Celebration of a trailblazer

A CENTURY ago, French aviator Maurice Guillaux put on a show in the skies above Albury.

It was one of several country town displays in his Bleriot XI aircraft that late autumn-early winter of 1914.

But while he is said to have entertained hundreds of thousands of people, there was a greater significance behind the shows.

These were all in preparation for a flight from Melbourne to Sydney that July which became Australia’s first-ever air mail service.

A packet of Lipton Tea and some OT lemon cordial were Australia’s first air freight.

Guillaux took off from the Flemington showgrounds in Melbourne on July 16 just after 9am, landing in paddocks at Seymour and Wangaratta before reaching Albury racecourse at 12.50pm.

His journey — taking two days, five hours and 43 minutes to complete — will be replicated from July 12 to 14, including the Albury stop.

Event co-ordinator Tom Lockley said Border aviator John Fowles would be at the controls of the Australian-designed and built Jabiru light aircraft for the re-enactment.

“It’s developing into a remarkable-sized effort,” he said of the flight.

“All grassroots aviators are greatly interested.”

Mr Lockley said a support aircraft would also take part in case Fr Fowles got shut in by bad weather.

“His aircraft is restricted by visual flight rules so we wanted something that got through no matter what the weather is,” he said.

Aviator Aminta Hennessy, who has 40 years’ experience as a pilot, will fly her Cessna 180 in tandem with the Jabiru.

“Aminta is absolutely legendary in the world of light aviation — she has flown solo across the Pacific Ocean at least 25 times,” Mr Lockley said.

“We’re delighted she’s come on board.”

Guillaux’s flight carried 1785 specially printed souvenir postcards, which Mr Lockley said today fetched prices of up to $450 each.

“John Fowles will carry postcards modelled on the original,” he said.

“There will be 1785 of those and we’re selling them for $30 each, which is financing the whole operation.”

The Albury landing on July 12 will be part of a gala day at the city’s airport, with a welcome guard of honour to be provided by RAAF cadets.

Mr Lockley said the Albury Aero Club was considering providing an escort for the Jabiru from Wangaratta.

There will be a display of aircraft at Albury Airport, with a special dinner at the Thurgoona Golf Club.

The plane will stay overnight in Albury, departing the next morning for Wagga on the way to Bankstown on July 14.

“The whole light aviation industry, the aero clubs, the antique aircraft clubs and museums such as the Australian Aviation Museum at Bankstown are supporting this,” he said.

To buy a souvenir postcard visit australiasfirstairmail.com.

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