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Diaspora Vintage Portraits/ People

Photos > Diaspora Vintage Portraits/ People > Harry Corones and Nancy Bird in Charleville, 1935.

Photos > Diaspora Vintage Portraits/ People

submitted by Vassilia Corones on 30.12.2005

Harry Corones and Nancy Bird in Charleville, 1935.

Harry Corones and Nancy Bird in Charleville, 1935.
Copyright (0000) John Oxley Library, State Library Of Queensland

Nancy Bird is a world-famous aviatrix.

Charleville Welcomes back high-flyer Nancy - page no longer available

NAVIGATING with only a watch and compass, Nancy Bird fought to keep the Gipsy Moth in the air as the turbulence from the thermals threw the plane around the sky like a paper toy. Flying over the "never-never" on the way to Urisino in outback New South Wales was extremely dangerous. Several people had lost their lives in country like this and she knew that if she was forced down into the featureless landscape, with no tracks, no roads and no water, finding the plane would be like searching for a needle in a haystack and it would not be worth salvaging the aircraft from the scrub.

Packed into the front cockpit with the baby scales and clinic equipment, Sister Webb, a former World War 1 army nurse, was whitefaced and shaking, trying to control her panic. "I shall never forget how brave she was that day," Nancy said. "She loathed flying and certainly had no desire to go by air." It was Nancy's first flight out of Bourke for the Far West Children's Health Scheme, taking nursing sisters to the tiny settlement and homesteads of the west, to help mothers trying to raise children, far beyond the reach of the most basic medical care.

Nancy's interest in flying started in 1928 when working for her father at his country store at Mt.George in New South Wales. An air pageant came to town, with pilot Reg Annabel flying a beautiful, shining, blue and yellow Gipsy Moth. It was her first chance to get airborne. I enjoyed being aloft so much, that I went on a second flight and asked Reg to do some aerobatics for an extra pound. From then on, learning to fly was the ruling passion of my life," Nancy said.

Although her father strongly disapproved, Nancy took her first flying lessons with Charles Kingsford Smith at Mascot Airport. After many arduous hours studying and flying, at the age of 20, she obtained her licence to "fly for hire and reward". With the financial assistance of her father (now an enthusiastic supporter) and a great aunt, she purchased the same Gipsy Moth in which she had experienced her first flight.

In 1936, the federal government removed the £200 subsidy it had been paying the Far West Children's Health Scheme, and Nancy decided to move from Bourke to Charleville. "The main pleasure for me was being with other flying people," she said, "and I knew I would always see some of the Qantas pilots. "It was also great fun to be at Harry Corones' Hotel. Harry would do anything for flying people, such as driving us to and from the aerodrome".

Harry had the contract to feed Qantas. "Petrol was cheaper in Charleville, than anywhere else, but it did not offset the other costs such as the hotel bill, hangar rental and engineering costs." So I moved to Cunnamulla where there was a large clay pan for landing close to town and Mrs Davis had invited me to be her guest at the Cunnamulla Hotel, which was an attractive proposition". Although I had moved, I was still doing the same kind of work as before and more often than not, flying the same people.

Now aged 84 (in 1999 Ed.), Nancy Bird-Walton is in great demand in Australia and overseas as a guest speaker. International Women's Day celebrations and opened a terminal named after her at Bourke airport, where she was presented to the Queen and Prince Philip. She also attended a ball in Sydney which celebrated the 80th anniversary of the founding of Mascot Airport, a particularly appropriate honour for the girl who learned to fly there almost 70 years ago.

For those charmed by the story of Nancy Bird-Walton, a signed copy of her book My God! It's a Woman, is available at $20 plus $3.50 postage and handling, from the author at
22 Adderstone Avenue,
North Sydney,
NSW 2060 or through the

The Rural Bookshop,
telephone toll-free 1800 656028.

Nancy Bird-Walton, O.B.E (1915-)

Nancy Bird-Walton was the founder of the Australian Women Pilots' Association, which was the starting block for a proud generation of female pilots, who now fly alongside men in Australia's skies.

Nancy Bird was born in Sydney, NSW in 1915. When she was four, she attempted to launch herself off the backyard fence after hearing news about the Great England-Australia Race, which was gripping the country. When she turned thirteen, she went for a joy flight in a Gipsy Moth aeroplane at a local fair, and her future was decided. She began saving for flying lessons immediately.

Despite her actions being unapproved by her father, Nancy's first flying lesson was conducted by Charles Kingsford Smith - a legend himself. She was seventeen at the time and the year was 1933. She learned to fly at a time when women pilots where a rare breed. Given that it was "not the done thing" for women to wear long pants in those days as well, she required a degree of persistence in order that she continued in her chosen career.

In the beginning Kingsford Smith didn't take her as seriously as he should have, as Nancy only stood at five foot nothing (150cm), but she soon regained his respect. In 1935, she was hired to operate an air ambulance service in outback New South Wales. It was named the Far West Children's Health Scheme. Nancy's own Gipsy Moth was used as an air ambulance.

As well as saving the lives of patients by flying them to hospital, she required a good deal of skill to save her own life when using the airstrips available in those days. Often, landings had to be made in paddocks that were dotted with rabbit holes. Navigation instruments were basic and frequently road maps rather than aviation maps were needed in order to get from one place to another.

She continued to rouse feathers belonging to the conservative country people she came across in her work. Later in 1935, the state defence leader H.V.C Thorby, stated that flying was not "biologically suited" to women, and after much pressure from politicians and colleagues, 1938 became Bird's last year of flying for a while. In 1939 Bird fell in love while aboard an ocean liner bound back for Australia, she was returning after undertaking aviation research in England.

She was 24 when she married Englishman Charles Walton and they had two children named Anne Marie and John. While domesticity ruled for Bird-Walton at this time, her passion for flying stayed strong, and in the works was the idea to set up an Australian Women Pilots' Association. She founded the organisation in 1950 and Bird-Walton remained president until 1990, their motto was "skies unlimited".

Thanks to Bird-Walton's pioneering air days, women are now working as airline captains, helicopter musterers, search and rescue pilots, and even flying nuns. The Australian Airforce currently has ten female pilots and the Navy has eight. Now aged eighty-four (in 1999 Ed.) she is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Australian Women Pilots' Association and recently received the honour of having a terminal at Bourke Airport, N.S.W. named after her.

Source: Heroism in Action: Heroes & Heroines of the 20th Century
Nancy Bird-Walton

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