As Australia prepares to celebrate the centenary of the Great Air Race, the fascinating history of its fearless flight crews and their planes continues to capture worldwide attention.

Story Kerry Sharp

Australia is set to celebrate the centenary of the Great Air Race and the valiant aviators who arrived to enormous fanfare in the Northern Territory capital on December 10, 1919. Several events have already been staged and many more are in the pipeline, with Darwin and Adelaide the main locations. 

Darwin’s recently revamped Ross Smith Memorial, near where the aviators landed, will host a formal commemorative ceremony on December 10, involving RAAF service personnel, Australian Air Force Cadets, primary and secondary school students and locals and, hopefully, Indonesian dignitaries. The nearby historic Giles Street landing strip will be the venue for a public celebration including live music and model plane displays, and a heritage rugby match will feature the New South Wales Waratahs team for which aviator Hudson Fysh played while preparing the Fannie Bay landing strip. Darwin Aviation Museum is creating awareness about the significance of the Great Air Race to the Territory’s and Australia’s aviation future through its fascinating photographic and interpretative display, complete with a replica Vickers Vimy donated on the 50th anniversary of the landing.

In Adelaide, where the Smith brothers and their crew are hailed as local heroes, several Great Air Race commemorative events have already been held as part of the city’s May History Festival, coordinated by the History Trust of South Australia. They’ve included a major display of Ross and Keith Smith’s photographs and memorabilia at the University of South Australia Library, historical lectures and talks, special tributes, and the launch of a giant digitised Vickers Vimy image projected on the hangar doors at the South Australian Aviation Museum. Still to come are an RAAF air show, a tribute to Wally Shiers, and an Adelaide Airport Vickers Vimy open day complete with a heritage aircraft fly-past. On June 15, Sir Ross Smith’s life and achievements will be commemorated at North Adelaide’s St Peter’s Cathedral.

This story excerpt is from Issue #125

Outback Magazine: June/July 2019