you're reading...
Famous Australians

Nancy Bird-Walton: Australian Flying Pioneer

Australian aviation pioneer Nancy Bird Walton died today (January 13 2009) at her Sydney home, aged 93. Named a Living National Treasure by the National Trust of Australia in 1997, she was one of Australia’s aviation pioneers, and the first female pilot in the Commonwealth to carry passengers.

A love of life above the clouds, took Nancy around the world, fulfilling dreams that began in childhood.

Born in Sydney in 1915, Nancy wanted to fly almost as soon as she could walk. “I had this reputation of climbing fences and trees and calling myself an eppy plane. You know, jumping off fences and waving my arms.”

Nancy left school early to work in her father’s general store in the country. “With my hard-won savings I bought myself a leather coat, helmet and goggles, because I was going to learn to fly.”

Nancy was thirteen years old when she flew for the first time while at an air pageant. She paid the pilot a bit extra to do some aerobatics! “My sister said I came down a little green – but on the other hand it became the ruling passion of my life.”

Five years later that passion drove Nancy to take flying lessons, and not with any old instructor. Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, the first man to fly across the mid-Pacific, had just opened a pilots’ school near Sydney, and Nancy was among his first pupils. She was so tiny she needed cushions to reach the controls!

Most women learnt to fly for fun, but Nancy planned to fly for a living. “When I got my licence, I had to think about doing something with it.”

Having a commercial license meant Nancy could carry passengers, but she needed wings. Family members came to the rescue, and bought Nancy her first plane, a Gypsy Moth.

Nancy and a friend soon took off on a barnstorming tour, dropping in on country fairs and giving joy rides. It was the first time some people had seen a plane, let alone a female pilot. “They didn’t intend to go up. That was my job, or Peggy’s job, to persuade them to go up.”

While touring, Nancy met Reverend Stanley Drummond. He wanted her to help set up a flying medical service in outback New South Wales. Nancy bought a better-equipped plane, and began covering territory not yet reached by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. It was rewarding but lonely work.

“One of the things that came into one’s mind was the fear of being lost and never being found. You would have perished before being found in the summertime in that country.”

In 1936, Nancy entered an air race from Adelaide to Brisbane, and won the Ladies’ Trophy. “It was a wonderful opportunity for me to come from that back country and meet other flying people. You see, I was isolated out there. Nobody even spoke the same language.”

After working in the outback for more than four years, Nancy knew she needed a break from flying. When a Dutch airline company invited her to do some promotional work in Europe, she accepted.

World War Two broke out soon after Nancy’s return to Australia. She began training women in skills needed to back-up the men flying in the Australian Airforce.

In 1950, she founded the “Australian Women’s Pilots’ Association”. Eight years later Nancy decided she wanted to fly again. Nancy was back in the pilot’s seat after a twenty year absence.

Her entry in a famous all-women race in America, called the Powder Puff Derby, made headlines. It was the first time a woman from overseas had competed.

Throughout her life Nancy has supported charities, and people in need. This generous spirit earned her the Order of the British Empire in 1966. Ms Walton became a Dame of the Knights of Malta in 1977 and in 1990 was awarded an AO by the Australian government.

Although she’s never crashed a plane Nancy admits flying, especially in those early days, was risky. Taking risks, says this adventurer, opens up opportunities.

She was also Commandant of the Women’s Air Training Corps from 1940-45, the founder and longtime president of the Australian Women’s Pilot Association and Emeritus Patron of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

In October last year, she attended the inaugural Australian landing of Qantas’ first super passenger jet the A380, named the Nancy Bird Walton in her honour.

“There’s a wonderful quotation ‘whatever you can do or dream, begin it’.”

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.


4 thoughts on “Nancy Bird-Walton: Australian Flying Pioneer

  1. Reblogged this on Craig Hill.

    Posted by Craig Hill | April 5, 2012, 19:52
  2. What you, guys can do … we can do better *smile – great article again, Craig.

    Posted by viveka | April 5, 2012, 21:10
  3. A remarkable woman…

    Posted by Brook | April 6, 2012, 07:07
  4. Reblogged this on bookzine and commented:
    The above bio would definitely make an interesting read if made into a book or movie.

    Posted by bookzine | June 21, 2012, 12:00

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

If you liked what you just read, click "Subscribe" to become a follower of the Craig Hill site. You will receive an email each time a new post is published.

