Inside the Collection

The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 11

Maurice Guillaux relaxing on board HMAT Orvieto after departing Australia
Maurice Guillaux relaxing on board HMAT Orvieto after departing Australia. This photo was taken by a young RG Casey , later to become Governor-General of Australia. Courtesy National Archives of Australia: M1145, 3B/20

After thrilling Australian audiences with his airshows and making history by flying the first airmail, in September 1914 Maurice Guillaux realised one of the plans he had made earlier in the year by establishing a flying school at Ham Common, which is now the site of Richmond RAAF Base, to the west of Sydney. In March 1912, pioneer Australian aviator W E Hart (see part 2 of this series) had purchased a part of Ham Common, which he described as “the finest site in Australia for an aviation ground”. However, after suffering a serious flying accident in September of that year, Hart did not proceed with any plans he may have had for the site, so Guillaux was the first to actually make use of the area for aviation purposes.

As mentioned in part 3 of this series, Guillaux had ordered three aircraft in late May, as part of his plans for establishing himself permanently in Australia. By September, one of these arircraft, a Caudron G3 biplane, had arrived. One of Guillaux’ associates and early pupils was Jean Claude Marduel, another Frenchman, who had migrated to Australia in 1908. Guillaux and Marduel assembled the plane and began to use it at the flying school. In preparation for his return to France, Guillaux sold his part ownership in the Caudron to Marduel, who also took over the flying school. This aircraft would later be sold to the Australian Defence department, for use at the Australian Flying Corps training school at Point Cook in Victoria, and Marduel himself would train many of the pilots for Australia’s first flying squadron.

Photograph of Guillaux’ associate JC Marduel ready to fly the Guillaux flying school Caudron biplane
Guillaux’ associate JC Marduel, ready to fly the Guillaux flying school Caudron biplane from Ham Common to Centennial Park, Sydney, on 23 October 1914. This aircraft later became training aircraft CSF 9 operating from Pt. Cook. Courtesy Australian War Memorial P00438.002

After establishing his flying school, Guillaux was anxious to return to France and join the conflict raging in Europe. On October 22, he embarked for Egypt on the HMAT Orvieto with the Headquarters group of the 1st Australian Division, to which he was attached as “aviator”. By May 1915, Guillaux was back in France where he was employed by the Blériot aviation company as a test pilot for new military aircraft. He is also recorded as delivering Morane-Saulnier aircraft to squadrons between September 1915 and February 1916. Maurice Guillaux was killed on 21 May 1917, when he crashed at Villacoublay while test-flying a new aircraft. Many notable figures of the French aviation industry attended Guillaux’ funeral as well French and British officers. He was laid to rest in the cemetery of Neuilly-sur-Seine, Nanterre, and an inscribed monument erected to his memory.

Sadly, a few months after Guillaux’ death a rumour began to circulate that he had actually been a German spy and had been executed as a traitor. Although the story has been established as groundless, it was widely reported by many Australian regional newspapers, before being later retracted.

On his departure from Australia, Guillaux placed his Blériot in storage in Sydney, intending to have the aircraft sold. It was eventually purchased, in January 1916, by Robert Graham Carey, who owned a garage and taxi service in Ballarat, Victoria. Carey then established the Ballarat Flying School, although he did not gain his pilot’s certificate (No.34, from the Australian Aero Club) until later in the year. On 23 November 1916, flying the Blériot, Carey also became the first civilian to gain a pilot’s licence from the Commonwealth Flying School at Point Cook although he was rejected as a military aviator because of his age (42).

Souvenir postcard showing Carey in his Blériot
Souvenir postcard showing Carey in his Blériot, originally used to fly the first Australian airmail. The date on this card (right hand side) indicates that it was carried on the first South Australian airmail flight in 1917. MAAS  EA and VI Crome Collection, 86/333

To support the war effort, Carey spent much of the second half of 1917 flying the Blériot at charitable events in connection with the Red Cross. During October and November 1917 Carey gave several displays and exhibition flights in Adelaide and it was during this period that he flew the first airmail in South Australia, carrying letters between Adelaide and Gawler on 23 November. However, by the end of 1917, Carey seems to have given up flying the Blériot, possibly due to a lack of spare parts, and it went into storage until 1920. It was then purchased by one of Carey’s former flying pupils, K.J. Claffey, from Deniliquin, who used it to take paying passengers on joy flights. However, by the mid-1930s, the aircraft was in parts, in poor condition, stored around Claffey’s property.

In 1939 the Blériot was purchased from Claffey by the Department of Defence-and then transferred to the newly-established Department of Civil Aviation-for a proposed aviation history museum at Mascot Aerodrome. The display did not eventuate and the Bleriot was stored in a shed adjacent to the aerodrome, its condition deteriorating, until it was brought to the attention of the Museum in 1941 by Frank Hammond, the inventor of the visible type petrol pump. The Blériot was then transferred to the Museum’s store for safekeeping.

The aircraft was partly restored at Sydney Technical College, Ultimo, prior to display at the 21st Anniversary of the Royal Aero Club of NSW, at Bankstown Airport on 11 October 1947. In 1964 the Blériot was given another facelift by the Technical College students and displayed at Mascot Airport at an exhibition to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Guillaux’ historic flight on 16 July 1964. As part of the development of the Powerhouse Museum, the aircraft was fully restored by the Museum’s Conservation staff between 1980-81 and temporarily displayed in Powerhouse Stage I. Several years later the Blériot went on permanent display in the Transport Exhibition of the Powerhouse Museum which opened in 1988. You can find more information here about the post-Guillaux history of the Bleriot.

Written by Kerrie Dougherty, Space curator

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