Can you imagine a world without flight?

Powered flight has become so much a part of contemporary life it is hard to imagine the world without it.

It wasn’t that long ago though, that seeing a plane in the sky was a rare and enchanting sight and taking to the sky a pursuit reserved for a daring few. A wealthy cosmopolitan city, it is little surprise though that Bendigo citizens witnessed the marvel of innovative flying machines from the very early days of aviation in Australia.

The new exhibition Vantage point: aerial views of Bendigo, opens today at Post Office Gallery. This exhibition surveys early aviation in Bendigo. Initially a novelty, aviation evolved rapidly and was quickly embraced, opening up possibilities for freight, passenger transport and defence and offering a whole new perspective on the world through the introduction of aerial photography.

In the beginning, Bendigo racecourse in Epsom was a makeshift landing and launching site for pioneer aviators. In April 1911, John Duigan and his brother Reg, of Mia Mia, designed, built and successfully flew what is considered the first Australian-made powered aircraft. The aircraft was exhibited at the Bendigo Easter Fair and later several short flights demonstrated at the Bendigo Racecourse.

In June 1914, in his imported Bleriot plane, famous French aviator Maurice Guillaux flew to Bendigo and performed aerial acrobatics including ‘loop-the-loops’ and a ‘perpendicular dive’ to an awestruck crowd of thousands. In November 1916, Bendigo-born Basil Watson, aged 23, flew from Point Cook, Melbourne to Bendigo Racecourse in 75 minutes in a plane he built himself in his family’s home in Brighton.

Despite these early forays, it was after the First World War when aviation really took off: the focus shifting from military application to civilian possibilities. 

From the early days of photography there was a desire to capture the world from above. Initially to achieve a ‘bird’s eye view’, photographers climbed ladders, hills and towers, then took cameras into hot air balloons and finally planes. As flying at this time was a fairly rare experience, aerial photographs provided those on the ground with a fascinating new way of viewing the world.

Vantage point: aerial views of Bendigo features 12 large- scale reproductions of aerial views of Bendigo taken by Charles Pratt, as well as three original glass plate negatives from the collection of the State Library of Victoria. The exhibition also features ephemera connected to early aviation in Bendigo inducing early aviators like Basil Watson.

The exhibition opens 9am-5pm daily until August 13.

FLYING: Maurice Guillaux taking off at Bendigo Racecourse, Epsom, 1914, gelatin silver print. Courtesy Mrs Pat Glass. Vantage point: aerial views of Bendigo opens 9am-5pm daily until August 13.

FLYING: Maurice Guillaux taking off at Bendigo Racecourse, Epsom, 1914, gelatin silver print. Courtesy Mrs Pat Glass. Vantage point: aerial views of Bendigo opens 9am-5pm daily until August 13.