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The rise of modern aviation coincided with the formation of the Australian nation in 1901 and it has been intimately connected to the construction of national and other identities.

Illustrated front cover from The Queenslander, March 8, 1928, Special Hinkler Edition (State Library Queensland)

Early aviators were assimilated into and reinforced the pioneer legend. Rising in the late nineteenth century, this is a ‘nationalist legend’, as John Hirst has written, ‘which deals in a heroic way with the central experience of European settlement: the taming of the new environment to man’s use’.[i] Thus while selectors, small holders and, later, soldier settlers strove to establish modern agriculture – which only happened in the twentieth century with dire environmental consequences – aviators sought to conquer air, space and time.

Only weeks after completing his fifteen-day solo flight from England to Darwin in 1928, Bert Hinkler made a two-sided gramophone recording. One side had on it ‘My message to Australia’ which championed the ‘gospel of the air’. Acknowledging Lawrence Hargrave as a ‘great pioneer’, Hinkler told his fellow Australians that:

"It was like all other pioneering work; it was hard. There were the usual sacrifices and setbacks and scares, but aviation went from success to success, from strength to strength. Today, the experimental stage is long past. Flying is a definite improvement factor in transportation. Like other methods of transport, there may be minor disadvantages, as well as its advantages, but we are getting on. Each year sees more aeroplanes, better aeroplanes and greater public interest. I venture to say that in 20 years’ time, the aeroplane will be almost as familiar a figure in our scheme of things as the motor car is today…

Aviation has a lot to thank Australia for: Hawker, the Smith brothers, Parer and McIntosh, Sydney Pickles and Kingsford Smith, and many other excellent pilots you have right here in your own midst. These good Australians have done, and are doing, big things in the air. And I am quite sure that there are many other Australians who will carry on the good work…

Flying must come into its own in the Commonwealth. Only one thing is necessary – the goodwill of the public. With this assured, and the feeling is growing stronger every day, Australia will prove itself as great a flying country as Australians have proven themselves flyers."[ii]

Other pilots were to make gramophone recordings of accounts of their flights. And various popular songs and tunes were written and recorded to honour both aviators’ feats and their inspiring Australianness. There were several to Hinkler, such as ‘Hustling Hinkler’, written by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Abel Baer soon after his arrival in Australia. Songs about other aviators included ‘Kingsford Smith, Aussie is Proud of You’, recorded by Len Maurice in 1928.[iii]

Nancy Bird and Jack Kingsford-Smith standing next to a de Havilland DH.60M Moth (VH-UOZ), Mascot, New South Wales, ca. 1933 (Photograph E.A. Crome, National Library of Australia)

Flying women, too, were to be part of the pioneer legend from the 1930s.[iv] And like their counterparts in countries such as New Zealand, they contributed to the formation of a distinct national story concerning Australian identity.[v] This narrative grew in the context of technological innovation and an evolving modernity. But other identities were also to be shaped.

The first female flight attendant was 25-year-old American registered nurse Ellen Church who talked her way into working for United Airlines in 1930. During 1935, Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM) employed its first airhostesses. In the following year Marguerita Grueber and Blanche Due became Australia’s first airhostesses. These ‘pioneers of this new career [for women]’, as the Cairns Post put it, flew with Australian National Airlines for the Bass Strait crossing. The airhostess required particular qualities:

"Besides an attractive personality, a knowledge of first aid, short-hand and typing, cooking [to prepare a meal for passengers if planes should need to land on an emergency field], an encyclopaedic understanding of countries and their attractions to tourists, and a good voice in which to tell people what they want to know, airhostesses must be lightweights – 9st. 7lbs. is the maximum for the Australian lines; and the American limit is less than that."[vi]

The gendering of work in civil aviation prior to the jet age mass transit boom was to give rise to a public perception of a ‘world of airline glamour’ in which the airhostess was sexualised.[vii] Material remains of this can be found in female uniforms. Recruitment practices also reinforced the White Australia policy in the air. One Australian newspaper explained that in America the airhostess was ‘one of the most attractive features of a highly developed system of travel’:

"Susceptible businessmen find it pleasanter to be ushered into an aeroplane by an airhostess than into a railway train by a Negro Porter."[viii]

All of this was reflected in advertising, popular literature – such as the successful American Vicki Barr Flight Stewardess series which was published between 1949 and 1964 – film and, after 1956 in Australia, television. Between 1933 and 1934, Australian audiences could view the film ‘Air Hostess’, a pacey, B-grade film starring Evalyn Knapp and James Murray which captured much about the first few decades of the industry.[ix] It was billed as ‘A story of sky-high romance’. In 1950 in the comic series Batman, it transpires that the voluptuous Catwoman is an airhostess with amnesia caused by a head injury she received in a plane crash.

