Whistle from the Lores Bonney collection, metal, maker unknown, Australia, 1920-1940
In the 1930s Lores Bonney created aviation history by being the first woman to fly around Australia, the first to fly from Australia to England and the first to fly from Australia to South Africa. Yet her accomplishments until recently have never received the recognition they deserve.
In 1933 she flew her De Havilland DH 60 Moth, affectionately named My Little Ship, from Australia to England becoming the first woman to do so. In 1937 she flew a Klemm 32, named My Little Ship II, overland from Australia to South Africa. Lores Bonney's stopped flying in 1939. She was awarded an Order of Australia in 1991 and died in 1994.
This whistle was used by Lores Bonney's and has her initials marked on it.
Geoff Barker, March 2007
Terry Gwyn-Jones, Pioneer Aviator; the Remarkable Life of Lores Bonney, University of Queensland Press, Queensland, Australia, 1988
William Joy, The Aviators, Golden Press, Sydney, Australia, 1983
Ellen Rogers, Faith in Australia; Charles Ulm and Australian Aviation, Ellen Rogers, Sydney, Australia, 1987
Leslie Jillet, Wings across the Tasman, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, New Zealand, 1953
Blue File, Powerhouse Museum, B2604
Lores Bonney, born Maude Rose Rubens on 20 November, 1897 in Pretoria, South Africa, met and married Harry Bonney, a Brisbane leather goods manufacturer in 1917.
In August 1930, Bonney began flying lessons with Charles Matheson as her instructor. Initially she did not inform Harry of her new interest and often hitched a ride from the milkman at first light to get to the aerodrome five kilometres away. Amazingly she never learned to drive until much later in life, believing it to be against her husband's wishes! In August of the following year she gained her pilot's licence. Soon after, her husband presented her with a de Havilland 60 aircraft, which she christened "My Little Ship" - the licence number - VH-UPV.
Mrs Harry Bonney's first major flight was a visit to her family at Wangaratta on Boxing Day, 1931. In order to complete the flight on the one day, she left at first light and, with several refueling stops, touched down at dusk. By then she had flown 1600kms with over 14 hours actual flying time. She was the first Australian woman to fly such a distance - the previous record was 600kms.
Convinced of her ability to fly long distances, Mrs Bonney set out on a round Australia flight on 15th August, 1932. More than once her male colleagues voiced their skepticism as to whether a woman could achieve such a feat. She was particularly annoyed by those who challenged her determination and endurance, including Charles Kingsford Smith who commented, "You might make it if you've got the guts". During her flight she encountered turbulent weather with sudden torrid rain squalls, poor visibility because of bushfire smoke and mechanical problems. She became lost over the northwest of West Australia as the iron ore deposits caused her compass to malfunction. Throughout the flight she claims to have been blessed with good luck and she often refers to her "co-pilot" (God) in whom she sought comfort and inspiration. Religion had always been a part of her life. She completed her flight on 27th September, 1932 - 43 days, 12,800kms and over 95 flying hours to her credit. Again, she was the first woman to have achieved such a feat.
Mrs Bonney's appetite for adventure had not been satiated at the completion of her trip around Australia. What she had really been working towards was an Australia-England flight. Many of the leading pioneer aviators had flown between England and Australia. She, however, was going to attempt it the other way around.
On April 15, 1933 Mrs Bonney became the first woman to leave Australia by aeroplane for England. The Rev. Keith Langford Smith was to have accompanied her as far as Melville Island, but she departed alone at 6.50am. The first stop outside Australia was Koepand, thence to Batavia on April 17 and Singapore on the 18th. Drama followed on the 20th after leaving alone Alor Star, Malaya. Caught in a severe storm she was forced to land the Moth at Muntok Island. Unhurt, Mrs Bonney lived on iron rations and boiled water for two days at Baing Baing, Southern Burma, passing the time in learning the Malay language. After a note was sent, a mining company motor boat picked her up from Baing Baing and took her the forty miles to Victoria Point. There Mrs Bonney boarded the ss Juna en route from Penang to Rangoon, taking the Moth as Deck cargo.
