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Australian History

On this day (Australia): In 1932, Maude Bonney became the first woman to fly around Australia


Maude Bonney

On 27 September 1932, Maude Bonney became the first woman to fly around Australia.

Maude Rose ‘Lores’ Rubens was born on 20 November 1897 in Pretoria, South African Republic, the only child of German-born Norbert Albert Rubens, a clerk and later a merchant, and his locally born wife Rosa Caroline, formerly Staal, née Haible.

The family moved to London in 1901 and then to Melbourne in 1903. Maudie, an independent and rebellious child, attended the Star of the Sea Ladies’ College and the Cromarty Girls’ School, both at Elsternwick.

In 1911 she sailed with her parents to Germany, where she enrolled in the Victoria-Pensionat, Bad Homburg, to advance her music studies. She became an accomplished pianist but her prospective career as a musician ended when she suffered stage fright and fled during a recital. At this school she also developed a love of gardening and fluency in French and German.

Returning to Melbourne in 1913, Rubens worked for the Australian Red Cross Society in World War I. On 7 April 1917 at St Philip’s Church of England, Sydney, she married Harry Barrington Bonney, a wealthy merchant and leather-goods manufacturer from Brisbane.

The couple lived in the latter city, initially at the Gresham Hotel, before settling in 1919 at Bowen Hills. She called her husband ‘Billi’ and herself ‘Dolores,’ later shortened to ‘Lores.’

In 1928 Bert Hinkler, Harry Bonney’s cousin, took Lores for her first flight, from Eagle Farm aerodrome to Yeerongpilly and back. The experience thrilled her and she was hooked. Hinkler praised her ability to know her location by identifying landmarks from the air.

The next year Bonney took several joy rides with a flying instructor, Charles Matheson, while her husband played golf. Bored, and losing hope of having children, she began flying lessons with Matheson on 6 August 1930. Twelve months later she gained her private pilot’s licence. Her husband surprised her with the gift of a Gipsy Moth, which she named My Little Ship.

The first of Bonney’s four major solo flights took place on Boxing Day 1931. Leaving Brisbane at 4.30 a.m., she reached Wangaratta, Victoria, at 7.20 p.m., in time for dinner with her father. She considered this her greatest achievement; it was reported to be the longest one-day flight yet undertaken by an Australian airwoman.

Having studied blind flying, night flying, aircraft maintenance, and meteorology, she obtained a commercial licence in 1932, not because she sought a career in aviation but to prepare herself for long-distance flying. Between 15 August and 27 September that year she circumnavigated Australia, the first woman to do so.

Spending ninety-five hours twenty-seven minutes in the air and travelling some 6,900 nautical miles (12,800 km), she survived forced landings, a collapsed undercarriage, and a mid-air collision with a plane that flew close to hers so its passenger could take a photo; both aircraft landed safely. She was awarded the Qantas trophy for 1932.

Aiming to be the first woman to fly from Australia to England, Bonney learned how to overhaul engines and had her aircraft modified for the journey. On 10 April 1933 she left Brisbane. Caught in a tropical storm on the twentieth, she attempted to land on the coast of an island off Thailand, near the border with Burma (Myanmar).

As she approached a beach, a herd of water buffalo walked into her path, forcing her to land too close to the sea. Her plane overturned and came to rest in the water. Remaining unperturbed, she managed to free herself from her harness and get to shore. She had the plane salvaged and shipped to Calcutta (Kolkata), India, for repairs. On 25 May she resumed her flight and on 21 June landed at Croydon, England.

Piloting a Klemm Eagle, on 9 April 1937 Bonney took off from Brisbane and travelled via Indian Ocean littoral countries to Cairo and thence to Cape Town, arriving on 18 August. She was the first person to fly from Australia to South Africa. The formidable journey of 15,700 nautical miles (29,000 km) was her most heroic aerial feat. In 1949 she ceased flying because her eyesight no longer met the required standard.

From 1934 to 1939 Bonney had been Australian governor of the Women’s International Association of Aeronautics. In World War II she served on the Queensland executive of the Women’s Voluntary National Register.

Between 1954 and 1956 she presided over the Queensland branch of the Australian Women Pilots’ Association; the national body awarded her its Nancy Bird trophy (1981) and the State branch established a trophy in her name. She was appointed MBE (1934) and AM (1991).

After her marriage had failed in the 1950s, Bonney moved to the Gold Coast. She travelled extensively and found serenity in bonsai. Slim and five feet three inches (160 cm) tall, she dressed stylishly and loved jewellery, especially pearls.

She died on 24 February 1994 at Mermaid Beach and was cremated. In 2012 she was inducted into the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame. A Queensland State electoral district and streets at Coolangatta and in the Brisbane suburbs of Clayfield and Archerfield bear her name.

Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography

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.

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