Join 15,050 other followers

An archive of all my old posts

Follow me on Twitter

  • RT @CraigHill01: As Grace Tame's time as Australian of the Year draws to an end, I can honestly say she has been the most worthy and active… 2 hours ago
  • RT @DailyTelegraph0: Barnaby Joyce expresses commitment by proposing to Vicki Campion: "Marriage is for life - or until you met someone you… 7 hours ago
  • RT @DarrenChesterMP: Listen to the experts and ignore George Christensen. If you have any concerns about COVID vaccines for you or your fam… 19 hours ago
  • As Grace Tame's time as Australian of the Year draws to an end, I can honestly say she has been the most worthy and… twitter.com/i/web/status/1… 1 day ago
  • RT @TamePunk: With only a week to go ‘til I’m washed-up, I’d just like to thank you all for your support this past year. Although I didn’… 1 day ago

Most Recent Posts Post on My Blog About China: China News

Cadence Column: Asia, January 17, 2022

Cadence Column: Asia, January 17, 2022

China is illegal. The US Department of State even says so. France even reports as such. This won’t exactly improve friendly relations across the Pacific. It’s actually a much larger step to an all out conflict. Just over a year ago, November 2020, Western allies declared that China’s 1984 treaty with Britain, the basis for […]

India’s offensive against China should be in the grey zone 

India’s offensive against China should be in the grey zone 

Grey zone is not a fixed concept but a hypothetical place between peace and war. While I was writing this article, a never heard of development was taking place in the Indian state of Punjab. The Indian Prime Minister was stuck on a bridge for 20 minutes since the highway was blocked by the protesters. […]

Cadence Column: Asia, January 10, 2022

Cadence Column: Asia, January 10, 2022

Lithuania has become the “Taiwan of Europe”. Since WWII, Americans never again struggled with the concept that a problem abroad is a problem at home. This is how we Americans can vote to interfere around the world that we know so little about. We think every squeal from another continent indicates a personal assault on […]

Is China ready to host the Winter Olympics?

Is China ready to host the Winter Olympics?

Chinese officials have promised that the 2022 Winter Olympics — to be held Feb. 4 to 20 and followed by the Paralympics March 4-13 — will be a “safe, streamlined and splendid” global event. But that won’t be easy. With less than four weeks to go, China is struggling to enforce its strict zero-covid policy […]

Crystal Gazing 2022: India and The World 

Crystal Gazing 2022: India and The World 

If we thought 2019 and 2020 presented uncertainties then 2022 is here to surprise all of us. It could be remembered as one of the most complex, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous years in the recent past. COVID-19, oil crossing $100/barrel, Iran-US nuclear talks, Iran-Israel tension, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, cryptocurrency, and militarization of outer […]

Japan looks west to guard against a rising China

Japan looks west to guard against a rising China

Japan signed on Thursday a new security treaty with Australia, a fellow middle power that is similarly aligning against an increasingly assertive China. The blandly-branded Reciprocal Access Agreement, which was signed virtually by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, marks the conclusion of a process that started in 2014, when […]

Cadence Column: Asia, January 3, 2022

Cadence Column: Asia, January 3, 2022

Taiwan is on the rise. With chip shortages, stock is booming. You know how graphics cards are astronomically high? A lot of that money is going into Taiwan. Meanwhile, China found an excuse to order a real estate developer to demolish 39 freshly, new-built “luxury apartments”—something about the building permit being illegal and violated zoning. […]

Cadence Column: Asia, December 27, 2021

Cadence Column: Asia, December 27, 2021

Japan is on the scene in the Pacific. While Japanese athletes will attend the Olympics, Japanese officials will not. China doesn’t want Japan to “politicize” the games. But, consider 2008, the one-hour opening ceremony about nothing but China’s history, with President Xi marching in to a one-world dream at the end. For Beijing, hosting the […]

Cadence Column: Asia, December 20, 2021

Cadence Column: Asia, December 20, 2021

The US is hitting China hard over treatment of Uyghurs. Nearly all imports from Xinjiang will be banned. At the same time, the US bolsters the call to bolster Taiwan’s military defense. However, Taiwan has the seeds of the same tyranny; it just doesn’t materialize into anything alarming because Taiwan remains small. The most obvious […]

When India goes to war with China 

When India goes to war with China 

It is an open secret that China challenges everything India sets its eyes on, be it cooperation with Quad partners (the United States, Australia, Japan), international organizations like United Nations, WHO, or designating a terrorist organization. India, a Quad member and a close ally of the United States, has become the biggest eyesore for China. […]

%d bloggers like this: