R3046 Escort for Amy Johnson's landing in Sydney, 1930

R3046

Description

This is a black-and-white photograph that shows the six women pilots who provided an aerial escort for British aviator Amy Johnson when she arrived in Sydney on 4 June 1930. The photograph, which measures 15.0 cm x 19.8 cm, is glued to a mount upon which is inscribed the words 'Escort for Amy Johnson's landing in Sydney. Amy was the first woman to fly on her own England to Australia' and the names of the pilots who formed the escort. The pilots were from left to right: Meg Skelton, Bobby Terry, Evelyn Follett, M A Upfold, Phyllis Arnott and F Deaton. The photograph may have been taken outside a hangar at the Mascot aerodrome in Sydney.

Acknowledgements: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia.

Educational value
This asset depicts the six women pilots who provided an aerial escort for the world famous aviator Amy Johnson to Mascot aerodrome in Sydney - the six women were members of the New South Wales Aero Club and were among the first women in Australia to obtain a private pilot's licence; Meg Skelton moved to Sydney from Inverell in 1928 in order to learn how to fly; Bobby Terry was the first Australian woman to own her own aircraft and obtained her commercial licence in 1931; Evelyn Follett was a director of Adastra Airways between 1930 and 1973 and set up the 'Air Centre', which operated as a booking office and resource centre for aviators until the Second World War; records indicate that M A Upfold wowed spectators with her 'aerobatics' performance at the 1928 air pageant held at Mascot; Phyllis Arnott was the first Australian woman pilot to obtain a commercial licence, although she never used the licence but instead pursued a career as an opera singer; F Deaton obtained her private pilot's licence in 1929.
It shows an aspect of Johnson's flight - Johnson became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia when she arrived in Darwin on 25 May 1930, 19.5 days after leaving England and having covered a distance of about 14,000 kilometres; the aviator, whose flight had made her a celebrity worldwide, then embarked on a tour of Australia; after crash-landing her Gypsy Moth biplane at Brisbane airport, Johnson was flown to Mascot by aviator Charles Ulm in the 'Southern Star'.
It suggests that Johnson was given a special welcome in Sydney - Johnson was greeted by crowds of over 50,000 people, prompting the 'Sydney Morning Herald' to muse 'It is becoming a question whether the popular enthusiasm … over Miss Johnson's flight, is not as astonishing as the flight itself'; Johnson was provided with an escort of women pilots in every city she visited in Australia and she is credited with inspiring Australian women in aviation.
It shows that women were involved in aviation in this period - Australian women began to take up flying in the mid-1920s; for most women flying was a social activity fostered by aero clubs, which organised races and 'flying picnics'; the prohibitive cost of flying meant that it was confined to women in the upper classes, who paid £25 to join an aero club, and £1 10s for an hour of instruction, which was equivalent to the basic weekly wage in this period; in the 1930s a number of women became commercial pilots.
It shows an example of the flying gear worn in this period - helmets and goggles protected aviators from wind and dust in the open cockpits; helmets were made of soft leather, while goggles were tight-fitting to stop the wind from lifting them off the face; one of the pilots in the photograph is holding a pair of gauntlets (long gloves) that covered part of the forearm.
It provides an example of the type of outfit worn by women pilots in this period - US pilot Harriet Quimby said in 1911 that 'if a woman wants to fly, first of all she must … abandon skirts'; in this photograph one woman is wearing a flying suit, while the remainder are in either trousers or knickerbockers, coat and tie.
It shows an example of the aviator coat - in this photograph two of the women are wearing the leather coats favoured by aviators in this period; leather had the advantage of being an all-weather material that kept out dust and was windproof.
It suggests that women pilots in this period challenged established gender boundaries - the NSW Aero Club, formed in 1926, admitted women and allowed them to take flying lessons only after a 12-month-long campaign by women such as Evelyn Follett; however, while there was some resistance to women's entry into aviation, the media was more alarmed by women's appropriation of the outfits worn by male pilots; women's fashion tended to emphasise passivity and immobility, which were the antithesis of flying, where daring and speed were key elements.
Topics
Costume
Australian history
Aeronautics
Air pilots
Rights
© Curriculum Corporation and National Library of Australia, 2008, except where indicated under Acknowledgements