Robert Carey 1874 - 1959
Edith Martin, daughter of Bertha
Harvey (nee Carey) forwarded this synopsis of the wonderful new
book 'A Message from the Clouds', launched at Point Cook RAAF
Museum on November 8th, 2004. This comprehensive and graphic
biography of Robert Graham Carey adds a colourful, much overdue
chapter to the whole saga of our early pioneer airmen and women.
Guillaux made numerous landings to re-fuel during the two-day
flight, but despite driving rain and cloud he arrived in Sydney
during the afternoon of July 18; his actual flying time was nine
and a half-hours. Shortly after this flight, Guillaux crashed
the Bleriot and spent some time in hospital with serious
injuries. In his haste to return and take up his Reserve
Commission in the French Aviation Corps in 1914, Guillaux left
the machine on a Sydney wharf, crated and ready for shipment
after him. In the meantime, the badly damaged Bleriot remained
unclaimed and attracting demurrage fees.
Or it did, until 1915 when a Ballarat
garage proprietor named Robert Graham Carey fortuitously heard about
this deserted and famous aircraft. It is understood that this
information was relayed through his friendship with a young English
pilot, Edwin Prosser, then living in Ballarat. Prosser is believed to
have said to Carey: "We ought to buy that." And [we] did! They caught
the train to Sydney and made a deal with the Sydney manager for the
Messageries Maritime Shipping Company, to offset the holding charges on
the crated machine. In need of extensive repairs, the battered Bleriot
was transported in its wooden crate by ship from Sydney to Melbourne,
then overland to Ballarat. There, Carey induced Edwin T. Prosser, who
held R Ae C Certificate No 526, to teach him how to fly.
The early adventures of 'rookie' pilot
Carey (aka RGC) in the frail Bleriot under Prosser's instruction
provides fascinating reading. It was in the time of flying by the seat
of your pants' with minimum instrumentation, absence of airfields meant
landing in country areas where farmers and the population had their
first sight of an aeroplane. Certainly, cattle, horses and sheep were
frightened as the huge 'bird' alighted in their paddocks, but passengers
and observers spoke excitedly about their experiences, which have been
preserved in the birdman's massive scrapbook. The Carey family has in
their possession copious documentation and original photos preserving
RGC's many ventures that also include his long and most interesting
career in motoring.
Once he had mastered the Bleriot, Carey proceeded to fly to places
mostly handy to Ballarat such as Bacchus Marsh, and now and then landed
on vacant ground at Port Melbourne. He had also become well known to the
staff and members of the Central Flying School at Point Cook. Through
them he had completed the theoretical and technical course and in just
25 minutes passed with distinction the written examination for an
aviator's certificate of competence.
On November 23, 1916, forty-two year old
Robert Graham Carey flew his Bleriot monoplane to Point Cook via Bacchus
Marsh to undergo his flying test. His two Central Flying School
examiners had the power invested in them by the Royal Aero Club of Great
Britain to pass student pilots for the Australian Flying Corps and also
for civilian operations. The result was a foregone conclusion. RGC flew
home the proud possessor of the Australian Aero Club Aviator's
Certificate No. 34 as granted to him on that date, signed by Lieutenant
Eric Harrison. This was the first pilot's certificate issued to a
civilian in Australia; furthermore Carey was the first Australian born
pilot to obtain an official commercial flying permit.
As a legally qualified pilot there was
no holding Carey back, he continued to fly all around his base at
Ballarat to give country people their first introduction to an
aeroplane. He also opened the Ballarat Flying School with Edwin Prosser
as its Chief Instructor, a position he took over himself at a later
date. The flying school must rate as probably the first of its kind in
Victoria. Besides the training of pilots, activities included
barnstorming, advertising ventures, aerial photography and the transport
of mail, freight and passengers.
In all of these Carey offered expertise,
for indeed he was an undisputed Australian trailblazer in Civil Aviation
during and after World War I.
Considered too old for war service, he
was refused admission to the Australian Flying Corps; notwithstanding,
Carey gave of his time and talents unstintingly to promote wartime
appeals and charities. In 1916, newspaper accounts report Carey's flight
in the tiny Bleriot over Adelaide during a fierce storm on an Army
Nurses' Day event to boost the war effort. RGC distributed 'a Message
from the Clouds' in war bond and enlistment dodgers while piloting his
Bleriot. In November 1917, Carey flew his Bleriot with the first Airmail
from Adelaide to Gawler and in 1957 was able to attend the re-enactment
in South Australia at its 40th Anniversary, aged 83. He handed a bag of
mail to the same person who had received that first airmail bag.
