Charles Kingsford Smith is a name immediately recognisable in the history of Australian aviators.
He came to prominence in 1928 for his crossing of the Pacific Ocean in three hops – from San Francisco to Honolulu to Suva to Brisbane.
Brisbane, and Queensland, figure prominently in the history of Australian aviation, and Qantas is the name that most identifies with Australian aviation today.
Qantas, the nation’s flag carrier, operates domestic and international services.
QANTAS FOUNDERS – McMaster, McGinness and Fysh
The airline was founded in Winton, Queensland, on 16 November 1920 by Hudson Fysh, Paul McGinness and Fergus McMaster as Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited with two open-cabin biplanes.
Through Australia’s aviation history other names are known, Ross Smith and Charles Ulm among them.
Bert Hinkler and Lores Bonney maybe lesser known to many, but they are two significant names in Australian aviation.
It was Hinkler’s record for a solo flight from England go Australia that brought English flier Amy Johnston to prominence. She failed to break the record but became the first female pilot to complete the trip solo, in 1930.
Just three years later, an Australian woman, Maude Rose “Lores” Bonney completed the reverse of Amy Johnson’s flight – solo from Australia to England.
BERT HINKLER – the man from Ibis and record breaker
Herbert John Louis (Bert) Hinkler (1892-1933), was born in Bundaberg, Queensland, on 8 December 1892. His father was John William Hinkler, a German-born stockman, and his mother was Frances Atkins, née Bonney, a surname also intricately linked to Australian aviation history.
After leaving school in 1906, Bert Hinkler worked with a photographer at Gympie and developed an interest in aviation. He worked in sugar-mills and the foundry at Bundaberg; then visited Brisbane in 1910 where he joined the Queensland Aero Club and the Aerial League of Australia.
He learned mechanics by correspondence. He built two gliders in 1911-12; the second design was based on his own observation and analysis, including photographs, of ibises in flight. It is reported that he strapped wings to himself to better understand the principles of winged flight.
Aged just 19, he successfully flew his homemade glider to a height of 33 feet (10 meters).
He applied to join the new aviation section of the Australian Army but was rejected. When American airman Arthur Burr Stone took his Bleriot monoplane to Bundaberg in 1912, Hinkler became his mechanic on a tour of southern Australia and New Zealand.
At the age of 21, Bert Hinkler went to England and joined the Royal Naval Air Service as an observer-gunner. He won the Distinguished Service Medal in France. He also served as a pilot in Italy.
In 1919, Hinkler joined A.V. Roe as a mechanic and finally managed to get hold of a plane, a 35-horsepower Avro Baby, to fly to Australia. He set out on May 31, 1920. On the way, he set a record for a long-distance flight in a light airplane by flying from London to Turin, Italy, in 9.5 hours.
War in Egypt and Syria forced him to abandon the trip. He shipped his plane to Australia in 1921 and made a series of flights including one from Sydney to Bundaberg, non-stop.
Hinkler returned to England via Canada and until 1926 was chief test pilot for the Avro company at Hamble. In December 1922 he tested the Avro Aldershot, the first plane powered by a 1000-horsepower engine. He won the light aircraft trials at Lympne in 1923 in a monoplane motor-glider and in 1924 the Grosvenor Challenge Cup. In 1925 he was reserve pilot for the British Schneider Trophy team at Baltimore, US, and in 1927 he flew his Avro Avian G-EBOV non-stop from London to Riga, Latvia, receiving a Latvian decoration. He also tested autogiros for the Spanish designer, Juan de La Cierva, in 1927 and, to secure funds for a flight to Australia, made an unsuccessful attempt with R. McIntosh on the London to India air record.
He finally began his record-breaking solo flight on 7 February 1928 in his Avro Avian. He landed in Darwin on February 22, taking just more than 15 days. He returned to Bundaberg to a hero’s welcome.
A newspaper reported: “Shrieks of joy from women announced the first sight of Hinkler, high up among the cloud. Men cheered loudly as the whir of the engine was heard. There was a general mood of excitement. Motor-horns tooted loudly. Hinkler’s mother and brother anxiously watched the small speck. There were about 20,000 people around the ground, and each yelled in joy as the machine circled high above the recreation ground. He passed over the ground, still high up, and then swooped down and landed gracefully. The crowd rushed over to the plane and surrounded it. The crowds went wild with excitement. They cheered and yelled for minutes and some even danced with delight. The people at last got hold of Hinkler. They hoisted him on their shoulders, and amid great excitement and cheers carried him towards the official platform. Hinkler did not appear at all comfortable and apparently was having a rougher ride than he had throughout the whole trip from England. One lady was so excited she rushed over and kissed Hinkler.”
Hinkler’s success resulted in an unexpected financial boon; the Australian government gave him £2000. He was made an honorary squadron leader in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve and was awarded the Air Force Cross.
A letter writer to an English newspaper was moved to poetry:
“He started off intent to reach his native land in Southern ‘sphere,
He met with mist and fogs and rain, And other risks brought him no fear.
Determination, pluck and grit Took him o’er many thousand miles;
Each obstacle he overcome; Took off and landed wreathed in smiles.
We watched for all the news of hi As he flew on that lonely trip;
If we had fears, well, he had none; Brave airman, he, whose hand we’ll grip.”
Bert Hinkler returned to England by ship in October and began building an amphibian aircraft of his own design, and called it the “Ibis”.
On 11 January 1930 he and an Avro engineer, Rowland Bound, registered the Ibis Aircraft Co. The prototype, G-AAIS, was successfully flown but development stalled in the Great Depression. Hinkler went to Canada in September 1930 and in April 1931 he bought a Puss Moth, CF-APK, flying it from Canada to New York, then via the West Indies, Venezuela, Guiana, Brazil and the south Atlantic to Great Britain.
During a second flight along the same route as his first to Australia in 1933, Hinkler crashed in the Italian Alps.
Hinkler’s body was found on the northern slopes of Pratomagno in the Apennines between Florence and Arezzo, Italy, on 27 April. It is believed he survived the crash and died outside the wreckage. On Mussolini’s orders he was buried in Florence with full military honours.
One Queensland newspaper reported in May 1933: “Italy’s wonderful tribute expressed at the late Bert Hinkler’s funeral at Florence makes Australians, and particularly Queenslanders proud of a gallant son. It will be recalled that in the early morn of January 7 last, Squadron-Leader Hinkler set out on what was ”destined’, to be his last flight—a tragic end to ‘a brilliant and courageous aviator who has been acclaimed the “monarch of’ the air”. His goal was Australia and his hometown of Bundaberg, and he flew the little machine that had previously carried him safely across the South Atlantic in a memorable flight that thrilled the world.”
Bert Hinkler had married Katherine Rome on 21 May 1932 in Connecticut, US; they had no children.
Hinkler’s hometown of Bundaberg erected monuments in his honour.
As the newspaper said, “he joined the silent company of famous men who have made the great sacrifice in aviation.”
It was Sir Charles Kingsford Smith who eclipsed Bert Hinkler’s record when he made the England to Australia trip in just under 13 hours, in 1929. The record continued to tumble in following years.
But pioneer aviation was not a male domain.
- Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983. E.P. Wixted; Monash University – The Pioneers; Solo: The Bert Hinkler Story (Brisbane, 1963) R. D. Mackenzie; TROVE newspaper archives.
LORES BONNEY, rebel with a cause
Maude Rose “Lores” Bonney grew up in Melbourne and her connection to Queensland came when she married a leather-goods manufacturer from there in 1917. Bert Hinkler was her husband’s cousin.
Her first taste of flight came when she joined Bert Hinkler in the cockpit for a joy ride in 1928.
The aerial feats of Lores Bonney have not been as well celebrated or documented as those of other Australians.
