Call of the clouds

Spectators watching an aircraft's arrival

Tim Sherratt pointed out this remarkable image, PRG 280/1/24/108 in the State Library of South Australia's collection. The description reads:

A large crowd of spectators packed into stands around a show ring looking up into the sky as they watch for the arrival of the local aviator Harry Butler's aircraft.

The date is given as 1919; there's no location other than it's in South Australia.

Spectators watching the arrival of aviator Captain Harry Butler

But I think it was taken at the same time and place (and presumably by the same photographer) as PRG 280/1/19/259, described as:

A crowd of spectators waiting at Unley Oval, near Adelaide, for the arrival of aviator Captain Harry Butler.

This was Unley Aviation Day, 23 August 1919, a report of which in the Adelaide Critic has another crowd shot which shows what I'm 99% sure is the same hut or shelter as in PRG 280/1/24/108. According to some near-instantaneous reporting in the Adelaide Mail, the crowd numbered 6000, all paying ('there was no free list. Booths for the sale of tickets were placed in the main streets, at each of which a bank teller was in charge'); the Register a couple of days later claimed 'it is certain that at least 20,000 assembled on the Unley Oval and in the vicinity':

People were ranged on every coign of vantage -- on housetops, in motor cars, on fences, and anywhere and everywhere.

There was also a illustrated and no doubt expensive 40-page souvenir programme, entitled 'The call of the clouds'. The aim of the Aviation Day seems to have been to advertise the upcoming opening of the Peace Loan. Indeed, Butler became known as the 'Peace Loan aviator' for his promotional aerial theatre in South Australia, and here, according to the Mail (note the slip over the name -- indeed it was effectively a peacetime war loan):

It was arranged, that on arrival at the aerodrome Capt. Butler should pick up a quantity of leaflets which contained a message freia the Mayor of Unley to the people of his district-in regard to the Peace War Loan, and distribute them over the city of Unley.

The crowd got to see a rousing display of aerobatics for nearly an hour. The Register was certainly astonished:

Never before have the people of Unley seen such an impressive sight. Capt. Butler's machine circled round the people like a huge pigeon in swift flight. One minute he was at a terrific height, and the next within a comparatively short distance of the ground. Everybody admired the beautiful symmetry of the monoplane as it soared across the sky and turned as prettily as a seagull might. When he reached an altitude of about 10,000 feet Capt. Butler performed remarkably clever feats, which simply astounded the crowd. He looped the loop a dozen times in succession; then indulged in rolling, half-rolling, side-slipping, flying upside down, Immelman turns, spiral descents, and, most thrilling of all, spinning nose dives. The monoplane descended like a bird, but suddenly the acceleration of the engine would put her right again, and off she would dash, as neatly as ever. The admiration of the people knew no bounds as the intrepid aviator swept close over their heads. They cheered and cheered again.

And, while it can be tricky to interpret emotions in photographs, I think details from the above crowd shots bear out this description of amazement, excitement and pleasure (with some concern as well):

Spectators watching an aircraft's arrival [detail]

Spectators watching an aircraft's arrival [detail]

Spectators watching an aircraft's arrival [detail]

Spectators watching the arrival of aviator Captain Harry Butler [detail]

Spectators watching the arrival of aviator Captain Harry Butler [detail]

They are wonderful illustrations of the affect of aerial theatre, at this time and in this place.

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2 thoughts on “Call of the clouds

  1. Shane Le Plastrier

    Thanks Brett for this site.
    Interesting to see in the bottom photograph that the gentleman, top left, is wearing two 'tinnie badges'. The bottom one is a "Go It Unley. Unley Aviation Day. 23.8.1919" badge - featuring the red monoplane, and stars of the Southern Cross, on a 'double blue' (Sturt football club colours) background.
    These were sold at the ground on the day.
    Best, Shane

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