Like most young boys, Bert Hinkler (born 8 December 1892, Bundaberg QLD) had an adventurous spirit. Unlike many, Bert was determined to become a pilot.
Just prior to World War 1, Bert Hinkler travelled to England and joined the Royal Naval Air Service as an observer-gunner. He saw active service in France where he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, served as a pilot in Italy and ended the war in the Royal Air Force.
Meanwhile, back in the Australia, the Government was about to award a prize for the first England-Australia flight. Bert Hinkler wasted no time securing work with the aircraft manufacturer, A.V. Roe Company in Manchester. He soon saved enough to buy a second-hand Avro Baby and in 1920 made the first non-stop flight across Europe from London to Turin. For this he won the Britannia trophy of the Royal Aero Club and the support of the Avro Company which shipped his plane to Australia for him to use a demonstrator.
On 11 April 1921, Bert flew the Avro Baby from Sydney to Bundaberg creating a new Australian non-stop solo flight record of 650 miles. He landed in a reserve and then taxied along the streets to his parents’ home!
Herbert John Louis ‘Bert’ Hinkler
He returned to England and Avro and for the next seven years flew as their test pilot. Between 1925 and 1927 he created more long-distance records in Europe, but his ultimate dream was to fly solo from England to Australia.
Finally, after considerable difficulty in financing the trip, Bert departed Croyden aerodrome on 7 February 1928 in his Avro Avian 581E, registered G-EBOV. In stark contrast to the uproarious farewells of other flyers, only his wife Nancy, a representative from Avro and a few ground crew watched him depart. Fortunately he had ample supplies of cigarettes and Scotch Whiskey to trade en route. He also carried a Times atlas to help him find his way. For fifteen and half uneventful days, he flew steadily onwards reaching Darwin and a tumultuous welcome. In doing so he had broken the previous England-Australia record by twelve and half days and had completed the world’s longest solo flight. What was also remarkable was that he was his own mechanic and on many stops had no ground organisation.
A blaze of international publicity along with financial rewards quickly followed. He was awarded the Air Force Cross and made an honorary Squadron Leader in the RAAF, but never used the title nor wore the uniform.
Bert Hinkler returned to England to pursue designing an amphibian monoplane, he named Ibis, but could not interest potential manufacturers. Again in attempts to raise money he made what was then one of the most amazing flights ever known: from New York to the West Indies; Brazil; West Africa and then to England in a Canadian-built de Havilland DH 80 Puss Moth. This was an incredible test of human endurance, as he battled through massive thunderstorms and immense cloud formations that hung over the sea. What followed were more honours and fame, which he did not seek, but unfortunately little money to put the Ibis into production.
On 7 January 1933, Bert lifted off in the Puss Moth for what was to be his final flight – an attempt on a new solo record from England to Australia. In April 1933 mountaineers found his body by the wreckage of his plane, near Passo Delle Vacche in the Italian Alps. The winter snows had preserved his body which was later laid to rest with military honours in Florence, Italy.
One of the city’s favourite sons has not been forgotten in his home town of Bundaberg with numerous monuments dedicated to this extraordinary, and yet very humble adventurer.