Referred to as the “forgotten figure in aviation history”, Lores Bonney’s story began in secrecy. She described herself as a bit of a rebel.
Fearing that her husband Harry would disapprove of her ambitious ways, she decided to teach herself how to fly in secret while her husband spent time on the golf course. Lores didn’t even know how to drive, but that didn’t stop her. Each weekend she would hitch a ride with the milkman to the nearby airport, where she took lessons. As it turned out, her husband was her biggest supporter. And she eventually learned to drive, in secret, too.
Lores Bonney went on to become the first Australian woman to receive a commercial pilot’s license.
When she was awarded her pilot’s license in 1931, her husband presented her with a pair of custom-made leather flying suits and her own DH-60G Gipsy Moth, which she named My Little Ship.
Terry Gwynn-Jones wrote in the May 2000 issue of Aviation History: “She approached Australia’s transpacific hero Charles Kingsford Smith, who had achieved prominence by making the same flight in 1927. Kingsford Smith declined to offer any advice to her. He dismissed her plan, saying, ‘You might make it if you’ve got the guts.’ Forty-five years later when I interviewed her, I could still sense Bonney’s anger as she recalled that encounter. ‘Can you imagine it?’ she asked me. ‘That’s all Smithy could to say to me’.”
In 1931 Lores broke the Australian record for the longest one-day flight by a woman; the following year she became the first woman to circumnavigate mainland Australia by air.
She then cast her ambition further afield. She launched in 1933 to try to become the first woman to fly from Australia to England; four years later she undertook her last long-distance expedition, the first solo flight from Australia to Cape Town, South Africa.
Her most significant achievement mirrored that of Amy Johnson, except that Lores did the trip in reverse, flying solo from Darwin to England, just three years after Johnson’s record-breaking flight.
Maude Rose (Lores) Bonney (1897–1994), was born on 20 November 1897 in Pretoria, South African Republic, to German-born Norbert Albert Rubens, a clerk and later a merchant, and his locally born wife Rosa Caroline, formerly Staal, née Haible. The family moved to London in 1901.
They returned to Melbourne in 1903.
Lores attended the Star of the Sea Ladies’ College and the Cromarty Girls’ School, both at Elsternwick. In 1911 she sailed with her parents to Germany, where she was enrolled in the Victoria-Pensionat, Bad Homburg, finishing school and advance her music studies. She became an accomplished pianist and gave a private recital for Kaiser Wilhelm’s sister.
But her prospective career as a musician ended when she suffered stage fright and fled during a recital.
“I neither liked the situation nor the sea of faces,” she recalled. “So I feigned a nosebleed and fled from the stage.” Thus ended her concert performances.
She also developed a love of gardening while at the German school and became fluent in French and German.
Back in Australia, she worked for the Australian Red Cross Society in World War I and met Harry Bonnington Bonney, a wealthy merchant and leather-goods manufacturer from Brisbane.
On 7 April 1917 at St Philip’s Church of England, Sydney, Lores married Harry Bonney. The couple moved to Brisbane and lived first at the Gresham Hotel, before settling in 1919 at Bowen Hills. She called her husband Billi and herself Dolores, later shortened to Lores.
In 1928 Bert Hinkler, Harry Bonney’s cousin, took Lores for her first flight, from Eagle Farm aerodrome to Yeerongpilly and back. The experience thrilled her and she was hooked.
She told Terry Gwynn-Jones: “It was the answer to my dreams. I adored birds, and there I was literally feeling like one. There and then I decided to become a pilot.”
Until 1927, it was not possible for an Australian woman to hold a pilot’s licence and fly within Australia. Women had taken part in gliding, or obtained a licence overseas, but they had not been permitted to fly a plane under licence within Australia.
Millicent Bryant from Vaucluse, Sydney became the first Australian woman to gain a pilot’s ‘A’ or private licence. Four years later, Lores Bonney joined the ranks of female pilots that by then numbered five and she was the first with a commercial licence.
