Long before the outstanding exploits of high profile aviators in the 1930s were so well publicised, an unassuming Queensland housewife was making an indelible impression herself as a “trailblazer”.
After moving with her parents to Australia when she was quite young, Lores Bonney (born Maude Rose “Lores” Rubens in Pretoria South Africa on 20 November 1897) was one of the most remarkable flyers of her time and the first woman aviator to be awarded the MBE.
In 1917 Lores married Harry Bonney, a leather goods manufacturer and cousin to Bert Hinkler who first introduced her to flying in 1927 in his Avro Avian biplane. Her flight with Hinkler gave her an overwhelming desire to fly her own aircraft. She immediately commenced flying lessons at Eagle Farm. Uncertain of her husband’s reactions to the idea, she did not even tell him until after her first solo flight…. only to learn he had known all the time! In fact he was so taken with the idea he presented her with an aircraft: a de Havilland DH60G Moth biplane VH-UPV, which she called… My Little Ship.
Bonney wasted no time in her flying career and over the next five years established records which have not been equalled by any other Australian woman pilot and by only a few men.
On 26 December 1931 she flew from Brisbane to Wangaratta to visit her father. The flight was completed in 14 hours and 30 minutes setting a new Australian record for a solo flight in one day. Next came a flight around Australia, departing Archerfield Airport, Brisbane on 15 August 1932 and despite some potentially disastrous moments, she landed back safely in Brisbane on 27 September 1932 – the first aviatrix to circumnavigate Australia. For this achievement she won the Qantas trophy for outstanding performance by any Queensland pilot.
Her ambition was now set, that of flying from Australia to England – against the prevailing winds for the 20,000 kms from Brisbane to London. Following preparations including her overhauling “My Little Ship’s” engine under the supervision of Qantas’s Arthur Baird, she departed Archerfield on 10 April 1933 for Darwin. From there it was island hopping to Singapore, a precautionary landing on Bang Biang Island where the aircraft was tipped over in the surf, then transporting it to Calcutta, India where it was rebuilt, on to the middle-east, Europe and finally England, landing at Croydon Airport on 21 June 1933. For this remarkable feat she was awarded the MBE by King George V in 1934.
On return to Australia an even greater accomplishment was planned. In 1937 Bonney set a new record – the first flight from Australia to South Africa, a distance of 29,088 kms and 210 hours and 45 minutes flying time. This was completed in a faster, enclosed cockpit aircraft, a Klemm Eagle registered VH-UVE which she christened “My Little Ship II”.
In recognition of Lores Bonney’s outstanding achievements, the British Women Pilots’ Association established the “Bonney Trophy”, an annual award of encouragement to a deserving British woman pilot. The Australian Women Pilots’ Association (Queensland) established the Mrs Harry (Lores) Bonney Award.
Lores Bonney eventually retired from flying living out her life on Queensland’s Gold Coast, where she died on 24 February, 1994 at 96 years.
A truly great but rarely recognised flyer of Australia’s pioneer aviation era.