6 January 1912 – Australia’s First Plane Crash

6 January 1912, is the date Australia’s first official plane crash happened.

But before going into that, just a little background information.

Australia’s earliest recorded attempts at powered flying took place in 1909, and within a year, numerous aircrafts were being imported, with others being locally made. As you can imagine, some of these new flying machines proved less successful than others, with mild accidents on take-off occurring in several cases. However it was inevitable that a ‘proper’ aeroplane crash would take place sooner or later.

William Ewart Hart is the man who’s name is now in Australia’s history as being the pilot of Australia’s first plane crash.

Billy Hart (as he was known) was born in Parramatta, New South Wales in 1885, when at age 16 he was apprenticed to a local dentist. By 1906 was a registered dentist himself, and after registration he practiced as a dentist in Wyalong, where he rode the first motorcycle and drove the first car in town. Quite the man, no doubt! He went on to practice in Newcastle, New South Wales.

In 1911, at age 26 Billy Hart learnt to fly and became the first man to hold an Australia aviator’s licence. His No. 1 Certificate of the newly-created Aerial League of Australia was granted on 5 December 1911. Hart imported a British aircraft for £1300 (approx $140,000 today), and maintained it in a tent at Penrith, New South Wales. However, shortly after its purchase, strong winds overturned the tent and the plane, reducing the aircraft to a wreck.

William Ewart Hart in his Bristol Boxkite Biplane, 1912.
(State Library of New South Wales, Ref: PXA 1063 / 276)

Not to be defeated, Billy salvaged what he could, and built a biplane from the parts. On 6 January 1912 he was demonstrating his aircraft, and had military officer Major Rosenthal as a passenger, however when he was at a height of 180m (approx 600 feet), he hit turbulence and began to lose altitude. As it dropped, the biplane hit a signal post, then came to rest upside down beside the railway line, so this is Australia’s first ‘official’ aeroplane crash. You can read about this incident in the detailed report that appeared in the Geelong Advertiser.

Although he sustained some minor injuries, Hart and his passenger survived, and he was inclined to blame the Major’s weight for the crash. His words were reported as follows: “It really was a trial run and when I say that Major Rosenthal weighed 17 stone (about 107kg) the test my machine was put to will be understood.”

Dentist William Hart, holder of Australian pilot licence number 1 flying a bi-plane, Sydney, ca. 1912 [NLA reference: PIC/15611/14461 LOC Cold store PIC/15611]

Billy Hart’s passion for flying continued, and apart from fixing up his plane, he constructed a two-seat monoplane which he successfully tested at Wagga Wagga, but wrecked it in a serious accident at Richmond, New South Wales on 4 September 1912. This accident was so bad that he never flew again.

details of the crash in The Australasian, (Melbourne, Vic.) p. 41. 7 September 1912 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article143277314

Billy Hart continued dentistry, and died of heart failure in 1943 at the age of just 58.

He was said to be a remarkable man, respected and admired Vice President of the Air Force Association and to quote from their minutes: “resourceful, courageous pioneer,
soldier, airman, loyal friend and good citizen, lovable personality, and gallant gentleman.

You can read more about William Ewart “Billy” Hart here;
Australian Dictionary of Biography
Parramatta Heritage Centre

One Response to “6 January 1912 – Australia’s First Plane Crash”

  1. crissouli says:

    I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at


    Thank you, Chris

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