Wednesday, 1 January 2014

1st Official Aviator Of Australia - Harry Houdini

During his Australian tour of 1910, Harry Houdini was in his 36th year and his five foot 6 inch masculine body was crowned with salt and pepper hair. To Harry, it was inconceivable that his vaudeville feats would be remembered so he repeatedly tried to find ways to etch his name into history. Aviation was rapidly developing and so it seemed to be the path. For that reason he leaped by the opportunity to become the 1st man to fly among Australia.

Houdini visited Europe prior to leaving for Australia. Whilst there he witnessed the flight of a Voisin biplane which he bought and took a few rudimentary flying lessons. Then he packed it into a crate and put it aboard to Adelaide.

The choice of a Voisin was strange considering Houdini’s overt patriotism. The escapologist had changed his birth details so he could  be American and he was arrogant of this acquired nationality. It would have plausible accordingly for him to advocate the American Wright Brothers by purchasing a airplane of their design However, the Voisin had some advantages.

Firstly it was cheaper than the Wright Brothers prototype and secondly, piloting the Voisin was easier. The Voisin represented a European view of flight, where the airplane was seen as a kind of flying automobile However, to the Wright brothers, the pilot was an integral part of the flying machine. A Wright Brothers pilot needed a lot of training, whilst the Voisin pilot relied mainly on courage daring and adventurousness. Houdini had these qualities in abundance.

Yet there was an major disadvantage to the Voisin, It did not have a control reel and therefore was susceptible to gusts of wind. After crashing once, Houdini made his first successful flight on November 26 in Hamburg, Germany.


He hired the plane’s mechanic from Pairs, Monsieur Antonio Brassac and their antics amused the Australian reporters.

Houdini arrived in Melbourne on the 6th February 1910 and conducted his first theatrical performance the following evening.

Almost immediately he began a everyday commute to Diggers Rest, 20 miles and five hours from Melbourne. At a area called Plumpton’s Field,, he and Monsieur Brassac unpacked the crate containing the Voisin and put it attach The machine, a carton kite chart with bicycle wheels, had HOUDINI emblazoned on it surrounded tremendous letters. This ensured that nobody would forget the assign of Australia’s first aviator.

The unreliable winds would incense Houdini during his flying experiments in Australia.

Following the advice of Monsieur Brassac, Houdini waited until the 18th March, when weather conditions were perfect and taxied the aircraft to test the engine and controls. Then he opened the throttle, the engine roared and the aircraft surged toward a clump of trees and then soared skyward and stayed aloft for a minute. He landed safely and went on to fly on two or more occasions that day.

The last of these flights was the longest and involved him covering a distance of two miles and achieving a height of 100 feet in 3 ½ minutes. On the 21st March flew for seven minutes. Undoubtedly, Houdini had mastered the ability to pilot an aircraft in controlled powered flight.

When interviewed after this flight, Houdini said, “When I went up for the first time I thought for a minute that I was in a tree, then I knew I was flying. The funny thing was that as soon as I was aloft, all the tension and strain left me. As soon as I was up all my muscles relaxed, and I sat back, feeling a sense of ease. Freedom and exhilaration, that’s what it is.”

Houdini's flight on the 18th of March in his Voisin was witnessed by magic and aviation enthusiasts, newspaper reporters and representatives of the Australian Aerial League, and was certified and acknowledged as the first controlled powered flight in Australia. In addition, Houdini was the first aviator to have documented the event(s) on film.


Many Australian aviators flew over the hills for Diggers Rest after Houdini until the first world war. Many people would witness incredible acts of bravery and some of the those daring aviators crashed. There is a propeller hidden in Diggers Rest today that came from one of those early planes and perhaps the owner will put it on display one day.

This piece of history was almost forgotten when a traveler, who visited Diggers Rest in the early 1980s, asked the Lions Club where Houdini flew. Although the Lions did not know about the event, they commenced investigating and in 1985, erected the first monument in Holden Road. When the centenary of flight occurred in 2010, the Lions Club, Melton Shire, historians and community residents, celebrated with a big event and publicised the significance in several Internet sites.

The Houdini flight is well known around the world today and there are typically several new articles published every month about this incredible man performing a remarkable feat in the tiny town of Diggers Rest.

Do you have any links, memorabilia or information that would add to this story?

Newspaper Article 19 March 1910 on Trove


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