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Aviation in Australia

Our first aviators

In 1909, six years after the Wright Brothers' flights in America, the Commonwealth Government offered a £5,000 prize for the first Australian 'Flying Machine...suitable for Military purposes.'

The first Australian to make a 'heavier than air' flight was George A. Taylor who made a series of glider flights at Narrabeen on 5 December 1909. Later that month, Colin Defries made several attempts to become airborne at Victoria Park Racecourse, using an imported Wright Biplane and a Blériot, with varying degrees of success.

By 1910, other aviators with imported flying machines strove to make the first powered flight in Australia. Several claimed success, although Ehrich Weiss, better known as escapologist Harry Houdini, is credited with the first controlled flight, at Diggers Rest, Victoria on 18 March 1910.

Sir Hudson Fysh - photograph of W.E. Hart in his Boxkite biplane, 1912 / J.L. Turner, copyright

The first Australian-made aircraft was designed and built by John Duigan, who completed a 7 metre 'hop' at Mia Mia, Victoria on 16 July 1910. Aspiring Sydney aviator L.J.R. (Jack) Jones built a series of aircraft from 1909 but none achieved flight until June 1911. He later built Australia's first metal plane, the Wonga, in 1930.

On 23 February 1911, Frank Coles became Australia's first aircraft passenger when aviator Joseph Hammond took his mechanic aloft while demonstrating Bristol Boxkites in Victoria. A Melbourne businessman, M. H. Baillieu, became Australia's first paying passenger one month later, when he made a 19 km flight with Hammond. After purchasing one of Hammond's Boxkites, Parramatta dentist William Hart became Australia's first qualified pilot in November 1911.

In 1914, Frenchman Maurice Guillaux carried the first airmail from Melbourne to Sydney, then the longest airmail delivery in the world. When Captain Harry Butler returned from World War 1, he flew airmail from Adelaide to his hometown in South Australia and was quoted as saying:

'The plane was great in War but it will be greater in Peace. the beginning of a new era in mail and passenger transport"

Searcy albums volume 8

The first decade of flight

Explore the adventures of Australia's first aviators. Learn about early attempts prior to Houdini's first controlled flight, how William Hart became Australia's first qualified pilot, and how Maurice Guillaux introduced a new service to Australian aviation.



Aviation in Australia is made possible through a partnership with Qantas.