Celebrating the Australian Aviatrix Lores Bonney

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Lores Bonney and her aircraft, My Little Ship, at Archerfield Aerodrome in 1932 before her round-Australia flight. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

In celebration of International Women’s Day for 2012 I’d like to highlight the amazing short but inspiring aviation career of Maude (Lores) Bonney (1897-1994), one of Australia’s pioneers. Lores’ passion for flying began after a flight in 1928 with aviation legend, Bert Hinkler, her husband’s cousin. In 1930 she began flying lessons in secret while her husband, Harry Bonney, played golf. When Lores confessed her aviation pursuits, he helped her buy a DH60 Gipsy Moth aircraft which she called affectionately “My Little Ship”. Being a leather manufacturer he had two full-length suede flying suits made for her.

Gaining her ‘A’ licence in 1931, the following year she planned a round-Australia flight. More than once her male colleagues voiced their scepticism as to whether a woman could achieve such a feat. She was particularly annoyed at Charles Kingsford Smith who commented, “You might make it if you’ve got the guts”. During her flight she encountered turbulent weather with sudden rain squalls, poor visibility because of bushfire smoke and mechanical problems. She became lost over the northwest of Western Australia as the iron ore deposits caused her compass to malfunction. Throughout the flight she claimed to have been blessed with good luck and she often referred to her “co-pilot” (God).

Not content with her success, Lores wanted to achieve the “holy grail” of aviation, an Australia to England flight. Before this she had to learn to overhaul her aircraft and installed extra fuel tanks. Emergency supplies included an inflatable lifeboat and an extra propeller. She left Australia in April 1933 but was caught in a severe storm which forced her to land the Moth on Bangka Island, Indonesia. Cheerful and undaunted by her mishap, Lores 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 letter 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”.

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Lores’ flying boots. Collection: Powerhouse Museum B2604-31

Lores and her plane were taken by ship to Rangoon where the repairs were undertaken. Resuming her journey, bad weather then forced her to land at Plovidv in Bulgaria, where there was no fuel so she had to wait until some was sent from Sofia. This ended up being a strange Bulgarian spirit which caused engine trouble. Finally, on 21 June, 1933, Lores landed in England, at Croydon airport, the first woman to fly from Australia to England. This was all achieved in a tiny open-cockpit aircraft with minimal maps and no radio! Congratulations and many messages were received from Australia. Later, in recognition of the flight she was awarded the MBE.

Every step of her pioneering flight was reported by newspapers all over Australia. Throughout the 1930s the name “Mrs Bonney” as a household word. The public were in love with the exploits of aviation adventurers. They were the media stars of their day. Returning to Australia, Lores continued to fly and with a new plane, a Klemm L-32V, she flew the first solo flight from Brisbane to South Africa via Cairo in 1937.

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Lores Bonney’s maps, goggles and flying helmet from her aviation pioneering days in the 1930s. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

Lores’ flying career came to an abrupt end in 1939 when her plane was destroyed in a hangar fire. The Second World War made it impossible for her to purchase another plane or even to fly. The Air Force didn’t seek out her services, and her skills as a pilot were wasted. The Government and the armed forces would not allow women to fly on military service. In England and America women delivered aircraft to bases but in Australia even this was prohibited. The then Minister for Defence said in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph on 20 June, 1938, that “aviation takes women out of their natural environment, the home and the training of the family”. During the war Lores helped organise 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 flew seriously again. She returned to her normal life in suburban Brisbane and took up gardening and Bonsai. She died in 1994 at the age of 96. Before Lores’ death the Museum recorded her story and acquired a number of her personal aviation effects including her precious flying suit, boots, goggles, various maps and survival equipment, including a whistle. The international women’s service organisation, Zonta, made Lores a life member, Griffith University in Queensland awarded her a doctorate for her services to aviation and the Australian Women Pilots’ Association have an award in her name.

Post by Margaret Simpson, Curator, Transport

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