The flight came to a sudden stop on the top of the hurdle. The course was inadequate for flying, so Banks set out to find a suitable ground. Eventually he found an ideal spot at Digger’s Rest, where he set up a workshop on a floor area of 50 square feet. As it was then impossible to try to fly when there was wind blowing, the tests had to be made in the early hours of the morning. The machine was wheeled out at 5 or 6 o’clock every morning.
“Banks soon proved himself to be a worthy pioneer. Knowing nothing whatever about the flying of an aeroplane, but with considerable mechanical knowledge, he began to teach himself to fly. His attempts to take the machine up resulted in many crashes, from which he emerged with hundreds of cuts and bruises. Inexperience made him employ his elevator too soon; over would heel the machine and hit the hard ground. So frequent were these smashes that two carpenters were kept continually on the job repairing the damage.
“One day when Banks was taxiing the machine across the field Mr. Donald McKellar and several other excited spectators rushed across to tell him that the wheels had left the ground for a short distance. Banks had not noticed that he had taken to the air for the first time. Many more attempts were made, but his difficulty was to keep the machine on the even keel. After persevering and patiently waiting for favourable weather this difficulty was overcome. Soon Banks began to make straight flights across the countryside, sometimes reaching a height of 50ft. and covering a mile of airway.
“One day came the news that Houdini was on his way to Australia with an aeroplane. Banks wrote to him at once and invited him to bring his machine to Diggers’ Rest which he described as an ideal aerodrome. Houdini arrived with his plane, a pusher type Voisin, which became to be called affectionately ‘the old box kite’ and a mechanic named Brassac. He set up his flying quarters at Diggers’ Rest”
Only a few witnesses were on hand when Houdini made history, but enough to record the event for posterity and earn the accolades that went with the achievement.
The Age newspaper (Melbourne) reported: ”In his first attempt, Houdini sent his machine tearing across the paddock at a tremendous speed, the biplane rising in less than a hundred yards. Just as it rose the machine swerved straight for a solid gum tree, and the hearts of the onlookers beat fast as they saw disaster – perhaps death – right in the track. Mechanically the aviator moved the elevating lever, and the biplane skimmed over the tree just like a bird.”
Houdini went on to make 18 flights while in Australia before having the Voisin shipped back to England where he intended to use it in stunts as he toured the country. But he didn’t fly the plane again, and despite thorough searches, nothing is known of what happened to the Voisin.
Houdini packed out theatres wherever he went on his tour. In Melbourne on 17 February 1909, he jumped from Queens Bridge into the Yarra River, manacled, and was able to wriggle free within a matter of a few minutes. This was his forte, flying was a hobby and its is said that he never bragged about his aerial feats.
Houdini died from complications from appendicitis on 31 October (Halloween) 1926, at Detroit in the US, aged 62. He was buried in a metal coffin that he had used in his escape acts.
The Houdini proclamation entered into the record books by the Australian Aerial League:
DIGGERS REST March 21, 1910.
“This document certifies that Harry Houdini, at 7 o’clock this morning, performed the record Australian flight in a Voisin biplane, remaining in the air for 7 minutes 27 seconds, in the presence of 30 witnessed, including the undersigned. Houdini’s movements were plainly hampered by a cross current of winds, which was pronounced by experience spectators to be distinctly dangerous. He reached a eight from 90ft to 100ft.”
The signatories included several prominent people; solicitors, doctors, yachtsmen, Ralph C. Banks from the Melbourne Motor Garage, and D. W. McCay, a reporter from The Argus.
SOURCES: Museums Victoria, Trove newspaper articles, press interview with Melton historian Graeme Minns, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Museum Australia, State Library Victoria.
REFERENCES: Flight, 29 Jan 1910, “First Flight in Australia”. The Argus, 16 Mar 1910, p.13 “Fledgling Aviators Trying Their Wings”; 19 Mar 1910, p.18 “Houdini Flies – Trials At Digger’s Rest”; 21 Mar 1910, p.9 “In Full Flight – Houdini’s Success – Three And A Half Miles”; 22 Mar 1910, p.8 “The “Bird” Man – Houdini’s Latest Success”. The Advertiser (Adelaide), 19 Mar 1910, p.17 “Aerial Flights – Handcuff King’s Performance.”
Parnell, Neville & Boughton, Trevor, Flypast – A Record of Aviation in Australia Australian Governemnt Publishing Service, Canberra, for the Civil Aviation Authority, 1988
Johnston, Capt E.C., “8. Air Transport in Victoria – One Hundred Years of Engineering in Victoria”, Journal of the Institution of Engineers Australia, Oct 1934, pp.377-378.
FOOTNOTE 1: Melton Shire held a Festival of Flight in 2010 to celebrate the events of 1910 at Diggers Rest. There is a Houdini Drive in Diggers Rest and some local businesses have used the Houdini name.
FOOTNOTE 2: The first Australian-made aircraft was designed and built by John Duigan, who completed a 7 m “hop” at Mia Mia, Victoria on 16 July 1910. Aspiring Sydney aviator L.J.R. (Jack) Jones built a series of aircraft from 1909 but none achieved flight until June 1911. He later built Australia’s first metal plane, the Wonga, in 1930.
On 23 February 1911, Frank Coles became Australia’s first aircraft passenger when aviator Joseph Hammond took his mechanic aloft while demonstrating Bristol Boxkites in Victoria. A Melbourne businessman, M. H. Baillieu, became Australia’s first paying passenger one month later, when he made a 19 km flight with Hammond. After purchasing one of Hammond’s Boxkites, Parramatta dentist William Hart became Australia’s first qualified pilot in November 1911.
In 1914, Frenchman Maurice Guillaux carried the first airmail from Melbourne to Sydney, then the longest airmail delivery in the world. When Captain Harry Butler returned from World War 1, he flew airmail from Adelaide to his hometown in South Australia and was quoted as saying:
‘The plane was great in War but it will be greater in Peace. This…is the beginning of a new era in mail and passenger transport’
Milestones of early Australian aviation:
12 Nov 1894 – Lawrence Hargrave, inventor, astronomer, explorer and historian is lifted 16 ft (4.87 m) off the ground by four tethered box kites he designed at Stanwell Park, New South Wales. Adding a seat, he flew with the kites 16 feet (4.8 m) off the ground, thus proving to the world that it was possible to build a safe, heavier-than-air flying machine.
5 Dec 1909 – George Taylor makes the first free flight in a glider at Narrabeen Beach, New South Wales.
9 Dec 1909 – Englishman Colin Defries makes a brief flight of about 345 ft (105 m) in a modified Wright biplane at Victoria Park Racecourse, Sydney.
1 Mar 1910 – The first attempted powered flight in Victoria by Ralph Conningsby Banks in the same Wright biplane at Digger’s Rest, results in a crashed landing after an uncontrolled flight of around 300 yds (274 m).
18 Mar 1910 – Hungarian-born American Ehrich Weiss (Harry Houdini) completes the first extended circling flight in a Voisin biplane at Diggers Rest, Victoria. This flight was recognised by the Aerial League of Australia as the first official flight in Australia.
16 Jul 1910 – John Duigan makes a short first flight of the first Australian-built aeroplane at Mia Mia, Victoria. Duigan himself considered his later flight of 7 October 1910 to be his first truly controlled flight.
1910-1911 – Azor D. Robbins & Aubrey Keith Lock, built a 50 hp (37 kW) 4-cylinder horizontally-opposed aero engine for a biplane designed by Lawrence Marshall, to compete for a 5,000 pounds Commonwealth Government prize for a military aircraft. The engine failed its initial tests and was rejected by Marshall but was successfully used in a 1913 flight at Albury, New South Wales.
20 Feb 1911 – New Zealander Joseph Hammond makes the first cross-country flight in Australia from Altona Bay to Geelong in Victoria in a Bristol Boxkite biplane.
JOHN DUIGAN AIRBORNE AT BENDIGO
3 May 1911 – John Duigan makes the first public flights with an Australian designed and built aircraft before a crowd of spectators at Bendigo’s Epsom Racecourse, Victoria.
5 Dec 1911 – First Australian pilot’s licence awarded to William Hart of Sydney, NSW.
When Orville and Wilbur Wright were still in short pants, an Englishman living in Australia was dreaming about how man could fly.
History shows the Wrights are credited with inventing, building, and flying the world’s first successful motor-operated aeroplane. They made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft with their Wright Flyer on 17 December 1903, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The brothers were also the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible.
THE WRIGHT STUFF – Wilbur and Orville
Lawrence Hargrave was born in Greenwich, England, on 29 January 1 850. He came to Australia at age 16 to join his father who had become a judge in NSW.
He failed his high school matriculation and signed up as an apprentice in an engineering workshop learning design and practical skills that were to be of great use to him later. After about five years he set off exploring after accepting a place on the Ellesmere. The ship circumnavigated Australia. starting around the Gulf of Carpentaria.
In 1872 he sailed on the Maria on a voyage to New Guinea, but the ship was wrecked. In 1875, he sailed as an engineer on William John Macleay’s expedition to the Gulf of Papua. From October 1875 to January 1876 he explored the hinterland of Port Moresby under Octavius Stone, and in April 1876 went on another expedition, under Luigi D’Albertis, for 400 mi (640 km) up the Fly River on the SS Ellengowan. In 1877 he visited the developing pearling industry for Parbury Lamb and Co.
He was elected to the Royal Society of NSW in 1877, then spent five years at the Sydney Astronomical Observatory.
With the financial support of his father, he was able to develop interests in land, leasing property at Coalcliff for coalmining. This provided him with the means to become a “gentleman inventor.”
He spent about 30 years overall studying aspects of aeronautics, then a fledgling science but one which was to change the world as it was known by having people flying around high above solid earth.
Hargrave invented many devices, but never applied for a patent for any of them. He wasn’t wealthy and probably needed money but he believed strongly in scientific communication as a key to furthering progress.
He wrote in 1893: “Workers must root out the idea [that] by keeping the results of their labours to themselves a fortune will be assured to them. Patent fees are much wasted money. The flying machine of the future will not be born fully fledged and capable of a flight for 1,000 miles or so. Like everything else it must be evolved gradually. The first difficulty is to get a thing that will fly at all. When this is made, a full description should be published as an aid to others. Excellence of design and workmanship will always defy competition.”
Three of Hargrave’s many inventions were significant to the development of aviation: curved aerofoils, particularly designs with a thicker leading edge; the box kite (1893), which greatly improved the lift to drag ratio of early gliders; and the rotary engine that powered many early flying machines, up to about 1920.
In other words, he helped set the world on the path to flight.
Hargrave began by studying birds; how they used their wings and muscles to achieve flight. He began with a flapper, like that of Leonardo Davinci, but it didn’t get off the ground. A report noted “it was heavier than air and failed to fly, though it would run like a New Zealand kiwi.”
Replicating the muscle movement and the three motions of birds he had observed could not be done. Hargrave turned to worms for inspiration, observing how the earthworm lifted its body forward laterally and horizontally. He made an artificial worm and was able to successfully replicate the movement of live ones. He kept working on these concepts to see how they could be applied to flight.
Success came in August 1884 when he made the first inanimate object that flew under its own power. It was a small monoplane with a propeller at the front. The Wright brothers were still in their teens at this time.
In a paper he read to the Royal Society on 6 August 1884, he gave particulars of his discoveries: “I have strung together my thoughts, experiments and deductions that refer in any way to tiletrochoidal plane, pointing out where I see Nature working with it, and how it can be used by man for the transmission of force; and I think that if other members have heard of or made similar observations they will bring them forward, so that my mistakes may be corrected by comparison with the ideas of others, and also that the truth may be elicited about a matter that does not seem to get its fair share of investigation.
“The trochoidal action of five muscles and legs seemed so plain that I could not help being led to theorise on the action of wings in flight. I say theorise simply because I have not a flying machine to show you, but the chain of evidence seems so complete that I have no doubt it will soon be accomplished, without the aid of the screw or gas bag. These are my views, and if you think there is any novel truth embodied in them, this society is welcome to any of the laboratory models that aided me in finding it out.”
Another “Eureka moment” was coming.
Hargrave began his experiments with kites in 1893. His wanted to build a kite so efficient that it would fly into the wind. His efforts then may have been relatively unsuccessful, but he did get off the ground.
Getting ready at Stanwell Park
On 12 November 1894 Hargrave rose into the air at Stanwell Park beach under a string of four box kites of his own design and construction. It was a short flight, only 5 m (16 ft) up and his string of kites was tethered to the ground for the sake of safety.
The experiment would have international ramifications. Hargrave’s box kite configuration had an influence on the development of flight in Europe and America.
Full recognition to Hargrave was a long time coming as he continued his studies of flight and power.
In 1889 Hargrave produced a rotary engine. He noted: “The idea was conceived that a three-cylinder screw engine could be made by turning the boss of a propeller into an engine, thus allowing the cylinders to revolve around the crankshaft, the shank and craft pin being stationary and the thrust coming from the face of the valve.”
