Bundaberg Part One - Bert Hinkler, Aviator Extraordinaire

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July 18th 2014
Published: July 28th 2014
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Our first stop today was the Botanic Gardens Hinkley Aviation Museum, which is a complex including the gardens, the aviation museum and Hinkley’s house, a sugar museum, a local historical museum and a steam sugar cane train. As we arrived we bumped into Ros and Arthur, who were just rushing off to do the tour of the Fairymead House Sugar Museum. We quickly bought our tickets and raced up there as it was the only tour of the day.
Our guide, Laura, explained that the house had originally been built in 1890 on the Fairymead Sugar Plantation by the Young family. It was built in a modified version of a Queenslander designs, being raised on stilts and having clad outer walls with horizontal boards (Qld design is often not clad so they can keep watch for termites feeding on the wooden frame). It also had a space with wire covering it just under the eaves all around the house, for ventilation and a wide veranda all round. There was a separate section for the kitchen and servants quarters across the veranda. This was supposed to keep the house safe from burning but as the gap was only about 1 metre and
Fairymead House, Sugar MuseumFairymead House, Sugar MuseumFairymead House, Sugar Museum

This lovely stained glass skylight, set in one of the really high ceilings, really brightened the room. Below it are some of the many information boards on sugar cane growing and milling.
they shared the veranda I don’t think it would work!
After a long life as a family home, single men’s quarters, officers’ mess, mill workers’ flats and migrant accommodation and finally the family home of the grandson of the original owner from 1960 to 1986, it lay empty for 2 years and was then donated to the City of Bundaberg as a bicentennial gift by the sugar company. It was cut into five pieces and moved the 10 miles to the Botanic Gardens, re-erected and set up as a sugar museum.
The house had amazingly high ceilings and one room also had a lovely stained glass oval skylight. The veranda had a beautiful view across the Botanic Garden, too.
Inside were lots of information boards about the history of the company and how sugar was produced in the past and now. We saw tools, harvesters and photos. Australia is one of the world’s largest sugar exporters and sugar is our 2nd largest export crop with 95% being produced in Queensland. About 3.5 million tonnes of raw sugar is exported countries around the world, including USA and China.
Cane-cutting was a dangerous business as the workers were exposed to poisonous snakes
Fairymead House, Sugar MuseumFairymead House, Sugar MuseumFairymead House, Sugar Museum

The House, built in 1890, used to be on the Fairymead Sugar Plantation. It is similar to the Queenslander design but has a few different features, like the space at the top of the walls, all the way round, for ventilation.
and diseases carried by the rats that inhabited the fields. This is one reason for the burning of the cane fields that used to take place before harvest. It is done less often now as the mechanical harvesters have removed those dangers and the leaves are used as fertiliser.
Unfortunately, much of the labour for clearing and then planting and harvesting the cane fields was originally done by islanders from Melanesia and Papua New Guinea who had been lured to ships and forced to sign three year contracts, earning only three pounds a year. The Ships’ Skippers, on the other hand, were paid twenty pounds for each one they “recruited”. This went on until 1903 when the White Australia Policy came in and they were all forcibly removed, even those who had made their homes in Australia. After that European migrants made up the workforce and by the 1960s there were around 10,000 seasonal labourers cutting cane in Queensland.
Australia then pioneered mechanical harvesting and a local company, Austoft, is the world’s leading cane harvester manufacturer and exports to over 40 countries. The machine weighs 12 tonnes and can cut as much cane as 50 men in a day. It
Bamboo as Thick as your Arm.Bamboo as Thick as your Arm.Bamboo as Thick as your Arm.

The Japanese Garden featured a walk lined with lots of different species of bamboo. They were all really tall, often higher than the surrounding trees, and came in a wide range of colours. Who knew!
strips off the leaves, cuts the cane from the ground and cuts each one into lengths that are dropped into a large hopper on the back of a tractor. These are taken to trucks or trains for transport to the mills.
At the mills, the cane is crushed to extract the juice and then steam is used to evaporate and collect the raw sugar and the molasses. The raw sugar is then further refined to produce white sugar.
Due to the downturn in the demand for sugar nowadays and the deregulation of prices, the Fairymead Sugar Mill closed in 2005, after 123 years of operating. There are now only three mills, out of 50 in the 1890s, in the area.
After our sugar tour we walked back towards the Hinkler museum through the Botanic Gardens. The Japanese Garden was quite pretty and next to it was an area devoted to bamboos. I never realised there were so many types of bamboo, coming in different colours from straw brown to deep green and even one yellow with green stripes. They varied in width, too, with one having stems as big as a man’s arm and many were taller than the surrounding
Barry piloting the  Puss Moth bi-planeBarry piloting the  Puss Moth bi-planeBarry piloting the Puss Moth bi-plane

