Our first aviators | State Library of New South Wales

Our first aviators

In 1909, six years after the Wright Brothers' flights in America, the Commonwealth Government offered a £5,000 prize for the first Australian 'Flying Machine...suitable for Military purposes.'

The first Australian to make a 'heavier than air' flight was George A. Taylor who made a series of glider flights at Narrabeen on 5 December 1909. Later that month, Colin Defries made several attempts to become airborne at Victoria Park Racecourse, using an imported Wright Biplane and a Blériot, with varying degrees of success.

 > View events and images from the first decade of flight

First Decade of Flight

By 1910, other aviators with imported flying machines strove to make the first powered flight in Australia. Several claimed success, although Ehrich Weiss, better known as escapologist Harry Houdini, is credited with the first controlled flight, at Diggers Rest, Victoria on 18 March 1910.

The first Australian-made aircraft was designed and built by John Duigan, who completed a 7 metre 'hop' at Mia Mia, Victoria on 16 July 1910. Aspiring Sydney aviator L.J.R. (Jack) Jones built a series of aircraft from 1909 but none achieved flight until June 1911. He later built Australia's first metal plane, the Wonga, in 1930.

William Hart

Detail from Sir Hudson Fysh - photograph of W.E. Hart in his Boxkite biplane, 1911 , by J.L. Turner
Photograph PXA 1063/276

On 23 February 1911, Frank Coles became Australia's first aircraft passenger when aviator Joseph Hammond took his mechanic aloft while demonstrating Bristol Boxkites in Victoria. A Melbourne businessman, M. H. Baillieu, became Australia's first paying passenger one month later, when he made a 19 km flight with Hammond. After purchasing one of Hammond's Boxkites, Parramatta dentist William Hart became Australia's first qualified pilot in November 1911.

In 1914, Frenchman Maurice Guillaux carried the first airmail from Melbourne to Sydney, then the longest airmail delivery in the world. When Captain Harry Butler returned from World War 1, he flew airmail from Adelaide to his hometown in South Australia and was quoted as saying 'The plane was great in War but it will be greater in Peace. This...is the beginning of a new era in mail and passenger transport'.

Maurice Guillaux

Maurice Guillaux and his plane, 1914, by Alfred Searcy
Copyprint PXA 647 (Original held State Library of South Australia)

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