Author Archives: Kerrie Dougherty

The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 8

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Maurice Guillaux and an unidentified spectator. This photo is generally identified as having been taken at the conclusion of the airmail flight, but as the aircraft lacks the OT Cordial advertising on the wings, the picture may have been taken before the airmail flight, or some weeks later. This image was loaned to the museum for copying, by a private individual.

Maurice Guillaux and an unidentified spectator. This photo is generally identified as having been taken at the conclusion of the airmail flight, but as the aircraft lacks the OT Cordial advertising on the wings, the picture may have been taken before the airmail flight, or some weeks later. This image was loaned to the museum for copying, by a private individual.

After being delayed at Harden on July 17, due to poor weather conditions for flying, Maurice Guillaux was determined to continue the first airmail flight the following day. While conditions had improved, they were still far from ideal, but on July 18 Guillaux took off at 7.15am and battled a strong headwind and freezing temperatures to reach Goulburn, 150km away, exactly two hours later. He described this section of his flight: “I shall never forget the awful experience I had to undergo…..I had to battle my way and to negotiate a passage though the icy atmosphere above those cruel mountains”. Visibility was limited and Guillaux was guided towards Goulburn by the smoke from a locomotive, though he found it impossible to follow the railway lines themselves.
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The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 7

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Maurice Guillaux in his Bleriot, 1914. The ‘bird on globe’ mascot in front of Guillaux is a swallow (‘hirondelle’ in French), which was Guillaux’ avian nickname in the society of French pilots known as “Les Oiseaux de France”.   P3282-2 Gift of S. Dyson, 1982

Maurice Guillaux in his Bleriot, 1914. The ‘bird on globe’ mascot in front of Guillaux is a swallow (‘hirondelle’ in French), which was Guillaux’ avian nickname in the society of French pilots known as “Les Oiseaux de France”. P3282-2 Gift of S. Dyson, 1982

After being forced by a strong headwind to turn back to the town of Harden late in the afternoon of July 16, 1914, Maurice Guillaux spent the night in the town, staying at the Carrington Hotel, which still survives today. He had landed on the racecourse and overnight the police placed a guard on his plane, yet it must have been accessible to the people of Harden at some time during Guillaux’ stay there, as when the aviator eventually arrived in Goulburn, the Blériot was found to have many pencilled messages from Harden on it.
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The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 6

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One of the official souvenir postcards that were produced to be carried on Guillaux’ history making airmail flight. Note that the aircraft depicted is not a Bleriot XI, but a generic biplane. EA and VI Crome Collection A8213-1/5

One of the official souvenir postcards that were produced to be carried on Guillaux’ history making airmail flight. Note that the aircraft depicted is not a Bleriot XI, but a generic biplane. EA and VI Crome Collection A8213-1/5

“Wizard” Stone’s unfortunate crash on June 1 (see part 5) provided the opportunity for Maurice Guillaux to undertake the history-making first airmail flight. With Stone injured and his aircraft destroyed, Arthur Rickard, the entrepreneur behind Stone’s proposed airmail flight, approached Guillaux to make the journey instead. Revised plans were made for the mail flight to commence on July 9. However, negotiations between Guillaux and Rickard apparently broke down on July 8 and the flight did not proceed, even though crowds had already gathered at Seymour (Victoria), the first intended refuelling stop.
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The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-part 5

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: Crowds gather to see “Wizard” Stone’s Blériot during his regional Queensland airshow tour. Photo courtesy of the Queensland State Library

Crowds gather to see “Wizard” Stone’s Blériot during his regional Queensland airshow tour. Photo courtesy of the Queensland State Library

Despite his fame as a daring aviator, Maurice Guillaux was not the pilot originally intended to fly the first Australian airmail from Melbourne to Sydney. That honour should have gone to an American, Arthur Burr “Wizard” Stone, who had been presenting aerial shows around Australia and New Zealand since 1912.
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The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 4

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: A view of the Blériot XI aircraft that flew the first Australian airmail, on display in the Powerhouse Museum’s Transport exhibition

A view of the Blériot XI aircraft that flew the first Australian airmail, on display in the Powerhouse Museum’s Transport exhibition

Following his spectacular aerial exhibitions in Sydney and Newcastle, Guillaux’ fame quickly spread and after his pioneering seaplane flight on May 8, 1914, the French aviator began to make plans for a series of airshows around southern NSW and Victoria.