This was one of the type flown by Bert Hinkler on his last fateful flight. It has been restored to the same specifications that Hinkler's plane had in 1931.
trees. It’s hard to believe it’s a type of grass!
In the Hinkler Aviation Museum we watched a few videos about Bert Hinkler, who was a pioneer solo aviator, born in Bundaberg in 1892. As a child he was fascinated with flight and used to watch how the Ibis flew and glided. He built a glider with wings that attached to his arms, but unfortunately it didn’t work. Later, in 1911, he built a more conventional monoplane glider with a 32 ft wingspan that his family helped him take the 16 km to Mon Repos Beach, towed behind a horse and buggy. They chose that beach because it is very wide, firm and flat. Unfortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful. In 1912, though, he was thrilled to achieve his first flight in a modified glider, although it only lasted a few seconds. He then wanted to have power and so moved to Brisbane and then Melbourne, where he was employed by a travelling flying circus as their ground mechanic. He learned a lot by stripping down the faulty plane and then wanted more.

He went to England, where all the action in flying and competitions was taking place, and joined
Hinkler Aviation Museum, BundabergHinkler Aviation Museum, BundabergHinkler Aviation Museum, Bundaberg

The museum had lots of fascinating information, hands-on displays and suspended aircraft.This one is the Avro Baby, built in 1919, in which he flew a record from Sydney to Bundaberg in 1921.
the RAF, first as an engineer with Sopwith Company and later as a pilot. He was very innovative and came up with a few ideas which increased efficiency and safety on the planes. For example, on early RAF planes the machine guns were mounted on the nose and shot the bullets through the propeller. A German inventor had found a way to link the engine and gun so it wouldn’t shoot off the propeller but it only allowed a slow rate of firing. Hinkley designed a way that it could shoot rapidly, as it was meant to. He also came up with a way to stop the hot shell casings (which were ejected sideways away from the plane when in straight flight) from coming back into the cockpit and burning the pilot when doing turns, as they would be in a dog fight. I’m sure all the pilots loved him!
He was best known for breaking world records, including from England to France. He was the first to fly from England to Australia, in 1928 and the first to fly from West to East across the South Atlantic Ocean, from Brazil to Gambia in Africa, in 1931, which he did
The Entrance to the Chinese Garden, Bundaberg Botanic GardensThe Entrance to the Chinese Garden, Bundaberg Botanic GardensThe Entrance to the Chinese Garden, Bundaberg Botanic Gardens

Look, I found some dragons. Unfortunately, the rest of this garden did not live up to expectations, with the main feature being a lake which was empty.
in a De Havilland Puss Moth and which gained him several prestigious awards and trophies. After his Australian flight he did a “Tour of Triumph” around Australia and was greeted by thousands of people at every stop – he was as famous as pop stars today. When he landed in Bundaberg, his home town, 11,000 people were there to greet him (the town only had a population of 8,000) from as far away as Maryborough. Shops and schools had closed and all flocked to see him arrive. He then taxied his plane to the outside of his mother’s house to show her. They had short videos of eye witness accounts by two old men who had been children at the time and who still have vivid memories of the event. They got quite excited while telling us about it. He even had a song and dance written for him, “The Hinkler Quickstep” and a style of hat based on his flying cap, “Hinkler Hats”, became all the rage.
His world record to Australia was beaten by both James Mollinson and CWA Scott, who crossed in eight days, so he decided to reclaim it (and get the prize money on offer which he needed as he was broke) and set out on 7th January 1933 at 3am. He was last seen at 11.05am the same day, passing over Florence. His plane crashed into the side of Mt Pratomagno and he crawled away from the wreckage but died of his injuries. No-one knows what caused the crash. The wrecked plane and his body were found by some local villagers on 27th of April, when the snows had cleared. He had loved Italy and was well respected there so Mussolini, who then ruled the country, offered to give him a full military state funeral. His widow accepted and on May 1st 1933, with much pomp and ceremony, his body was taken in procession through the streets of Florence with enormous crowds giving a huge outpouring of grief
I’d heard of Bert Hinkler and knew that he was an early world record breaker but had no idea he was so famous in his day. It’s interesting to hear about the history we have forgotten but which shaped our past in various ways.
The Museum also had five aircraft, most suspended from the ceiling, of the types that he had flown and one of them, named the Ibis after the birds he had gained his initial knowledge from, had actually been his own engine design. You could also sit in a Puss Moth and have your photo taken. Barry had a go and said it was very difficult to get into with almost no leg room.
After seeing the museum, we were allowed to go into the house he had built in Southampton in England in 1925 and named “Mon Repos”. It was a typical between the wars double storey brick house, complete with dining hatch to pass food through from the kitchen into the dining room (except this one led into the cupboard under the stairs and then through to the kitchen, which was unusual). In 1983, it had been due for demolition but was brought to Bundaberg, after being dismantled brick by brick and was rebuilt as a memorial museum to Hinkler.


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