Reflections on the London to Sydney Air Race 1969/1970

 

Preface to this Edition:

 

The Victa 100 Airtourer is a two-seater single engine monoplane designed to aerobatic specification. It brought to its designer, Henry Millicer of Melbourne, Australia, an award in aircraft design from the Royal Aircraft Society. The original prototype of the machine was called the Millicer Airtourer 100. As is indicated by its name, the aircraft is powered by a Rolls Royce designed and built one-hundred horsepower motor giving the machine a cruising speed of about one-hundred knots.

The aircraft is so small it can be fitted into the normal double car garage that is found in many Australian homes. With both seats occupied the remaining space for luggage and essential navigation and safety equipment is extremely limited.

In the late 1960's, John Wynn bought the Victa Airtourer VH-MUJ. Its previous owners came from Griffith, New South Wales. The very next time the aircraft landed in Griffith, in January 1970, it would be as a prize-winning competitor in the British Petroleum sponsored London to Sydney Air Race 1969/1970. The rules of the race made a landing in Griffith compulsory for all competitors en-route to the finish line in Sydney.

The purchase of the aircraft by John Wynn, at the time a schoolteacher at Bendigo, completed another part of a dream he had fostered since gaining a pilot's licence. The first was to fly around Australia. John achieved this before buying the Victa Airtourer. The second was to fly from Australia to England.

In mid 1969, the London to Sydney air race was announced. It coincided with John's plans imposing upon him an enforced timetable requiring a huge amount of planning. Approaching his good friend Keith Buttrey of Bendigo, the holder of a private pilot's licence, John found his partner for the adventure.

One winters night in 1969, John and Keith were having a drink in the Golden Bar of the Shamrock Hotel in Bendigo. Present in the bar were two reporters, both of whom had been trained as journalists with the Bendigo Advertiser newspaper. Jim Lempriere and Terry Conroy were accompanied by Peter Banks, a local detective.

The reporters listened intently as the plans unfolded. Before the small gathering dispersed, late in the evening, Peter Banks had been appointed the publicity and promotions manager for the adventure while the reporter's had a news breaking story for the people of Bendigo.

Within days, the wheels were turning as a dream turned into reality. The Lions Club of Bendigo seized on the opportunity to promote the aims of Lions International through John Wynn, Keith Buttrey and the Victa Airtourer as its overseas ambassadors. A number of the business houses of Bendigo expressed an interest while the people of the city, a city from which world famous dignitaries and athletes have evolved, entered into the spirit of adventure to support the two airmen.

The pre-planning culminated in the Mayor of the City of Bendigo, Councillor Tom Flood, convening a public meeting in the City Hall. It provided the impetus for Peter Banks to formally approach Qantas International Airlines seeking permission to use the name City of Bendigo on the Victa Airtourer. At the time, Qantas had in service a Boeing 707 airliner bearing the name of the city. Not only did Qantas approve the use of the name, they offered to give support to the airmen on their journey.

The Airtourer would carry the name of the City of Bendigo across the world with pride. The tiny plane was appropriately named Little Nugget, the innovative suggestion of John's father. It established a link between the aircraft and the old gold mining city, one the worlds most productive gold producers where many huge gold nuggets have been found.

As local support for the adventure was flooding in, the members of the Bendigo Flying Club, who had joined forces with the Lions Club, were busy in fundraising and doing promotional work. The adventure was about to commence. As the days unfolded into weeks, the weeks into months, the exploits of the pair, together with their tiny aircraft, flowed home to take up columns of the Bendigo Advertiser. The tapes they were sending back, not really knowing if they would ever be delivered, were finding time on local radio and television.

On September 9, 1969, Little Nugget taxied to the main runaway of Bendigo Airport. To the cheers of hundreds of spectators and well wishers, the tiny machine lifted into the sky, turning in the direction of Broken Hill. Over the next four months, John Wynn and Keith Buttrey used a tape recorder to record their travels. Reels of film, taken of the places visited, people they met and other special events trickled back to Bendigo along with the tape recordings. The Bendigo Advertiser continued with support, developing the film as a record for the pilot's when they returned to Bendigo.

Across the world, members of Lions International were responding to the visit by the aviators. The foreign press wire services were busy communicating scintillating stories of adventure back to Australia. Thirty years later, the transcript of the journey from Australian to England, along with an account of the meritorious achievement of Little Nugget and its crew, is published. The contemporaneous narrative of the journey is transcribed. (This edition is published on the fortieth anniversary of the flight) It tells the enthralling story of the adventurers, vividly describing the people who live in countries under such circumstances that freedom and even life can be extinguished on the whim of a political dictator or oppressive government.

To set the introduction, some of the articles published in the pages of the Bendigo Advertiser tell of the adventure. From the outset, the paper's distinguished editor, the late Cyril J. Michelson, his reporters and staff gave encouragement and support to the project.

The meeting of Sir Hubert Opperman, then the High Commissioner for Australia in Malta, with the aviators, is one such article. Contrary to his quiet and unobtrusive nature, Sir Hubert accepted an invitation by the Lions Club of Malta to attend a luncheon welcoming John and Keith.

 

In his address to the club, the High Commissioner praised the initiative and efforts of the pair, congratulating the people of Bendigo and the Bendigo Lions Club for sponsoring such fitting representatives.

The articles include a report on the departure of entry number five from England. In other pages of the newspaper, an account of the pre-planning involved in such a venture lists some of the sponsors. It is accompanied by advertisements from a number of business houses and supporters, expressions of best wishes and every success in the air race.

(Continued on page 29)

VH-MUJ in flight soon after returning to Australia.

John Wynn and Keith Buttrey discuss their flight on the eve of their departure from Bendigo, Victoria.