HerStory

Nancy-Bird WALTON, OBE, AO

Also known as: Nancy Bird, Nancy Bird Walton, Nancy Bird-Walton

Born: 16/10/1915

Died: 13/1/2009

Special Achievements:

Nancy-Bird was a pioneering Aviatrix who in 1932, at the age of 17, was the youngest female Australian to gain a pilot's license. Two years later she became the first female Australian to become a commercial pilot. 

Additional Information:

"As a four year old, my mother told me I was climbing the fence, jumping off and calling myself an "eppyplane"... I bought books on aeroplanes, I followed everything in the newspapers about aeroplanes. Amy Johnson flew to Australia in 1930- why couldn't I do something like that?"

MILESTONES

1932: Aged 17, Nancy gained an A Class pilot license after saving up for flying lessons with Charles Kingsford Smith, who had recently opened a flying school near Sydney.

1935: Aged 19, Nancy Bird became Australia's first female commercial pilot when she was hired by the Far West Children’s Health Scheme to fly nurses and supplies around the areas of Bourke and Central Darling Shires. 

Although she was not the first woman in Australia with a pilot's licence, (that was Millicent Bryant in 1927) she was the first to have a licence allowing her to carry passengers.

Bird's own Gipsy Moth was used as an air ambulance. She bought a better-equipped aircraft, and began covering territory, including Queensland, not yet reached by the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia.

1935: Organised the first Ladies Flying Tour in Australia

1936:  Won the Ladies Trophy in the South Australian Centenary Air Race from Brisbane to Adelaide.

1938: Took a break from flying and relocated to Europe 

1939: She was 24 when she married an Englishman, Charles Walton, and had two children. He preferred to call her "Nancy-Bird" rather than "Nancy", and she became generally known as "Nancy-Bird Walton".

1941 - 1945: In addition to her life’s work promoting the place of women in civil aviation, she was a major force in leading the women’s volunteer effort on the home front during the Second World War.  Walton was New South Wales and Australian Commandant of the Women’s Air Training Corps (WATC), a volunteer organisation that preceded the formation of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF).

1950: Founded the Australian Women Pilots' Association (APWA) where she was president until 1955.

1958: placed 5th of 61 competitors with co-pilot Iris Critchell, in the All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race (also known as Powder Puff Derby) after returning to flying after a 20 year hiatus.

1961: Published Born to Fly, Angus and Robertson

1966:  Appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (Civil) (OBE) on 11 June 1966 for her work as pilot to the Far West  Children's Health Scheme. 

1983: Became patron of the Australia Women Pilot Association

1990: Awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) 

        Published autobiography My God! It's a woman: The  inspiring story of one woman's courage and determination to fly, Harper Collins Publishers ISBN 0-7322-7370-6 

1997: Named a Living National Treasure by the National Trust 

1999: The new airport facility at Bourke was named in her honour - "The Nancy-Bird Air Terminal"

2001: Became a Patron of the National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame and was awarded Centenary Medal

2006: The Royal Far West Children’s Health Scheme awarded her its first lifetime membership and achievement award

2008: QANTAS named their first Airbus A380 aircraft in her honour  

2008: Recipient of John Flynn Outback Pioneers Award

2009: Nancy-Bird Walton died at the age of 93. She is survived by her children, Anne Marie and John; grandchildren Scott, Anna, Paul and Baron; and great-grandchildren Lachlan and Zoe

2019: In March 2019, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the new Western Sydney Airport will be named Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport.


The Women's Museum of Australia hold an archive of personal correspondence, photographs, articles and ephemera relating to her involvement with the museum and her achievements.

She is a signatory on our Signature Quilt and also appears on the Aviatrix Tapestry both of which are on permanent display at the Women's Museum of Australia.


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