1897: The Birth of an Australian Aviation Legend

November 20, 1897

Aviation pioneer Maude Rose “Lores” Bonney was born in the city of Pretoria in the present-day Republic of South Africa. (At the time of Bonney’s birth, the region where Pretoria is located was part of an independent and internationally recognized state known as the Transvaal Republic.) At an early age, Bonney – who was born as Maude Rose Rubens – moved first to England and then Australia with her family. In 1917, she married a leather goods manufacturer named Harry Barrington Bonney and they settled in the city of Brisbane in the Australian state of Queensland.

A defining moment in Maude Bonney’s life occurred in 1928 when she met Bert Hinkler. Along with being her husband’s first cousin once removed, he was a trailblazing pilot whose accomplishments included making the first solo flight from England to Australia. His airborne achievements stoked Bonney’s enthusiasm for learning how to fly. This strong interest grew even more after she took to the skies as a passenger in Hinkler’s Avro Avian light aircraft for her first-ever flight.

After learning how to fly, Bonney compiled several notable aviation achievements of her own. While piloting her de Havilland DH.60 Gypsy Moth (DH.60) plane for a trip of 994 miles (1,600 kilometers) between Brisbane and the city of Wangaratta in 1931, she set a new record for the longest one-day flight by a woman.

Bonney established another record in 1932 when she made a flight of 7,954 miles (12,800 kilometers) around Australia in her DH.60 to become the first woman to circumnavigate the continent’s mainland. The following year, Bonney made aviation history yet again when she flew by herself in her DH.60 from Brisbane to the town of Croydon in south London, England. In completing this journey of 12,427 miles (20,000 kilometers), Bonney became the first woman to fly solo from Australia to England. Another one of her first-of-a-kind achievements took place in 1937 when she flew a Klemm Kl 32 touring aircraft for a trip of 10,455 miles (16,826 kilometers) from Brisbane to Cape Town in South Africa. This trip made Bonney the first person to complete a flight between Australia and South Africa.

Bonney’s subsequent plans to fly across the globe had to be set aside due to the outbreak of World War II. During the war, she served as the executive of the Queensland branch of the Women’s Voluntary National Register. Bonney resumed flying after the war ended, but she had to retire altogether in 1949 because of her failing eyesight. She nonetheless retained her interest in flight, serving as president of the Queensland branch of the Australian Women Pilots’ Association during the 1950s. Bonney died in the coastal suburb of Miami in Queensland in 1994 at the age of 96.

In the course of her long life, Bonney received several honors for her contributions to aviation. She was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire by King George V, for example, and awarded an honorary doctorate from Griffith University in Queensland. Another formal recognition of Bonney’s accomplishments was her induction into the Ninety-Nines, an American society of women who were aviation pioneers. In addition, her name and wings have been placed on “Famous Flyers’ Wall” of the St. Francis Chapel at the Mission Inn Hotel in Riverside, California. Bonney has also been honored with a riverwalk named after her in the Brisbane suburb of Hamilton.

For more information on Maude Bonney, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maude_Bonney.

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