The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 10

Maurice Guillaux sitting in his Blériot aircraft before a performance. Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia
Maurice Guillaux sitting in his Blériot aircraft before a performance. Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia

As Maurice Guillaux recovered from the August 1 crash of his aircraft (see Part 9 of this story), war broke out in Europe, plunging that continent into the conflict that would become known as The Great War. Guillaux recovered from his injuries within a few weeks, and his Blériot aircraft was repaired, but the French aviator began to realise that the time for aerial displays was over: crowds were beginning to wane and the public’s attention was occupied by news of the war. Guillaux began to talk of returning to France, to help defend his homeland, and a newspaper article in the Perth Sunday Times on August 30 reported prematurely that he had already gone back to Europe. This erroneous report may have resulted from confusion between Guillaux and his translator/manager Lucien Maistre, who seems to have embarked for France some time in August.

Before he could depart, however, Guillaux had performance commitments to his new managers, Messrs. MacCullum Bros. and Treacy. After his recovery, he made a flight over Sydney on September 10, which included several loop-the-loops. Interviewed at this time, Guillaux spoke earnestly of his desire to participate in the war: “My one anxiety is to go to the front. The French airmen will show the Kaiser that he has a lot to learn in carrying on war in the clouds”.

Originally scheduled for August 15, but delayed because of his accident, Maurice Guillaux’ final public performance took place in Bathurst on Saturday September 12, with both pilot and aircraft back in top form after the August crash. In addition to his signature loop-the-loops, thrilling stunts and dives, Guillaux included a “demonstration of the use of planes in warfare”-apparently dropping (fake) bombs from the air onto targets on the ground. While in Bathurst, Guillaux stated that he planned to depart Australia on September 26, embarking on the Sonoma to return to France via the USA, but “thought it possible that me night be back in Australia again”.

The Oceanic Line steamer RMS Sonoma, on which Guillaux originally planned to return to France via the USA. Image courtesy of the State Library of NSW
The Oceanic Line steamer RMS Sonoma, on which Guillaux originally planned to return to France via the USA. Image courtesy of the State Library of NSW

Guillaux’ departure from Australia was actually delayed until October, so look out for the final instalment of this blog series next month, to discover the fate of the French aviator and how his plane ultimately came to the Powerhouse Museum. 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.

Written by Kerrie Dougherty, Space Technology and Aviation Curator

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