He made a small model that weighed only 7.5 ounces, producing 456 revolutions a minute.
Orville and Wilbur Wright had heard of Hargrave’s work. Wilbur wrote to Hargrave in 1900, asking whether he and his brother could use Hargrave’s patents.
Hargrave replied that he didn’t have any patents, only models, and despatched some of them to the Wright brothers, saying only that his work was “for all and at the disposal of all”.
As they say in the classics, the rest is history.
The Wrights did acknowledge Hargrave’s work after their record-breaking flight in 1903, saying his developments had made it possible for them to fly in a full-size powered aeroplane.
Hargrave’s cellular-kite designs provided solid demonstrations of the superiority of cambered, or curved, wing surfaces, and contributed to the understanding of stability in flying machines. His engine made powered flight possible.
HARGRAVE AND BELL
Hargrave’s work attracted interest from other inventors. Alexander Graham Bell. credited with inventing and patenting the first practical telephone, travelled to Australia to meet Hargrave. Bell also did ground-breaking work in optical telecommunications, hydrofoils, and aeronautics.
Many of Lawrence’s Hargrave’s models and diagrams eventually were returned to Australia and held by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (the Powerhouse Museum) in Sydney.
HONOURED IN CURRENCY
The Hargrave family had quite an influence in the colony of NSW.
Richard Hargrave, uncle of Lawrence, was a prominent pastoralist and politician in NSW.
He was born on 1 February 1817 at Greenwich, England. His father Joshua was a hardware merchant. Richard arrived in Sydney in 1838 on board the Argyle and found work on Combelong Station at Monaro for Messrs Hughes and Hosking. A year later he became a partner of the Callendoon Station and the Goondiwindi Stations on the Macintyre River in northern NSW. He founded Beeboo and Whylm on the Severn River. Today, Inverell and Glen Innes are the main towns along the McIntyre and Severn Rivers system.
He and his partners lost everything in the financial collapse of the New South Wales economy and the failure of the Bank of Australia in 1843.
His merchant father refinanced him so he could buy 21,000 acres (85 sq km) just out of Armidale, naming it “Hillgrove Station,” as well as other properties in New England.
Richard married Mary Williams (sister of John Williams, Crown Solicitor), on 16 February 1847 in Sydney and settled on Hillgrove Station. They had six sons and a daughter.
Richard Hargrave entered politics and was the Member for New England from 17 April 1856 to 19 December 1857 in the first New South Wales Legislative Assembly.
His great great grandson, Richard (Rick) Colless, a former mayor of Inverell, spoke of his Hargrave ancestors in his maiden speech to the NSW Legislative Council in 2000.
He said that four years after arriving in Australia Richard Hargrave was engaged to move 5,00 head of cattle from Delegate close to the NSW-Victoria border to the new runs on the McIntyre and Severn Rivers near the Queensland border.
“In 143, only one year after they arrived in the northern districts the fledgling colony suffered a financial disaster, with Richard Hargrave losing everything except then clothes he was wearing, his horse and his saddle,” Mr Colless said.
“Richard Hargrave was fortunate that his father refinanced him, and he was able to take up a grant of 21,000 acres known as Hillgrove Station, east of Armidale and a 50-acre block adjacent to where the City of Armidale now stands. At this time there was but a single shepherd’s hut in the vicinity.”
Mr Colless said Richard and Mary lived on Hillgrove Station for about 40 years, even though they had property interests elsewhere, including Broadmeadows Station and Kangaroos Creek on the Clarence River and held leases for Bostobrick and Tyringham. They also owned Hernani in New England.
Richard Hargrave, the first Member for New England in the NSW Legislative Assembly, held many committee positions in government before retiring to the Armidale property that he named Harewood. Selling it in 1899. Richard and Mary moved into a cottage near the railway station in Armidale. The street was later named Hargrave Street. Richard and Mary died in 1905.
Richard Hargrave’s older brother John Fletcher Hargrave arrived in NSW in 1856 and he, too, entered politics, serving in the Legislative Council from 1859 to 1861. He served as Solicitor-General and Attorney-General until 1865 and was also a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
Lawrence Hargrave was a son of John Fletcher Hargrave and thus a nephew of Richard.
John Fletcher Hargrave (1815-1885) was born on 28 December 1815 at Greenwich, England, son of Joshua Hargrave, hardware merchant, and his wife Sarah, née Lee. On 20 September 1843 he married his cousin Ann Hargrave of Leeds. In 1849, despite strong testimonials, he failed to gain office as a police magistrate. in 1851 with a legacy from his father he retired from the Bar. According to the Dictionary of Biography (J. M. Bennett) J. F. Hargrave “dabbled in railway and other public matters until his wife committed him to the new asylum at Colney Hatch, Middlesex. Gradually recovering, he was advised to leave England.
In 1856 J. F. Hargrave, leaving his wife and three younger children, sailed for NSW with his eldest son Ralph and brother Edward, to join another brother Richard, arriving in February 1857.
Ann Hargrave, with her children Lawrence, Alice and Gilbert, moved to Keston, Kent. Lawrence went to Queen Elizabeth’s School at Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmoreland. When he was 15, his father sent Ralph back to England to take him to Australia.
They reached Sydney in the La Hogue on 5 November 1865; Lawrence moved into Rushcutters Bay House which his father had had built. Destined for the law, he was put to a tutor, but when he was offered a trip on the schooner Ellesmere to the Gulf of Carpentaria, his father consented.
John F. Hargrave was admitted to the NSW Bar and became a foundation judge of the District Court.
The Dictionary of Biography: “Hargrave resigned from the bench in February 1859 to become Premier Charles Cowper’s solicitor-general and from March to October represented in turn East Camden and Illawarra in the Legislative Assembly. From November until June 1865 he was a member of the Legislative Council. He was solicitor-general under William Forster (Premier) and Attorney-General and government representative in the council under John Robertson (Premier) and twice again under Cowper. Using politics for his own advancement Hargrave secured silk in 1863, though he had practised little in the colony, and a place on the Supreme Court bench on 22 June 1865. His swearing-in was boycotted by the Bar.”
Hargrave’s greatest contribution is said to have been promoting legal education.
He died on 23 February 1885 from an “effusion on the brain” having lapsed into mental illness. He was survived by his wife, a daughter and three sons, of whom the second, Lawrence, became the noted aeronautical inventor.
From an obituary
Sources: Trove newspaper archives; Australian Dictionary of Biography (Amirah Inglis, J. M. Bennett); The Lawrence Hargrave Society; Hansard; Powerhouse Museum (Ian Debenham OAM), NSW Legislative Council.
FOOTNOTE: The Hargraves are not to be confused with another famous Australian, Edward Hammond Hargraves, to whom the Australian gold rush of the 1800s has been attributed. That’s another story.
A brave sailor fought to the
end trying to save his mates
on the HMAS Armidale
Many partygoers, mostly men, have broken into song or poem during a session on the singing syrup.
There’s a rhyme that will be known to many of those party-goers; it begins: “The boy stood on the burning deck”. Perhaps needless to say, some rude version of the rest of the verse have been added.
The rhyme was initiated for use at singalongs, but not necessarily to those alluded to above. It comes from the poem, Casabianca, written by Felicia Hermans in 1829.
The original verse reads:
“The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled.
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
Shone round him o’er the dead.”
The poem is significant just as much in the 2sth century as it was almost a couple of centuries ago.
As related by Dr Kevin Smith OAM to members of the Naval Historical Society of Australia in Sydney in April 2017, the original verse relates to the Battle of the Nile in 1798.
The French flagship L’Orient had seriously disabled HMS Bellerophon. In response, a pack of other British vessels moved in to attack L’Orient.
Dr Smith noted: “Amid the wreck and carnage of battle the French admiral’s thirteen-year-old son stood bravely to his post awaiting his father’s permission to leave. The boy, Louis de Casabianca, died at his post when L’Orient’s magazine exploded.”
Dr Smith recalled that piece of history in his paper about the sinking of an Australian warship, the HMAS Armidale, on 1 December 1942.
He said: “Every Australian schoolboy growing up in the 1920s and 1930s, a century later still, heard about or occasionally even read that poem. Young Edward Sheean growing up amid the green farmlands and forests of Barrington, south of Ulverstone in Tasmania, was one of those who almost certainly would have known the first line of this poem.”
Edward (Teddy) Sheean (above), was still in the minds of many Australians for many years after the war into into the 21st Century.
Teddy, just a teenager, was serving on the HMAS Armidale as it undertook escort duties along the eastern Australian coast and around New Guinea. Both he and the Armidale were lost at the hands of the Japanese.
According to The Australian Defence Force Journal in 2002, the loss of the Armidale was one of the most painful and bitter episodes in the history of Australia’s navy, the RAN.
HMAS Armidale was attempting to evacuate Australian and Dutch soldiers and deliver a relief contingent to Portuguese Timor (now East Timor).
Spotted by Japanese reconnaissance aircraft as they left Darwin, Armidale and sister ship Castlemaine survived repeated air attacks but reached Betano too late to rendezvous with HMAS Kuru, which had already picked up Portuguese refugees and moved off.
The two corvettes found Kuru 110 km off Timor and the refugees were transferred to HMAS Castlemaine, which then returned to Darwin. Kuru and Armidale were ordered to continue the operation.
Two Japanese torpedoes hit their target, the Armidale, sending her to the bottom. The crew was ordered to abandon ship where they came under further attack.
The survivors, having been strafed by the attacking aircraft, made a makeshift raft.The wounded were put on a small motor boat that had survived the sinking. The rescue they hoped for didn’t happen and the captain and 21 other men (two of whom died) headed for Australian waters in the motor boat, rowing much of the way because the engine was damaged. Two days later, another 29 survivors began the same precarious journey in a salvaged but damaged whaler that had to be baled regularly.
Some of the crew of HMAS Armidale
The remaining survivors clung to the raft and awaited rescue. The men in the motor boat and whaler were picked up, but the men left on the raft disappeared without trace.
The last sighting of the raft.
AGAINST THE ODDS
The story of Teddy Sheean is one of heroism and a long battle to secure for him a greatly deserved honour for his actions against the odds in the aftermath of the sinking of HMAS Armidale.
Teddy Sheean was given a Mention in Despatches — a badge — for refusing to abandon his gun while Japanese aircraft attacked the ship in December 1942. But supporters believed his bravery warranted a higher award, even the highest.
Classified as an Ordinary Seaman, he was far from that.
Right on 78 years after his death, Teddy Sheean finally got the award, posthumously, that so many had fought hard for him to be given .
On Tuesday 1 December 2020 he became the first Navy sailor to receive a Victoria Cross.
The short story is that Ordinary Seaman Edward Sheean helped launch multiple life rafts, before returning to fire at enemy aircraft despite orders to abandon ship. He kept firing until the Armidale sank, giving others time to escape.
He was killed during the assault.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at the VC presentation that Sheean’s story challenged Australians to live a life of meaning and selflessness.
“To say Teddy Sheean gave his life for his country really doesn’t quite capture the fearless grip he had on it until the very end,” he said.
“Everything he did was deliberate; he was determined to save his ship mates from being stranded in the sea.”
It had appeared the authorities would not buckle to demands for Teddy Sheean to be honoured, even up to just a year before his award was approved. But his supporters fought on and in August 2020, the Queen gave her assent for him to be made Australia’s 101st recipient of the Victoria Cross.
Teddy Sheean was 18 years old, the youngest member of the crew of HMAS Armidale on patrol off the coast of East Timor when the ship came under heavy attack from 13 Japanese planes.
The Armidale was struck by two torpedoes. The order to abandon ship was given; rafts were cut loose and a motor boat freed.
Up stepped Teddy Sheean. He helped launch a life raft, then disobeyed orders and returned to his gun, strapped himself in and began firing at the Japanese fighter planes – The boy stood on the burning deck whence all but he had fled.
As survivors leapt into the sea, they were machine-gunned by the enemy aircraft.
A survivor, Leading Seaman Leigh Bool recalled: Ratings were trying to get out lifesaving appliances as Jap planes roared just above us, blazing away with cannon and machine guns. Seven or eight of us were on the quarterdeck when we saw another bomber coming from the starboard quarter. It hit us with another torpedo and we were thrown in a heap among the depth charges and racks. We could feel Armidale going beneath us, so we dived over the side and swam about 50 yards astern as fast as we could. Then we stopped swimming and looked back at our old ship. She was sliding under, the stern high in the air, the propellers still turning.
Navy records show that, despite being wounded in the chest and back, Teddy Sheean managed to shoot down one bomber and keep other planes away from his mates in the water.
The last sighting of Teddy was of him still firing his gun as HMAS Armidale slipped below the waves.
A painting by Dale March depicting Teddy Sheean’s historic last stand hangs in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
The loss of Armidale resulted in a change to RAN policy, preventing minimally armed vessels like the Bathurst-class corvettes travelling into areas of heavy enemy presence while attempting tasks similar to Armidale’s.
