Inside the Collection

The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-part 2

Photograph of Maurice Guillaux flying his Blériot monoplane over Victoria Racecourse
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.

Maurice Guillaux’ first aviation display in Australia took place in Sydney on Monday April 20. Many accounts of this event written in later years, describe a crowd of 60,000 watching this flight, however this would appear to be the result of confusion with Guillaux’ later public performance on May 2, also covered in this blogpost. According to contemporary newspapers, Guillaux’ first flight, which was more in the nature of a test flight aimed at drumming up publicity for his forthcoming public performance, was watched by “an enthusiastic little knot of spectators” consisting of friends and reporters.

Taking off from Victoria Park Racecourse in Zetland (later to be engulfed by Mascot Aerodrome) at 3.30pm, Guillaux spent 30 minutes in the air, delighting, surprising and even terrifying spectators with a series of aerobatic manoeuvres including vertical dives, an “S” dive, flying upside down and three loop-the-loops in succession, which he performed “with the utmost ease, and as coolly as though he were lighting a cigarette”. Following this first flight, Guillaux took off again to fly around Sydney Harbour, flying out between the Heads and returning “delighted with his bird’s eye view of Sydney”.

To the undoubted delight of his local promoter, Mr. Albert Sculthorpe (who had earlier managed the aerial display tour by Australian aviator Harry G Hawker, Guillaux’ performance was rapturously reported in the Sydney newspapers of April 21, with a photo essay of the display in the Sydney Morning Herald, under the title “Flying in Cloudland” and a fulsome description in an article in the Evening News, accompanied by a photo of his “thrilling dive from the clouds.”

After this performance, Guillaux travelled to Newcastle on April 22, where he was feted at a Mayoral reception the following day. The French aviator gave his first public aerial display on Saturday April 25 at the Newcastle Showground, before a crowd of “seven or eight thousand spectators within the enclosure and thousands outside”. In addition to performing two sets of aerobatic manoeuvres, Guillaux flew around the city and the harbour and even took time out to address a group of aviation cadets. Among the spectators at this event was pioneer Australian aviator WE Hart.

Photograph of WE (Bill) Hart on aircraft
Photo of WE (Bill) Hart, pioneer Australian aviator, holder of Australian pilot’s licence No. 1. Hart attended Guillaux’ first public aviation display in Newcastle. Presented by Mr. F. Kilian, 1961. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Following the success of the Newcastle spectacular, Guillaux and his associates returned to Sydney, to prepare for his first public display there. Ever the showman, he flew over Sydney on May 1 to attract public interest in the “Monster Aviation Meeting” that was to be held at Victoria Park Racecourse on Saturday, May 2.

Photograph of Guillaux tying a silk French Tricolour flag to the tail of his Blériot aircraft
Guillaux ties a silk French Tricolour flag to the tail of his Blériot aircraft before commencing his first public aviation display in Sydney. Gift of S. Dyson, 1982. Collection: Powerhouse

Guillaux’ performance once again presented spectacular aerobatics including dives and low level flying that had members of the audience fleeing, in fear that he was about to crash into them. Guillaux concluded his first 30 minute performance with a long spiral volplane, or glide with the engine shut off, during which the audience could here the wind whistling through the wire stays bracing the wings. After a triumphal ride past the stands, and presentation to the Governor, Sir Gerald Strickland, Guillaux returned to the air, stunning the crowd of spectators, claimed to be 60,000 strong, with a series of 10 loop-the-loops in succession and the performance of his signature feat, the ‘outside’ loop-the-loop, in which the manoeuvre begins with a forward dive and the pilot performs the loop on the outside of the circle. At the conclusion of the day’s performance Guillaux received thunderous applause, said to be so loud that it drowned out the band.

Photograph of Guillaux performing before a large crowd at Victoria Park Racecourse
Guillaux performing before a large crowd at Victoria Park Racecourse, during his first public aerobatic display in Sydney on May 2, 1914. Gift of S. Dyson, 1982. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Look for the next post in this series in early May, which will cover Guillaux’ seaplane flights in Sydney. The Museum will be 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. The Aviation Historical Society of Australia will be conducting a re-enactment of the first airmail flight in July and hosting other commemorative events. If you’d like to explore the newspaper reports of Guillaux’ first displays in Australia, 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 Avaiation Curator

One response to “The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-part 2

  • Dear Kerrie, I am a distant relation to the Aviator William Ewart Hart. I’m currently writing a book about him. I’m aiming to have it self published by his next birthday – 130th on the 20th April, 2015.
    I was asked to represent the Hart family, December last year to help open up the Billy Hart Sculpture at Thonrton Hall, Penrith.
    I was researching the idea that Billy Hart flew mail, first day covers, in his Boxkite in 1911 i came across your site today. Love the photo of Billy. I’m asking permission to use the above photo or any other W E Hart photos that the Powerhouse may have, in my book.
    Yours sincerely, Greg Edwards

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