The first of Bonney’s four major solo flights was on Boxing Day 1931. Leaving Brisbane at 4.30 a.m. she reached Wangaratta, Victoria, at 7.20 p.m. in time for dinner with her father. She considered this flight her greatest achievement; it was reported at the time to be the longest one-day flight undertaken by an Australian airwoman.
Having studied blind flying, night flying, aircraft maintenance, and meteorology, she achieved a commercial licence in 1932, not that she envisaged a career in aviation but to prepare herself for long-distance flying.
Between 15 August and 27 September that year she circumnavigated Australia, the first woman to do so. Spending 95 hours 27 minutes in the air and travelling 6,900 nautical miles (12,800 km), she survived forced landings, a collapsed undercarriage and even a relatively minor mid-air collision with a plane that flew close to hers so its passenger could take a photo; both aircraft landed safely. She was awarded the Qantas trophy for 1932.
Bonney learned how to overhaul engines and had her aircraft modified for the journey to England.
On 10 April 1933 Lores Bonney left Archerfield aerodrome, just south of Brisbane, on her solo flight in her De Havilland DH-60G Gipsy Moth (VH-UPV) she called My Little Ship.
She left Australian air space from Darwin on 15 April.
The journey was fraught with danger and along the way she crashed her beloved plane twice. Despite the setbacks, Lores landed in Croydon, England, on 21 June 1933 after spending 157 hours and 15 minutes airborne, the first woman to fly solo between Australia and England. She was awarded the MBE for her courage and perseverance.
Source: National Portrait Gallery
In 1937 she flew a new plane, My Little Ship II, to South Africa, but back in Australia it was destroyed by fire at Archerfield Aerodrome in 1939.
Lores Bonney’s plans for an around the world flight did not materialise due to World War II.
She tried to join the armed forces but was turned away and gave up flying. It was reported she turned her attention to “gardening and bonsai.”
The original My Little Ship was requisitioned for the war effort and later scrapped.
A newspaper report described her thus: “a musician, an expert tennis player, and a wonderful cook; her needlework is fairy stitchery; she adores ballroom dancing; loves mah-jongg, and plays bridge because she likes it, not because it’s ‘the thing’.”
Among the achievements of Lores Bonney:
- First woman to circumnavigate Australia by air
- First woman to fly from Australia to England.
- First flight Australia to South Africa.
For her Australia–England flight, Bonney was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire by King George V.
The Bonney Trophy which she presented in England is still awarded annually to an outstanding female British pilot.
The Australian Women Pilots Association has established a trophy in her honour. Lores Bonney was inducted into the “Ninety-Nines”, the American society of women flyers who had pioneering roles in aviation. Her name and her wings were placed on the wall of the Flyer’s Chapel at California’s St. Francis Atrio Mission alongside the names of Charles Lindbergh, Charles Kingsford Smith and Amelia Earhart.
Mrs Bonney received the Order of Australia in 1991. She died in Miami, Gold Coast, Queensland, 1994, aged 96.
Griffith University, Queensland, awarded her an honorary doctorate for her services to aviation. In 2012 she was inducted into the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame.
- Sources and further reading : Australian Dictionary of Biography (R.D. Lappan); Lores Bonney: the forgotten aviatrix”; Australian Geographic K Alexander, J Sargent (6 March 2017) ; historynet.com; Pioneer Aviator: The Remarkable Life of Lores Bonney, University of Queensland Press 1988; Taking Flight (Kristen Alexander).
- For more on female fliers, see: https://floggerblogger.com/2020/09/04/m-queens-of-the-sky/
THE FLYING KANGAROO
The first plane to bear the name Qantas name was an Avro 504K. Air services began in March 1921. The fledgling airline moved its headquarters to Longreach, Queensland in 1921 then to Brisbane, in 1930.
