Category Archives: Transport

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

Australia and the Industrial Revolution – Impact of the first railways

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Locomotive No. 1 shown in Sydney yard with a frock-coated railway official, possibly a station master. Detail a stereoview published by William Hetzer, Sydney, 1858-1860. Powerhouse Museum collection P.3145-7. Gift of Royal Australian Historical Society, 1981.

Locomotive No. 1 shown in Sydney yard with a frock-coated railway official, possibly a station master. Detail a stereoview published by William Hetzer, Sydney, 1858-1860. Powerhouse Museum collection P.3145-7. Gift of Royal Australian Historical Society, 1981.

It’s 160 years ago this year (2014) since the first railway was opened in Australia in 1854. The railways were a vast improvement on the Cobb and Co. coaches, which carried people, and the drays and wagons, which carried goods, over the rough bush tracks. Pulled by horses or bullocks, wagons were slow and expensive, while the threat of being held up by bushrangers was a real possibility for coach travellers. Continue reading

A Percy lookalike – 1911 saddle tank steam locomotive

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Industrial saddle-tank steam locomotive, 0-4-0, made by Manning Wardle and Co. Ltd, Leeds, England, 1911. Powerhouse Museum collection. Gift of the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board, 1966. B1630.

Industrial saddle-tank steam locomotive, 0-4-0, made by Manning Wardle and Co. Ltd, Leeds, England, 1911. Powerhouse Museum collection. Gift of the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board, 1966. B1630.

This little green steam locomotive, which looks remarkably like Percy from Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, is in the Museum’s collection. Percy is the Small Engine and Thomas’ best friend. He’s quite happy puffing around the yard with no particular desire “for adventure in the world outside”. Percy is just like the small industrial and mine steam locomotives that once operated all over NSW. These engines were not used for main-line working but on industrial sites, for shunting coal in collieries, at quarries and on various construction projects including building breakwaters, reservoirs and dams. Continue reading

Fire fighting with an 1895 steam fire engine

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Steam fire engine pumper made by Merryweather and Sons, Greenwich, England, 1895. Powerhouse Museum collection. B1406.

Steam fire engine pumper made by Merryweather and Sons, Greenwich, England, 1895. Powerhouse Museum collection. B1406.

Steam has been used to power engines used in industry, agriculture, mining and even for fighting fires. The Museum has a horse-drawn steam fire engine built by the English firm of Merryweather and Sons of Greenwich, in 1895. It spent all its working life in western NSW at the Broken Hill Central Fire Station in Blende Street, from about 1897.
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Farewell Sir Jack Brabham (1926-2014)

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Photographic print, black & white, motor racing, paper, Lance Ruting, Australia, 1967

Jack Brabham driving a Repco-Brabham at Warwick Farm, Sydney, Lance Ruting, Australia, 1967, Collection: Powerhouse Museum

It was sad  to awaken to the news of the passing of one of Australia’s great sporting heroes, Sir Jack Brabham at his Queensland home this morning.  The Powerhouse Museum had a fruitful relationship with Sir Jack and his wife Lady Margaret in the late 1990s during the development of the exhibition Cars and Culture : our driving passion .

We were lucky enough to exhibit Sir Jack Brabham’s Formula One Repco Brabahm car, a Repco engine, and some of Sir Jacks memorabilia in the Museum’s exhibition Cars and Culture: our driving passion (1998-2000). The exhibition explored Australians passionate relationships with their cars and Sir Jack wrote a forward in the accompanying publication of the same name.

Sir Jack Brabham was one of the most accomplished drivers and team owners in the history of Formula One racing. The first driver to be knighted for services to motorsport, and the first Australian to win the Formula One World Championships, he won in 1959, 1960 and 1966. The the final time in a car designed and engineered by him with friend and fellow Australian Ron Tauranac .
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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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Neville’s Pompidou

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Nev

Neville Wran announcing the Powerhouse Museum project, 1979.

During the late 1970s I was living in England researching a doctorate. I also enjoyed a lot of museums including during a visit to Paris the Centre Pompidou, which had only been open for a year or so. I remember being totally blown away by it, astonished by this new take on the idea of a museum, and especially the way it made you look at art afresh, and how it had become a social centre, encompassing activities a long way from artistic contemplation.

It didn’t occur to me that anything like the Pompidou would be possible in Australia. Little did I know that another Australian traveller had also been impressed.  It’s urban legend that recently elected NSW premier Neville Wran said to his wife Jill after a visit to the Pompidou: ‘I want one of those’.  The Powerhouse is Neville’s Pompidou.
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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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