Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bundaberg Days 2

Woolly Days is home and tired after an exhausting five hour drive to Brisbane today. I took advantage of the long ANZAC weekend to catch up with friends in the city of Bundaberg, about 370km north of Brisbane. Apart from relaxing with friends and enjoying a dawn walk on the deserted beach at Elliot Heads, the two most notable events of the weekend were Friday’s ANZAC parade and a visit to the Bert Hinkler museum yesterday.

The local march commemorating the 93th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing took place in glorious weather on Friday morning. There were several hundred marchers including veterans from most Australian military campaigns since World War II, several local bands, and students from most of the local schools. A good five percent of Bundaberg’s 50,000 population turned out to cheer on the parade. At 9am, soldiers from each of the four branches of the military service gathered round the war memorial in the heart of the city at Bourbong St before a convoy of jeeps carrying veterans set the parade in motion.

The highlight was perhaps the gleaming white brigade of sailors from HMAS Bundaberg. The Bundaberg is the second ship named for the city. The original Bundaberg was a minesweeping corvette commissioned in 1942 and was assigned to operational duty as a convoy escort vessel on the east coast of Australia between Melbourne and Brisbane. In the later part of the war, it escorted convoys to Milne Bay and took part in action off the coast of New Guinea. After the war, it remained in naval reserve in Sydney until 1961 before being sold for scrap.

The second and current ship of that name is a patrol boat commissioned just last year. Based in Cairns, the Australian Navy's 14 patrol boats are used for fisheries protection, immigration, customs and drug law enforcement operations. It was fitting that the ship was in port at the city that gave it her name for ANZAC Day. They led the naval portion of the processing and were followed by veterans from campaigns in World War II, Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam, the Gulf War and East Timor. It never ceases to amaze that for a generally peaceable nation far from most of the world’s military hotspots, Australia has been involved in most of the great conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries.

While the Air Force did not feature as strongly as the Navy in the march, aviation remains close to Bundaberg’s heart due to the activities of the city’s most famous son. That man is Bert Hinkler (1892-1933). Hinkler was one of the great early aviators and the story of his adventures is told in the Hinkler House Memorial Museum in North Bundaberg. The house is his English home “Mon Repos” (named for the beach near Bundaberg where he learned his flying skills). After the house was threatened with demolition in the early 1980s, it was dismantled in 1983 and then taken brick by brick from Southampton to Bundaberg. It was formally re-opened as the Hinkler Museum in 1984 by then Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Southampton’s Mayor Dorothy Brown.

Herbert John Louis Hinkler was born in 1882, the first of four children of a Prussian-born stockman and a Brisbane dressmaker. From a very early age, he was fascinated with flying and studied the ibis birds which flew near his home. At Mon Repos beach, he built his first glider then aged just 17. He became a local celebrity and worked for a Sydney mechanic who ran exhibition flights. But although he had some success, Hinkler knew he had to move to England to further his flying ambitions. Hinkler’s timing was perfect. Within months World War I had broken out, and he enlisted in the Royal Naval Air Service.

For three years of the war, Hinkler was an air gunner in the Flanders campaign for the newly formed Royal Flying Corps. It wasn’t until 1918 that he formally trained as a pilot and he was posted to Italy where he took part in the war against the Austrian Empire. Hinkler was disillusioned by the horrors of war he observed and was happy to be demobbed and find work at aircraft builders AV Roe & Co. In 1920, Hinkler made the first of his record flights. He flew non-stop London to Turin in a 35 horsepower Avro Baby. This 1,000 km flight was a record for a light aircraft and Hinkler followed it up with a 1,500km flight from Sydney to his home town the following year.

The exhibition flying established Hinkler’s reputation but didn’t earn him much money. He went back to England to work again for AV Roe for five years. By 1928, he was ready for his next big adventure – the first solo flight to Australia. He flew solo in a Avro Avian G-EBOV from England with numerous stops in Europe, Egypt, the Middle East, India, the Malay Peninsula before landing in Darwin to great acclaim. Hinkler ended the journey in Bundaberg after 15 days of flying. Both he and his machine were paraded around the town in celebration.

In 1931 he flew from Canada to England in a very circuitous route that crossed the South Atlantic between Bahia, Brazil and the then British colony of The Gambia. The journey in a Puss Moth was done in mostly atrocious weather. His was the first South Atlantic crossing and he was only the second aviator to cross the Atlantic anywhere after Charles Lindbergh four years earlier. For this intrepid feat Hinkler won the second ever Segrave Trophy for outstanding contribution to British transport (fellow Queensland aviator Charles Kingsford Smith had won the inaugural award a year earlier).

In January 1933, Hinkler set off for another solo trip to Australia in the trusty Puss Moth. His intention was to get there in less than eight days and beat G.W.A. Scott’s record. But after just one day Hinkler disappeared off the radar. Nothing more was heard about him for three months until forest workers in mountains of Tuscany found the wreckage of his plane and Hinkler’s nearby body at Pratomagno Mountain. Hinkler had survived the initial impact but died shortly afterwards, presumably on the day after he left England. He was buried, on Mussolini’s orders with full military honours, in the protestant cemetery at Florence.


Sam Clifford said...

My brother, Hugh Clifford (who was actually born in Bundaberg), was part of the original crew of the HMAS Bundaberg II and as the youngest crew member cut the cake at the ship's launch about a year ago.

"Into the Fleet"

Ann O'Dyne said...

I've just come from Boynton - a Melbourne blogger who remarked on "the seepage of datat" in the ausblogosphere, and now all that data has seeped into me thank you Woolly.