- Published: Sunday, 27 November 2011 21:13
One of the familiar sights of Ivanhoe is ‘Ostara’. You’ve passed it hundreds of times, but like me you probably didn’t know its name or its connection to Australia’s first airplane and its creator, John Duigan. It's the big red brick house on Marshall Street, just south of the level crossing on the corner with Maltravers Road.
John Duigan and his brother Reg were born into a prosperous Melbourne family. John’s father (also John) had made his money in banks, brokering and pastoral properties, and the family lived in a grand mansion in Brighton. With no need to earn a living and a gift for mechanics and engineering, John had the time, the skills and the resources to enter the exciting and dangerous world of flying.
Harry Houdini had made the first powered flight in Australia, at Diggers Rest on 18 March 1910, but Houdini was American and his plane was French. The way was open for the first truly Australian air flight.
John experimented with kites and a glider before building a biplane based on his own designs at the family property in MiaMia in central Victoria. It was there, in October 1910, that John Duigan made the first documented all-Australian powered flight.
Within a year, John was on the ship to England to learn as much as he could about engines, planes and flying. He earned his aviator’s licence, investigated new designs and engineering and in November 1912 returned home to Melbourne. By this time his parents were living at Ostara, the big brick house that is still standing at 102 Marshall Street. In the hayloft of a nearby stable, John built his second airplane, a biplane. When the fuselage was completed, they winched it out of the hayloft into the backyard of Ostara, assembled it for photos and then took it to pieces again to ship it out to Keilor Downs. Museum Victoria has a fabulous photo of the plane in the backyard in Ivanhoe; click here to see it. I’ve also found a great newspaper article from 1912 – I just have to figure out how to upload it!
On its very first flight, the biplane crashed and John was injured; he never flew again in Australia. He married, became a partner in an engineering firm and moved to Elwood. But in the First World War he enlisted in the Australian Flying Corps, was a flight instructor in England and then piloted an observer aircraft over France, for which he earned a Military Cross.
Returning home to Melbourne in 1919, John led a quiet life and died in 1951. Last year was the 100th anniversary of John’s first flight and David Crotty, a curator at Museum Victoria, has written a book to celebrate the flight of the Duigan airplane. Most of this information comes from David’s book, and you can find lots more on the Museum’s website. Ostara is listed on the Heritage Overlay for Banyule, partly because of its association with John Duigan.
Crotty, David. A Flying Life: John Duigan and the first Australian aeroplane. Melbourne: Museum Victoria, 2010.