Sir Hudson Fysh, Wings to the World: The Story of Qantas 1945–1966: “We started operations at Longreach with a staff of three … and we owned two rather rickety aeroplanes of the ‘cap and goggle’ era as our stock in trade. In mid-1966 … Qantas Empire Airways had 8,873 persons on its payroll and nineteen Boeing 707 jet airliners were being operated on 72,220 miles of globe-encircling routes.”
Fysh and Paul McGinness (above) had wartime flying experience with the Australian Flying Corps and developed the idea for an airline. Fergus McMaster, a grazier from Queensland provided initial capital and lobbied both private funding and government subsidies.
In 1934, QANTAS and Britain’s Imperial Airways (a forerunner of British Airways) formed a new company, Qantas Empire Airways Limited, and introduced flights between Brisbane and Darwin. In May 1935 the Darwin flights were extended with QEA’s first international service on to Singapore with connections to Imperial Airways flights to London.
MILESTONES OF QANTAS
1920: Qantas is registered as a business in Brisbane on 16 November. It has two aircraft at Longreach and operates sightseeing and demonstration flights, before winning its first air mail contract in 1922, using an Avro aircraft.
1928: Qantas begins operating flights for the Australian Aerial Medical Service, which later becomes the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
1935: Qantas goes international, flying the Brisbane-Singapore leg of the Australia-UK air route in partnership with Britain’s Empire Airways, using DH86 aircraft at first and from 1938 Empire Flying Boats.
1939-45: Qantas aircraft play a full part in the Second World War effort, including the famous “Double Sunrise” Catalina flights non-stop from Perth to Sri Lanka.
1947: Qantas secures government ownership to enable it compete in the growing international aviation market, while modernising its fleet with Lockheed Constellation aircraft.
1958: Qantas is the first airline to operate round-the-world services via both hemispheres, using Super Constellation aircraft, as the airline’s network expands to 23 countries.
1959: Qantas takes delivery of its first Boeing 707, making it the first airline outside the US to operate the revolutionary new aircraft and enabling it to pioneer regular jet services across the Pacific.
1971: The first Qantas B747 arrives, opening up low fares and new travel opportunities for Australians.
1974: A Qantas B747 carries a record 673 passengers on an evacuation flight out of Darwin during Cyclone Tracy.
1979: Qantas invents Business class, with the new cabin featuring on its growing B747 fleet.
1989: Qantas’ first Boeing 747-400 sets a distance record by flying non-stop from London to Sydney, heralding a new generation of long-haul travel.
1995: Qantas is privatised and listed on the ASX, having merged with Australian Airlines three years earlier.
1998: The oneworld alliance is formed with Qantas as a founding partner, creating a seamless global network across multiple premium airlines.
2000: Qantas announces an order for the Airbus A380—the ‘superjumbo’.
2002: After the Bali bombings, nine Qantas relief flights deliver 2000kg of medical supplies and evacuate 1,000 Australians.
2003: Jetstar is launched, lowering fares in the Australian domestic market and later expanding throughout Asia.
2004: Qantas operates relief flights to Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives after the Boxing Day tsunami, carrying medical equipment and doctors.
2005: Five Qantas relief flights bring 800 Australians home after the second Bali bombings.
2008: First Qantas A380 super Airbus flight takes off from Melbourne to Los Angeles.
2011: As civil unrest grips Egypt, Qantas operates two relief flights to help bring Australians home from Cairo.
2013: Qantas launches a new global partnership with Emirates, connecting the airlines’ networks in Australia, New Zealand, Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
2014: Qantas puts the world’s largest aircraft on the world’s longest route Sydney to Dallas/Fort Worth In an industry first; Qantas’ new A330 seats allow business class passengers to recline from throughout take-off and landing.
2015: A Boeing 787 Dreamliner order for Qantas International symbolises a new era of innovation and passenger comfort for the national carrier in its 95th year.
- Qantas is the oldest continuously operating airline in the world.
Source: Qantasnewsroom.com.au, National Museum of Australia.