Introduction

On 19 March 1919, the Commonwealth Government announced that they would offer a prize of £10,000 - nearly one million dollars in today’s money - for the first successful journey by an Australian-crewed airplane from London to Darwin in under 30 days. The event came to be known as the Great Air Race.

The winning Vickers Vimy aircraft landed in Darwin on 10 December 1919 - crewed by pilot Captain Ross Smith, co-pilot Lieutenant Keith Smith with mechanics Sergeants Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett.

10 December 2019 will mark the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the winning plane and crew, with a program of celebratory events in Darwin in the lead-up to, and on, 10 December.

Join us in celebrating the centenary of this amazing feat of aviation that changed Darwin and the world.

Great Air Race Events

The Great Air Race Centenary program of events commence September 2019 and run through to early December.

Additional events to celebrate the Great Air Race will be announced over the coming weeks, so check back regularly. If you would like us to let you know when a new event is announced, drop us a message using the contact form below and we'll make sure to let you know.

12 Nov

The Sweet Little Note of the Engine

Join filmmaker Andrew Hyde for a special screening of this film that takes us on a journey across the historical moments that helped define Darwin as one of – if not the most – important places for aviation in Australia.

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Historical Archives

On March 19, 1919, Acting Prime Minister William Watt announced that the Commonwealth Government would offer a prize of £10,000 (nearly one million dollars in today’s money) for the first successful journey by an Australian-crewed airplane from London to Darwin in under 30 days, in an event that came to be known as the Great Air Race.

The Race was the brain-child of Prime Minister Billy Hughes, who was in England for the negotiations of the conclusion of WWI. He flew on a plane from London to Paris, and was impressed by the potential that aviation technology offered to connect Australia more efficiently with the wider world. Mail could take months to travel from the Front Line of WWI to Australia, causing great distress for loved ones waiting for news.

Six crews took part in the race, but only two finished. Equipment failures, crash landings and even political misunderstandings led most teams to delay, and then abandon, their race. Tragically, two crews fatally crashed while attempting to complete the race. The Vimy’s 18,000 kilometre flight took 27 days 20 hours, a remarkable time considering it was made just 16 years after the Wright brothers flew the first ever powered aircraft.

In 1984, the head of Washington’s Smithsonian Institutes’ Air and Space Museum stated, “In the first fifty years of manned flight (1903-1953), there were ground breaking achievements from the likes of Louis Bleriot, John Alcock, Charles Kingsford-Smith, Charles Lindberg and others but it could be said, and should be said, that Ross Smith’s flight of 1919 was the greatest of them all”.

Learn more about the Great Air Race by exploring the collections of the Northern Territory Library and State Library of South Australia.

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