Australian Biography - Nancy Bird - Walton

Shot Vision Audio In Point
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Animated Film Australia Logo

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Fade up from black

Australian Biography Opening Title Sequence

Fade to black

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Biplane over bush

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Naancy in plane

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Biplane in sky

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From behind. Nancy in plane

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Nancy in plane

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Cockpit of plane as plane dives

Nancy v/o: General Valerie Andre

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Nancy in cockpit

said in her autobiography

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Biplane diving in sky

'as a small child I used to dream I could fly'.

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Nancy

Nancy sync: I used to dream I could fly. I could dream I could lift myself up over the telegraph poles when the lions and tigers were chasing me in my childish nightmares.

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Nancy in plane

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Nancy

Nancy sync: Mother said that I was jumping off a fence at the age of four with outstretched arms calling myself an 'eppiplane'. Now that was 1919,

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Plane coming in to land

and then when I was thirteen I went for a flight. It became the ruling passion of my life after that.

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Photo. Young Nancy in plane

Super:
Nancy Bird
Born 1915
Aviatrix

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Photo. Nancy as young child with siblings. Slow zoom in to Nancy

Nancy v/o: Well I was born in a little country town thirty miles north of Taree called Kew. My sister and I were the first two children of what later became a family of six children and the Depression hit Australia

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Nancy

Nancy sync: and my father bought a country store and I was taken out of school early to manage the household for my father, such as it was, and to be the housekeeper, bookkeeper and look after my father and my uncle.

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Photo. Nancy beside water tank in flying hat, goggles and gloves

Nancy v/o: It was a good life but we worked hard, we got up

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Nancy

Nancy sync: early in the morning; my father was a workaholic and expected everybody else to be. He started at six or seven o'clock in the morning with a cold wash from the tank; he tapped the tank to see how much water was in it, that was very important, and started work and the end of the day, well when I got the dinner at night, it was too late to get out in that beautiful sunshine and I think in my heart when I was doing the books and I'd look out that little window this is probably I felt that if in flying I could get out in the open air. And when I was thirteen I went into Wingham on the cream truck, with the rattling cans behind me and went to an air pageant,

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Archival. Biplane looping in sky

Nancy v/o: and that's where I first got the desire to fly.

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Archival. Aviator in cockpit of plane

And I went up for a flight, a ten shilling

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Archival. Plane looping in sky

flight and then I gave a whole weeks wages, two dollars one pound, and asked the pilot if he'd do some aerobatics with me; and he did some aerobatics. I then bought a book on flying,

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Nancy

Nancy sync: I studied it; everybody laughed at me of course, my father said he wouldn't mind if I learnt to fly but, of course, that was about three years before I started learning to fly. He felt differently about it later on.

Interviewer o/s: He did, did he? How differently?

Nancy sync: Well first of all he said he couldn't afford to keep a crippled daughter. Then it would kill my mother if anything happened to me and of course aeroplanes did crash a bit in those days and, you know, I was one of six, surely he could take a chance on one. And also I'd become a bit indispensable to him as a bookkeeper and a housekeeper.

Interviewer o/s: So how did you get around him?

Nancy sync: I just told him that I had saved up two hundred pounds, finally I had two hundred pounds - Kingsford-Smith had come barnstorming around the country too and I met him at Wingham giving flights, and I went up with Pat Hall, his chief instructor, talked with Kingsford-Smith and he told me he was opening a flying school, and I said that I would come

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Photo. Nancy in aviatrix gear

Nancy v/o: down to the city and become one of his pupils and I think I was one of his very first, if not his first, pupil when he opened in that flying school in August 1933 at Mascot.

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Archival. Biplane in sky

Music

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Photo. Mascot airport

Interviewer o/s: What was it

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Photo. Nancy as young woman in cockpit

about aviation that made you so dedicated, so attracted to it?

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Nancy sync: I can't put my finger on it, I just don't know. I grew up in the 1920s, my teenage years through the 1920s when the aviation was developing. The pilots of the First World War came back, they brought aviation to Australia, and even before that we had a history in aviation going back to Hargraves and so on, lifting himself off the cliffs of Stanwell Park before the turn of the century. So we were trying to fly, and there was something, we just believed in aviation, we just believed in flight.

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Archival. People run after Amy Johnson's plane on airfield

Nancy v/o: But perhaps, perhaps Amy

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Archival. Amy Johnson's plane surrounded by pepole

Johnson's flight to Australia in 1930.

