100th Anniversary of First Air Mail

Release date: 1 July 2014

On 16–18 July 2014 it will be 100 years since French aviator Maurice Guillaux (1883–1917) made the first air mail flight in Australia. He left the Melbourne Agricultural Grounds at 9.12am on 16 July bound for Sydney, stopping at Seymour, Wangaratta, Albury, Wagga Wagga, Harden, Goulburn and Liverpool en route. Strong head winds at Harden twice necessitated his return, as well as an overnight stay.
While Moss Vale was on his original itinerary, the lack of a suitable landing space on the golf course saw him continue on to nearby Liverpool before reaching his final destination. He landed at Moore Park (Sydney Sports Ground) at 2.50pm on 18 July, two days after his departure from Melbourne; the flying time, however, was just 9¼ hours. On his arrival, Guillaux was welcomed by Governor-General Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson.

Guillaux’s flight was, at the time, the longest air mail flight worldwide. But it was not the first. He carried a cargo of 1,785 souvenir postcards (weighing around 40lb), which had been bought for 2 shillings each, official letters between the state governors and French consuls, and a small number of parcels. His load was light, for his Bleriot XI monoplane was essentially constructed of “wood and fabric held together with wire and glue” and powered by a Gnôme rotary engine of around just 50 horse power. The postcards had been produced by the British Imperial Oil Company (Shell Australia), which had also supplied the fuel for the flight. A quantity of Lipton’s tea and OT chilli cordial and lemon squash, consigned to the Commercial Travellers’ Association (Tennis) Club of Sydney, became the first air cargo carried between the two cities. The underside of the Bleriot’s wings featured the wording “ADD a little O.T.”

Maurice Guillaux was an air stuntman during this early period of aviation, the first powered flights having taken place in Australia just four years earlier. He and his manager crated his plane – designed by Louis Bleriot and made in Paris – and brought it to Australia in April 1914, as part of a promotional tour. Guillaux demonstrated his aerial skills in New South Wales before sending the Bleriot to Melbourne by train. At Victoria Park in Sydney he demonstrated the first “looping-the-loop” in the country, much to the delight of the 60,000 onlookers enjoying the spectacle.

It was an accident of timing that saw Guillaux make the historic first air mail delivery in Australia, effectively making him a pioneer of commercial aviation. It was more than a decade later that a regular air mail service between Melbourne and Sydney was established in 1925. American Eugene “Wizard” Stone was to make the air mail flight, but his aircraft was smashed and no replacement was available. Guillaux was asked to make the journey and so a milestone in postal and aviation history was delivered.

Guillaux continued to give aerial displays in Australia until his plane was badly damaged at a demonstration in Sydney’s Ascot Racecourse on 3 August 1914, leaving him with a six-week recovery in hospital. Soon after, Guillaux returned to France, the Great War having been declared just the day after his accident. His Bleriot remained in Australia and is now in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum. Guillaux was killed during a flying accident in 1917.

The Stamps

In 1964, the PMG Department developed a stamp issue to mark the 50th anniversary of this significant development in Australia’s postal service. Designs for both intaglio and photogravure printing were developed before a decision was made to complete artwork for intaglio printed stamps only. The stamp designs in this issue are based on Kevin McKay’s early watercolour “sketches” for the stamp designs. An employee of the Postmaster-General’s Department, McKay was an aviation enthusiast. He made several sketch illustrations of the Bleriot XI for the stamp designs, all of which are held in the National Philatelic Collection. Created for composition and perspective, his sketches were later worked up by Note Printing Branch artist PE Morriss and by Sydney-based Hungarian artist George Hamori.

The simple, almost whimsical hand-drawn quality of these illustrations reflects the relative simplicity of the aeronautical technology of the era and emphasises the historical distance we have travelled since that inaugural air mail flight. In mining our archive, we have sought to create a stamp issue that will interest not only to aviation history enthusiasts but also philatelists collecting Australian stamps.

70c The Bleriot XI prepares to land
With powered flight making its debut in Australia only four years before, Guillaux’s historic air mail flight, just like his many aerial demonstrations, were very much a drawcard for an interested public. This stamp design depicts the aviator in his monoplane above the heads of transfixed spectators.

$2.60 International The airborne Bleriot XI
Several of McKay’s watercolour sketches depict the Bleriot XI mid-flight, backed by clouds or an empty sky. The image featured in this design uses the landscape as a device to contextualise the airborne monoplane.
 

Technical Details

  • Issue date

    1 July 2014
  • FDI withdrawal

    29 July 2014
  • Denomination

    1 x 70c, 1 x $2.60
  • Stamp design

    Jo Mure, Australia Post Design Studio
  • Product design

    Jo Mure, Australia Post Design Studio
  • Illustrator

    Kevin Mckay
  • Paper (gummed)

    Tullis Russell
  • Printer (gummed)

    McKellar Renown
  • Printing process

    Lithography
  • Stamp size

    35mm x 35mm
  • Minisheet size

    135mm x 80mm
  • Perforations

    14.28 x 14.28
  • Sheet layout

    Module of 50
  • National postmark

    Flemington, Vic 3031
  • Issue withdrawal date

    31 January 2015

Designer

Jo Muré has been with the Australia Post Design Studio since the mid-1990s. Since that time, she has brought her considerable design and illustration talent to many stamp issues, including Cats and Dogs (2004), Postie Kate (2006), 50th Anniversary of Australian Ballet (2012), Farming Australia and Queen’s Coronation (2013).

Additional Products

  • Minisheet
  • First day cover (blank)
  • First day cover (gummed)
  • First day cover (minisheet)
  • Stamp pack
  • Maxicard (2)
  • PNC
  • Prestige booklet
  • Souvenir cover (with badge)
  • Gutter (10 x 70c)
  • Gutter (10 x $2.60)

Future reading

“Bleriot XI Monoplane, 1914”, Powerhouse Museum,
www.powerhousemuseum.com/collection/database/?irn=288461 

“50th Anniversary if First Air Mail”, Philatelic Bulletin, vol. 11, no. 6, June 1964

“1914 Bleriot XI Monoplane”, Migration Heritage Centre of NSW,
http://www.migrationheritage.nsw.gov.au/exhibition/objectsthroughtime/bleriot-monoplane/

“The First Airmail”,
http://www.rahs.org.au/history-resources/the-first-airmail/
 

*This content was produced at the time of the stamp issue release date and will not be updated.