After several busy years Carey expanded
his operations and the rotary engine Bleriot 50 found itself in dusty
retirement due to the scarcity of spare parts. Nevertheless this
remarkable antique aircraft was eventually restored and is displayed in
the Power House Museum at Ultimo, Sydney.
Early in 1919, the Carey family moved
from Ballarat to the Melbourne suburb of Port Melbourne. RGC purchased a
church hall and had it transported from Brighton to his private
aerodrome, on leased Crown land beside the Port Melbourne Rifle Range.
He located the hall next to the fence line beside the Rifle Range
Clubhouse buildings well back from Williamstown Road. Carey, Edith and
four children lived in the hall that RGC converted into the family
residence and office.
Right from the start RGC's motto was
'Safety First'. He considered stunting to be the purlieus of the fighter
pilot and saw no reason to include it during his commercial aviation
activities. In his subsequent thirty years of flying Carey experienced
his share of forced landings and setbacks, as did his fellow pioneers,
yet commendably, it is claimed that there were no injuries received by
the 70,000 passengers he is reported to have carried.
Carey's private aerodrome at Port
Melbourne, became the roost from which the chickens of Australian
commercial aviation emanated to carry names such as ANA, East-West,
Ansett, and Qantas, across Australian and international skies.
On March 16, 1919, Carey and the then
Mayor of Essendon, Ald. Arthur Fenton, purchased four obsolete Maurice
Farman Shorthorn biplanes from the Department of Defence (Point Cook).
Carey dubbed them 'Carey's Chickens', which he had derived from the
legendary Stormy Petrels, known as 'Mother Carey's Chickens'. RGC's
application of this name to his aircraft at the time of their delivery
to Port Melbourne arose from references to Carey as 'The Stormy Petrel'
because of his storm defying flight over Adelaide in the Bleriot,
Part of the Farman acquisition deal was
a conversion course to fly Farmans for the purchasing pilot with
Lieutenant WH Treloar to be the instructor. A quiet achiever, Harold
Treloar was one of the AFC's most experienced pilots who had been posted
during WWI to the Mesopotamian Half Flight. Forced down by a faulty
engine, he and his Indian Army observer were captured and given a rough
time by the Arabs and Turks as prisoners of war. RGC and Treloar became
good friends during Carey's instruction on operation and maintenance of
the Farmans. Treloar and three other Central Flying School pilots
delivered the Farmans from Point Cook to the refurbished landing ground
at Port Melbourne on Saturday, April 11, 1919.
Since the Farman's hangar was not yet
ready, the four machines were tied down in the open. A huge gale blew
across Hobson's Bay and struck the aerodrome causing damage to all the
Farmans, two were hit so badly that they were reduced to spare parts.
The other two were fully restored and later registered as G-AUCW and G-AUBC.
The four Farmans were all composite machines because they had been
damaged and repaired during air cadet training; likewise, the remains of
RGC's wrecked Farmans, plus the extra engine and parts from the original
sale, provided Carey with all the spares he needed for many years.
With the first Commercial (Aviation)
Permit, RG Carey inaugurated Melbourne Air Service and for many years
Carey made headlines with his Farman shorthorns involved in events all
over Melbourne environs and the Victorian countryside. Notwithstanding
his news making aerial delivery of Easter Hot Cross Buns to Philip
Island, he flew avid race goers to country meetings, promoted community
events and carried such cargo as 'Pals' boys' magazines to name just a
few of his ventures.
RGC continually used his planes for
advertising with painted signage on the underside of both lower and
upper wings as well as the rudders and nacelle.
Carey's extensive 'Message from the
Clouds' promotion records cover War and Peace Loan flyers, Vacuum Oil
Company, Wangaratta Woollen Mills, charity and sporting events, various
traders' association shop locally campaigns, Palm and Cubitt brand cars
and Velvet Soap. Dodgers (leaflets) were scattered from the plane
overhead as a novel marketing device similar to that of towing aerial
banners or sky writing objectives today. Mindful of promoting his own
aviation and motoring business, Carey periodically included huge
captions on his planes such as 'Carey's Chickens', 'Melbourne Air
Service' or 'Carey's Auctions'.