The industry’s first flight attendants, however, were men. The ratio between men and women grew to be not so disproportionate into the 1950s. But women came to dominate as flight attendants in the 1960s.[x] The Gay Liberation Movement reversed this trend from the 1970s, though this was to reproduce stereotypes of gay flight attendants such as those presented in Australian comedy sketch series Fast Forward.[xi]

Carla Thompson, TAA stewardess, sitting on one of the new telescopes at Mascot Airport, 18 August 1962 (Photograph John Mulligan, National Library of Australia)

Today the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia has a National Registry of Recorded Sound. Of the 84 items on the Registry, three relate to civil aviation. The first is ‘Hinkler’s Message to Australia/ Incidents of My Flight’ (1928); second, the Aeroplane Jelly song (1939); and third, Peter Allen ‘I Still Call Australia Home’.[xii] A hit in Australia in its own right, Allen’s song was critical to the enormous success of the Qantas advertising campaign which ran from 1997 to 2009.[xiii] This campaign put a multicultural face on Australia’s national identity and its national carrier. The campaign ended, however, at a time when ‘pride in the flag and strong national loyalties’ to national carriers had been seriously eroded by economics.[xiv] But this has not diminished the significance of civil aviation to national identity and nation building.

Indigenous communities and culture has also been profoundly affected by aviation. Aircraft provided rapid contact with the outside world, and the possibility of movement between remote communities. The improved delivery of health and education services to indigenous communities was particularly significant. The participation of indigenous people in aviation is still relatively unexplored.

Heritage Sources

Many Australian collections include examples of travel posters and advertising, retailing the romance and accessibility of flying. Numerous relevant artworks are publicly accessible in galleries such as the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria, and the Neville Shute Library is devoted to the work of this notable engineer and novelist. Library collections across the country hold both personal documentation and monographs tracing the careers of important individuals. The National Film and Sounds Archive (NFSA) has a vast array of newsreel footage, interviews, musical recordings and even feature films dealing with Australian aviation.

The role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in aviation and the broader role of women in the aviation manufacturing industry are both largely unrepresented through heritage collections and places, and there is a paucity of extant cultural materials relating to these stories. This is an area that could very effectively be explored via oral history programmes and personal stories, material which is ideal for public access via a portal.

Museums, Collections & Archives

National Archives of Australia, ACT

A large repository of materials such as documents, papers, manuscripts of aviation identities and places that have been named after them like Kingsford-Smith Airport.

National Film Sound Archive, ACT

Oral history and song recordings about early aviators that reflect early aviation’s impact on popular culture.

National Library of Australia, ACT

Photographs, books and document relating to aviation pioneers such as Kingsford-Smith, Charles Ulm and Nancy Bird Walton. Also objects such as medals and pins from Charles Kingsford-Smith and Charles Ulm. Oral histories from aviation identities such as Arthur Cecil Butler and Nancy Bird Walton.

National Museum of Australia, ACT

Austin Bryne, Ellen Rogers and Gerald Ashby Hill Collections contains material regarding Southern Cross and Sir Charles Kingsford – Smith and Captain Charles Ulm.

Jan Phillips, Australian National Airlines and the Anthony Polinelli and Catherine Bridges collections contain material relating to Australian airlines such as East West Airline uniforms and ANA signage.

National Portrait Gallery, ACT

Portraits, photographs and busts of aviation identities such as Nancy Bird Walton, Dick Smith and Charles Kingsford-Smith.

Royal Australian Mint, ACT

Collection of aviation related coins that commemorate aviation in Australia.