Edward ‘Teddy’ Sheean was born on 28 December 1923 at Barrington, Tasmania. He was the 14th child of James and Mary Jane (nee Broomhall).
Teddy was educated at the local Catholic school. He took casual work on farms between Latrobe and Merseylea. In Hobart on 21 April 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve as an ordinary seaman, following in the steps of five of his brothers who had joined the armed forces (four of them were in the army and one in the navy). After initial training, he was sent to Flinders Naval Depot, Westernport, Victoria, in February 1942.
In May Teddy Sheean was posted to Sydney where he was billeted at Garden Island in the requisitioned ferry Kuttabul, before joining his first ship as an Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun-loader.
Commissioning of HMAS Armidale
On home leave, he was not on board Kuttabul when Japanese midget submarines raided the harbour and sank her on 31 May. Eleven days later he returned to Sydney for assignment and the commissioning of his ship, the new corvette HMAS.Armidale, which was assigned to escort duties along the eastern Australian coast and in New Guinea waters. Ordered to sail for Darwin in October, Armidale arrived there early in November. The Armidale and Teddy with her were lost sixth months later.
Teddy Sheean was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery. In 2020 he became Australia’s 101st recipient of the Victoria Cross, the first to be awarded to a member of the RAN. A Collins-class submarine, launched in 1999, was named after him—the only ship in the RAN. to bear the name of an ordinary seaman.
The town of Latrobe, where Teddy Sheean grew up after moving there as a youngster, installed a memorial plaque in his honour. There is also a plaque in Launceston.
HMAS Armidale (J240), named for the city of Armidale, northern NSW, was one of 60 Bathurst-class corvettes built during World War II, and one of 36 manned and commissioned by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).
Launched in early 1942, and initially assigned to convoy escort duties, Armidale was transferred to Darwin in October 1942 under the captain, Lieutenant Commander David Richards.
The corvette was attacked and sunk off Betano Bay on the south coast of Portuguese Timor just two months later.
Of the complement of 149, 49 were saved.
In 1938, the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board (ACNB) had called for a general purpose ‘local defence vessel’ capable of both anti-submarine and mine-warfare duties. The Board first preferred a displacement of about 500 tons, a speed of at least 10 knots (19 km/h) and a range of 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km).
Operational needs changed and the Board opted for a 680-ton vessel, with a 15.5 knots (28.7 km/h) top speed, and a range of 2,850 nautical miles (5,280 km), armed with a 4-inch gun, and able to be fitted with either depth charges or minesweeping equipment depending on the planned operations.
Construction of a prototype, HMAS Kangaroo, did not go ahead, but the need for locally built utility vessels for World War II saw the “Australian Minesweepers” (so designated to hide anti-submarine capability, but generally referred to as “corvettes”) approved in September 1939, with 60 constructed during the war: 36 (including Armidale) ordered by the RAN, 20 ordered by the British Admiralty but manned and commissioned as RAN vessels, and 4 for the Royal Indian Navy.
Armidale was laid down by Morts Dock & Engineering Co in Sydney on 1 September 1941. She was floated on 24 January 1942 and commissioned on 11 June 1942.
The Armidale eventually became a class of its own, with a new HMAS Armidale as the flagship.
The RAN said at he time “HMAS Armidale and her 12 sister Armidale Class Patrol Boats and two Cape Class Patrol Boats are Navy’s principal contribution to the nation’s fisheries protection, immigration, customs and drug law enforcement operations. The vessels work hand-in-hand with other Government agencies as part of the Australian Border Force. In the event of war they would be tasked to control the waters close to the Australian mainland.
“Armidale Class Patrol Boats are highly capable and versatile warships which are able to conduct a wide variety of missions and tasks.”
The latest HMAS Armidale, with an aluminium hull, was built by Austal Ships in Fremantle and commissioned in 2005.
With the first of a new class of offshore patrol boats – the Arafura class OPVs – due to join the RAN from late 2021, the Armidale class were being retired progressively.
Though it appears there were no sailors from the city of Armidale aboard the original HMAS Armidale, some of its crew felt an affinity with the town.
One of the survivors wrote to the Armidale council in January 1943, as recorded in a local newspaper:
“The Armidale Town Clerk, Mr F. W. Milner, has received a letter from Mr S.D. Davies, a survivor of HMAS Armidale addressed from Gloucester. He writes: ‘I was in the second batch of 26 picked up on the ninth day after the sinking of the ship and at present am enjoying several days leave at home. It was a pleasure to serve in the Armidale. We had a good captain, officers and crew and we were sorry to leave the little ship – but not before we gave the Japs a taste of what we were made of. I want to thank you for the comforts we received on the ship and wish you and the people of Armidale a merry Christmas and a bright and happy New Year’.”
HMAS Armidale bore the crest of the Armidale City Council (above). Ald. E. M. K. Wilson told a council meeting: “The town should be very gratified at the compliment to Armidale. The best thanks of the council should be given to the commander. Local patriotic bodies would be pleased to help with comforts needed by the men of the ship. If he writes to the local branch of the Patriotic Fund we would be pleased to co-operate.”
Sources and references: Australian War Memorial; TROVE archive of newspapers and publicly available reports; N. Watson, “Sheean, Edward (Teddy) (1923–1942)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University; and as acknowledged through the text, including Dr Kevin Smith’s paper.
Operation Postmaster was a British operation on the Spanish island of Bioko, known then as Fernando Po. The objective was to board Axis Italian and German ships in the harbor and sail them to Lagos, destabilising the Axis Forces. British authorities refused to support the raid, considering it a breach of Spanish neutrality. It was left up to the Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) and the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to carry out the mission.
Baker Street Irregulars and
a daring plot in Spain
Operation Postmaster was dicey. The plan was to board Italian and German ships in the harbour at the Spanish port of Fernando Po in the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa, in 1941 and sail them to Lagos.
The British military suspected that the fuel being pumped into German submarines was being transported to Spanish ports by disguised civilian cargo ships.
The British encountered three suspicious vessels, believed to be using radios to secretly navigate for German submarines. All three ships were in Spanish territory.
The problem with the British plan: such a raid by Britain could breach Spain’s neutrality in World War II and even drive the Spanish to join the Axis Powers (The “Axis of Evil”), a coalition of Germany, Italy, and Japan fighting the Allied Powers in World War II.
The go-ahead was given by the British Foreign Office against the advice of British officials in the region who believed the operation constituted an act of piracy.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain put his name to the paper to establish the SOE: “A new organisation shall be formed forthwith to co-ordinate all action, by way of subversion and sabotage, against the enemy overseas.”
After Cabinet approval SOE officially came into being on 22 July 1940 to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe (and later, in Southeast Asia) against the Axis powers and to assist local resistance movements.
SOE was sometimes referred to as “the Baker Street Irregulars”, after its London HQ. It was also known as “Churchill’s Secret Army” or the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”.
Its various divisions were concealed for security purposes behind names such as the “Joint Technical Board” or the “Inter-Service Research Bureau”, or fictitious branches of the Air Ministry, Admiralty or War Office.
SOE employed or controlled around 13,000 people, including about 3,200 women.
The Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) was set up in the early 1940s to carry out raids on the coast of Northern France and the Channel Islands. It was to gather information and take prisoners to be interrogated.
Winston Churchill initiated the “pinprick” raids, believing they would demoralise the German troops stationed along the Channel coast of occupied France.
The SSRF was founded by Major Gus March-Phillipps (above), Major Geoffrey Appleyard and Captain Graham Hayes.
They chose small boats for inshore operations. Members of the force were drawn from The Special Boat Service (SBS), the SOE and nationals from countries including France, Poland, The Netherlands and Czechoslovakia.
An SSRF force
The SSRF raid was carried out by 11 of its men under the command of Major March-Phillipps, with four men from SOE and 17 local volunteers.
The SSRF left home for the Spanish colony in August 1941 aboard the trawler Maid Honour, from Brixham, for the daring raid on the ships at Fernando Po. In Nigeria, Governo, Sir Bernard Bourdillon provided the raiders with two tugs.
The aim was to take over an Italian merchant vessel Duchessa d’Aosta (above), a German tug and a barge that had been impounded by the Spanish Government. Britain feared the ships could be used to supply U-boats operating off West Africa.
Reaching the port late at night on 14 January 1942 the commandos used plastic explosives to break the anchor chains.
They overpowered the crews on the three ships and sailed off with them and 29 prisoners to Lagos.
The mission took just 30 minutes from the time the tugs entered the harbour to leaving with the three ships under tow. There was no loss to the raiding party.
The tugs experienced motor problems on the way and a ship was sent from Lagos to complete the mission.
It was reported that to lure the officers away from the ships, SOE agent Richard Lippett who had taken a job with a British shipping company with an office on the island, and Spanish “friends” threw a party and invited officers from the impounded ships. It was also reported that the officers were offered free use of the island’s brothel.
The operation was a triumph for SOE. The Spanish were furious. Foreign Minister Serrano Suner said of the operation: “It was an intolerable attack on our sovereignty; no Spaniard can fail to be roused by this at of piracy committed in defiance of every right and within water under our jurisdiction. Do not be surprised if we return the answer which the case demands – that of arms.” There was no action.
March-Phillips, Hayes, Appleyard, Lippett and other participants all received honours for their parts in the raid.
British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden denied all knowledge of Operation Postmaster, attributing it to the Free French.
But the truth came to light almost 70 years later. Solicitor Brian Lett, whose father served with the SOE, gained access to documents relating to the top secret raid.
He discovered that the Naval Liaison Officer for Operation Postmaster was Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond 007.
Lett believes the SSRF team was the basis for the creation of the James Bond character: “Before his death, Fleming said 90 per cent of the plots came from his personal experience,” Lett said in an interview.
In 2012 Brian Letts published the book, Ian Fleming and SOE’s Operation Postmaster – the untold top secret story (Pen and Sword Books). Letts argues (probably reasonably that the people involved in the operation were the inspiration for Fleming’s series of nine James Bond books.
March-Phillipps was killed during Operation Aquaint in September 1942, Hayes was captured on the same operation and a German firing squad eventually executed him in 1943. Appleyard joined the SAS and on the same day Hayes was executed, he was reported missing in his plane while on an aerial mission.
The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was approved by Cabinet and officially formed by Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton on 22 July 1940, to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe (and later, also in occupied Southeast Asia) against the Axis powers, and to aid local resistance movements.
It was formed from a merger of Department – MI R, the Ministry of War Section D (sabotage), the secret service SIS/MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service) and the team of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Propaganda.
SOE’s first headquarters were three floors of the Victorian St Ermin’s hotel in central London, close to St James Park Tube Station and also close to Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament.
Later, the headquarters were established at 64 Baker Street, under the contracted name Union Trading Company. It had facilities in the main cities of Europe and Africa, including Stockholm, Lisbon, Madrid, Bari, Algiers. SOE agents were trained in England and on the west coast of Scotland.
Those who were part of SOEor who had contact with it were sometimes referred to as the “Baker Street Irregulars”, after London HQ location. It was also known as “Churchill’s Secret Army” or the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”.
Many of its activities were disguised by names such as the “Joint Technical Board” or the “Inter-Service Research Bureau”, or fictitious branches of the Air Ministry, Admiralty or War Office. As well as Ian Fleming, another notable member included actor Sir Christopher Lee.
The organisation was officially dissolved on 15 January 1946. The memorial to all those who served in the SOE during the Second World War was unveiled on 13 February 1996 on the wall of the west cloister of Westminster Abbey. Another memorial to SOE’s agents was unveiled in October 2009 on the Albert Embankment by Lambeth Palace in London. A Valençay SOE Memorial honours 104 SOE agents who lost their lives while working in France.
There were more than 40 female secret agents operating for the SOE overseas during its lifetime.
The Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) was created in 1942 by the Chief of Combined Operations, Lord Louis Mountbatten, a maternal uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
He believed in the use of specialist soldiers trained in sabotage. The SSRF was to be an amphibious force of no more than 50 men. It was placed under Mountbatten’s command.
The force in essence already existed as the Special Operation Executive’s Maid Honour Force named after the converted trawler it used. Though Mountbatten had control over the SSRF, it remained on the SOE’s role as Station 62. The SSRF was commanded by Major Gus March-Phillipps (sometimes spelled Phillips).
The unit undertook raids on German targets. Members worked only in small groups, in the belief that such groups would be far more detect. However, on the night of September 12 1942, the SSRF attacked St Honorine in Normandy but most in the raiding force were killed, including March-Phillipps. The command of the force passed to Major Geoffrey Appleyard, previously its second in command.
The SSRF raids buoyed Allied spirits and helped undermined the morale of the Germans troops.
The SSRF was disbanded in April 1943; other commando units were getting larger and there were divisions arising between the roles of SSRF and SOE.
Ian Lancaster Fleming was born on 28 May 1908 in Mayfair, London.
His parents were well off and he spent his school years at top British schools Eton and Sandhurst military academy. He took up writing while schooling in Kitzbuhel, Austria. He failed entrance requirements for the Foreign Service and joined the news agency Reuters as a journalist.
