First time presenter Ann Coleman nee Carter entertained us all with her flying exploits, and what exploits they were. With some hard prompting about a year ago from friend Judith Pearson, Anne was nudged regularly to prepare a presentation for the Storytellers. Succumbing to the persistent reminders she began digging out the old diaries and dusting off the slide projector.
In 1968 British Motor Corporation wished to launch their new Morris 1100 car and thought what a great idea to have an around Australia marathon race, named the “Tortoise and the Hare”. They chose two very well-known rally racing drivers, Evan Green, BMC Castrol works driver, and Jack Murray, Castrol test driver. Jack had driven ten times around Australia. In 1954 he won the Redex Reliability Trial, covering the 10,000 miles around Australia in 14 days. He earned the nickname ‘Gelignite Jack’ through his habit of blowing up outback toilets, livening up his entrance to towns along the route.
Anne at that stage was only 22 years old, a flying instructor and charter pilot and was asked to fly a plane for Rex Aviation in the race. (Anne didn’t tell us she was also the winner of the 1967 Australian Woman Pilot of the Year). It was a single engine plane Cessna 182. Anne had flown that particular plane the previous year in an international women’s air race, the ‘’Powder Puff Derby’’, in the US flying from the east to west coast of America. She couldn’t find another professional woman pilot for her navigator as most couldn’t afford the ten days off work, so Anne chose or asked Margaret Kentley, a grandmother, and very effervescent lady to accompany her. You would think immediately that a plane would beat a car. However, the car would drive 24 hrs. a day with long range petrol tanks, the passenger seat was converted into a bed, and they had quite a number of pit stops to change their tyres and grease & oil changes. Anne and Margaret were only allowed to fly during daylight hours, and at that time of year, winter time, they didn’t have too much daylight available plus they needed to do pit stops for fuel and had to contend with headwinds at that time of year especially along Great Australian Bight. The race was to commence in Melbourne.
As Anne showed her slides of the race everyone was fascinated by how well dressed she was posing by the Cessna at the start until she explained that as the race was receiving plenty of publicity she was asked to model various fashions and she certainly looked very much like a David Jones model of the day. The race went clockwise around Australia. There were competitions being held by the radio station 2GB to guess who’d win and by how much. Anne spoke of the extreme sights they saw from the air, the dry river beds and the terrain looking like craters of moon. They took the opportunity to land on a property just after Broome called Pardu Homestead which had 300,000 acres, 30,000 sheep and their only communications possible through Royal Flying Doctor service. They were often marooned for 6 months of year because of cyclones. At one point they decided to stay at another property Gogo Homestead near Fitzroy Crossing. There were 1 million acres, 30,000 cattle and completely self-contained with a church, a hospital and a general store school plus an airstrip and 250 aboriginals. Margaret took over flying at one time as Anne had a fever. Anne dozed off and eventually was nudged by Margaret saying “I don’t know where we are?” The fuel tanks were on empty, there was no sign of water. They were out of radio range and Anne thought they’d never be heard of again. Eventually they saw a shed on the horizon which fortunately turned out to be Victoria River Dams 195 miles south east off course. It was just as well they were able to refuel there as the nearest outstation was 150 miles away. As it happened the Federal Minister Ian Sinclair & entourage was there having a bbq lunch. .Anne happened to know his secretary as she played golf with her at Manly. They landed at one time at Mt Isa. The Morris 1100 car was due so they were ushered on as the organisers wanted them out of the way. They just managed to stay ahead of the car which was travelling at a great pace.
Anne showed many slides with the one of Sydney in 1968 being particularly fascinating with a vastly different skyline. They were meant to land in Sydney but decided to press on (to the annoyance of the organisers who had some PR activities lined up) to Goulburn. At Goulburn they had a message to delay their start the following morning. Anne thought this might be a Jack Murray trap so decided to keep going to Melbourne to win the race. The girls early arrival surprising everyone. The car arrived about 8 hours later having averaged 50.7 miles per hr.
After Anne had shown her slides she kindly took a number of questions, many about how she became involved in flying. She started to get an interest as she often stayed with cousins on the NSW / QLD border and flew there on a DC3. Her uncle was a navigator during the war and encouraged her. She won a Commonwealth scholarship which paid 70% of her flying expenses up to commercial licence standard and then extended to instructor rating, qualifying by 19 and teaching by 20. They only awarded one scholarship a year to a female and awarded 10 in total. Nancy Bird Walton (Anne knew her from 16) suggested Anne fly in an American race, the ‘’Powder Puff Derby’’, so she hunted for sponsorship but no joy eventually her employees and Cessna sponsored her. She needed 3 weeks training in the USA with lots of mountain and desert flying. Anne retired from flying only about 2 months ago, mainly as the planes in Australia are about 40 years old and she wanted to get out in one piece! She often used to organise social flyers “the Cessna flyers” and go away for weekends and present for Rex Aviation at career nights at high schools. Flying is also very expensive now costing $200 to $300 per hour from when you start engine to stop. In the ‘’Powder Puff Derby’’ she came about 30th from over 300 starters. A particular memory she had of that race was landing in West Virginia and sighting what looked like some hillbillies, which is what they turned out to be. She met Elmer, Otis and Virgil, complete with beards, baggy clothes, shotguns and speaking very slowly. Anne had a bright orange kangaroo attached to the tale of her plane which perplexed them. That night they drank some funny concoction and had some barn dancing. They said if you don’t do well in race to send an envelope with black around the rim, which Anne translated to being that they couldn’t actually read!
There was a loud round of applause for Anne with special thanks to Judith P for her persistence in encouraging Anne to prepare and commit to presenting to the Storytellers.