Nancy Bird flew into the history pages in 1935 when, at the age of 19, she became the first woman to hold a commercial flying licence in Australia.1 She was a pioneer in aviation and used this passion to help and inspire others.
Nancy was born in Kew, NSW in 1915.2 After attending school in Sydney she left at age 13 to work with her father and uncle at Mount George. Her father owned the general store there and had the local cream contract.3 Nancy kept the books and looked after the house for £1 a week. Several times a week they would send a truck to pick up cream cans for the Wingham butter factory. It was in Wingham that Nancy had her first plane ride.4 This was the start of her passion for flying. Saving up her wages, Nancy enrolled as one of the first students at Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith’s flying school at Mascot.5
In 1934, Nancy flew from Sydney to the Manning Valley flying at low altitude over her hometown of Mount George and then landing at Wingham. While in Wingham she took people for joy rides and the next day flew to Old Bar to meet friends.6 Nancy never forgot her connections to the Manning Valley and returned 18 years later to reminisce with her mother.7
Nancy’s achievements and life works are immense. She worked for the Far West Children’s Health Scheme as an aerial ambulance pilot. She was the commandant of the Women’s Air Training Corps in the 1940s and in 1950 founded the Australian Women’s Pilots’ Association. Nancy received an OBE and an Order of Australia and was named a living treasure in 1997.8
Author: Janine Roberts
Main photo: Russell Roberts, Portrait of Nancy Bird Walton, National Library of Australia digitised item at http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-136210338.
1 Malcolm Brown and Harriet Veitch, Obituaries Australia, Nancy-Bird Walton (1915-2009).
2 NSW BDM, Birth Index for Nancy Bird, 49701/1915.
3 Land & Property Information, Vol-Fol: 3714-19.
4 No Lilies in This Valley: Stories of rural women in the Manning Valley 1850-1950. Compiled by Lucy Weller and Ruth Woodward.
5 Baiba Berzins, North Coast Women: A History to 1939, Royal Australian Historical Society, Sydney, 1996, p117.
6 Manning River Times and Advocate for the Northern Coast Districts of NSW, 10 January 1934.
7 Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer, 4 March 1952.
8 Malcolm Brown and Harriet Veitch, Obituaries Australia, Nancy-Bird Walton (1915-2009).
9 National Library of Australia. Nancy-Bird Walton http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-136210338/view.