He worked in the financial sector for the family bank, but just before World War II and was recruited into British Naval Intelligence where he excelled. He rose to the rank of Commander, which later became his nickname.
After the war Fleming retired to Jamaica where he built a house called “Goldeneye,” took up writing full-time and created the character that made him famous – British Secret Service agent James Bond, in a novel called “Casino Royale,” the first of nine in his 007 series.
Fleming spent the rest of his life writing and traveling as his Bond character reached new heights of popularity on movie screens.
He also wrote the novel “Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car” which was released in three volumes from October 1964, after his death. The main character was Commander Caractacus Pott.
It became a successful musical-fantasy film in 1968, starring Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, Adrian Hall, Heather Ripley, Lionel Jeffries, Benny Hill, James Robertson Justice, Robert Helpmann, Barbara Windsor and Gert Fröbe.
Roald Dahl was a co-writer of the screenplay.
Fleming’s health began to fail and he died of a heart attack (his second) in England in August 1964 at the age of 56.
This article is an extension of a chapter in Elite Special Forces, 75 Years of Covert Action, Chris McLeod, Wilkinson Publishing.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” “The Innocents Abroad” By Mark Twain
Travels and travails
Mention Mark Twain and you probably think of the adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.
Adventure was something of a theme in Twain’s life. He brought those adventures to life through his writing and his lecturer tours.
Best known for two books, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain himself was an avid world traveller, some of his trips brought about by necessity after he went broke.
Often his transport of choice was a train. In the US, a train was named for him. More on that later.
Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on 30 November 1835, in Florida, Missouri, the sixth of seven children of Jane and John Marshall Clemens. Only three children survived childhood.
Twain’s family moved to the port town of Hannibal, Missouri, when he was four. Slavery was legal in Missouri at the time and became a theme in his most famous books.
His father was an attorney and judge, who died of pneumonia in 1847, when Twain was 11. The following year, Twain left school after the fifth grade to become a printer’s apprentice. In 1851, he began work as a typesetter, producing articles and humorous drawings for the Hannibal Journal newspaper .When he was 18, he left Hannibal and worked as a printer in New York City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati.
He educated himself in public libraries in the evenings, noting that he learned more there than at a formal school.
But like some of his young friends, the lure of good money for marine work was a long-held ambition.
He had his eyes on the job of a boatman. He noted: “Pilot was the grandest position of all. The pilot, even in those days of trivial wages, had a princely salary – from a hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty dollars a month, and no board to pay.”
It took him more than two years to get his pilot’s license. Piloting also gave him his pen name from “mark twain”, from the leadsman’s cry for a measured river depth of two fathoms (12 feet), which was safe water for a steamboat.
Twain eventually gave away life on the water to head to Nevada with his brother Orion, where he set himself up as a miner. He failed at mining, so he went back to something with which he was familiar and a job at the Virginia City newspaper Territorial Enterprise,
It was his experiences in the “west” that led to him into writing and his humorous musings brought him some notice. In 1864 Twain moved to San Francisco, still as a journalist.
His first real success as a writer came with the humorous tale, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was published on 18 November, 1865, in the New York weekly The Saturday Press, gaining him national attention.
In 1867, a local newspaper funded his trip to the Mediterranean aboard the Quaker City, including a tour of Europe and the Middle East. He wrote a collection of travel letters which were later compiled as The Innocents Abroad (1869).
Twain married Olivia Langdon (the sister of a man he met on the Quaker City) in Elmira, New York in February 1870,
They lived in Buffalo, New York, until 1872. Twain took a stake in the Buffalo Express newspaper and worked as an editor and writer. While they were living in Buffalo, their son Langdon died of diphtheria at the age of 19 months. They had three daughters: Susy (1872–1896), Clara (1874–1962),and Jean (1880–1909).
In November 1872, Twain was a passenger on the Cunard Line steamship Batavia which rescued the nine surviving crew of the British barque Charles Ward. Twain wrote to the Royal Humane Society recommending and honour for Batavia‘s captain and the crew.
Twain moved his family to Hartford, Connecticut, from 1873.
Twain wrote many of his classic novels during his 17 years in Hartford (1874–1891) and over 20 summers at Quarry Farm, Elmira, where they spent many summers and where Twain did much writing.
His works included The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), The Prince and the Pauper (1881), Life on the Mississippi (1883), Adventures of HuckleberryFinn (1884), and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). Twain has been referred to as “The Father of American Literature.”
The couple were married for 34 years; Olivia died in 1904. All the Clemens family are buried in Elmira’s Woodlawn Cemetery.
Twain is said to have been fascinated with science and scientific inquiry. He developed a close friendship with inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla. Twain spent considerable time in Tesla’s laboratory.
He patented three inventions, including an “Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments” (to replace suspenders) and a history trivia game. Most commercially successful was a self-pasting scrapbook; a dried adhesive on the pages needed only to be moistened before use (more than 25,000 were sold).
Twain was an early proponent of fingerprinting as a forensic technique, featuring it in Life on the Mississippi (1883) and as a central plot element in the novel Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894).
Twain made considerable money from his writing, but he lost much of it through investments. He invested mostly in inventions and technology, particularly the Paige typesetting machine. Though it was an exceptional machine when it worked, it was prone to breakdowns and eventually lost out to the invention of the Linotype.
That cost him most of his book profits, as well as much of his wife’s inheritance.
Twain also lost money by way of his publishing house, Charles L. Webster and Company, which failed to produce a top-seller..
By 1895, Mark Twain, was broke.
In July 1895, Twain – recovering from financial ruin – undertook a year-long, around-the-world lecture tour (150 lectures were scheduled) to pay off his creditors in full, although he was not under any legal obligation to do so.
The 13-month lecture tour would take him (accompanied by wife Olivia and daughter Clara) from America to Canada, New Zealand, Australia, India and finally England.
In September 1895, he arrived in Watsons Bay in Sydney aboard the RMS Warrimoo, to give “at home” talks in a number of cities.
Described by Melbourne advertising posters as “the funniest man in the world”, Twain packed the house wherever he spoke. He made good money.
BREAK OF GAUGE
Mark Twain visited Australia and New Zealand fromSeptember of 1895 to January of 1896.
In Australia, he travelled mostly by train, from Sydney to Melbourne and even ventured out to Geelong, Castlemaine, Hobart, Maryborough, the Blue Mountains, the Hawkesbury River, Stawell, Newcastle and Scone.
It is hard to know if he was an avid train and railway enthusiast. He wrote a lot about trains though.
His reaction to having to change trains overnight at the break-of-gauge on the NSW-Victoria border is well-documented.
He noted: “Now comes a singular thing: the oddest thing, the strangest thing, the most baffling and unaccountable marvel that Australia can show. At the frontier between New South Wales and Victoria our multitude of passengers were routed out of their snug beds by lantern light in the morning in the biting cold of a high altitude to change cars on a road that has no break in it from Sydney to Melbourne! Think of the paralysis of intellect that gave that idea birth; imagine the boulder it emerged from on some petrified legislator’s shoulders. It is a narrow-gauge road (he meant to say ‘standard’) to the frontier, and a broader gauge thence to Melbourne. The two governments are the builders of the road and are the owners of it. One or two reasons are given for this curious state of things. One is that it represents the jealousy between the colonies, the two most important colonies of Australasia.”
He recorded some of his travels in More Tramps Abroad (1897).
Twain made it out to Maryborough in central Victoria where he found an impressive bit of infrastructure that prompted him to write: “Don’t you overlook that Maryborough station, if you take an interest in governmental curiosities. Why, you can put the whole population of Maryborough into it, and give them a sofa apiece, and have room for more.”
Twain had also travelled by train in India, in 1925.
“Inside the great station, tides upon tides of rainbow-costumed natives swept along, this way and that, in massed and bewildering confusion, eager, anxious, belated, distressed; and washed up to the long trains and flowed into them with their packs and bundles, and disappeared, followed at once by the next wash, the next wave. And here and there, in the midst of this hurly-burly, and seemingly undisturbed by it, sat great groups of natives on the bare stone floor, young, slender brown women, old, gray wrinkled women, little soft brown babies, old men, young men, boys; all poor people, but all the females among them, both big and little, bejewelled with cheap and showy nose-rings, toe-rings, leglets, and armlets, these things constituting all their wealth, no doubt. These silent crowds sat there with their humble bundles and baskets and small household gear about them, and patiently waited–for what? A train that was to start at some time or other during the day or night! They hadn’t timed themselves well, but that was no matter–the thing had been so ordered from on high, therefore why worry? There was plenty of time, hours and hours of it, and the thing that was to happen would happen – there was no hurrying it.”
A railroad is like a lie — you have to keep building to it to make it stand. A railroad is a ravenous destroyer of towns, unless those towns are put at the end of it and a sea beyond, so that you can’t go further and find another terminus. And it is shaky trusting them, even then, for there is no telling what may be done with trestle-work. – Letter to the San Francisco Alta California, printed May 26, 1867
Back home in the US, the traveller, author and raconteur was honoured with his name on a train – the Mark Twain Zephyr. Unfortunately it suffered an inglorious demise.
The train was one of nine self-propelled sets built for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and was designed for regular service between St. Louis and Burlington, Iowa.
The train’s name came courtesy of one of the stops — Hannibal, Mo., home of Mark Twain. In fact, the year the route began was the 100th anniversary of Twain’s birth.
Built in 1935 — a year after the Pioneer Zephyr, the first of the class — the Mark Twain was the fourth Zephyr built.
The Mark Twain Zephyr was sent out on to the tracks in 1935, christened by Nina Clemens Gabilowitsch who was the granddaughter and ultimately last descendant of Mark Twain. It comprised some of the earliest streamlined passenger cars.
It set a top speed of 188 km/h in trials, which puts many of today’s modern American passenger services to shame. Its normal operating speed was from 64-95 km/h.
The train was built to operate the 711 km St Louis and Burlington round trip, carrying 92 passengers. One of its stops was Hannibal, home of Mark Twain.
Most of its service history was carrying passengers and mail on a route that followed the Mississippi River along Iowa and Missouri until 1958.
Each of the four cars was named after a character from one of Twain’s books. Injun Joe carried the power unit and mail compartment; Beck Thatcher was the baggage car; Huckleberry Finnwas the kitchen and dining car and Tom Sawyer was a passenger car with a rear observation lounge.
The train also was air-conditioned, believed to be among the first American passenger trains to be so equipped.
The service began on what would have been Twain’s 100th birthday; he died of a heart attack on 21 April 1910, aged 74.
The train was built from stainless steel by the Budd company and was powered by a 660 hp, 8-cylinder, 2-cycle diesel engine designed by General Motors, and built by the Electro Motive Corporation.
High speeds were achieved by way of an unusual design. By articulating the 85 m long train, three trucks and 34 wheels were eliminated from what a conventional train with a steam locomotive and three cars would have, resulting in significant weight reduction. The front part of one car and the rear of the preceding one rested upon the same truck, held together by a sleeve joint, allowing it to round curves efficiently. Roller bearings were applied to all axles reducing friction, and maintenance.
When the railroad retired the Mark Twain train in May 1963 after first switching it back and forth to various Zephyr routes, it passed through several hands where with good intentions restoration was planned. But the train ended up sitting pretty much abandoned as a shell of its former glorious self, awaiting an investor willing to fund its restoration, apparently an unlikely outcome due to the extensive cost.
But when it seemed there was little hope of the Mark Twain Zephyr plying the rails again, up stepped the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad in 2020 with a dozen full-time employees and some willing volunteers in Trego, Wisconsin, setting about refurbishing the engine, three passenger cars and a baggage car. Restoration was expected to be completed in 2021.
Wit and Wisdom
“′Classic′ – a book which people praise and don’t read.”
“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).”
“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
“Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.”
“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
“Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it.”
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
Doris Jessie Carter was a high achiever, in athletics and military service. She jumped and she flew.
Doris Carter, WAAAF.
Doris was an Olympic high jumper – the first Australian woman to compete in field events at an Olympic Games when she represented Australia in the women’s high jump at Berlin in 1936. There, she became the first female Australian track and field athlete to reach an Olympic final.
Though she finished equal sixth, later reports note she was credited fifth after the competitor who finished fourth was disqualified. It was also revealed she competed in the final with an ankle injury.
After a sporting career that included representing Australia in hockey, Doris Carter went on to a distinguished career in the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force, becoming a director.
She was the first woman to fly in a Canberra bomber and a Vampire jet. Her proudest moment was in 1996 when she co-led the Melbourne ANZAC Day parade.
Doris Carter was born in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg on 5 January 1912, the eldest child of Edmund and Jessie Carter.
She attended Ivanhoe primary and high schools before opting for a career as a teacher and going to Melbourne Teachers College.
After graduating, she taught at Melville Forest in the Western District of Victoria and then at South Preston and Moreland Girls Central schools in Melbourne.
At school she became involved in athletics, showing talent in several events but particularly the high jump.
