The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 8

Maurice Guillaux and an unidentified spectator. This photo is generally identified as having been taken at the conclusion of the airmail flight, but as the aircraft lacks the OT Cordial advertising on the wings, the picture may have been taken before the airmail flight, or some weeks later. This image was loaned to the museum for copying, by a private individual.
Maurice Guillaux and an unidentified spectator. This photo is generally identified as having been taken at the conclusion of the airmail flight, but as the aircraft lacks the OT Cordial advertising on the wings, the picture may have been taken before the airmail flight, or some weeks later. This image was loaned to the museum for copying, by a private individual.

After being delayed at Harden on July 17, due to poor weather conditions for flying, Maurice Guillaux was determined to continue the first airmail flight the following day. While conditions had improved, they were still far from ideal, but on July 18 Guillaux took off at 7.15am and battled a strong headwind and freezing temperatures to reach Goulburn, 150km away, exactly two hours later. He described this section of his flight: “I shall never forget the awful experience I had to undergo…..I had to battle my way and to negotiate a passage though the icy atmosphere above those cruel mountains”. Visibility was limited and Guillaux was guided towards Goulburn by the smoke from a locomotive, though he found it impossible to follow the railway lines themselves.

Immediately upon landing at the Goulburn racecourse, Guillaux rushed to a beacon fire that had been lit there in order to warm himself, then drank some tea from the thermos he carried with him. Although his early arrival meant that relatively few people were on hand to see him, there was a brief welcoming ceremony conducted by the Mayor of Goulburn and one of the town’s leading businessmen, Clyde Baxter, of Baxter Shoes.

During a 45minute stopover, Guillaux checked the Blériot and refuelled, making sure that smokers kept well away while this was carried out. He took off again at 10am, but was quickly forced to return because of a faulty sparkplug. After replacing it, Guillaux took off once more at 11.05am: “It was amusing to watch the horses stampede across the paddocks and a number of birds flying for safety. Guillaux makes the birds look trivial when he takes charge of the air”.

Although Guillaux was supposed to make a stop at Moss Vale, he felt that the landing ground at the golf links did not provide enough room, so he flew on towards Sydney. Due to some oversight, his maps did not show the last 80km of the flight, so, having covered the 180km from Goulburn in 90 minutes, at 12.35pm Guillaux landed in a clearing near the main street of Liverpool, to clarify his location and kill some time, as he had been instructed to arrive at his final landing site at 3.00pm, for the convenience of the football crowd and the dignitaries who would be on hand to meet him.

Invited to lunch by a Mr and Mrs Cloke, Guillaux had a leisurely meal before departing at 2.05pm to head to Sydney. With a tailwind speeding him on his way, Guillaux had time to cruise around the city, flying over Parramatta and Manly, before finally touching down at Moore Park, in “a blinding storm” at 2.50pm. “I was very cold, but I was very happy. I had delivered the mail” Guillaux later recalled. Over two and a half days, Guillaux’ actual flying time had been 9hr 15min.

As soon as his aircraft rolled to a stop, Guillaux was besieged by the admiring crowd. The Governor General, Sir Roland Munro-Ferguson, who had previously met the aviator in Melbourne, shook him by the hand, after which Guillaux was carried, shoulder high, to the nearby sportsground. To the strains of the Marseillaise, he delivered the first official airmail in Australia, handing over to NSW Sir Gerald Strickland, a letter from the Governor of Victoria.

This unusual item shows an apparently forged copy of Guillaux’ signature. As one of the stamps was not released until 1916, the item could not have been posted in 1914, despite the postmark it carries. EA and VI Crome Collection 87/332
This unusual item shows an apparently forged copy of Guillaux’ signature. As one of the stamps was not released until 1916, the item could not have been posted in 1914, despite the postmark it carries. EA and VI Crome Collection 87/332

Guillaux’ journey from Melbourne to Sydney set many records: not only was it the first Australian airmail flight, it also saw the carriage of the first air freight in the country; having covered over 930km, the flight was also the world’s longest airmail delivery at the time.
The first airmail flight was not the end of Guillaux’ time in Australia and in August and September, I will be posting a few final blog entries, tying up the story of the daring French aviator and his aircraft. 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. 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.

Written by Kerrie Dougherty Space Technology and Aviation Curator

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