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Archival. Amy JOhnson surrounded by people

I can remember being a bit jealous of her; in fact I was very envious

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Archival. Amy Johnson

of her flying from England to Australia.

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Nancy

Nancy sync: Then she was followed by the German aviatrix, Elly Beinhorn. I had already had my first trial instructional flight when I went to hear her speak in 1932, saw her little aeroplane that she'd flown all the way from Germany in, and I just thought she was the most marvellous

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Photo. Elly Beinhorn

Nancy v/o: person I'd ever seen. My ambition was to be like Elly; be as attractive, as feminine,

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Nancy

Nancy sync: to be able to fly an aeroplane. Now she's one of my best friends. So it's really rather wonderful how the wheel turns and then Jean Batten, of course. I was already flying when Jean Batten flew to Australia, and she I think, was the greatest aviatrix of the early pioneer days.

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Archival. Woman breaks champagne over prop of plane

Nancy v/o: Twice she started out from England and crashed, then she

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Archival. Jean Batten

achieved it and the whole of Australia was thrilled to pieces, and then

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Archival. Batten's plane takes off

she got a 200 horsepower Percival Gold, flew the Atlantic

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Archival. Batten's plane takes off

and flew from England to New Zealand and the record stood for forty-four years. So I was inspired by those people,

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Nancy

Nancy sync: but all the records had been broken, there seemed no future in aviation for long distance flying even if I could have got the sponsorship for it. So I decided to go barnstorming

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Photo.Nancy's Gypsy Moth

Nancy v/o: in my Gypsy Moth, which my father and my great aunt had

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Photo. Nancy in cockpit of Gypsy Moth

put up the money for me to buy. It was a rabbit trap aeroplane

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Nancy

Nancy sync: that had been rebuilt from a crash but I started out on a barnstorming tour,

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Sheep in paddock. Pan right to poster of Nancy on tree. Headline: My God! It's a woman.

because there was nothing else you could do in flying, there was no other way you could have a job. And that was the first time a woman had thought of barnstorming.

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Plane in sky

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Nancy in cockpit

Nancy sync: Is that pull very strong?

Pilot o/s: Oh about twenty-five, thirty knots.

Nancy sync: Is it as much as that?

Pilot o/s: Yeah.

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Plane landing

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Young airfield building

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Nancy at microphone addressing gathering

Nancy sync: And then I went to the Shell company and said "I want to make a barnstorming tour around Australia" and out of Country Life newspaper I found a list of shows and race meetings in all that beautiful country west of the ranges where the sun shines

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Woman listening to Nancy

Nancy o/s: every day and one show followed another.

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Nancy addressing gathering

But first of all I had to find a

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Nancy addressing gathering

Nancy sync: copilot. Now, all the ladies who flew in those days were ladies of independent means and amongst them was a girl from Orange called Peggy McKillop who was very rich, she had a private income

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Photo. Nancy and Peggy McKillop

Nancy v/o: of five pounds a month. She had another great advantage

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Nancy addressing gathering. Camera pulls out to MS

Nancy sync: too, she'd gone to Rose Bay Convent from the age of six as a boarder. So she knew all the Catholic aristocrats throughout the country - the Rankins, the Reillys, the

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Man in audience listening to Nancy

Nancy o/s: Marrs, Fitzmaurices, the Fitzgeralds,

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Nancy addressing gathering. Camera moves out to MWS

Nancy sync : the Murphys, the Londrigans, the Daltons, the whole jolly lot of them, they were all Peggy's friends and those wonderful women used to say "You don't have to stay at the pub. Come out and stay, land on the paddock down near next to our place, tie the aeroplane up to the fence and come and join us for dinner."

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Nancy

Interviewer o/s: What does the word barnstorming come from?

Nancy sync :Well I think it's the American word when the people barnstormed around America; politicians going to speak around the country. The only place that was big enough for them to hold a meeting was in the barn, especially in the wintertime. It was a heated barn was the place that they could gather. That's where I think the word comes from.

Interviewer o/s: But for you it meant going to fairs and....

Nancy sync: Landing as close as I could to a race meeting or a show

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Photo: Nancy in front of plane

Nancy v/o: in the nearest paddock, hoping that some enthusiastic people

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Souvenir Ticket of First Ladies Flying Tour in Australia

Nancy v/o: would come over and go for a flight, pay for flight, ten-shilling flight.