She held the Australian women’s high jump record for 20 years and was not beaten in that time. The pinnacle of her achievements was selection for Australia at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and then Empire Games in Sydney two years later.
She was at one time the Victorian 90 yards hurdles champion and finished third in that event at the Australian championships In January 1936. She won five national championships at high jump (1933, 1935, 1936, 1938, 1940) and two at discus throw (1936, 1940).
At the women’s athletic championships in Brisbane in 1935, Doris Carter set the national high jump record, clearing 5ft 3in. She retained the title in 1936 with a leap of 5ft 3.8 ins.
The world record for the women’s high jump at the time was 5ft 5in, set by American Jean Shirley at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
In April 1936 after Doris Carter became Australian female high jump champion the was much speculation she would be selected in the Australian Olympic team to got to Berlin in August. The speculation was right.
A report in the Sydney Morning Herald on 16 April 1936 described the “unassuming” Doris Carter as “one of the most popular women athletes In Victoria.”
The report referred to the many difficulties she faced to become an Australian champion: “For six years she taught at the Melville Forest school, on the South Australian border, and whenever possible came to Melbourne In her small car for track meetings as a member of the Melbourne Women’s Amateur Athletic Club”
She was one of four women named in the Australian Olympic team that set sail for Berlin on the SS Mongolia from Sydney on May 13. The team comprised 33 athletes and officials. And support crew.
Australia’s 1936 Olympic team
Australia contested the same five sports as in the two previous Olympics: swimming/diving, athletics, cycling, rowing and wrestling. It would be the last time Australia sent a team of fewer than 50 athletes to an Olympics.
1932 cycling gold medallist Edgar ‘Dunc’ Gray carried the flag in the Opening Ceremony.
There would only be one medal for Australia in Berlin: John ‘Jack’ Metcalfe won a bronze medal in the triple jump.
Doris Carter carried an ankle injury into the high-jump final. The gold medal-winning height of Hungary’s Ibolya Csák was lower than Doris Carter’s Australian record.
Other strong Australian performances came from 800m runner Gerald Backhouse (8th), rowers William Dixon and Herbert Turner (6th in the double sculls), and swimmer Percy Oliver (7th in the 100m backstroke).
Adolf Hitler at the Berlin Olympics, 1936
Doris Carter recalled later her sense of unease during the Games: “’There were so many people in uniform and there was the Hitler Youth and they were all very enthusiastic. It was pretty obvious that they were preparing for war, but they led us to believe that it was their fear of the Russians,”’ she said.
“Beautiful facilities, but I remember vaguely how we went from the dressing room to the ground, it was through a long tunnel. I was fortunate enough to go back to Berlin in 1946 when I went over to the victory parade, and it was very obvious then that all these tunnels and these underground entrances to get into the ground were really all air raid shelters ready for the war that was to come.”
After the Berlin Games, Doris Carter competed in the 1938 Empire Games (later to become the Commonwealth Games) in Sydney. She was fifth with a jump of 5ft 1 in.
The star of the Empire Games was Australian athlete Decima Norman, who won five gold medals in track and field. Margaret Dovey, the future wife of Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam, finished sixth in the 220 yards breaststroke.
Doris Carter still held athletic aspirations after her track and field career. She represented Australia in hockey and later played golf and took on sports administration roles.
The Melbourne Herald reported: “Miss Carter is a keen student of athletics, and her knowledge of the technical side of the sport and her winter training classes for girl athletes at Royal Park arc proof of her sincere efforts to further the development of women’s athletics in Victoria.”
She was involved in the administration of women’s athletics both at State and National levels; she was President of the Victorian Women’s Amateur Athletic Association from 1945 to 1948 and twice served as President of the Australian Women’s Amateur Athletic Union, firstly in 1948 and again between 1952 and 1962.
She was one of the two female members of the Organising Committee for the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956 where she also took on the role of Assistant Manager to the Australian Olympic Team.
After her success as an athletic competitor, Doris Carter joined the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force(WAAAF), serving from January 1942 to October 1945. She led the WAAAF contingent in the Victory March in London.
Members of the Australian Victory Contingent in Berlin, 1946. Squadron Leader Doris Carter is at left.
The Old Colonists Association of Victoria website takes up the Doris Carter story: “Doris was with the Department of Post-War Reconstruction from 1946-48 and at the time of her appointment was in charge of the Child and Youth Migration Section of the Department of Immigration. Before returning to Australia, Doris spent a month studying WRAF organisation and establishments in Britain.
“On 11 April 1951 Doris was appointed Director of the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) with the rank of Wing Officer. In 1957 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE). The Citation was as follows: ‘Wing Officer Carter served with the WAAAF during the 1939-45 War and was later recalled to represent the WAAAF in the Victory Contingent which visited the United Kingdom in 1946. During the war years this officer showed outstanding ability as an organiser and leader and when it was decided to reconstitute the Women’s Branch of the RAAF, she was again recalled and appointed Director of WRAAF in April 1951. In the appointment Wing Officer Carter, by outstanding leadership and tireless effort, has moulded the WRAAF into a most effective force.
Flight Officer Doris Carter shows WAAAF officer trainees how to make rissoles from military food supplies over an open fire during a bivouac at Launching Place, near Melbourne in 1943.
Her ability to establish and maintain a perfect balance between womanly aspects and service requirements, and her genuine interest in the welfare of all airwomen have won for her the confidence and respect of all members of the Service. Her organising abilities and outstanding personal qualities were recognised by her appointment as Manager of the Australian Women’s Olympic Team in the recent Olympic Games and the manner in which she performed this task brought international recognition and added prestige to the WRAAF, and the RAAF as a whole.”
American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt spoke to WAAAF women on a visit to Melbourne in 1943. Second from right is Flight Officer Doris Carter, officer in charge of the guard of honour.
Doris Carter moved to Rushall Park (retirement village, Fitzroy, Victoria) in 1986 and lived there until her death on 28 July 1999.
SUMMARY OF DORIS CARTER’S CAREER (from Australian Women’s Register)
Teacher with the Victorian Education Department
Participated at the Berlin Olympic Games – Track and Field Athletics – placed sixth in the high jump
Played interstate hockey
Represented Australia at the Empire Games, Sydney
Member of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF)
Officer-in-charge of the WAAAF Victory Contingent to London
Department of Post-War Reconstruction
Officer-in-charge of the Child and Youth Migration with the Department of Immigration, London
Director of the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force
President of the Australian Women’s Amateur Athletic Union
Manager of the Australian Women’s Team at the Olympic Games, Melbourne
Appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire
General secretary of the YWCA, Melbourne
Member of the Board of Trustees at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra
Member of the National Fitness Council, Victoria
FOOTNOTE: The Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) was formed in March 1941. There was considerable pressure form women keen to serve and the Chief of the Air Staff wanted to free male personnel serving in Australia for service overseas. The WAAAF was the first and largest of the wartime Australian women’s services. It was disbanded in December 1947.
QUOTE: “Those who don’t jump never fly” – Leena Ahmad Almashat, Harmony Letters, 2011.
PICTURES: Australian War Memorial; TROVE newspaper articles.
Amy Johnson is probably best known as the first women to fly solo from England to Australia, in 1930.
She broke new aerial solo records with other flights: England to Tokyo via Siberia and England to New York.
Her breakthrough achievements brought her worldwide fame.
Yet her disappearance at age 37 remains one of the great unsolved mysteries.
Or is it?
Amy Johnson died in 1941 when her plane crashed in the Thames Estuary. Her body was never recovered. But she did not perish in the crash itself.
Amy flew in World War II as a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary, but details of her fatal ferry flight on 5 January 1941 remain a government secret.
Reports at the time said she flew off course in bad weather, her plane ran out of fuel and she had to bail out. The plane crashed into the Thames Estuary, and witnesses saw Amy fall into the water but her body was never found.
Shockingly, more than 60 years later it was claimed she was shot down by gunners from her own country because she did not respond with the correct codes when challenged. And a further shock; it was claimed she died in a botched rescue attempt.
What then is the Amy Johnson story?
Amy Johnson was born in Hull, East Yorkshire in 1903, the eldest of four girls. Her father was a Danish fish merchant who met her mother Amy Hodge from Yorkshire when sailing to Hull.
When Amy was 14 she lost her two front teeth after being hit with a cricket ball. She recalled that she became “introspective and withdrew farther and farther into a protective shell of my own making.” Amy went to school in Hull before studying at Sheffield University where she majored in economics and graduated in 1923 with Bachelor of Arts degree.
She took office jobs in Hull before moving to London where she worked in a law firm from 1925 to 1929.
Bored with an office job, she decided to learn to fly, still a new hobby for most people – and rare for women.
Amy joined the London Aeroplane Club at the de Havilland Aerodrome, Stag Lane. One of her instructors was Captain Valentine Henry Baker, a World War I fighter pilot. She trained in a de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus II Moth, and on 9 June 1929, after 15 hours, 45 minutes of dual instruction, made her first solo flight.
She gained an aviation certificate and then a Pilot’s Certificate and License from the Air Ministry of Great Britain on 6 July 1929; it was an “A” Flying Certificate, for private pilots. She was also awarded a Certificate for Navigators, and in December 1929 she became the first woman to be certified as an Engineer (aircraft mechanic). She was also a member of the Yorkshire Gliding Club in Yorkshire.
Amy recalled the difficulty of learning to fly, admitting it was a scary experience as her first instructor was not very sympathetic: “When I was up in the air I could only hear a confused sound in my neck instead of what should have been lucid instructions . . . I was scared stiff of my instructor who never seemed to lose his first idea that I was a born idiot,” she said.
Her first major achievement, after flying solo, was to qualify as the first British-trained female ground engineer, and first woman in the world to do so.
With the financial backing of her father and Baron Charles Cheers Wakefield, founder of the Wakefield Oil Company (Castrol was the familiar brand name), she bought a year-old de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth biplane, c/n 804, registered G-AAAH. It had been owned by Air Taxis Ltd, first registered 30 August 1928. Johnson named her airplane Jason, which was the name of her father’s business.
Early in 1930 Amy set herself the objective of flying solo to Australia and beating Queenslander Bert Hinkler’s record of 16 days. She set off from Croydon aerodrome on 5 May 1930 and landed in Darwin on 24 May, a flight distance of 17,7000 km (11,000 miles). She didn’t get the time record but became the first woman to do the trip solo.
Four days into her a tour of Australia that followed a rest in Darwin for a few days, disaster struck as she attempted to land at Brisbane’s Eagle Farm aerodrome with 20,000 people looking on as they waited to greet her.
Stops on the way to Brisbane included Cloncurry, Longreach, Quilpie and Charleville, where she landed after dark with the aid of headlights from 20 cars.
Landings were said not to have been her strong suit and Amy misjudged the descent into Eagle Farm and overshot the runway. The plane was flipped when it hit a fence, coming to rest in a neighbouring farm paddock, upside down, with Amy still strapped in.
She freed herself and though shaken was pretty much unscathed. Jason, however was badly damaged.
Amy recovered her composure and addressed the crowd as scheduled, albeit with her jumper torn and “a gash in one boot”.
The Brisbane Courier newspaper reported: “The aviatrix scrambled out, unscathed. The wings of the plane were badly damaged but nothing could wipe the smile from the sunburnt young woman, her bobbed brown hair tousled by the wind.’’
After several days in Brisbane, including a visit to the racetrack for the annual Stradbroke Handicap, she flew on a commercial flight to Sydney to continue her tour.
Her plane was retrieved and returned to England. A replica was constructed and put on display in Hull.
Replica on display in Hull
Amy Johnson had received worldwide acclaim for her feat and returned home to the UK to a hero’s welcome. She was awarded a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) honour.
She also collected a £10,000 prize offered by London newspaper, the Daily Mail. The Australian Air Ministry issued her its Pilot Certificate and License Number 1. The International League of Aviators awarded her The Harmon International Aviatrix Trophy for 1930.
Amy set several long-distance flight records, solo and with other pilots, one of whom was Scottish pilot James Allan Mollison.
They married in July 1932. Soon after, she set a record for a solo flight from London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, flying a de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth (named Desert Cloud) there in 4 days, 6 hours, 54 minutes, 14–18 November 1932. She broke the previous record which had been set by Jim Mollison. For this flight, she was awarded the Segrave Trophy of the Royal Automobile Club, for “the most outstanding demonstration of transport on land, sea or air.”
Her next flights were as a duo, flying with Mollison. In 1933, she and Mollison flew a de Havilland DH.84 Dragon, named Seafarer, in a record-setting bid nonstop from Pendine Sands, South Wales, to Bridgeport, Connecticut, in the US. But near Connecticut they began to run low on fuel and, in the dark, had to make an emergency landing at Bridgeport Municipal Airport. They missed the runway and crash-landed in a ditch. They escaped with cuts and bruises and were honoured with a ticker-tape parade and reception in Wall Street, New York.
The couple competed in the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race from England to Australia in a de Havilland DH.88 Comet. Although they achieved a record time to India they were forced to retire with engine trouble beforte they could complete the flight.
