Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (13:19): It gives me great pleasure to rise and speak on this motion put forward by a good South Australian member. As was just pointed out by the member for Sturt, the Smith brothers were of course South Australian. We’re very proud of our aviation history in South Australia. Like the member for Sturt, I won’t run through the list of those achievements—the things they actually accomplished by flying from England to Australia and eventually to Adelaide—but I will reaffirm the fact that they were, like many of our early aviators, the rock stars of their generation.
It needs to be remembered that—certainly in South Australia, but for most Australians—at the end of World War I they’d never seen a plane in flight. The very idea these gentlemen would fly an airplane, which was basically new technology, right across the world and back to Australia was an achievement within itself. The Vickers Vimy has sat in what was, in its day, a good display area at Adelaide airport. Unfortunately for the display area, the airport shifted and it’s now marooned out in the visitor car park. It should have been brought into the main terminal at the time it was built, but it was not. It’s about to be rectified, and it will hold pride of place there. That’s a good thing. We should celebrate that journey that was 100 years ago. It would have meant so much to the Australian nation. It meant a lot to the former Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, who put 10,000 pounds—which was probably worth a little bit more then that it is today—on the table for this flight. That would’ve funded the Smith brothers’ continued aviation pursuits.
It’s worth remembering, in that time and space, the Smith brothers met their end in an aviation accident, as did Hinkler, as did Kingsford Smith and as did another South Australian hero—who I want to take a little bit of time to speak about because we’ve just commemorated 100 years there as well—Harry Butler.
I want to talk about Harry Butler, because it is a great story. He was born in Yorketown on Yorke Peninsula and schooled at Koolywurtie, which isn’t very far from Maitland, which is down the backbone of the peninsula. He reputedly studied his mother’s chooks to work out the mechanisms of flying. I’ve always thought the chooks we’ve had haven’t been all that good at flying, but he was really bitten by the bug. He was playing around with inventing aviation machines at the outbreak of the war.
Butler enlisted in the Australian Flying Corps, in 1916. He lasted two weeks, because he could see he was being streamed into the market where he’d be a mechanic rather than a pilot. He scarpered over to England and joined the RAF at that stage. He went on to become an instructor. He instructed 2,700 pilots in World War I. In fact, the attrition rate on trainee pilots was higher than it was in the skies over France. He singled himself out as a man of great skills, because he flew sorties on a regular basis into France to keep his skills up with the modern, evolving moves of new aviation dog fighting. When he came back to Australia he brought a couple of airplanes with him—a four-winged airplane; a biplane; a monoplane—with the biplane he set up a business taking passengers and he became a barnstormer—and the Red Devil, Bristol monoplane.
At one stage, when he was performing over the skies of Adelaide, he took off from Sturt Oval. The member for Sturt would know how big the Sturt oval was. It’s not very big, to this day. In the southern goal, he had the chocks in and four men holding the wings. He was under full power when they said, ‘Release him,’ and away he raced towards the northern goals. He took off just in time. He went up and did his aerobatic displays and had to land somewhere else. He lost his life in an aviation accident, as it turned out, right alongside his home town of Maitland. There are those who believed he was the genesis of the Biggles books because he went to the flying school with W E John. I’ll end that there.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: There being no further speakers, this debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.