The Powerhouse Museum’s curatorial transport department was recently assisted by Museum Studies intern, Zinnia O’Brien, to work on a large photographic collection relating to Sir P.G. Taylor. “Who?”, you ask. In this post, Zinnia tells us a little about her internship project and the significance of Taylor in the context of Australian aviation history.
As a New Zealander, before I started an internship at the Powerhouse Museum I did not know of the Australian pilot Sir P.G. Taylor. I knew of the exploits of other Australian aviation pioneers, such as Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm, but I knew nothing about the others who had flown with them. I had jumped at the chance to complete my final Masters of Museum Studies internship placement at the Powerhouse Museum but I did not realise the true significance of the aviation project for which I had applied. The project was to research, record and scan a collection of over 300 images which documented Sir P.G. Taylor’s flight to Chile in the Catalina Flying Boat ‘Frigate Bird II’. The group of photographs had been generously donated by the Taylor family and they provided a new insight into Taylor’s life and this important flight.
Photograph, black and white, Frigate Bird II over Sydney Harbour on the 21st of April 1951.Captain Patrick Gordon “Bill” Taylor (later Sir), had been involved in several other significant and hair raising aerial adventures before pioneering an air route from Sydney to Valparaiso in Chile. On the 13th of March 1951, Captain Taylor and a crew of four departed from Rose Bay to cross the South Pacific, from Australia to South America for the first time by air. The Australian Government had given permission to Taylor to carry out a survey flight to establish an air route for use by commercial aircraft. Taylor was allowed to select an aircraft and the best available was a Catalina PB2B-2. The aircraft was named ‘Frigate Bird II’ and given the Civil Registration VH-ASA, the ASA chosen especially to stand for Australia-South America. The roles and personality of the crew who accompanied Taylor on the flight are also revealed in these photographs. They were Captain G.H. “Harry” Purvis (First Officer), E.D. “Blue” L’Huillier (Engineer), Angus Allison (Radio Officer and Bowman) and Sydney Morning Herald Journalist Jack Percival (Official Correspondent and Executive Officer).
Photograph, black and white, Crew of Frigate Bird II at Rose Bay prior to departure of flight from Australia to South America, March. Standing in front of a Sandringham Flying Boat are (l-r) Percival, Purvis, Taylor, Allison and L’Huiller.The ‘Frigate Bird II’ made an initial flight to Grafton, NSW, landing on the Clarence River, before heading east to South America. Stops were made at Noumea, New Caledonia; RNZAF Station at Lauthala Bay, Fiji; Satapuala Bay, Samoa; Aitutaki, Cook Islands; Papeete Harbour, Tahiti; Mangareva in the French Gambier Islands and at Easter Island. The final stop at Easter Island was vital for the ‘Frigate Bird II’ to refuel. However, they had to land on the open sea and there was no sheltered area for take-off, a serious hazard for a grossly over loaded aircraft. There they suffered through a storm, freak swells, broke all three of their anchor ropes as well as Taylor being washed overboard. They managed to sail the ‘Frigate Bird II’ around the Island like a boat and were finally able to take-off with the assistance of JATO (jet assisted take-off) rockets.
Photograph, black and white, Frigate Bird II sailing around Easter Island from Ovahe Cove to Hanga Piko, view of port wing. Taken on 22-24th March 1951, during the Frigate Bird II’s outward flight from Australia to South America.On the 26th of March 1951, ‘Frigate Bird II’ escorted by a Chilean Air Force Catalina, reached Valparaiso, Chile. They landed at Quintero Air Force Base and were warmly welcomed by the President of Chile and Air Force Officials. After nine days in Chile, ‘Frigate Bird II’ departed having successfully completed its diplomatic mission and starting an air link between Australia and Chile. The return flight was just as eventful when the JATO rockets failed to correctly fire when taking off in another storm at Easter Island. The aircraft barely missed crashing into the cliffs. After flying approximately 30,000km, they arrived back in Sydney on the 21st of April to a large reception. The ‘Frigate Bird II’ was subsequently gifted to Captain Taylor by then Prime Minister Robert Menzies, in recognition of the pioneering flights made by the famous aviator.
Photograph, black and white, P.G. Taylor in the port blister meeting Chilean Air Force officers. Taken upon arrival of the Frigate Bird II in Chile on the 25th March 1951.These four photographs hardly illustrate the drama and adventure of this amazing flight but are an indication of the historical value of this huge photographic collection. Not only have I now discovered the story of Sir P.G. Taylor and the ‘Frigate Bird II’ for myself but I have also been able to share this story and images with a new online audience. In the near future more of these significant photographs will make their way onto the Powerhouse’s website. I hope the publication of these photographs will lead to a greater awareness of Australia’s pioneering airmen and the importance of aviation in forging a place for Australia in the post-war twentieth-century. Keep watching for more of this story to be revealed!
Zinnia O’Brien, Student Intern, February 2010