In 1936 Amy made her last record-breaking flight, regaining her Britain to South Africa record in a Percival Gull Six. She divorced in 1938 and reverted to her maiden name.
In May 1937, Johnson, who was already a rated navigator, travelled to Annapolis, Maryland, in the US, where she studied advanced navigation .
She then turned to business ventures, journalism and fashion. She modelled clothes for Elsa Schiaparelli and created her own travelling bag, until the outbreak of the war in 1939.
At the outbreak of World War II, Amy joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, a pool of experienced pilots who were ineligible for RAF service. She held the civilian rank of Flight Officer, equivalent to an RAF Flight Lieutenant. Her duties involved ferrying aircraft from factory airfields to RAF bases.
On 4 January 1941, Flight Officer Johnson was assigned to take an Airspeed AS.10 Oxford Mk.II, registration V3540, from Prestwick, Scotland, to RAF Kidlington in Oxfordshire. She landed at RAF Squires Gate, Lancashire, and remained there overnight, visiting her sister.
The next morning, although weather was poor and visibility limited, she left Squires Gate at 10:30 a.m. Reportedly advised not to go, she insisted, saying that she would “smell her way” to Kidlington.
About 3:30 p.m., Amy Johnson parachuted into the Thames Estuary. The plane crashed into the river a short distance away and sank.
A convoy of wartime vessels spotted Amy’s parachute and crew members saw her alive in the water. Conditions were too poor to attempt a rescue; there was a strong tide, and falling snow hindered visibility.
Lt Cmdr Walter Fletcher, who was the captain of the HMS Haslemere, dived into the water to rescue Johnson but he died in the attempt. Some documents related to her flight and personal belongings were found but Johnson’s body was never recovered.
Then in 1999, it was reported that Tom Mitchell from Crowborough, Surrey, claimed to have shot down Amy’s plane.
He claimed that Johnson failed to give the right identification code, which was changed every day for all British forces so troops on the ground would know they were British. Apparently, she failed to give the code twice and was shot down, under orders, as an enemy aircraft. Mitchell said: “Sixteen rounds of shells were fired and the plane dived into the Thames Estuary. We all thought it was an enemy plane until the next day when we read the papers and discovered it was Amy. The officers told us never to tell anyone what happened.” There has been no official verification of the claim.
A further claim has been made that Amy Johnson’s death was the subject of a cover-up; that she survived the crash but was killed as a rescue was attempted.
Dr Alec Gill, a historian from Hull, claims Amy’s death was deliberately covered up after she died in an unsuccessful rescue mission.
A report in the Independent newspaper in 2016 said a witness on board HMS Haslemere, a converted ferry attempting to rescue her, remembered the ship’s engines being reversed, perhaps resulting in Amy being pulled into the propellers.
“This ship should have gone down in history as the vessel that saved her life,” said Dr Gill. “Instead, historians are now beginning to conclude that the propellers of the Haslemere killed her.”
Dr Gill told the Independent he believed the details of her death were deliberately covered up: “The Royal Navy did not want to admit to the Royal Air Force – or indeed a nation at war – that they had killed Britain’s favourite female pilot.”
As her body was never found, there was no inquest.
First woman to fly solo from England to Australia.
In July, she and co-pilot Jack Humphreys became the first people to fly from London to Moscow in one day, completing the 1,760 miles (2,830 km) journey in approximately 21 hours.
Married Scottish pilot Jim Mollison, who had proposed to her during a flight together some eight hours after they had first met.
In July she and Mollison flew the G-ACCV, named “Seafarer,” a de Havilland DH.84 Dragon I nonstop from Pendine Sands, South Wales, heading to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York.
In September (under her married name of Mollison) became the youngest President of the Women’s Engineering Society, having been vice-president since 1934.
Sources: thisdayinaviation.com, the famousepople.com, TROVE newspaper articles, britishheritage.com, biographyonline.net, “Amy Johnson, Queen of the Air” by Midge Gillies, and aeorflight.co.uk, wikipedia.org.
In 2019 the Amy Johnson Arts Trust website issued a series of podcasts to recall Amy Johnson’s daily experiences, based on her diary notes, on the record-making flight to Australia.
A version of this article first appeared in VANISHED, Chris McLeod (Wilkinson Publishing) 2014.
And what became of Amelia Earhart
and Fred Noonan?
Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan
For 80 years the world has been speculating on whatever became of pioneer flyer Amelia Earhart.
She was last heard of with her navigator Fred Noonan on the second last leg of an around-the-world flight in their twin-engine Lockheed Electra plane, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean approaching a scheduled refuelling stop at tiny Howland Island.
There have been countless theories, many of them involving conspiracies. They just keep coming.
Two of the latest run along these lines:
A family tale from William Sablan, a man who lives on the Mariana Islands, says that Earhart was captured by the Japanese, taken to Saipan and spent several days in prison before being executed.
Just a little more odd is a claim that the two aviators crashed and were killed, their bones eventually eaten by giant coconut crabs.
Early in 2017 there was the discovery of an old blurry photograph that “experts” said showed showed Amelia and Fred on an atoll in the Marshall Islands, being held by the Japanese.
That did little to validate the coconut crab theory but it could fit with the capture and execution story. The photograph became a focal point for a television documentary and was seized on many news outlets and experts that gave it credibility – because the picture was sourced from the US National Archives, lending support to the theory that the US knew she had been executed but kept it secret.
As with many conspiracy theories, there was a hitch. A Japanese military history buff and blogger unearthed evidence that the photo was first published in a 1935 Japanese travelogue — two years before Earhart and Noonan set off on their doomed effort to circumnavigate the globe. The two westerners in the photo could not have been Amelia and Fred.
The United States officially is running with the theory that the plane just ran out of fuel and crash-landed close to Howland Island. The pair would have died when their food and water ran out. The plane is thought to be many metres down at the bottom of the ocean.
One organisation that isn’t buying the popular – and probably most credible explanation – is The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). Its executive director, Ric Gillespie, believes Amelia and Fred missed Howland Island and continued on for another 350 nautical miles (km) and landed on a coral reef around Gardner Island (now known as Nikumaroro Island).
For the next several nights, distress radio calls were heard from near the island, but US search planes were unable to find anything.
Gillespie thinks Amelia and Fred were alive on the island for several weeks before they died. Maybe this is where the giant coconut crabs theory might gain some traction.
Items recovered by TIGHAR have strengthened its view that it is looking in the right place.
Among the items was a small cosmetics jar, identified as probably a jar of Dr Berry’s Freckle Ointment, used to fade freckles. TIGHAR placed significance on this find as it was documented that Amelia Earhart disliked having freckles.
Other more substantial items recovered included a woman’s shoe and a sextant box with serial numbers believed to be consistent with a type carried by Noonan.
Also recovered more than 20 years ago was a small piece of an aluminium panel which TIGHA says has been identified in forensic tests as most likely coming from a repaired window on the Electra’s fuselage. The repair had not been noticed in pictures of the plane until 2014 when a photo taken before she took off for Puerto Rico on 1 June 1937 was examined more closely.
TIGHAR also says sonar readings of the ocean in the area are consistent with a large object on the ocean floor.
A human skeleton was found on the island in 1940, but British officials said the skull belonged to a short, European male. That hasn’t swayed Gillespie. He is still on the trail.
He says anthropologist Richard Jantz of the University of Tennessee reexamined the measurement and believes they are of a female of European origins.
A team comprising TIGHAR and the National Geographic Society launched an expedition to Nikumaroro in 2017, complete with sniffer dogs trained to find human remains in the hope (said to be remote) of finding something that would enable DNA linking to the aviators. Digging didn’t turn up any remains. But searching will continue..
In the vacuum of immediate knowledge of what happened to Earhart and Noonan rumours and conspiracy theories abounded.
So in summary, these are some of the theories that emerged over 80 years:
Landed on Saipan only to be executed by the Japanese. The US eventually exhumed her body but kept their action secret.
Flight was an elaborate scheme to spy on the Japanese, who captured her after she crashed.
Survived a Pacific Ocean plane crash, was secretly repatriated to New Jersey and lived out her life under an assumed name.
Survived and somehow made her way to Guadalcanal.
Crashed on New Britain Island.
Captured by the Japanese and became “Tokyo Rose.”
Captured by the Japanese and taken to Emirau Island in the Bismarck Archipelago, Papua New Guinea.
In a highly publicised July 1949 interview, Amelia’s mother, Amy Otis Earhart, who died in 1962 at age 93, told the Los Angeles Times, “I am sure there was a Government mission involved in the flight, because Amelia explained there were some things she could not tell me. I am equally sure she did not make a forced landing in the sea. She landed on a tiny atoll—one of many in that general area of the Pacific—and was picked up by a Japanese fishing boat that took her to the Marshall Islands, under Japanese control.”
How did it come to this?
It was a sunny morning on Friday 2 July 1937 when the Electra took off from Lae in what is now Papua New Guinea.
They were on their way to the tiny Pacific Island of Howland, the last scheduled stop (for fuel) before completing the last leg that would take them to their starting point in California, completing a record-breaking circumnavigation of the globe.
Amelia Earhart had chosen the longest route, 29,000 miles around the Equator. For the attempt, Lockheed Aircraft Company had built an Electra 10E to Earhart’s specifications. It was the first all-metal plane and was modified for long distance with the 10 passenger seats replaced by 12 fuel tanks. The refitted plane had a theoretical range of 4,000 miles. It was an advanced aircraft for the time, with variable pitch propellers and retractable landing gear.
The Electra left Miami on 1 June 1937 with stops scheduled in South America, Africa, India and South-East Asia. It arrived in Lae on 29 June 1937.
By then the Electra had travelled 22,000 miles, leaving about 7,000 miles to go over the Pacific Ocean.
The flight from Lae to a refuelling stopover on Howland Island was to take 18 hours. The risks were high: Howland Island was only a mile wide, 2 miles long and 20 feet above sea level, a speck of land in the vast Pacific.
Bad weather, even cloud cover, would make the tiny island particularly hard to find.
So, it was arranged that the American Coast Guard cutter Itasca would be on station at Howland to maintain radio contact and set off flares.
The US Navy auxiliary tug Ontario was stationed about halfway between Lae and Howland to keep lookout for the Electra.
Flying at 134.5 mph ground speed, the Electra reported in from Nukumanu Islands, formerly Tasman Islands, a medium sized atoll in the south-western Pacific Ocean, south of the equator and about one-third of the way to Howland and about 6.5 hours into the flight. Everything was in order.
The fuel load on take-off at Lae had overloaded the Electra as Earhart ensured a sufficient supply to make it to Howland. Strong headwinds may have increased consumption greater than expected, but by the half-way mark no alarm had been raised.
During the night Amelia reported seeing the lights of a ship below. It turned out to be the SS Myrtlebank on its way from Auckland, New Zealand, to Nauru. At that point, she still had around 1,140 miles to go.
She was still sending positional messages as she passed by the Gilbert Islands. At one point, Itasca heard her report that conditions were partly cloudy as she came to within 4 hours of Howland.
The Electra descended below the clouds and headed for where the aviators believed Howland Island would be.
A radio message to Itasca said “we must be on you but cannot see you but gas is running low, been unable reach you by radio we are flying at altitude 100 feet.”
But the ship didn’t respond.
A clue to the communications problem came later: photos and home movies at Lae appeared to show a radio antenna on the bottom of the plane breaking away as it taxied along the runway.
While the Electra should have been close to Howland Island neither Amelia or Fred saw the Itasca and the ship never saw the plane.
It follows that those on the plane also never saw smoke put up to help them find the island.
Amelia’s last transmission was “we are running north and south.”
The Electra had missed Howland Island and with no other significant land within 1,000 miles (160 km), logically it would have fallen in to the sea after running out of fuel.
According to records, the official air and sea search by the US Navy and Coast Guard lasted until 19 July 1937.
Amelia Earhart was declared legally dead on 5 January 1939.
Amelia Earhart’s record:
Woman’s world altitude record: 14,000 ft (1922)
First woman to fly the Atlantic (1928)
Speed records for 100 km – and with cargo (1931)
First woman to fly an autogyro (1931)
Altitude record for autogyros: 15,000 ft (1931)
First person to cross the US in an autogyro (1932)
First woman to fly the Atlantic solo (1932)
First person to fly the Atlantic twice (1932)
First woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross (1932)
First woman to fly nonstop, coast-to-coast across the U.S. (1933)
Woman’s speed transcontinental record (1933)
First person to fly solo between Honolulu, Hawaii and Oakland, California (1935)
First person to fly solo from Los Angeles, California to Mexico City, Mexico (1935)
First person to fly solo nonstop from Mexico City, Mexico to Newark, New Jersey (1935)
An internal combustion tractor built in 1912 by the first Australian tractor makers, A.H McDonald, sold in the US at auction in June 2020 for $US 283,500 ($A 400,000) and may be returning home.
