One hundred years ago, two Victorian brothers took to the skies, marking the nation’s first powered flight in an Australian-built plane.

Story By John Dunn

A paddock near Mia Mia, 120 kilometres north of Melbourne, is the site of the very first powered flight – albeit a very short one – by an Australian in an Australian-made aircraft. That was in 1910, and celebrations to mark the centenery of the feat were recently held nearby.
The paddock is part of “Spring Plains”, a property then owned by the Duigan family. On it brothers John and Reg Duigan built the plane that was to achieve a significant milestone in Australian aviation. John and Reg were the sons of John Charles and Jane Duigan, successful pastoralists who owned several properties – “Northwood Park” and “Lona” in Victoria and four others near Cobar in New South Wales.
After completing his education at Brighton Grammar in Melbourne, Reg returned to help run Spring Plains, but John’s interest was in engineering and he travelled to London to study at the City & Guilds, the Finsbury Technical College and the Battersea Polytechnical Institute before working for the Wakefield and District Light Railway Company, which operated an electric tramway on the outskirts of Leeds.
Returning to Australia in 1907 aged 25, he joined Reg at Spring Plains, but farming was far from his mind. Instead, his attention was taken by a postcard from Stanley Featherstone, a fellow student in London, which described the progress the Wright brothers were making as they attempted to build a craft that could actually fly.
According to Museum Victoria curator David Crotty, who has written a book on the Duigans entitled A Flying Life, this information “had a galvanising effect” on John, and he decided to do something similar. Initially he constructed a glider, which David describes as “a rough copy of the Wrights’ design” but he became frustrated with the long periods of waiting for winds strong enough to enable it to become airborne. A much better proposition, he figured, would be a powered machine, a Farman-type biplane, which he set about building with Reg’s help.

This story excerpt is from Issue #74

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2011