Butler Air Transport Museum Tooraweenah NSW

Butler Air Transport was an important regional air service in NSW servicing regional centres in NSW and Queensland as air mail carrier and a civil transport airline.

Powerhouse Museum, NSW

Has a collection of objects from Nancy Bird Walton. Photographs and documents from the Arthur Butler Collections.

Several collections that concentrate on the works of Lawrence Hargrave.

State Library New South Wales, NSW

Large archival and photographic collection of early aviation pioneers such as Nancy Bird Walton and Sir Ross and Keith Smith. Also a large collection of photographs and advertising ephemera from Australian Airlines such as TAA and East West Airlines.

The Qantas Heritage Collection, NSW

Qantas is one of the oldest airlines in Australia and has become Australia’s national carrier. Its collection contains memorabilia, historical objects, advertising paraphernalia and documents about Qantas and other Australian airlines.

Nevil Shute Memorial Library, Alice Springs, NT

Named after Nevil Shute, author of such books as A Town Called Alice. Shute’s books often have aviation themes.

Royal Flying Doctor Service, Alice Spring Tourist Facility, NT

Heritage centre for the Royal Flying Doctors Service that chronicles its beginnings and history.

The Katherine Museum, NT

Has the gypsy moth flown by Clyde Fenton, Northern Territory’s first flying doctor.

Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame, QLD

Contain gallery that showcases development and history of the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service. Also has material pertaining to early women aviators.

Hinkler Hall of Aviation & Hinkler House Memorial Museum   , QLD

Museum dedicated to Bert Hinkler aviation pioneer during the days of Empire contains aircraft and archival material relating to Hinkler. Hinkler House was moved from England to Queensland and recreated and restored to a period when Bert Hinkler lived in it.

Qantas Founders Outback Museum, QLD

Objects, memorabilia, aircraft, photographs and documents that relate to the early days of Qantas.

Queensland Museum, QLD

Bert Hinkler’s Arvo Baby and The Flying Flea by Henri Mignet. Badges, pins and memorabilia from Lores Bonney.

Art Gallery of South Australia, SA

Portrait of Harry Butler, pioneer aviator.

Minlaton Museum, SA

A room containing documents and artefacts dedicated to local aviation hero, Capt. Harry Butler.

South Australian Museum, SA

Contains the Wilkins Collection which has material from George Hubert Wilkins. Also contains some aviation archival material such as diaries, conference papers and news clippings about MacRobertson Miller Aviation.

State Library of South Australia, SA

Papers and diaries belonging to Keith and Ross Smith.

Airways Museum, VIC

Has material and object relating to early pioneer aviator such as Charles Kingsford –Smith, Bert Hinkler and Charles Ulm. Also has archival material regarding local airlines and operators such as Adelaide Airways and Adastra Airways.

Museum Victoria, VIC

A variety of material relating to aviation identity in Australian life. A collection of trade literature which include advertising and information brochures from airlines such as Ansett and TAA.

Sir Reginald Ansett Transport Museum, VIC

Museum focusing on Sir Reginald Ansett and his transport company.

State Library of Victoria, VIC

A collection of pictures, maps and manuscripts which include archival material regarding Sir Ross and Keith Smith, airlines and air travel. These include

TAA Museum, VIC

Museum focusing on the Trans-Australia Airlines and Australian Airlines. It has uniforms, advertisement and historical documents relating to TAA and other Australian airlines.

Beverley Aeronautical Museum and Information Centre, WA

Museum dedicated to aviators in Western Australia which include the centrepiece aircraft the “Silver Centenary” which was built and by local identities, Selby Ford and Tom Shackles, for WA’s centenary.

State Library of Western Australia, WA

 A collection of books, manuscripts and pictures relating to aviation in Australia which includes a book by Arthur C. Butler and documents regarding the “Silver Centenary”.


Qantas Huts (former) Sydney Hwy , West Island Settlement, EXT, Australia           

Qantas has been associated with Australian aviation in civilian and military context as shown in this site where civilian and military aircraft stopped to refuel in the way to South Asia.

Arthur Butler Memorial Aerodrome, Aerodrome Road, Tooraweenah, NSW

Aerodrome associated with Butler Air Transport and Australia’s first registered airport.