The McDonald EB 140 Imperial, then and now
The tractor, An EB Imperial, probably should not have been in the US at all, thought by some to have been shipped there in breach of the Moveable Cultural Heritage Act 1986.
The tractor was sold at auction on 13 June by Aumann Auctions of Illinois. The buyer was not identified but confirmed by the auctioneers to be Australian which would be good news for those who campaigned for its return, including pleas for intervention by the Australian Government.
This is how Aumann Auctions listed the tractor:
“A. H. McDonald & Co. built this tractor and was Australia’s first tractor manufacturer. The company was founded in 1903 after Alfred Henry McDonald went into partnership with his brother, Ernest, to make electrical appliances in a small workshop in Melbourne. In 1905 they introduced a line of “Imperial” gasoline/kerosene stationary engines. In 1908 the company fitted its D-Type twin-cylinder engine into a four-wheel chassis, and the first McDonald “Imperial Oil Tractor” was born. Two years later, McDonald relocated to a new factory at Burnley, near Melbourne, which gave the company the space to increase production and continue experimenting with tractors. McDonald’s early tractors were inspired by British and American designs, particularly those produced by Saunderson, Hart-Parr and Big Four. Its second design of tractor, the Model EB of 1910, was influenced by the British Saunderson and was again powered by the “Imperial” D-Type twin-cylinder engine mounted transversely in the center of the frame. This tractor is an “Imperial” Model EB, one of just four known survivors. It was supplied new in 1912 to a farmer from Phillip Island (sic – actually Flinders Island), off Australia’s southern coast. This 1912 tractor has a two-cylinder vertical gasoline/kerosene engine with a 6.25 inch bore rated at 20 horsepower. It has 3 forward speeds and one reverse speed, weighing in at 10,080 pounds.”
There were more than 130 tractors and engines in the sale that was billed as a “Pre ’30 Auction of Tractors and Implements”.
The price paid for the Australian tractor was the second highest of the sale; the top price of $US 309,750 was for an International Harvester 12 hp Type A tractor (pictured below), believed to be the only one surviving.
The auction was held on-line under coronovirus guidelines.
There were 61 bids for the Australian tractor. Including 16 from the eventual successful buyer whose opening bid was $US 76,000.
It remains unclear exactly how the EB Imperial found its way to the US.
Fewer than 20 EB tractors were made in Australia and the one sold in the US in June 2020, was built for the Chilcot family on French Island in Bass Strait off Victoria.
It was the first tractor made in Australia with an internal combustion engine, said to be “very crude, very basic” and was sold new in 1912. It left Australia for England in 2008, and it isn’t clear how it got to the US.
The Federal Department of Communications and Arts which administers heritage issues, is said to have acknowledged to a collector in Australia that it should not have been sent to the US. An error was made when the tractor was included by accident in an inventory compiled for other agricultural machinery for export.
Replying to assertions by an Australian person interested in bidding for the tractor at the US auction, Kurt Aumann of the auctioneers said: “It comes with a valid export certificate from 2008 when it went to your friends in England. We have recently been shown a letter from your government’s Department for Heritage that contradicts your statements. That letter stated the export was legal and that there is no intent to repatriate the tractor now or in the future. We have made all information available at all times. Our contact information, as you know, was given to the Department for Heritage so they could contact us personally. The only parties that have been critical of the sale of this tractor are a few collectors like yourself that interpret the law and/or actions taken differently … Your argument should be with the person that sold it in Australia or your government agency that approved the export.”
A.H. McDonald was Australia’s first tractor manufacturer, starting production in 1908. The first tractor was powered by a McDonald D type twin cylinder petrol engine producing 20 HP. It had three forward gears and one reverse.
The original tractor was supplied in 1909 to J.H. Dardel, Batesford near Geelong. It was overhauled for him in McDonald’s workshop in 1912.
Another dozen models were produced to 1910.
Alfred Henry McDonald was born in 1883. His father was a baker and the family lived behind the shop in Glenferrie Rd Hawthorn.
A. H. McDonald
He left school aged 14, his father wanting him to work in the bakery. But Alf wanted to be an engineer.
In 1898 he got an apprenticeship with Henri Galopin, “Scientific instrument maker to the Observatory,” in Chancery Lane, Melbourne, for a four year term.
He left Galopin to work for J.A. Newton, Electrical Engineers, for about a year where his spare time saw him at work in a shed behind his father’s bakery.
At first he made motors for dental drills, to replace the treadle.
A.H. McDonald & Co. was registered in 1903 and, he and younger brother Earnest set up a workshop in a rented room in Flinders St. Melbourne where they built their first petrol engine and generator set.
Alf McDonald planned to go into production with a range of engines as soon as possible.
Just a year later, in July 1904, the company moved into a corrugated iron workshop at 221 Burwood Road, Hawthorn, and named it the Imperial Engine Works. A year later the first McDonald engine was built and was followed by about another 30 4 HP per engines by year’s end, including two, three and four cylinder versions.
In 1907, the D type 10 HP engine went into production. It also was built in two, three and four cylinder versions.
A twin cylinder engine was chosen for the company’s first tractor in 1908. Tractors of various kinds were rolled out up to 1923.
In 1930 the larger models featured a new range of two-stroke engines from 10 HP to 75 HP.
In 1910 the company bought a large block of land in Stawell St, Richmond, and built a new, larger factory with a foundry capable of pouring castings weighing up to three tons.
Tractor production continued along with a line of road rollers for which the Company became famous.
An early McDonald road roller
The first “Super Diesel” horizontal engine appeared in 1918, and soon the range extended from 2 HP to 25 HP. They were successful for stationary use and road rollers, but too heavy to be suitable for tractors.
During the 1920’s, McDonalds imported tractors, firstly the Emmerson – Brantingham (E-B) from U.S.A, later the Avance from Sweden. They starting building McDonald Imperial tractors again in 1930 with the TWB model, and from 1946 to 1955 the T6 series.
The company merged with Jaques Bros Ltd. (now Jaques Ltd, makers of quarry equipment) in 1969. Remaining McDonald products, mainly road rollers, continued to be made in their factory and sold by the McDonald Division.
The familiar McDonald three-point roller
The Division was later renamed Jaques McDonald and specialised in the distribution and hire of Road Construction Equipment, including McDonald road rollers.
FOOTNOTE: The first internal combustion tractors in Australia were English Ivels imported in 1903.
The McDonalds also were involving in creating the biggest Australian-made tractor, contributing the massive gearing and bearing components.
Big Lizzie was going to be the first roadtrain when she was rolled out in 1916, destined to haul trailers laden with wool from outlaying stations to Broken Hill in the far west of NSW, Australia. Instead, she became famous as the biggest tractor built in Australia, and probably the biggest in the world at that time.
Big Lizzie clearing land (above) and on display (below).
Lizzie was the brain-child of blacksmith Frank Bottrill. While working in the Broken Hill area he thought that something other than camels might be more adept at hauling the wool packs across sandhills, bogs and creek beds. Steam tractors couldn’t do the job; it needed a fresh approach. Big Lizzie was Bottrill’s answer, built over a year in the yards of A.H. McDonald & Co’s works in Melbourne.
She was a 34 ft (10.3 m) long, 11 ft (3.3 m) wide, weighed 45 tonnes and was powered by a 60 hp (44 kW) single cylinder crude oil engine. Lizzie would never set any speed records; 2 mph (3.2 km/h) was her best.
Bottrill set out for Broken Hill on a 550 km journey but never got there. Mechanical problems so delayed him that he reached Mildura in late 1917 only to find he couldn’t get across the Murray River and on to Broken Hill. So he set about carting wheat and other goods in the Mildura area.
Bottrill’s big break came in 1920 when he was awarded a contract to clear a large area of scrub near Redcliffs for a soldier settlement scheme.
According to Red Cliffs Historical Society notes, Lizzie arrived in July 1920 and went to work for World War 1 soldier settlers clearing new blocks.
Big Lizzie had a number of failings, including a maximum speed of one mile per hour, a huge turning circle and inadequate steering gear. Despite these problems, she was found to be very effective for the land clearing in the Mallee in the 1910s and 1920s. In 1920 the Victorian Government, through the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, contracted Bottrill to carry out a large scale clearing operation at Red Cliffs to create irrigation blocks for soldier settlement. Clearing in the area was previously largely carried out with small grubbing machines. Big Lizzie was equipped with a number of steel cables for pulling out trees and stumps, and a gang of up to sixteen men worked in a supporting role on the ground.
Lizzie’s operation was unique, laying her own track as she went about tearing out the bush to make way for the new farmers.
Lizzie laid her own track
Lizzie was abandoned sometime after 1826. In 1969, former Mildura shire president and historian Ern Wolfe went looking for. He was tipped off that Lizzie was rusting away on Glendenning Station in western Victoria.
Wolfe and some friends retrieved Big Lizzie and took her back to Red Cliffs where she was restored in time for Red Cliffs Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1971.
Wolfe said: “I had to borrow $1250 from the Red Cliffs Club, that was the cost of the machine, which was a bargain.”
The Big Lizzie Preservation Committee settled her on display in Barclay Square, Red Cliffs, near Mildura.
She is the only preserved example of the innovative Dreadnaught wheel developed by Frank Bottrill and applied to tractors for land clearing and hauling. The caterpillar track eventually proved the most successful design, but the dreadnaught wheel was reliable and effective for its purpose and was used in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia.
New Holland Agriculture introduced its first hydrogen-powered tractor in 2011. The co-injection of hydrogen with diesel is in use in some agricultural machines, though this method is not considered as efficient as hydrogen fuel cells.
The National Institute of Agro-machinery Innovation and Creation (CHIAIC) in Luoyang in the central province of Henan launched China’s first hydrogen fuel cell electric tractor in 2020.
Now, Australia is ready to join the hydrogen-power revolution in agriculture.
Limited availability of hydrogen fuel in Australia meant it had not been commercially viable, but developments in 2020 mean dreams can become reality.
Infinite Blue Energy’s Arrowsmith Hydrogen Project, planned for near Dongara in Western Australia, is expected to produce 25 tonnes of green hydrogen a day.
The first phase of construction at a cost of $300 million was likely to begin operations by 2023.
An Australian-made hydrogen-powered tractor was on the drawing board.
The H2X vision
Australian company H2X said it planned to manufacture hydrogen-powered vehicles, including tractors, at Port Kembla New South Wales by 2025.
The company’s main line of production will be passenger vehicles and it already has produced prototypes of cars as well as a tractor.
H2X is also working on other hydrogen related projects in railways, the marine industry, and stationary energy storage systems. It is also developing a range of heavy electric vehicles for mining sectors.
H2X aims to produce 20,000 hybrid vehicles from a plant at Port Kembla south of Sydney by 2025. The first car on the drawing board is a small SUV named the Snowy.
Company CEO Brendan Norman said the company planned to go into “aggressive production” from 2022 The venture was expected to create around 5,000 direct jobs.
Mr Norman has held executive positions with VW in Saudi Arabia, Shanghai and Singapore, Audi in Japan and South Korea, and has worked with Grove Hydrogen and Wales-based hydrogen car maker Riversimple.
IN THE BEGINNING…
Early tractors were known as traction engines, steam powered machines adapted from trail on rails to use roads.
They were huge and heavy, impractical for working soft farmland. Initially they were stationary engines, towed to where they were needed to provide power. Belts linked them to threshers and other stationary machines.
When used as moving machines, the traction engines were slow and inefficient. The name was derived from the Latin tractus, meaning ‘drawn’.
At the time of the steam engine, the traction engine took over the heavy work from draught horses.
From around 1850, self-propelled portable steam engines were developed for agricultural use and production continued into the early 20th century.
An early hint to their life span came in 1892 when John Froelich invented and built the first petrol-powered tractor in Clayton County, Iowa, US.
He mounted a single-cylinder petrol engine on a chassis, controlled and propelled by Froelich’s gear box.
He patented his invention, but by 1895 he had lost all his capital and went out of business.
The first commercially successful light-weight petrol-powered general purpose tractor was built by British inventor Dan Albone, in 1901. He filed for a patent on 15 February 1902 for his tractor design and formed Ivel Agricultural Motors Limited.
About 500 were built, and many were exported.
Development of petrol power continued in the US and in 1904 Holt Manufacturing Co. produced its first petrol-powered tractor.
The first successful American tractor was built by Charles W. Hart and Charles H. Parr who developed a two-cylinder gasoline engine. They built 15 farm tractors in Iowa in 1903.The two-cylinder engine had a unique “hit-and-miss” firing cycle that produced 30 HP at the belt and 18 HP at the drawbar.
Innovation picked up pace in the US when in 1910 Holt registered Caterpillar as the trademark for its tractors and two years later, Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co. made from 30 to 60 tractors for J. I. Case Threshing Machine Co. In 1914 Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Co. made its first tractor.
By 1920 Henry Ford and John Deere also were making petrol-powered tractors.