Cheerful and undaunted by her mishap, Mrs Bonney gave this account of the incident - "During the storm, the clouds were so low they seemed to be almost touching the land. I did not know where I was but remembered having passed land a little way back. I turned and found a perfect little beach where I decided to land. A buffalo crossed the path of the machine, and thinking it might be a sacred animal, attempted to avoid it. In doing so, the wheels sank into the sand, a wing struck the water and the plane overturned. I injured my right hand and forehead. I asked the natives by signs whether there were any white men on the island, but there were none. A native took a latter to the mainland and walked thirty miles through dense forest to Mr. Aitain and Mr. Peteire, two tin miners who came to my aid in a launch".
On arriving at Rangoon on April 26, Mrs Bonney was greeted by a large crowd. The Moth required repairs to the rudder and fuel tank, but as facilities were inadequate at Rangoon, Mrs Bonney and her aircraft departed by boat on the 27th for Calcutta, arriving there on May 5 where the aircraft underwent extensive repairs. Delayed by these repairs, and then passport difficulties (following applications to land in Persia and Turkey) it was not until May 26 that Mrs Bonney was able to leave Allahabad for Jodhpur via Jhansi. A defective fuel tank forced her to land at Jhansi before she could make the two hour flight to Jodhpur. The next day, on the leg from Jodhpur to Karachi, the verge ring of the compass became unfastened so the latter place had to be used as an overhaul stop. Departure from there was on June 2, for Jask. On June 4 the Moth arrived at Baghdad via Basra. The next day the run was to Aleppo. This was the "most miserable section of the whole flight". While flying across the desert in tropical kit, Mrs Bonney suffered severely because of the bitter and unexpected cold weather. All went well from India until approaching Sofia after having left Constantinople. Nearing Sofia, she struck bad weather in the mountains and was forced to land at Plovdiv. there was no petrol here and she had to wait until some was sent from Sofia. It proved to be some weird Bulgarian spirit, which caused the engine to give the only trouble of the whole trip.
Leaving Budapest on June 12, Mrs Bonney intended to make a non-stop flight to Croydon but encountered appalling bad weather and flew in blind circles. The field in which she chose to make a forced landing was at Gmund, just over the border of Czechoslovakia, a country for which she had no permit to enter. The Czechs ransacked the Moth and detained her for a whole day. Eventually she was given permission to leave and flew to Linz in Austria. Taking off from Linz five days later, the grass was so long that the propeller cut a swathe through it during the run. Mrs Bonney flew on to Frankfurt, but then bad weather forced another stop at Cologne. Finally on June 21, there was the wonderful thrill of the landing at Croydon, as the first woman to fly from Australia to England. Congratulations and many messages were received from Australia. Later, in recognition of the flight she was awarded the MBE.
Returning to Australia, Mrs Bonney continued to fly. Her moth 'My Little Ship' was used for several interstate flights - one in October 1934 to Melbourne for the Centenary celebrations. Later the aircraft was disposed of to Charles Matherson and eventually ended its useful life in service with the RAAF. In December 1935 Mrs Bonney purchased a Klemm L.32-V, VH-UVE from Normand Berry Littlejohn of Melbourne. As G-ACYU, Littlejohn and his wife had flown the aircraft out from England during October/November 1935. Mrs Bonney christened her new machine 'My Little Ship II'. After twelve months of planning she proposed to make a solo 14,000 mile journey to South Africa. 'My Little Ship II' was the aircraft to be used. Mrs Bonney said the trip would have a double interest for her, the first because she had been born in Pretoria, and the second that it would be the first flight between the two countries.
Mrs Harry Bonney's flying career came to an abrupt end in 1939. Firstly, her aeroplane was destroyed by a fire in the Qantas No.2 hangar. Secondly, World War II made it impossible for her to purchase another plane or to fly. Unfortunately, the Air Force did not seek her services, and her skills as a pilot were wasted. During the war she organised The Women's Voluntary National Register which sought to recruit women for the war effort. Once the war ended she felt less confident of her skills as a pilot and never really flew seriously again. She returned to her normal life in suburban Brisbane to take up her interest in gardening and in particular, Bonsai. Still a keen traveller, she went to California in 1955 to attend a ceremony where her name was added to the Famous Flyers Wall at Francis Atrio Mission. She also travelled to Japan to pursue her interest in Bonsai and undertook a challenging trip to South America in 1963 at the age of 65.
Mrs Harry Bonney died in 1994, aged 96.