Coo-ee: Lores Bonney’s adventures continued after record-breaking flight

Moment before impact: This photograph taken moments before the photographer's plane collided with Bonney's plane a thousand metres above Benalla. Photo by Public domain

Coo-ee is a regular column highlighting events in Benalla’s history.

After she set the record for a solo flight by a woman in one day from Brisbane to Wangaratta, on Boxing Day 1931, Lores Bonney almost immediately began to plan her next record-breaking flight.

To persuade her husband to countenance the dangerous flight, Bonney spoke of how wonderful it would be if she could visit her mother-in-law in Perth. He agreed.

Then Bonney suggested that the flight would be more interesting if she did not fly over the same ground twice. He again agreed.

On August 15, 1932, after sitting for her commercial pilot’s licence, but before the results came in, Bonney took off in My Little Ship, a Gipsy Moth.

She intended to make the first circumnavigation around Australia by a woman. At first, she headed north from Brisbane to Blackall.

The next day she flew on to Cloncurry and thence to Camooweal. By the evening of the fourth day, she landed in Darwin.

For navigation, Bonney followed empty fuel tins that had been abandoned by motorists along the route.

Her plane misbehaved again. However, Bonney had now learnt far more. She cleared the plane’s carburettor, fuel line and spark plugs.

Day by day, Bonney’s plane flew from Ord River, Halls Creek and on to Broome.

Bonney’s nickname of “Rock Wallaby” came about because she bounced a plane when landing it.

By Broome, her bounces had become too heavy and too numerous. Her plane’s undercarriage had to be repaired.

Her journey from Broome to Perth took another three days through bad weather and turbulence.

She was given an escort of four other Gipsy Moths over the last section. A week was spent in repairs in Perth before Bonney was ready to resume her flight.

With the exception of a broken tail skid and an emergency forced landing because of a hole burnt in a piston, the flight to Wangaratta via Adelaide and Melbourne was relatively sedate.

At Wangaratta, the flight all but ended in tragedy.

Owen, the pilot of another Moth, carrying a photographer swung in close under her plane to get that last “perfect shot”.

His plane collided with Bonney’s plane, damaging its wing.

Bonney made an emergency landing in Benalla where the damaged wing was repaired overnight.

Owen’s plane was far more seriously damaged. Its tail and rudder had been broken. Uncontrollable, the plane went into a steep dive.

Owen fought to bring his plane under control. Seventy metres from the ground, he succeeded and made an emergency landing in open country.

It is no wonder that most pioneer aviators died in plane accidents or malfunctions.

Heavy rains and the threat of a cyclone delayed Bonney’s triumphant return to Brisbane.

She covered the 12,800km of the trip in 95 hours flying time. It was not the fastest, but it was the first circumnavigation by air of Australia by a woman.

During her trip, she announced in Adelaide that she wanted to be the first woman to fly from Brisbane to Britain.

She flew that 20,000km trip in 1933.

John Barry, Coo-ee