Bust, Nancy Bird Walton, bronze, made by Joan Walsh-Smith and Charles Smith, Gidgegannup, Western Australia, 1991
This bronze bust immortalizes Nancy Bird Walton, one of Australia's greatest women aviators. Born in 1915, Nancy became the youngest woman pilot in the Commonwealth in 1932 and the first woman to operate a commercial licence in 1935, at the age of 19 (the youngest age at which a commercial licence was available). She was also the first non-American entrant in the annual Powder Puff Derby air race, as well as the female victor for several Australian air race competitions such as the Brisbane to Adelaide air race.
Nancy's skills as an aviatrix were well applied in her role with the Far West Children's Health Scheme where she ran an aerial ambulance and clinic out of Bourke. This service was invaluable in providing health care services to various communities in regional and outback New South Wales. When Nancy was at Bourke, she was the sole source of what became known as 'mercy' flights, taking baby health clinics to families. During the 1930s, she also flew the only charter aircraft in south-west Queensland and lobbied, unsuccessfully, for a similar air service to be established out of Charleville. While Nancy was responsible for starting the Australian Women Pilots' Association, she has also contributed to many other aspects of Australian life including the Liberal Party, the National Heart Foundation and the Asthma Foundation. Nancy also helped to launch the New South Wales Air Ambulance and was actively involved with many smaller community based organisations up until her death in January, 2009.
This bust captures the spirit and essence of Nancy-Bird, especially her determination to champion women. In the time leading up to the war, for example, Nancy stood as a true role model and liberator for women with her trademark knickerbockers, helmet and goggles. This bust is also a significant example of the work of two Irish-Australian sculptors, Joan Walsh-Smith and Charles Smith.
Debenham, I, Stafford, S & Walton, Nancy Bird., "Women with Wings" (Sydney, 2002)
Mann, S., "The Girls Were Up There Too - Australian Women in Aviation" (Canberra, 1986)
Walton, Nancy Bird., "Born to Fly" (Sydney, 1961)
Walton, Nancy Bird., "My God! It's a Woman: the Autobiography of Nancy Bird Walton" (Sydney, 1990)
This bronze bust of Nancy Bird Walton was made by Joan Walsh-Smith and Charles Smith at their studios in Gidgegannup in Western Australia in 1991.
Joan Walsh-Smith and Charles Smith are a husband and wife team who originally hale from Cork in Ireland. They began working full-time as artists in the mid-1970s, holding their first major exhibition in Spain in 1978.
In 1985, the pair and their three children moved to Australia. While they claim much of their inspiration for their works comes from the Irish countryside, Ireland proved to be too small and too conservative. Australia offered them greater freedom, particularly considering the pair have always been "rebels at heart".
As a working couple, Joan is responsible for the initial design, while Charles concentrates on the technical side. Since 1983, bronze has become their primary working material (they also work with wood, stone and fibreglass), requiring a hangar-sized shed, massive kiln, two furnaces and a gantry system for pouring the molten bronze into the casts.
Apart from this particular bust of Nancy Bird Walton, the pair is also well-known for winning an Australian-wide competition to design a national memorial for the Australian Army in Canberra in 1987 where they produced a full-scale statue of a pair of soldiers. They have also produced various casts of identifiable figures like Alexander Forrest and Dame Mary Durack.
This bust was commissioned by the Australian Women Pilots' Association. This Association was formed on September 16, 1950 by a group of 35 women who subsequently became charter members at a meeting at Bankstown Airport in Sydney. It is an entirely voluntary run organisation.
Nancy Bird Walton was born in 1915 and after leaving school at the age of 13, worked long days for her father as his housekeeper and bookkeeper at a general store in Mt George, near Taree on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. While Nancy worked here, her mother and siblings resided in Manly, on Sydney's Northern Beaches.
Nancy had her first joy flight at the age of 14 before receiving lessons with Charles Kingsford Smith at the age of 17. By 1935, Nancy Bird became the youngest woman pilot in the Commonwealth to operate a commercial licence where she subsequently purchased her first aircraft, a rebuilt Gipsy Moth.
At the age of 19, Nancy set out on a tour of New South Wales with partner and fellow student Peggy McKillop (aka 'Big Bird' and 'Little Bird') in an open cockpit aircraft. Subsequent to this, and with a new closed cabined Leopard Moth, Nancy began outback charter work, running an aerial ambulance and clinic out of Bourke.
During the 1930s, Nancy flew the only charter aircraft from Cunnamulla in south-west Queensland, but with the onset of ill-health and the struggle to cope alone, Nancy decided to take a break from her outback career.
Not long after selling her Leopard Moth, Nancy was invited to go overseas by the Dutch airline KNILM (now part of KLM) for their inaugural Netherlands-Australia service celebrations. She visited 25 countries and was presented at Buckingham Palace in finery borrowed from a French fashion designer. After this tour, Nancy returned home by ship and it was here that she met her future husband, Charles Walton. They married in December 1939 at Sydney's Scots Church by the Reverend John Flynn.
During the war years, Nancy became commandant of the Women's Air Training Corps and did voluntary work for the RAAF. Those young women who were members of the Women's Air Training Corps and could drive often borrowed the family car to provide extra transport for air force personnel. Soon after the war, Nancy became a mother and devoted herself to raising her two children, Annemarie and John.
In 1948, she joined the Liberal Party and spoke in country electorates, later attempting to stand for the New South Wales Legislative Council, without success. In the 1950s, Nancy began fundraising for the National Heart Foundation and the Asthma Foundation and also helped to launch the New South Wales Air Ambulance and founded the Australian Women Pilots Association.
Apart from these notable feats, Nancy also competed in several air races. During the 1930s she took part in the Brisbane to Adelaide air race, taking out the Ladies Trophy (the winner at the time was an unknown garage proprietor, Reg Ansett). In 1958, she took off with an American partner in a hired Cessna to compete in the famous Powder Puff Derby - an American coast to coast air race for women. She also flew in two more Powder Puff Derbies after that, as well as other various Australian air races.
In honour of Nancy's achievements, she also holds an OBE, a Dame of the Knights of Malta OSJ, an honorary Master of Engineering from the University of Sydney, an honorary doctorate of physics from the University of Newcastle and an AO (Order of Australia). Nancy Bird Walton died in Sydney in January, 2009.