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Nancy

Interviewer o/s: Did you continue with the barnstorming?

Nancy sync: Oh no, no it was while I was barnstorming that I met Stanley Drummond of the Far West Children's Health Scheme who asked me to go to Bourke to fly his baby clinic service way out beyond the rail head of Bourke, out to those little homes where boundary riders, bore head keepers [?}, people who looked after the border fence and lived with their little families in stony ridges and often in corrugated iron places, and who were bringing up their children there on what Stanley Drummond was said was black tea and salt meat.

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Archival Newsreel "Flying Angel of the Outback"

Music

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Archival Newsreel Nancy getting into plane as man turns propellor

Music

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Archival Newsreel The ground seen from out of a plane's window as plane takes off

Music

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Archival Newsreel Over Nancy's shoulder as she flies the plane

Music

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Archival Newsreel Plane landing

Music

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Archival Newsreel Camera pans left as nurse exits plane

Music

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Archival Newsreel Nancy exits plane

Music

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Archival Newsreel Nancy smiles for the camera in front of plane

Music

Interviewer o/s: Did you feel that this

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Archival Newsreel Exterior country house

Interviewer o/s : work was really important, that it really made a

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Nancy

Interviewer o/s: difference?

Nancy sync: Well, it just meant that women who lived a hundred and twenty miles from Bourke could have a doctor in an hour instead of being on the road for six hours.

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Photo: Woman being carried out of plane by two men

Nancy v/o: That if people were in doubt about the health of a child or there'd been an accident, the aeroplane was there.

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Photo: Nancy's face through a plane side window

Nancy v/o: And although I was too young to realise the true significance of it,

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Photo: Women standing in front of plane

Nancy v/o: people said to me in later years "You don't know what it meant to us

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Nancy

Nancy sync: knowing that there was an aeroplane in Bourke, that if there was an acute appendix or an urgent treatment was needed

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Photo: Women standing in front of plane

Nancy v/o: that there was an aeroplane that could fly out to us."

Interviewer o/s: What was the most dramatic incident

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Nancy

Interviewer o/s : that occurred during that time?

Nancy sync: Well there was a man by the name of Jim Russell who had contracted pneumonia way out on an outstation somewhere, his wife couldn't drive the car, the children were too small to go for help, and it was only because a boundary rider came through that they discovered his plight, rushed back to the nearest telephone, which was quite some distance away and called the air ambulance, spoke to the doctor in Wilcannia and he called the air ambulance and then I landed in the claypan and took Mr. Russell into the Wilcannia Hospital and I don't think his wife ever expected to see him again, you know. It was a terrible wrench for her to have her husband taken away by a little girl in an aeroplane. When I had delivered him to Wilcannia, I flew back over the station and dipped over the station to show her that he'd been delivered safely. He always says I saved his life, but of course I don't think I did but he named a horse after me, he was a very keen racing man. He called it 'Miss Bird'.

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Aerial. Country landscape, flying left to right

Music

Nancy v/o: In the country that I was flying in, if you had crashed an aeroplane or had a forced landing and had no water

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Nancy

Nancy sync: you could die in twenty-four hours. Even today people who are thrown from a horse, or get lost or something can perish in twenty-four hours in inland Australia. So when I first landed on Urisino Station, a hundred and forty miles west of Bourke the manager said to me "Do you carry water?" I said "No." He said "Well never land on this station or leave it without carrying water" and he gave me a great big thermos flask to carry water in and from then on I always carried water.

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Aerial. Country road

Nancy v/o: It was quite lonely from a flying point of view out west because there were no other flying people around

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Nancy

Nancy sync: and so everything I did, there was nobody to discuss things with; I wish there had been. But when I went up to Charleville I would sometimes be lucky enough to be there when the De Havilland 86 came in from Singapore, the first Qantas flights and then I would see the Captain and the First Officer and talk with them and that was wonderful. They'll never, never know how much it meant to me to see those people from the outside world of aviation, and one of the First Officers was rather attractive too and I think I had a little bit of a spot in my heart for him.

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Plane lands on tarmac, flys past camera right to left

Nancy v/o: He could make my day just by saying hello. [laughs]

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Nancy at function

Nancy sync: Hi, how do you do?