On May 16, Guillaux gave his first performance in Wagga Wagga, to which he would return during his airmail flight. So anticipated was this event that special train services were run from the towns of Junee and Culcairn in order to bring spectators to Wagga. Around 8,000 people paid entry to the Wagga Racecourse to see Guillaux’ exhibition with another two to three thousand watching from outside. They were not disappointed, with Guillaux’ stunt show including a thrilling vertical dive from which he only pulled out just above the heads of the crowd.

The Wagga event set the pattern for the rest of Guillaux’ airshow tour, with large crowds drawn from surrounding towns at each regional display and special transport laid on to get them to the show. In Albury, on May 23, interest in his performance was so strong that the golf club competition was postponed and shops which remained open operated on reduced staff. Once again, Guillaux garnered breathless praise from local journalists: “No words describe what he does and can do. All other aviators pale before him; looping the loop at an altitude of 14,000 feet is mere child’s play to him….”

The silk scarf worn by Maurice Guillaux during his aerial spectaculars. It’s red, white and blue colours (now somewhat faded by time) reflect the colours of the French national flag. L3120/2. On loan from Australia Post, NSW

The silk scarf worn by Maurice Guillaux during his aerial spectaculars. It’s red, white and blue colours (now somewhat faded by time) reflect the colours of the French national flag. L3120/2. On loan from Australia Post, NSW

Departing Albury, Guillaux, the Blériot and his team by train to Melbourne, where he established a base at the Showground in Flemington, having apparently been offered a guarantee of over £1000 to induce his visit to the city. On May 28, he flew from Flemington to the grounds of Government House, the seat of Australia’s Governor-General in the period between Federation and the construction of Canberra. The Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson his wife, the Governor of Victoria, Sir Arthur Stanley and his wife, were all on hand to greet the intrepid French pilot and inspect his aircraft. One of the few snippets of surviving film of Guillaux’ time in Australia shows the Blériot taking off after this visit.

Invited to visit the newly established military flying school at Point Cook, outside Melbourne, Guillaux flew there on May 29, gave a flying display in the Bleriot and then flew over the area in one of the flying school’s own aircraft. The following day he gave his first public display at the Flemington Showground, which drew a crowd of 25,000 to 30,000. Guillaux practically stopped the races at the Moonee Valley course when he performed some stunts overhead and, as he pulled out of one of his signature thrilling dives, a bookmaker supposedly offered to bet six to four that he had broken his neck! But the daring pilot once again survived and a Melbourne Herald report compared Guilaux’ performance to an earlier show by Australian aviator Harry Hawker thus: “M. Guillaux was to Mr. Hawker as a Drury Lane melodrama is to a repertory play”.

A contemporary 1914 postcard showing Guillaux’ Blériot aircraft. A8213-5/12 EA and VI Crome Collection

A contemporary 1914 postcard showing Guillaux’ Blériot aircraft. A8213-5/12 EA and VI Crome Collection, Powerhouse Museum

On Monday June 8, the King’s Birthday holiday, Guillaux performed at Bendigo, after which he flew to Ballarat, causing a sensation en route as he flew overhead. On this flight Guillaux carried a letter from the Mayor of Bendigo to the Mayor of Ballarat, however this was not officially consigned mail. Once again travelling by train, the Guillaux team moved from Ballarat to Adelaide, where another spectacular stunt show was staged on June 20. By June 27, Guillaux and the Blériot were back in Melbourne, before flying to Geelong on July 3, for the last aerial show before the airmail flight. To reach Geelong, Guillaux followed the railway line, a form of navigation he would also use on the airmail flight, and arrived there just at the end of a race meeting at the Plumpton course. Guillaux gave an impromptu display to the crowd of racegoers before his public show the following day. While performing in Geelong, Guillaux carried his first recorded passengers in the Blériot.

Look for the next post in this series in a few days, which will cover the background to that first airmail flight. Next week I will be posting an account of each day of the airmail flight, between July 16 and 18. The Aviation Historical Society of Australia will be conducting a re-enactment of the first airmail flight between July 12-14 and hosting other commemorative events. The Powerhouse Museum is also celebrating the centenary of the first Australian airmail with various events this year. Check our website and that of the Powerhouse Discovery Centre for further details. If you’d like to explore the newspaper reports of Guillaux’ flights, which were drawn upon for the quotes used in this blogpost, you can find them by searching on the National Library of Australia’s Trove Newspapers site.

