R3585 'Nancy Bird Walton with her plane, Gypsy Moth, 1935'



This is a black-and-white close-up photograph (9.5 cm x 11.8 cm) showing the famous Australian pilot Nancy Bird (1915-) leaning against the open cockpit of her de Havilland biplane.

Acknowledgements: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia.

Educational value
This asset shows one of the first female commercial pilots in Australia - Nancy Bird was taught to fly by Charles Kingsford Smith in 1933 when she was 17 years of age; she commenced her flying career on a barnstorming tour, dropping in on country fairs and giving joy-rides; in 1935 she was hired by the Far West Children's Health Scheme to operate her aircraft as an Aerial Ambulance and Baby Clinic.
It shows one of Australia's aviation pioneers, who encouraged other women to fly - the first Ladies' Flying Tour in Australia was organised by Bird in 1935, and three years later the Women's Flying Club was formed; in 1950, Bird helped to found the Australian Women Pilots' Association (AWPA), becoming its inaugural president and remaining in the post until 1990.
It shows a female aviator, or 'aviatrix' as they were known at the time - in the 1930s, women were under-represented in aviation, with female pilots rare and opposition to them strong; in 1935, Harold V C Thorby, the Minister assisting the Australian Minister for Commerce, stated that flying was not 'biologically suited' to women.
It shows Bird wearing long pants, a shirt and a tie - this dress style was practical for a pilot but frowned upon for women at the time; US pilot Harriet Quimby had said in 1911 that 'if a woman wants to fly, first of all she must … abandon skirts'.
It shows a distinguished Australian - Nancy Bird Walton (her married name), has been presented with many awards, including the Order of the British Empire, Order of Australia, and Dame of St John (Knights of Malta); the Bourke airport terminal is named after her.
It displays part of a de Havilland Aircraft Gipsy Moth biplane - in 1935, with help from her father and great aunt, Bird was able to buy her first aeroplane, a Gipsy Moth, for £400; the Gipsy Moth was developed as a light aircraft, intended to be affordable and easy to fly.
Air pilots
Australian history
© Curriculum Corporation and National Library of Australia, 2009, except where indicated under Acknowledgements