Woman sync: How do you do.

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Nancy from over the shoulder, turns to talk to gentleman

Nancy sync: I encourage older people to take up flying. We had a woman pilot who learned fly at fifty-two when she retired from the school that she was teaching in and it's opened up a whole new world for her.

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Nancy greets gentleman at function

Gentleman sync: Hello. How are you? Lovely to meet you.

Nancy sync: I'm Nancy Bird

Gentleman sync: Yes, yes. I've known about you for many years.

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Nancy lecturing a crowd, camera zooms into to CU

Nancy sync: When it rained out there the roads were impassable, so where there'd be a big stock deal on, there'd be a man with a beautiful wife and half a dozen children

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Crowd watching

Nancy o/s: and a large insurance policy

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Nancy lecturing crowd

Nancy sync: and they'd say "You've got to fly to Cunnamulla," and he'd say "But I'm not going to fly with that little girl!"

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Crowd laughs at Nancy

Nancy o/s: They'd say

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Nancy lectures crowd

Nancy sync: "She's perfectly safe, she's been here for three months, we've watched her fly, she's very careful." "Oh have a whisky" he'd say it to him at Fitzgerald's Hotel. He'd probably give him two whiskeys,

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Crowd laughs at Nancy

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Nancy lectures crowd

Nancy sync: even a third. Then maybe he'd have enough courage to fly with me.

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Photo:Young Nancy in flying outfit

Interviewer o/s: Were you given nothing but encouragement in relation to your flying

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Photo: Nancy and man in plane

Interviewer o/s: or were you sometimes discouraged from what you were doing?

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Nancy

Nancy sync: Well was I? You see, it depended -- the weather was everything there and we came into another drought and that sort of reduced the amount of flying, too.

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Photo: Nancy and John Flynn standing in front of plane

Nancy sync: But John Flynn came through, you know, Flynn of the Inland, the great man of the Flying Doctor Service

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Nancy

Nancy sync: and he said "You've got to leave this, it's killing you, you're a woman, you can't go on doing this, it's too much for you." P.G. Taylor came through and he said the same sort of thing, you know, "You can't stick it out here" and the Qantas pilots used to say, "How that girl sticks it out there we don't know. We went up to eight thousand feet and we couldn't get out of the turbulence." You see in the summertime the air is very, very turbulent and it's very rough flying, dear old Boyer of the ABC once when he wrote the foreword to my first book he said "It was like a bucking horse to fly in that country," and it was too and I hated that turbulence. Nowadays of course people fly up to ten thousand feet or twelve thousand feet and get out of it, but in those days we didn't and that turbulence used to get me down, particularly in the summertime and years later I learnt that the DeHavilland aircraft company were very concerned about me

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Newspaper clipping by Nancy Bird zoom out to reveal title "Emergency Angel Forced Landing"

Nancy v/o: flying out there because they knew the performance of the aeroplane fell off very much in that heat. But they didn't say so at the time.

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Nancy, zoom into BCU

Interviewer o/s: Did you always maintain your own confidence?

Nancy sync: Yes I did, I did until I came to Sydney on that trip from Goodooga when I brought a man in because his wife was very, very ill. I landed at Goodooga, I landed beside, a little bit out of town beside the telegraph line on a claypan, picked up this gentleman and flew him into Sydney and then several days later I was to take him back. As I set out for the west the clouds came down on the mountains and I thought 'I can't get through.' I'm not sure whether I could have got through if I'd gone down the Jamison Valley and circled my way around, but everything in me revolted about going back, it was like being on a rearing horse, that aeroplane just didn't want to go back. I turned back to Sydney, I landed, burst into tears and I never wanted to fly again and I said to the pilots, "Oh," they said "don't be silly it's only a fool that pushes through when the clouds are on the mountains, you know, don't be upset by it,"

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Photo: Nancy and a group of men in front of their planes, zoom in to Nancy

Nancy v/o: but it really, I just couldn't take it any longer. Something happened, I just couldn't face flying again. The lack of association with other flying people,

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Nancy zoom in to BCU

Nancy sync: I'd become a very rigid pilot, I was a very safe pilot, but I was too safe, I didn't get the best out of an aeroplane. Flying safely all the time I'd become very rusty and the responsibility of the aircraft, there were the heat and the weather of the inland, the isolation, the loneliness, I think that that probably caused it. I couldn't afford a holiday, I'd never had a holiday. I was paying off an aircraft every hour I flew and I think that that probably was responsible for it.