Written by Kerrie Dougherty, Space Technology and Aviation Curator

The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-part 3

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Maurice Guillaux flying Lebbeus Hordern’s Farman “hydro-aeroplane” over Sydney in May 1914

Lebbeus Hordern’s Farman “hydro-aeroplane” floating on Sydney Harbour in May 1914
Gift of S. Dyson, 1982. P3283-1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Not content with dazzling crowds in Sydney and Newcastle with his aerial acrobatics, on May 8, 1914, French stunt pilot Maurice Guillaux also made the first seaplane flight in Australia, test flying a Farman “hydro-aeroplane” imported into the country by Lebbeus Hordern (1891-1928), a member of the wealthy and influential Sydney merchant family.
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The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-part 2

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Maurice Guillaux flying his Blériot monoplane over Victoria Racecourse. Gift of S. Dyson, 1982. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Maurice Guillaux flying his Blériot monoplane over Victoria Racecourse. Gift of S. Dyson, 1982. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Flying in Cloudland! Looping the Loop! The World’s Most Daring Aviator! Aviation Extraordinary! Not long after his arrival in Sydney on April 8, Maurice Guillaux began to make headlines, as his promoters and newspaper reporters searched for superlatives to express the excitement of Guillaux’ aerial performances.
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The Story of Australia’s first Airmail-part 1

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A view from Level 1 in the Boiler House looking up at Maurice Guillaux’s Bleriot XI soaring above the Transport exhibition with other historic aircraft. L611. Image: Powerhouse Museum

A view from Level 1 in the Boiler House looking up at Maurice Guillaux’s Bleriot XI soaring above the Transport exhibition with other historic aircraft. L611. Image: Powerhouse Museum

Soaring above the Transport exhibition is one of the Powerhouse Museum’s treasures, a tiny Blériot XI monoplane. With fewer than 30 aircraft made before World War 1 still preserved around the world, this aircraft would be significant for its rarity alone. But this Blériot, together its French pilot, Maurice Guillaux, also holds an important place in Australian aviation history, pioneering civil aviation in this country by carrying the first airmail from Melbourne to Sydney in July 1914.

To celebrate the centenary of the first Australian airmail, I will be contributing a series of posts on this blog over the coming months, charting the story of Maurice Guillaux, his aircraft and their important contributions to early aviation in Australia.
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Roving the Moon Forty Years Apart

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A full scale replica of the Soviet Lunokhod remote-controlled lunar rover, that operated on the Moon in 1973, can be seen in the Museum’s Space exhibition

A full scale replica of the Soviet Lunokhod 2 remote-controlled lunar rover, that operated on the Moon in 1973, can be seen in the Museum’s Space exhibition

Right now, China’s Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”) roving vehicle is exploring the Mare Imbrium region on the Moon, in the early stages of a mission scheduled to last for three months. The Chang-e 3 lander that delivered Yutu to the Moon on December 14 was the first spacecraft to soft-land on the lunar surface since the former-Soviet Union’s Luna 24 sample recovery mission in August 1976. Its successful arrival makes the People’s Republic of China only the third nation, after the USSR and the United States, to place a spacecraft on the Moon. The rover itself is the first remotely controlled vehicle to operate on the Moon’s surface since USSR’s Lunokhod 2 explored the lunar terrain for four months in 1973.
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Fifty Years in the TARDIS: the golden anniversary of Doctor Who

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A TARDIS-shaped housing for an early prototype computer-based interactive being developed for the Powerhouse Museum in 1981

A TARDIS-shaped housing for an early prototype computer-based interactive being developed for the Powerhouse Museum in 1981. Image : Powerhouse Museum

The weekend of November 23/24, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the first screening of the iconic British science fiction television series Doctor Who First screened in the UK on November 23, 1963, the adventures of the nameless wandering time traveller and his British police-box-shaped time machine, the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space, if you’ve always wondered what that acronym meant), have been shown in countries around the world and become firmly embedded in global popular culture. In this blog post, I’ll explore a few of the Museum’s links to Doctor Who.

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