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Shelley Hansen - Lady of Lines

Bert Hinkler - Australian Aviator

Herbert (Bert) Hinkler (1892-1933) was born in Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia. He grew up to become one of the world's most celebrated pioneer aviators. Bert was killed on a solo flight from England to Australia, when his plane crashed in snow-covered mountains in Italy.

Since childhood I have loved the story of "Our Bert" as he was known, and my fascination was enhanced by a visit to the Hinkler Hall of Aviation and Hinkler House, his relocated and restored British residence, in his hometown of Bundaberg.

Our Bert

The Pratomagno Ranges in the Alps of Italy
were covered by the winter snow of 1933
when suddenly a plane descended fast, with troubled sound -
despite attempts to land it safe, it plummeted to ground.
The pilot, Herbert Hinkler (who was known to us as "Bert"),
survived the shock of impact, but he was severely hurt.
He slowly dragged himself for eighty metres down the slope
till he could crawl no further, and he knew there was no hope.

From Canada to Britain, through West Indies and Brazil
he'd flown his little Puss Moth, with a failure rate of nil;
but heading to Australia, the final trip he made
was doomed to fatal ending by a lost propeller blade.
Although he tried to keep his stricken plane aloft on course,
defying gravity that gripped and pulled with heaving force,
this time his skills were not enough - the damage was too great -
his grand adventure ended and his rescue came too late.

I wonder - did his tortured thoughts return to childhood days
in Bundaberg, where he observed the aeronautic ways
of ibises, till with his mother's ironing board he tried
to build a craft to imitate the pattern of their glide?
He launched his flight at Mon Repos, his runway was the sand,
There, soaring high above the beach, he came to understand
that this would be his destiny - to reach out for the sky -
an aviation pioneer ... this man was born to fly!

He learned aircraft mechanics and his skills came to the fore,
in England he secured a post with Sopwith till the War.
Inventing aids for gunners and to stabilise the tilt -
he changed the face of flying with the gadgets that he built.
The post-war years brought challenges - he moved to A.V. Roe -
and with his Avro Baby, ventured where few dared to go.
Appointed Chief Test Pilot, he flew many types of plane,
preparing for a record he was striving to attain.

From England to Australia in only fifteen days
he flew his Avro Avian - a feat that would amaze
the world of 1928 - so people came and cheered,
and hero worship followed him wherever he appeared.
Then came a special aircraft which he laboured to refine,
he christened it the Ibis - an amphibian design.
Though profits were predicted, they did not eventuate -
the Great Depression left him in a failed financial state.

But he would not be beaten and returned to long-haul flight -
on global circumnavigation he had set his sight.
To his impressive stock of trophies he soon added more -
as Britain's leading airman, his world prospects seemed so sure.
He was just forty years of age when he ran out of time -
when unpredicted circumstance destroyed him in his prime.
Did he look back with past regrets while on the snow he lay,
as consciousness grew dimmer and his life-spark slipped away?

In final fading moments on the Tuscan hills, alone,
did he draw strength from memories of courage he had shown?
Did he remember accolades, admiring words of men,
or did he think of loved ones he would never see again?
Perhaps in wild imaginings, as dying breath drew near,
he thought of all the times when he had known the taste of fear,
when he had cheated death and lived to fly another day -
to be at last defeated in this land so far away.

And so he died. The whiteness of the snow became his shroud,
entombed in frozen silence by the blizzard-laded cloud.
Three months went by till local men discovered in the thaw
his body and the wreckage of his plane, exposed once more.
They buried him with honours and the last respects were paid-
by Mussolini's orders in a Florence graveyard laid.
At home a nation grieved for him and sadly turned the page
to etch his name in legend as a giant of his age.

How times have changed since Bert's adventure-laden days of old!
Now people fly by day and night - as he had once foretold.
A Qantas Airbus A380 proudly bears his name,
and in his hometown - Bundaberg - they've built a Hall of Fame.
A decorated pilot who achieved with little fuss,
a man without pretensions - he was always "one of us".
Mechanic and inventor ... we traverse the skies today
because trail-blazers like "Our Bert" once opened up the way.

(c) Shelley Hansen 2012

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