Interviewer o/s: You were a bit worn out?

Nancy sync: I probably was a bit worn out, yes. If I'd left my aeroplane in the hands of somebody else, I'd have probably been running an airline today and you know, had a holiday but I had an invitation from the Dutch Airlines to go overseas and I knew that I'd never be able to afford to go overseas myself so that was very attractive too.

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Photo: Nancy beside plane

Nancy v/o: So I sold my aircraft, got back the four hundred pounds that I'd started with

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Nancy

Nancy sync: and that's what I went away overseas with, a total of four hundred pounds

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Photo: zoom into picture from Nancy's passport

Nancy v/o: And I was just so well received by the Dutch Airlines, who introduced me to all the other airlines of Europe

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Detail of Nancy's passport stamps

Nancy v/o: and I studied civil aviation,

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Nancy

Nancy sync: collected an exhibition which I brought back to Australia.

Interviewer o/s: What sort of an exhibition?

Nancy sync: An exhibition of all the things that were being done overseas that we knew nothing about. All the airlines, like Swiss Airline, Air France, Scandinavian Airlines, I flew to Russia with the Swedes

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Photo: Nancy in fur coat

Nancy v/o: and I was the first person to fly from Moscow to London in a day via Sweden

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Photo: Nancy standing on platform of Lufthansa plane, zoom in to tight shot

Nancy v/o: And I went to Germany, I went to England, I flew into France, the airshow in

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Nancy

Nancy sync: France, the Paris aviation exhibition which of course is the great thing for all flying people and that was when they were showing the first of the Heinkels and the Messerschmitts and the Spitfire. But of course I didn't know their significance, I didn't know anything about politics. I had wonderful friends in Germany and they obviously didn't think I was any security risk, because I was invited to the Junkers Factory and all sorts of places like that. Elly Beinhorn the German aviatrix who'd flown here in 1932 introduced me to people. So I wasn't a tourist there

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Photo: Nancy and a group in front of Nazi flag

Nancy v/o and I was invited by the Americans to a big celebration with the German-American Association

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Nancy

Nancy sync: and that's the day I fell in love with an American from the embassy, another little happiness in my life.

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Photo: Nancy and her husband

Interviewer o/s: How did you meet your husband?

Nancy v/o: I met him on a ship coming from America.

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Nancy

Nancy sync: In fact I was sat, they put me between the chief purser and my husband to control my exuberance, they said [laughs].

Interviewer o/s: But they didn't succeed. You affected him.

Nancy sync: They didn't, I affected him apparently, yes and I fell in love again.

Interviewer o/s: So it was a shipboard romance?

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Photo: Nancy with husband and family

Nancy v/o: It was a shipboard romance that lasted fifty-one and a half years.

Interviewer o/s: And what happened to you

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Nancy

Interview o/s: in the war years?

Nancy sync: Well I had no sooner got back here than I was asked to join the flying club which had been formed a year earlier, which was training girls in aviation related subjects and offering scholarships. But as soon as the war broke out we went onto a war footing and trained and recruited women to serve in a Woman's Auxiliary Air Force, should one be formed.

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Archival Newsreel: Nancy

Super: Movietone News, 1939

Newsreel narration: Nancy Bird, the youngest aviatrix to obtain a flying licence became wartime Commandant of the Australian Women's Air Training Corps.

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Nancy

Nancy sync: We were doing everything we could to help the air force. We were at the

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Photo: Women signing up, zoom into to Nancy

Nancy v/o: recruiting centre, the girls, petrol rationing was introduced so the girls got Dad's car, drove air force officers all over the country,

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Nancy

Nancy sync: they helped in the area finance. Girls who worked in offices all day long came to the 221 George Street where we had rooms lent to us free and trained in air subject, so eventually when the WAAF was formed all the senior officers with the exception of myself

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Photo: Nancy in WAAF uniform

Nancy v/o: went into the WAAF

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Photo: Nancy and other women looking at model plane, zoom out to reveal crowd

Nancy v/o: and then when, then the government stopped recruiting, they didn't want the women in the war services, they said

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Photo: Women WAAF marching on parade

Nancy v/o: we were playing at soldiers, they definitely didn't want it. You see the unions were dead

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Nancy

Nancy sync: against women being used in any of the occupations that the men were doing in the air force because they were frightened they'd stay on after the war and do the men out of jobs.