Billy Hart memorial Parramatta Park, Parramatta, NSW

Dedicated to a local aviation pioneer who completed one of the earliest cross country flights in NSW.

Butler Airlines Hangar (Former), Warren Road, Gilgandra, NSW                 

Associated with Butler Airlines that was a major regional airline in the mid-20th century.

Qantas House (No. 1 Chifley Square) 68-96 Hunter Street, Sydney            , NSW

The first planed headquarters of the Qantas Empire Airways.

QANTAS Hangar Longreach, Landsborough Hwy, Longreach, QLD

This listed hangar is where the story of Qantas began as an airline.

Ansett's First Hangar, Ballarat Road HAMILTON, Southern Grampians Shire, VIC

The first hangar where the Ansett transport company first moved into air transport.

Reg Ansett's House, 12 Learmonth Street HAMILTON, Southern Grampians Shire, VIC

The house where Reginald Ansett is a part of the heritage that Sir Reginald Ansett left behind as an aviation identity.

 People & Organizations

Bert Hinkler

Hinkler was a pioneering aviator and was well known in Queensland, especially in the Bundaberg region. The Hinkler Hall of Aviation, Hinkler House Museum, Queensland Museum and National Archives Australia are some of the places that have material relating to Hinkler.

Hinkler’s heroics have even inspired songs such as “Hustling Hinkler” which is held at the National Film sound Archive.

Nancy Bird Walton

A pioneering female aviator, she founded the Australian Women Pilots' Association. Material regarding Nancy Bird Walton can be found in many collecting institutes and collections such as the National Museum of Australia, the National Archives and the Powerhouse in Sydney who holds personal items relating to Nancy Bird Walton.


One of the most easily recognizable airlines domestically and abroad, Qantas is also one of the oldest continuing airlines in Australia. Material regarding Qantas can be found across the nation from place such as the Queensland Museum and Qantas Founders Outback Museum to the National Museum of Australia and the Australian War Memorial.

Important places associated with Qantas can be found on the National and Commonwealth List in Australia and overseas territory such the Cocos Keeling Islands.

Sir Reginald Ansett

Material associated with Sir Reginald Ansett and Ansett Australia can be found in various collecting institutes such as the National Museum of Australia, Museum Victoria and museums such as Sir Reginald Ansett Transport Museum.


[i] John Hirst, ‘The Pioneer Legend’, Historical Studies, Vol. 18, No. 71, October 1978, pp. 316-37.

[ii] Bert Hinkler, ‘My message to Australia’, transcript, Screen Australia http://aso.gov.au/titles/spoken-word/hinklers-message/clip1/ accesswed 12 March 2014.

[iii] Columbia records, 01140, National Film and Sound Archives, 188215 http://nfsa.gov.au/collection/sound/sounds-australia/our-heroes-air/ accessed 12 March 2014.

[iv] See, for example, Christobel Mattingley, ‘Feisty Females: Some early Australia “Lady Pilots”’, The National Library Magazine, December 2009, pp24-7.

[v] See, for example, Liz Millward, Women in British Imperial Airspace, 1922-1937, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal and Quebec, 2008.

[vi] Western Mail, 26 March 1936, p29.

[vii] Tom Baum, ‘Working the Skies: Changing representations of gendered work in the airline industry, 1930-2011’, Tourism Management, vol 33, 2012, p1185.

[viii] Western Mail, 26 March 1936, p29.

[ix] Cairns Post, 13 January 1934, p11, Beattie’s Theatre advertisement: ‘One night only’.

[x] For the American experience, see Phil Tiemeyer, Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and Aids in the History of Male Flight Attendants, University of California Press, Berkely, 2013.

[xi] Alan Pentland (ed), Fast Forward in Freeze Frame, Mandarin Australia, Port Melbourne, 1992.

[xii] See National Film and sound Archive http://nfsa.gov.au/collection/sound/sounds-australia/complete-list/ accessed 12 March 2014.

[xiii] See Qantas, ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ http://www.qantas.com.au/travel/airlines/i-still-call-australia-home/global/ed accessed 12 March 2014.

[xiv] K. Raguraman, ‘Airlines as instruments for nation building and national identity: case study of Malaysoa and Singapore’, Journal of Transport Geography, vol 5, no 4, p254.