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A New Perspective on Iconic Catalina

August 25, 2022

Exhibition view, Catalina, 2022. Image: Zan Wimberley.


Powerhouse today announced one of the most iconic objects in the museum’s collection – the Catalina flying boat ‘Frigate Bird II’ – will be presented in a new exhibition that tells its story opening on 6 October.

In 1951 the Catalina undertook the first return flight from Australia to South America piloted by Sir P G Taylor. The two-week journey represented the first crossing of the South Pacific Ocean and the final link in the global aviation network. Departing from Sydney’s Rose Bay, the aircraft made many stops including the Pacific Islands of Noumea, Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, Tahiti, Mangareva, French Polynesia and Easter Island, before reaching Chile.

Taylor was a pioneer of early aviation in Australia, captaining several first ocean crossings alongside pioneering Australian aviators Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith and Charles Ulm, the pilots who made the first flight across the Pacific Ocean in 1928. Taylor gained a heroic reputation after saving the lives of his crew on the failed Southern Cross flight from Australia to New Zealand in 1935.

Taylor donated the Catalina flying boat Frigate Bird II to Powerhouse in 1961. A major restoration of the aircraft was undertaken before it was suspended 10 metres above the Boiler Hall in time for the Powerhouse Ultimo opening in 1988. It has been the centrepiece of the Transport Exhibition for over 30 years, in recognition of its pivotal place in Australian aviation history.

The Catalina flying boat Frigate Bird II will feature in an exhibition of previously unseen collection objects, oral histories and archival material documenting the pioneering flight from Australia to Chile, including material from the Pacific Islander communities visited on the flight, the crew onboard and the Taylor family.

New acquisitions from the Taylor family will be exhibited, including a thermos flask which Taylor used to transfer oil to the failing engine on the doomed 1935 flight, a selection of photographic images from the flight, a navigation instrument set, a handcrafted photograph album presented to the crew on arrival in Chile, flags flown by the Catalina in Australia and Chile, and the remnants of a uniform cap destroyed by the aircraft’s propeller during wild conditions departing Easter Island on the outward journey.

‘I was fortunate enough to be able to fly with my father aboard the Frigate Bird III, a Sunderland flying boat, a few years after his South Pacific crossing with Frigate Bird II. Travelling in a flying boat of that kind, with their comfort and space, was such an incredible experience compared to air travel today. Although I was only young at the time, I still remember the magnificent aqua colour of the water as we flew in to land at Pacific Islands along the way. It was an unforgettable adventure and I will always treasure those memories with my father,’ said Sue Arnott, daughter of Taylor.

‘The Catalina flying bird Frigate Bird II is one of the most iconic objects in the Powerhouse collection and one much loved by the public for over 30 years. This exhibition presents a rare opportunity for our audiences to connect with the stories of this piece of Australian aviation history,’ said Powerhouse Chief Executive Lisa Havilah.

– ENDS –


Curator: Sarah Reeves
Project Coordinators: Madeleine Brady and Jackson Mann
Exhibition Design: Andy McDonnell


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