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Archival: Nancy getting into plane

Music

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Archival: Nancy getting into plane

Music

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Archival: POV of Nancy down runway as plane takes off

Music

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Archival: Nancy flying plane

Music

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Archival: Plane takes off

Music

Nancy v/o: I took out

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Archival: Plane flying through air

Nancy v/o: my licence again in the 1950's.

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Nancy

Interviewer o/s: Why was that?

Nancy sync: Well I started flying with May Casey when her husband was the Foreign Minister and when he was abroad often I would go to Melbourne and do some flying with her or I'd formed the Australian Women Pilots in 1950

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Photo: Nancy and the Australian Women's Pilotd

Nancy v/o: and I was the penguin president, you know, the non-flying president

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Nancy

Nancy sync: so I decided to start flying again and I started flying on a student's licence.

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Archival Newsreel: Nancy flying plane

Super: 1964 Brisbane to Adelaide Air Race

Newsreel Narration: Well-known aviatrix Mrs. Nancy Bird Walton is ready

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Archival Newsreel: Nancy in plane

Newsreel Narration: to contest her fourth big air race. As Nancy

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Archival Newsreel: Nanncy in cockpit of plane, takes off glasses

Dissolves to plane taking off

Newsreel Narration: Bird she operated a one aircraft charter service in Australia's outback in the 1930's.

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Archival Newsreel: Nancy flies plane across sky

SFX: Plane

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School boy

School boy sync: Have you ever had any crash?

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Nancy in library answering questions

Nancy sync: No I've never had a crash. I've been very lucky or very careful.

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Over Nancy's shoulder of school kids

Nancy laughing

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Nancy

Nancy sync: Any more questions?

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Young boy

Young boy sync: Have you got any books or anything on you yet?

Nancy o/s: Oh yes I've written

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Nancy, zoom in to CU

Nancy sync: two books. One in 1961 called 'Born to Fly' and the book that I'm selling now for Far West Children's Health Scheme and there are going to be two copies in the library here and it's called 'My God It's A Woman.' That's because in 1936 when I was out in Cunnamulla, Queensland, I walked into a stock and station agents office when they were just saying "We'll send the aeroplane for you, here get some landing instructions, take the telephone." I took the phone and said "Hello." Dead silence. She said, "My God it's a woman!"

00:27:01
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Young boy

Nancy o/s: Any more questions?

00:27:37
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Nancy

Nancy sync: Well they're the most intelligent questions I've ever had from a group of youngsters. They usually want to say, "How old are you? How old are you?"

00:27:40
144

Nancy

Interviewer o/s: You're now in your late seventies and you're still tremendously energetic, what's the secret of keeping that energy alive?

Nancy sync: Well my mother had it so I think I got it from her. Also I'm interested in everything; I'm interested in politics, I'm interested in the newspapers, international affairs, I'm interested in women pilots, I'm interested in people, I love people, everybody's got a story,

00:27:48
145

Nancy signing copies of her book

Nancy v/o: everybody's got a book in them if they only knew it and I love living.

00:28:15
146

Nancy

Fade to black

Interviewer o/s: What's the best thing do you think that's happened to you in your life, your best experience?

Nancy sync: Falling in love and marrying the man I love probably.

Interviewer o/s: Better than flying?

Nancy sync: Yes much better than flying.

00:28:22
147

Credits fade up from black

Interviewer: Robin Hughes

Research: Graham Shirley
Frank Heimans

Camera: Andrzej Lada
Paul Ree

00:28:42
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Credits continued

Sound Recording: Tim Parratt

Sound Mixing: Robert Sullivan

Production Manager: Kim Anning

Production Accountant: Megan Gilmour

00:28:54
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Credits

Production Coordinator: Joanne Holliman

Post Production Supervisor: Brian Hicks

00:29:06
150

Credits continue

Film Australia would like to acknowledge the assistance of:

Nancy Bird
John Walton
The State Library of NSW
Powerhouse Museum
Filmworld Research
ABC-TV Archives
National Library of Australia

00:29:14
151

Credits continue

Producer, Director, Writer, Editor: Frank Heimans

Executive Producer: Ron Saunders

[Logo] Film Australia
[c] MCMXCII Film Australia

00:29:22
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