Ian Debenham (retired February 2010)
What is your specialty area?
In a former life, I was a Licence Aircraft Maintenance Engineer with Qantas who left and obtained an Honours Degree in Ancient History – Roman economic history to be precise. At the Museum, I work primarily with the aviation collection and, because of a long association with boats, I look after the maritime collection. I have also had a long association with cars and I assist my colleague Andrew Grant in this collection area.
How long have you been working at the Museum?
Almost thirty years now, although I had an uncle who worked at the Museum as an Assistant Botanist, so some of my earliest and my most treasured memories are of visiting behind-the-scenes at the Museum. It’s like I have been here forever!
Favourite object in the collection?
With such a long memory of the Museum, it’s hard to identify a favourite object especially, too, when we have such icons as the Hargrave collection, the Boulton and Watt engine and No.1 locomotive. There is also our fantastic collection of aero engines to consider, but I’d have to say, that the Boeing PB2B-2 Catalina “Frigate Bird II” is very dear to my heart because I like large round engined metal aeroplanes; I’ve met several of the crew who went with it to South America and back and I have met members of Sir P G Taylor’s family who are all delightful people. Sadly, I didn’t get to meet ‘P G’; a real hero in my opinion. The flight of “Frigate Bird II” from Sydney to Valparaiso, Chile and back was a great achievement.
What piece of research or exhibition are you most proud of in your career at the Museum?
The research that forged a definite link between Lawrence Hargrave’s box kite and the Wright Brother’s “Flyer”. The evolution of the design moved from the Hargrave box kite through Octave Chanute’s “ladder kite” to his “Katydid” and thus the biplane glider, whose layout formed the basis of the “Flyer”. For years people have searched for this link, but I found it! Hargrave was no longer the ‘old kite flyer’, but he was a necessary link in the development of the successful aeroplane. History had denied him that richly deserved accolade for so long.