Recently, twenty members of the Hills Friendship Club of Castle Hill visited the new Western Sydney International Airport whilst, just days earlier on the 13th November, 17 year old Cherrybrook teenager Chloe Familton embarked on her attempt to become the youngest pilot to circumnavigate Australia solo by air.
The new airport is named in honour of Nancy- Bird Walton, who was the first Australian female to obtain a Commercial Pilots licence at the age 19. There was a general discussion on the name with a few people questioning the use of a hyphen in the name “Nancy-Bird.” This led me to investigate whether it was correct usage or not.
Nancy was born and christened “Nancy” by her parents in 1915, with the surname of Bird. In 1933 she learnt to fly, being taught by Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith’s Flying School in Sydney. At the age of 24 she met and married Charles Walton in 1939, whilst living in England. Her husband Charles’ pet name for her was Nancy-Bird although most people called her Nancy Bird (without hyphenating the names).
When Qantas took delivery of their first Airbus A380 (VH-OQA) it was named in her honour. Her name on the A380 was originally written “Nancy Bird Walton”, but Qantas respected her preference for the hyphenation used by her late husband (“Nancy-Bird”), and the hyphen was added before the aircraft’s maiden flight over Sydney, with Nancy on board.
Nancy was also given the moniker “Angel of the Outback” during her early days as a pilot. This came about after meeting the Reverend Stanley Drummond who asked her to help start up Flying Medical Service in NSW. In 1935, she was hired to operate the service, named the Royal Far West Children’s Health Scheme. Bird’s own Gipsy Moth was used as an air ambulance.
She bought a better-equipped aircraft and began covering more territory, including Queensland, not yet reached by the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia. She told others that it was rewarding but lonely work. She later said “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.”
“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. Commercial aviation was still in its infancy when 31 aircraft competed in the 1936 air race from Adelaide to Brisbane. Nancy entered and won the Ladies Trophy.When a Dutch airline company invited her to do some promotional work in Europe, she accepted.
During World War II, she returned to Australia, setting up and commanding the Australian Women’s Air Training Corps.
This pioneering airwoman went on to establish the Australian Women Pilots’ Association (AWPA) in 1950 where she remained President for five years. Nancy- Bird Walton became Patron of the AWPA in 1983, following the death of Lady Casey, the original Patron. In 1958, she decided to return to flying after a hiatus of over twenty years.
In 1966 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1990, retaining her pilot’s licence until three years before her death, aged 93, in Sydney in 2009. The terminal at Bourke Airport is named after her, and an annual sponsorship for young female adventurers was set up in her name by the Australian Geographic Society.
The Nancy-Bird Walton Memorial trophy, sponsored by the family, is presented by the Australian Women Pilots’ Association for the “most noteworthy contribution to aviation by a woman of Australasia”
It will be interesting to see how the future views Chloe Familton’s efforts in aviation. She has already shown her charitable side in raising funds for “A Start In Life” which assist students facing barriers in their education. (www. astartinlife.org.au) in which she hopes to raise $20,000.
Chloe hopes to inspire young people, and especially girls, to spread their wings and take flight to new possibilities.
For me, Chloe’s efforts to date, brought back memories of Nancy-Bird Walton and other early aviators of Australia, as well as many other firsts by local residents of our area such as Michelle Lee’s epic rowing voyages across the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.