Today marks the 111th anniversary of Houdini first successful flight in Australia on March 18, 1910. Certainly this was his most famous aviation exploit, and it's one that has been covered pretty thoroughly. So today I thought I would talk instead about Houdini's last flight in Australia on May 1, 1910. This was the flight that truly showcased his skills and nerve as a pioneer aviator, and may have been the greatest risk he ever took in a life full of risks!
Houdini completed several successful flights at Diggers Rest in Melbourne after his first historic flight on March 18. Some of these flights were captured on film. At the end of the month Houdini moved on to the Tivoli Theater in Sydney. He had his Voisin bi-plane trucked to the city where it was made ready for flight at Sydney's Rosehill racecourse (which is still there).
Houdini made several private flights at Rosehill. His first flight of 300 yards on April 18 constituted the first controlled airplane flight in New South Wales. Later that same day Houdini flew three quarters of a mile, but he came down hard he was thrown from the plane. Another hard landing broke a wheel.
News of Houdini's successful flights had reached the residents of Sydney who were eager to see Houdini fly for themselves. So during his final week in the city, Houdini advertised that he would give public exhibitions every day between the hours of 9 AM and 3 PM (conditions permitting). Bess and Houdini's assistants were tasked with providing tea and cakes for the crowds.
Bad luck set in. The weather would not cooperate, and even when conditions were right mechanical problems would shut down the day's attempt. At one point a tube supplying coolant to the Voison's cylinders slipped off and hot water scalded Houdini's mechanic Brassac on his shoulder and thigh. Later in the week two aviators named Kotta and Newman arrived at Rosehill with their own Australian made plane to compete with Houdini. But their chassis broke while wheeling it out onto the field. The April 27, 1910 Parramatta Cumberland Argus And Fruitgrowers Advocate captured a typical day's disappointment:
CHEAP TO TALKThere were several hundred people at Rosehill racecourse on Sunday morning when it was announced that Houdini would go aloft on his aeroplane. The charge for admission was a silver coin. The day was very calm, but there were ominous streaks in the clouds, indicating confused currents. At about 11 o'clock Houdini announced it was too windy to fly, and this statement was met by shouts of derision from those who had paid to see the performance. He again announced that an accident cost in repairs from £50 to £300, and there was also a risk of life, which he did not feel disposed to take. Still there was banter, and Houdini then remarked: "It is cheap to talk, but it has cost me £3000 to learn to fly, and I know what I am talking about." Then the crowd melted away, feeling rather disgusted.
Houdini closed at the Tivol on Saturday, April 30. The next day was the last he could fly before the plane needed to be dismantled and made ready for shipping back to England. Conditions were still not ideal, but Houdini climbed behind the wheel of his Voisin anyway. Newspapers recorded what happened next:
|Kalgoorlie Miner, May 2, 1910.
It was a wild ride and a fitting end to Houdini's Australian adventure. It would also turn out to be his last flight ever. And who can blame him?
After he had left the country, an aviation journalist discussing Houdini's Australian flights in the Brisbane Queensland Country Life remarked:
I think Houdini is one of the pluckiest men I have ever seen. And one of the rashest! The things he was trying to do at Rosehill! It was a small area, there were fences everywhere, and a stiff wind blowing. It was trying to fly under conditions in which Latham, for instance, would never have allowed his pupils to try to get off the ground. How that man escaped breaking his neck I don't know! But he did one good flight. Give him a month and a decent open plain and he would make a splendid one.