Inside the Collection

The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 7

Maurice Guillaux in his Bleriot, 1914
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.

Friday, July 17 dawned wet and cold in Harden, but Guillaux decided to give an aerobatic display, presumably to make up for the one he had not given, as originally planned, the day before. His show, however, did not include his signature loop-the-loop manoeuvre, as Guillaux did not have with him the harness that he normally used to hold himself in the plane while performing this stunt. He did, though, take three Harden locals for joyflights, somehow fitting them into the cramped space of the single-seat Blériot.

The weather in Harden continued poor, and reports from Goulburn, Guillaux’ next planned destination, also indicated extremely bad weather there. Although Guillaux’ agent in Goulburn, M. Maistre (who usually acted as his translator) begged the aviator not to fly that day, Guillaux finally took off at 2pm, hoping to complete the 151km journey before dark. He did not, however, get far, battling against a strong headwind.

By the time he reached Binalong, about 29km from Harden, Guillaux was being battered by cold rain and heavy winds, which reduced his speed to about 40mph/64kph. The bucketing of his Blériot in the heavy conditions seems to have actually made Guillaux airsick, so at Binalong he decided to turn back to Harden, where he spent a second night, hoping that the weather would improve the following day. Of this setback, Guillaux later said “I had a lonely feeling and was worrying about getting away the next day”.

Follow the stages of Guillaux’ airmail flight on this blog until July 18. The Aviation Historical Society of Australia conducted a re-enactment of the first airmail flight between July 12-14. 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 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

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