From wild dreams to world-class museum

Hinkler Hall of Aviation team member Yvonne Norris.
Hinkler Hall of Aviation team member Yvonne Norris. Max Fleet

NESTLED on the edge of the botanical gardens in North Bundaberg could be one of the best small museums in the world.

Its very existence was sparked by the imagination of a 12-year-old Bundaberg boy amazed by the stories of the exploits of a world famous Australian pioneer of flight.

The Hinkler Hall of Aviation chronicles the amazing life and achievements of a famous son of Bundaberg and Australia - world-class aviator and self-taught pioneering aeronautical engineer, Herbert John Louis "Bert" Hinkler.

The vision that led to this superb interactive museum was largely driven by one Bundaberg man, Lex Rowland, and his team from the Hinkler House Memorial Research Association.

Mr Rowland, 75, said his fascination with Bundaberg's famous flyer was first sparked when he was a wide-eyed 12-year-old boy, listening to Hinkler's mother telling stories about her son, Bert.

"I knew Mrs Hinkler. Every now and again I would bump into her at the general store in North Bundaberg," Mr Rowland said.

"She would always be telling people stories about her son. She used to hand out lollies to the kids. I can remember it like yesterday.

"The story of when he landed his plane on the paddock next to the foundry, taxied up an unsealed Gavin St, spreading dust everywhere, to his home at number 69 and parked it in the back yard after arriving from England - that really caught my imagination."

Mr Rowland said ever since he was a child, the name Bert Hinkler was often mentioned in his home.

"My ears used to open when I was told he used to fly under the bridges over the Burnett River," he said.

And so these stories fired the imagination of a young Lex, who went on to harbour a lifelong passion to tell the Hinkler story.

It was this passion that eventually led to the creation of the Hinkler Hall of Aviation, which opened in late 2008.

"The museum is really a cumulation of 25 years work," Mr Rowland said.

"After the Hinkler house was relocated to Bundaberg, memorabilia started flowing towards me as locals found bits and pieces."

Kay McDuff, Bundaberg mayor from 1998-2008, was approached by Mr Rowland with the vision of a museum dedicated to the Bundaberg-born aviation pioneer during her time in office.

"Lex was the driving force. His shed was full of documents and memorabilia on Bert Hinkler," Mrs McDuff said.

"We had a committee who put in such an effort to realise our dream of a world-class museum.

"It was one of the most exciting projects I was involved with as mayor."

Exciting, but not easy.

"It took some planning, I can tell you," Mrs McDuff said with a laugh.

"We had a dedicated committee, the Federal and State Government put in millions of dollars in funding, and Bundaberg's Italian community helped financially too."

Federal MP for Hinkler Paul Neville, who was on the committee to build the museum, said without Mr Rowland's grand vision, the Hinkler Hall of Aviation may never have happened.

"Some of the others involved in the project were Tom Quinn, Bert Bent, Stan Lohse and Merv Perkis," Mr Neville said.

The building of the Hinkler Hall of Aviation finally started in 2007 and opened on the same date as Hinkler's birthday, December 8 2008 - exactly 116 years after he was born.

Now that is has come to fruition, the museum's staff is committed to keeping the spirit and memory of the brave aviation pioneer alive.

Yvonne Norris, who studied tourism and has been working at the museum for two-and-a-half years, said the team sent out information about Hinkler to every school in Australia.

"We have several learning modules for secondary and primary school students. Teachers can use these tools to teach Australian children about Bert's exploits," she said.

Mrs Norris said about 80% of the people who came through the museum were from overseas.

"We get up to about 100 people a day coming through in the busy months after Easter," she said.

Councillor Lynne Forgan, whose portfolio takes in the operation of the museum, said its educational activities were a great initiative to fire the imagination of the next generation of children.

"I think it's fantastic we send out educational and motivational materials to young Australians to learn about Bert Hinkler's achievements," Cr Forgan said.

"We want to promote his life as much as we can. He is part of Australian and world aviation history and we need raise the profile."

Popular holidaymakers' website Trip Advisor carries the following posts about the Hinkler Hall of Aviation by travellers.

"Brings Bert Hinkler alive. The museum is well thought out, with interactive exhibits and film, as well as parts of his first glider and planes the world-famous local flew. We were led through his exploits and came to realise what a magnificent aviator he was."

"The museum is a wonderfully presented memory of the achievements of Bert Hinkler, a Bundaberg-raised aviation pioneer."

Mr Rowland said he would like to expand the museum further in the future.

"Bert was an international figure in aviation," he said.

"There is even more to be told."

To give an idea of the high regard the North Bundaberg aviator is held in the world of flying, a piece of the original glider he designed and built in his North Bundaberg shed, and later flew successfully on Mon Repos beach in 1912, was taken up in a US space shuttle by the mission commander in 1986.

The wooden piece miraculously survived the infamous explosion of the Challenger shuttle and was found in the Atlantic Ocean intact. It is now on display at the museum.

The Australian flying legend was even given a state funeral by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini after his fatal crash into a hillside in Tuscany in 1933. The famous Queenslander's body is still buried in a cemetery in Florence.

It is still a mystery as to how such an experienced flyer and engineer crashed into that hillside on a cold January day.

There are even stories of someone tampering with the propeller. But that's a story for another day.


>> To read more lifestyle stories

Topics:  aviation bundaberg hinkler hall of aviation museum

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