Two men standing and leaning against a small passenger plane in front of an aircraft hangar
Horrie Miller (right) and Jim Woods standing with MacRobertson Miller Aviation Lockheed DL-1A Vega Special passenger aircraft VH-UVK in front of hangar at Maylands Aerodrome, Perth, c.1938, nla.obj-148194215 

The early 1900’s gave flight to a new breed of daredevils: aviators. People had a desire to take to the skies and experience an equally thrilling and terrifying form of transportation.

Why is it that some people have the desire to take on these terrifying feats? Looking back through aviation history the argument could be made that a propensity for flying is passed through generations. Join us as we explore the prominent aviation families in our collection.  

A Sister Act

Female pilot in long coat smiling and shaking hands with a large man. Around them are 5 other smiling men. In the background, a wing of a plane can be seen
Martin Studio, Freda Thompson welcomed in Bathurst, Victoria, 1932, nla.obj-147641468  

Aviator sisters Freda Thompson OBE and Claire Embling (née Thompson) were pioneers in their time. They dared to attempt feats in aviation that were once reserved for men. This tenacity led Freda to become the first female President of the Royal Victorian Aero Club Committee. 

Old pilot's goggles and a leather pilot's cap with metal tubes coming from the back
Air pilot's cap and goggles owned by Freda Thompson, c. 1934, nla.obj-139636320 

Freda travelled the globe and held pilot’s licenses in other countries, we hold six of these licenses in our collection.

Four small, thin books of various colours (blue, green and brown) sitting on a wooden table
Pilot’s licenses from the Papers of Freda Thompson, 1918-1985, nla-obj-296604917

The sisters’ contribution to aviation has also been honoured with the Freda Thompson and Claire Embling Aviation Award given annually by the Australian Women Pilots’ Association (AWPA).

Four medals on a black fabric surface. The ribbons of the medals are various colours, mostly red and blue, and the medals themselves are engraved with a portrait
Coronation and war medals from the Papers of Freda Thompson, 1918-1985, nla-obj-296605537 

 The Natural Air to the Thorne

An old plane on the ground in a desert. A man is poking his head out from the cockpit and can be seen behind the wings of the plane
Horrie Miller in the cockpit of his Fokker 4 Universal transport aircraft VH-UJT, South Australia, c. 1930, nla.obj-148196856 

Aviator Horace (Horrie) Miller was another pioneering figure in Australian aviation. He built a successful career as a pilot before eventually cofounding his own airline called MacRobertson-Miller Aviation Company.

Amongst his many impressive achievements, he was an Oswald Watt Medal recipient, an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) and winner of the Sydney to Perth Centenary Air Race. 

He also piloted many emergency air ambulance flights including one occasion when a 14-year old boy and his father were flown from Broken Hill to Ru Rua hospital.

Horrie’s work in combining aviation with medical transport inspired his daughter Robin to take it a step further. She went on to become a qualified nurse while also earning her private pilot’s license. 

Family with mother, father and four young daughters sitting around a table with papers and boxes on it. The daughters al have bows in their hair and they all look content
Horrie Miller with wife Mary Durack Miller and daughters (from left to right) Robin, Patsy, Marie Rose and Julie, 1952, nla.obj-148182269  

Once Robin successfully upgraded to her commercial pilot’s license, she borrowed money to buy her own aircraft and worked out an arrangement with the Western Australian Department of Health to administer polio vaccines to remote communities. The vaccines were administered orally and to combat the bitter taste Robin would add it to sugar cubes, in the process earning herself the nickname ‘Sugar Bird Lady.’  

 Robin administered 37,000 doses of the polio vaccine and, in case that wasn’t impressive enough, on one occasion she delivered a baby mid-flight.

Photographs of various sizes on a wooden table. Three of the photos show a woman at various time in her childhood, and the fourth shows her and another girl with two men
Selection of images of Robin from the Papers of Robin Miller Dicks, 1943-1978, nla-obj-249122796 

She went on to marry Dr Harold Dicks and together they co-piloted a number of flights for the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia. In this role, she also used her nursing training.   

Robin died in 1975 at aged 35, but in her short life she had a profound impact on remote Western Australian communities, which led to a monument being erected in her honour at Jandakot Airport. She also received the Nancy Bird Walton Award in 1970 and was posthumously awarded the Paul Tissandier diploma.   

U-Knighted Brothers

Three men in military uniform, including hats, standing closely together in front of a car.
Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith, c. 1920, nla.obj-135310840 

A board game was also created shortly after the brothers’ winning the 1919 air race to commemorate the achievement. In the game players move around the board and visit the various countries on the brothers’ flight path from England to Australia. The board game varies slightly from the original route by including a few diversions.

Colourful board game wear players fly by plane around Australia, Africa, Asia and Europe
The "Sir Ross Smith" aeroplane race game, c. 1919, nla.obj-574714312  

The cherry on top was Captain Ross won 800 pounds for coming first place in a Kodak Competition for Photographs for the negatives taken by the four-man crew during the pioneering flight.

Man in military uniform standing next to front of plane, reaching up with camera in his hand while man in cockpit reaches down to grab it
Sir Ross Smith handing his Kodak up to Sir Keith, just before leaving Richmond, N.S.W, for Melbourne, 1919, nla.obj-472920954 

In 2012 the brothers’ contribution to aviation was acknowledged with both brothers being jointly inducted into the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame.  

The Library’s collection is rich in aviation ephemera, see what you can discover!