In 1926, Briton Harry Ferguson set the template for farm tractors that’s still used worldwide today when he applied for a patent for his three-point hitch. This led to a boon in tractor use, particularly when a rear power shaft was added, allowing the power take-off from the tractor to drive other machinery.
The Ferguson-Brown Company produced the Model A Ferguson-Brown tractor with a Ferguson-designed hydraulic hitch. In 1938 Ferguson joined h Henry Ford to produce the Ford-Ferguson 9N tractor.
In the US International Harvester and Massey Harris entered the tractor market.
More than a century later these names remain at the forefront of tractor manufacturing, particularly in the US, though with some variations to brands.
BIG UNITS AND BIG NAMES
Still credited as the biggest farm tractor ever built, the custom-made Big Bud 747 was a one-off order filled in Havre, Montana, US, in 1977 by Ron Harmon’s Northern Manufacturing Company for the Rossi Brothers , cotton farmers, of Old River, California, at a cost of $US300,000 and boasting 760 HP later boosted to 1100 HP.
It was used for 11 years for ripping fields and changed hands a few times before going on display at the Heartland Acres Agribition Center in Independence, Iowa.
Big Bud was a powered by a massive Detroit Diesel engine and in its working life made a meal of hauling a 350,000 lbs (158,757kg) 80 ft (24m) wide cultivator at 8 mph (12.8 kph).
It could be set up as an 8-wheel or 12-wheel unit.
With its 16-cylinder Detroit Diesel (16V92T) engine, Big Bud could keep up a fast pace, working more than one acre (half a hectare) per minute.
It was 27 ft (8.2 m) long, 20 ft (6.1 m) wide, 14 ft (4.3 m) tall and carried 1,000 litres (220 gallons) of fuel.
After ripping cotton fields in California for the Rossi brothers, followed by more ripping work in Florida, Big Bud returned to Montana after it was bought by the Williams brothers, and was put on display at the Heartland Museum.
In July 2020 Big Bud was on the move again, heading back to Montana in September for the Williams brothers.
But first, it was time for some new rubber; Big Bud had not had new tyres since it was built in 1977 so 13,000 hours of work later it was time for new “boots.”
The original tyres, supplied by a Canada company were now out of stock. So the woners went for the Titan/Goodyear and the LSW 1400/30R46 model, the world’s largest ag tyres.
They were in stock but modifications would be needed: new wheels rims and spacers.
Each tyre weighed just over 680 kg and each wheel weighed just over 360 kgs.
The changeover operation took around four hours and Big Bud came up sparkling (below).
Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers which special in heavy equipment, rate Big Bud as the biggest of all time, with Versatile’s Big Roy 8-WD Model 1080 second, ahead of the AGCO Challenger MT975B, Case IH Steiger Quadtrac 62 and Upton HT14/350 2WD.
A web site has been dedicated to Big Bud, featuring videos of the massive machine in action.
At about the same time Big Bud went to work, Versatile Manufacturing Ltd was working on a massive tractor of its own; an 8WD Model 1080 tractor named “Big Roy” after Versatile company president Roy Robinson.
Big Roy was built in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, apparently with broadcare farming in Australia in mind. Unfortunately Big Roy never made it Down Under.
The unit was 30 ft (9.1 m) long, 22 ft (6.7 m) wide, 11 ft (3.3 m) high and powered by a 600 hp (447.6 kW) V-12 Cummins engine.
A design fault meant rear-vision was obscured by the engine sitting behind the cabin, so a closed circuit television was installed with a 120-degree camera relaying images of the drawbar to the TV monitor on the cab’s dashboard.
Big Roy was put on display at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum.
Versatile was the first company to mass-produce articulated 4WD tractors from 1966 and in 1977 launched the world’s first bi-directional tractor, the Versatile 150. It made a range of 4WD tractors in the 1980s, some of which found their way to Australia.
Hard times belted the company in the 1980s and it stopped making tractors in 1986. Two years later it was taken over by Ford-New Holland. Buhler Industries acquired the Winnipeg factory and the rights to the Versatile name when Case IH and New Holland merged and from 2000 badged the tractors as Buhler Versatile. In 2008, Buhler decided to again badge the tractors as Versatile.
As with the motor car, American engineer and businessman Henry Ford saw market potential for a mass-produced tractor.
From 1917 to 1920 Henry Ford and Son (Edsel) made a range of mass-produced general purpose tractors at their Dearborn, Michigan, factory under the Fordson brand. The Fordson was merged into the Ford Motor Company but the brand name remained until 1963.
The Fordson F and Fordson N
The Model F tractor, which succeeded the Model B, did for the country what the Model T car had done – made a machine affordable to ordinary people; in this case, farmers.
Fordson tractors were exported to Britain and Canada and progressively turned up in other countries. By 1925 Ford had built 500,000 Fordsons.
Fordson production in America ended 1928, replaced on the market by imported Irish and English models. The Fordson name was dropped altogether after 1964 and all the company’s tractors were simply branded Fords, still in predominantly blue livery. The Major and the Dexta were among the biggest selling Fordson models. In 1991 Ford sold its tractor business to Fiat and the Ford name disappeared, the blue tractors re-badged as New Holland.
Farmall was the brand name used by International Harvester (formed by Cyrus McCormick in 1902) for its tractor range.
The first MorCormick Farmall tractor appeared in 1919. By 1936 Farmall tractors were painted red for safety reasons, replacing grey and marking the beginning of the “Big Red” era. Farmall was initially a specialist row-crop tractor, its wheels arranged in a triangular pattern allowing the front wheels to pass between the rows of crops.
1927 Farmall and the McCormack Farmall
The Farmall name was later dropped in favour of McCormick International.
The demise of the Big Red Internationals began in the 1960s when the drive lines on their new powerful 60 series tractors failed because they weren’t strong enough for the new engines. The competition heated up around this time with John Deere’s Power Farming line gaining great traction in the market.
Through the 70s and into the 80s IH increased the power through a variety of new lines, including the 50 Series that included the 136 hp (101 kW) 5088, the 162 hp (121 kW) 5288 and the 187 hp (139 kW) 5488. IH was among the first manufacturers to add a computer to a tractor.
The last IH tractor was produced in 1985. IH also sold other farm equipment, including balers, cultivators, combines, corn shellers, cotton pickers, manure spreaders, hay rakes, crop dusters, disk harrows, disc and ploughs.
By 1991 the IH farming business had passed into the hands of J.I. Case, and branded Case International .
The Case IH range today includes Steiger, Magnum, Puma, Maxxum, JXU, Quantum, Farmall and JX Straddle.
John Deere remains a name synonymous with tractors and harvesters in their distinctive green livery.
John Deere, blacksmith and inventor, began his foray into farming in 1837 with a polished-steel plough produced at his Grand Detour, Illinois, workshop.
By 1848 the plough business was booming and John Deere moved operations to Moline, Illinois.
The company branched into tractors in 1948 with the takeover of Waterloo Boy tractors which were being outsold almost 70 to 1 by Fordsons.
The early John Deere look
Production of the R model, Deer’s first diesel tractor, began in 1947 starting a boom in tractor production to the point in 1963 when John Deere surpassed International Harvester as the world’s largest producer and seller of farm and industrial tractors and equipment.
By 2011 Deere was listed among the 50 most-admired companies by Fortune magazine and ranked as one of the 100 best global brands.
The company established factories for tractor and equipment production in India, Brazil, Argentina, Russia and China. Products also included excavation, road building and harvesting equipment.
In 2012 John Deere released the 9R and 9RT Series tractors, its most powerful 4WD tractor and including 410 hp (261.5 kW) to 560 hp (411.7 kW) models.
The Deere name is also seen on other farming and earthmoving equipment.
Before the development of the modern 4WD tractor, some manufacturers created massive tractors with two engines and two driving axles by joining two regular tractors together.
In the 1950s most farm tractors were in the 20-40 hp (14.7-29.4 kW) range, not strong enough for some applications, particularly on the larger farms of the United Kingdom.
Enter Essex farmer George Pryor with a solution. He bought two Fordson tractors, removing the front wheels and axles and linking the two by a turntable that provided the hydraulic steering action. The result: a double-engine 4WD tractor that could outperform the conventional tractors on the market.
Essex Fordson dealers Ernest Doe & Sons built an improved version in 1958, calling it the Doe Dual Power, later changed to Doe Dual Drive. The unit produced 100 hp (73.5 kW) and a later project using two Ford 5000 tractors produced a unit of 130 hp (95.6 kW).
By the late 1960s mainstream tractor manufacturers had developed single-engine tractors capable of 100 hp (70 kW) and upwards, ending Doe production after more than 300 had been built.
Doubling up was also tried in Australia, using locally made Chamberlain tractors.
One innovator joined two Chamberlain Super 70 diesels similarly to the Fordson arrangement as a 4WD unit. Another was a heavily modified unit of 12 wheels (three axles with double wheels) powered by twin 671 Detroit engines that punched out 669 hp (492 kW).
Stating a case
Today, there are almost 200 production tractor brands world-wide. According to Ranker.com the top 10 makers are Deere, New Holland, Massey Ferguson, Case IH, Claas, Deutz-Fahr, Caterpillar, Ford, Kubota and Mahindra.
And the most powerful farm tractors are likely to have tracks rather than wheels.
The Case IH Steiger Quadtrac when turbocharged can output 680 hp (500 kW). The Case IH 620 eight-wheel tractor also comes with 680 hp (500kW). Five Quadtrack models rate above 500 hp (367.8 kW).
Up there with the best of them over the 600 hp (441.3 kW) mark is the New Holland T9.670 with 608 hp (447.2 kW).
Big wheels monster
Laying claim to being the biggest production 4WD articulated tractor is AGCO’s Challenger MT975B from the Challenger 900 series. It weighs in at more than 26 tonnes and comes with a fuel tank that can hold 330 gallons (1,500 litres).
It was supplied with a choice of tyres, from single to duals, even triples (12 wheels in total). It is not as big as Big Bud or Big Roy and was in production until 2010. Challenger still produces 900 series tractors, including special application versions up to 600HP.
The articulated Challenger MT975B by AGCO, boasted 585 hp (430 kW) power output that increases to 632 hp (474 kW) from its Caterpillar engine.
AGCO was established in 1990 when executives at Deutz-Allis bought out Deutz-Allis North American operations from the parent corporation KHD which had purchased parts of the Allis-Chalmers agricultural equipment business five years earlier.
The company was first called Gleaner-Allis Corporation, then re-arranged to be Allis-Gleaner Corporation, or AGCO
AGCO today produces four core brands: Challenger, Fendt, Massey Ferguson and Valtra.
These massive tractors can be operated 24 hours a day and just one of them could replace a fleet of smaller tractors (and operators) that would be needed to cover the same ground in the same time.
Seven Ferguson TE 20s (four petrol, three diesel) were used on the 1955–58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Some were converted to half-tracks with front skis and others were converted to full tracks and taken to the South Pole by Sir Edmund Hillary, the first vehicles to be driven to the Pole.
Sir Edmund bound for the Pole
The legendary Kiwi mountaineer, explorer and philanthropist, caught a lift back home by trading one of the tractors for a ride aboard an American airplane leaving a U.S. research station at the Pole.
Sixty years later, a new modern Ferguson followed suit, driven from Europe in a nine-year odyssey by Dutch actress and adventurer Manon Ossevoort (referred to in the media as Tractor Girl).
A far cry from the little grey Fergie, the intrepid tractor this time was a modified big red Massey Ferguson MF 5610 Dyna-4, MFs most powerful three-cylinder diesel tractor at the time.
Hillary’s expedition travelled with Ferguson TE20s, outfitted with tractor treads, on a course south from New Zealand. The Oosevoort expedition (Antarctica2) set out from a point south of Africa, at the Russian Novo Airbase.
Ms Oosevoport, then a mother of a 10-month-old baby, said the 6-day, 2,500 km trip across the largest mass of ice on earth from Russia’s Novo base to the Pole had been tough.
Ms Ossevoort (above) began her trip in 2005, taking four years to drive from her home village in Holland to Cape Town at the southern tip of Africa.
She told Australia’s ABC Radio that she missed the boat that was due to take her to Antarctica. She spent the next four years back in Holland where she began writing a book, worked as a motivational speaker and desperately tried to get back on a tractor to resume her Antarctic mission.
Massey-Ferguson and other companies came to the party and she eventually made the trip. Special trucks were included in the expedition.
Ms Ossevoort travelled alone through Africa. French mechanic Nicolas Bachelet shared the driving in Antarctica as the tractor needed to creep forward day and night without stopping. The final leg across Antarctica was in temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees C.
In one eight-hour shift the tractor faced soft, sinking conditions every few hundred metres but the MF 5610 and its drivers proved they were up to the challenge. By engaging the lowest gear and the diff lock, the tractor would climb out slowly and resume its progress, reaching the Pole on 9 December 2014.
Unlike Hilary, the Antarctic2 crew returned the way they came and once home Ms Ossevoort started writing a children’s book and planning a movie documenting her journey.
“I think this is the best adventure on a tractor that one can come up with,” she said.