Reopening Together: Next Steps

We’re delighted to be able to increase our reading room services and opening hours. Read more... 

Guy Menzies: A Rebel at Heart

Guy Menzies: A Rebel at Heart
An Australian Aviator and Motorbike stuntman
23 July 2019

When your day to day work involves getting amongst unique archival collections, it’s not hard to stop for a moment and appreciate the diverse number of stories we hold here at the National Library.

After getting my motorbike licence and a recent trip hooning in an aircraft (Cessna 128) around Canberra, I came across our collection on Guy Menzies, who to me, stands out as being both a rebel at heart and a keen solo adventurer.

Guy Menzies riding a motorbike at a speedway, Sydney, 1920s. http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-144941395 from E.A. Crome collection of photographs on aviation.

If you’re not already familiar, Guy Menzies (20 August 1909 – 1 November 1940)  was an Australian aviator, known for flying the first solo trans-Tasman flight from Sydney to West Coast of New Zealand in 1931. He also raced and performed dangerous stunts on motorbikes and concealed his identity under a pseudonym - Don McKay. 

What I like most about this Guy and his story is the edginess in his approach; he didn’t exactly abide by the rules to reach his goals. For one, he told authorities and his family that he was flying to Perth, a lie to ensure he wasn’t denied permission for the flight, and set out on an even bigger quest: to conquer the trans-Tasman flight solo.

This is certainly no easy feat; the flight would present its own challenges.

Legend has it, in order to avoid the suspicion of the Department of Civil Aviation, he sweet-talked a lass from the NZ Government Office in Sydney, Ivy Clarke. He convinced her to pass on a map of NZ, where he mapped out his flight length and studied NZ terrain.

From Press cuttings; war diary 1928-1954 [manuscript] https://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn2718409

Different accounts across the collection show the Tasman is treacherous waters. No one knew Guy's plans for the imminent journey until he had already taken off.

A penned letter to his family read:

…I am flying to New Zealand instead of to Perth as was planned with you. I have always wanted to do this trip and as the opportunity presented itself.
I did not hesitate about taking it as I feel perfectly confidently about getting there.  
At any rate you might wish me luck. 
Cheerio, 
Guy.

'Letter Tells of Well-kept Secret', Daily Pictorial (Sydney), 8 January 1931, nla.news-article246427225

Menzies had felt perfectly confident, knowing the capabilities of the aircraft and his own flying. Aside from less than idyllic weather conditions, the only short fall was his emergency landing.

The area he was set to land contained mostly mountains and Menzies needed to find clear space. Throwing bottles out his window containing letters to farmers asking for help, he found what appeared to be a smooth pasture from the air. It wasn’t until descent that he realised he was about to land in a swamp. The plane crash landed nose first, and flipped onto its back. Menzies remained unhurt, while the aircraft had seen better days.

A historical marker placed his landing ½ km southwest of the landing spot GPS coordinates -43.076716, 170.531477 (south latitude, east longitude). Menzies had completed the journey in 11 hours and 45 minutes, and broke the predecessor’s time by two and half hours. The Trans-Tasman trip was initially achieved by duo Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm in the Southern Cross, 1928.

It’s going to be a big year for aviation with the Centenary of the Great Air Race in 1919. Here are some Aviation moments from our collection:

Australian Aviation Collection Highlights

Aviatrix Irene Williams getting into her plane for her Perth to Sydney flight, Adelaide, 23 April 1932 nla.obj-159902273

Pioneer instrument board of Southern Cross Junior, Avro Avian biplane, 1930s. Photograph by Milton Kent nla.obj-144662263

Avro Avian Sport biplane, Southern Cross Junior, G-ABCF, flown by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith from England to Australia, 1930 nla.obj-144859506

Check out other sky-high Aviation blogs by fellow flying comrades 

National Library Aviation collection insight

  • Scotty Allan an air pilot and engineer, who later became Deputy General Manager of Qantas. He flew with Charles Ulm and P.G. Taylor in the record-breaking "Faith in Australia" flight from England to Australia in 1933.
  • Sheila Scott Map Collection:  an English pilot who broke over 100 long-distance flight and light-aircraft records between 1965 and 1972. First person to fly over the true North Pole in a small aircraft in 1971.
  • P.G. Taylor special map collection. Taylor was an air pilot and navigator on long-range solo flights and surveys. The maps collection comprises of British and United States nautical charts and Australian aeronautical charts, some charts contain hand written annotations by P.G. Taylor.

Access all areas of your Library