Carey's most publicised and ambitious
aerial advertising campaigns for the Herald and Weekly times 'Pals'
magazine was announced in the Melbourne Herald, on Wednesday, September
22, 1920. The front-page story, with a five-column picture of the 'Pals
Plane' with the Carey family in front of it, declared that RGC would
begin an epic journey from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the
coming week. Sub-titles announced ''Pals' Aeroplane To Cross Australia',
and ''Pals' Aeroplane Carries Message To Australian Boys'. Around the
Farman nacelle was painted the word 'Pals', and clearly visible as the
plane flew overhead, the message: 'Boys' and 'Read Pals' emblazoned
across the wingspan. The tour was discontinued at Forbes however,
probably due to problems with supply and finance. A journal by Miss
Maisie Carey and her mother provides insight into the difficult
conditions encountered during long distance motor travel in the late
The 'Pals' slogan later became 'Palm'
during Carey's comprehensive air tour for the Palm cars company. Various
slogans graced the Farman wingspan during Melbourne Air Service years as
Carey drew more and more attention from his advertising ventures.
Subsequently, Carey and his Farmans advertised Cubitt brand cars and
then Velvet Soap, followed by various promotions for Progress
Associations that were keen to see the Farman slogan 'Shop Locally' over
their particular district.
Carey was kept busy with Melbourne Air
Service activities, developing Melbourne Flying School, grasping every
opportunity to offer 'joy' flights throughout Victoria and border towns,
passionate to enthuse all contacts with the thrill of the air. He was a
capable and enthusiastic public speaker and as such was invited to speak
on aviation matters at state and federal government levels, motoring
associations and schools while continuing to manage his motoring
business and partake in numerous long distance car rallies.
RGC was born in Warrnambool, Victoria
and moved with his family to Melbourne when he was 5 years old. At the
tender age of 10 began his first business venture carrying wood and coal
by wheelbarrow as well as selling newspapers in Port Melbourne. In 1894,
aged 20 Carey was the sole proprietor of a carrying firm in Heath
Street, Port Melbourne and by 1900 he registered the Port Melbourne
Livery Stables in association with his existing hay and corn store.
Meanwhile Carey had married Edith Gilchrist in 1899 and built up his
team of fine horses and carriages for hire to include a taxi and motor
hire service. In 1912 the Carey family moved to Ballarat where he built
up a very successful motoring business, learnt to fly his Bleriot, and
in 1919 returned to the Port Melbourne district again to further his
With wife Edith, and 6 children, Carey
not only ran a thriving business but also involved himself in numerous
civic interests. A life member of the Australian Natives Association,
belonged to the Ancient Order of Druids, and was awarded a Life Governor
membership for services with the Freemason's Homes of Victoria Citizen's
Lodge. Carey was among the first members of the RACV and the VACC with
many magazine articles applauding his motoring and aviation ventures
published in early club magazines. Melbourne and country newspapers
constantly found his activities newsworthy and these records have
provided a marvellous source of additional information for the RGC
Carey (63) last piloted a plane, flying
one of his Farmans from Port Melbourne on the Coronation Day of King
George V1th, May 12, 1937. About this time RGC and family decided to
concentrate their efforts on the motor trade. Carey had sold off one of
the Farmans and eventually surrendered the Port Melbourne airfield
After auctioning off surplus stock from
Melbourne Air Service, he spent a few years in his motor business at
Wangaratta, eventually retiring to the family home in Chelsea where he
had stored so many of the aeroplane parts including a Farman engine not
sold at the Port Melbourne auction. He indulged his love of auction
sales and finished up with a museum cum junkyard, full of weird and
wonderful relics, including two tramcars plus an abundance of spare car
parts and war surplus.
One of his Farmans was meticulously
restored at Mentone by Mr Fred Edwards and recorded on film whilst being
flown at Moorabbin 1956 in the presence of Mr. Carey aged 82 years. This
Farman is now proudly displayed in the Canada Aviation Museum in Ottowa.
It was a great disappointment that the Australian Government of the time
did not see fit to purchase this Farman, however we are thankful that
she was appreciated in America and is now preserved in Canada.
Thanks to the dedicated efforts of RAAF
staff and volunteers using a few original parts donated from Carey's
estate, and all other components painstakingly designed and constructed,
they achieved a magnificent Farman now exhibited at the RAAF Museum
Point Cook. Civilian aviator Carey would have been overwhelmingly
grateful to witness this tribute to the Maurice Farman S11 Shorthorns,
home to roost at historical Point Cook.
Robert Graham Carey, the man who learnt
to fly in a Bleriot XI monoplane, had lived through two world wars to
see the advent of space exploration, with aircraft being invented that a
decade later would enable men to walk on the moon. Although modern
aviators in the jet age of electronic space machines may claim centre
stage over Carey, he was indeed a major player in Australian aviation
history and his spirit shines in the stars. No record of the early
flying days would be complete without the inclusion of this colourful
personality. His was a wonderful work - educating people to air safety.
R. G. Carey and the Maurice Farman