Since arriving in the Asia Pacific region 15 months ago, I’ve travelled to Australia many times, mostly landing in Sydney at Kingsford-Smith airport, which is named after the first person to completed the trans-Pacific flight from the United States to Australia in 1928.
With International Women’s Day being celebrated on March 8 every year, it’s fitting, I think, that the Australian Government announced in the same week that the second airport to be built in Sydney would be named after Nancy-Bird Walton, a pioneer of the aviation industry in the country.
I must admit to not having come across Nancy-Bird before reading about the announcement in media. She was the first woman in Australia, or anywhere else in the Commonwealth for that matter, to obtain a pilot’s license in the 1930s at the age of 19, defying the traditional gender roles at that time.
Nancy-Bird was known as the ‘Angel of the Outback’ for her work to establish the Royal Far West Children’s Health Scheme here she flew an air ambulance to remote rural communities. She also became the founder and patron of the Australian Women Pilots’ Association. She was named an Australia National Living Treasure in 1997. And in 2008, Qantas – one of IBM’s most important clients in Australia, named its first A380 after her – a year before she passed away at the age of 93.
One of the things that I was immediately drawn to when reading about her character, was Nancy-Bird’s desire to flout convention, and do the opposite of what people expected.
She once said, “I mostly flew in dresses. I went the opposite way and wore the most unsuitable clothes – floral dresses, mostly hand-me-downs from my sister.”
My husband, Graham, has a passion for flying, and later this year he will fly from the UK to Singapore. When I fly with him, I usually wear dresses as well… but unlike Nancy-Bird, I’m not the one piloting the plane!
The Australian Government deserves much credit for the decision to name Sydney’s second airport after such an iconic female pioneer – after all, how many large infrastructure projects around the world can you think of that are named after a woman?
Funnily enough, her autobiography published in 1990 was titled, “My God! It’s a Woman”, which came from an anecdote about a man who was to be saved by her air ambulance, exclaiming said quote when he was told that it was Nancy-Bird coming to his rescue.
What a tremendous legacy to celebrate, along with all the other amazing women who were celebrated this International Women’s Day.