Hustling Hinkler and the cyclone: a wet and windy tale of bad timing

I’d revised the manuscript for the umpteenth time, in response to the editor’s numerous suggestions, and had negotiated further changes with the always cheerful Vanessa Radnidge and Kate Ballard at Hachette Australia. My narrative non-fiction book, Hustling Hinkler: the short tumultuous life of a trail-blazing Australian aviator, was looking good for publication. Now it was time to add the photos.

The subject of my biography, Bert Hinkler, was born in Bundaberg, Queensland,  and late last year, I had contacted the Hinkler Hall of Aviation in that city about obtaining a selection of images of the pioneer aviator from their extensive collection. All I had to do was finalise the arrangements. Then Oswald intervened.

Cyclone Oswald had swept in over the Gulf of Carpentaria in January 2013 and, although soon downgraded to a tropical low, dumped masses of rain on communities in Tropical North Queensland before heading south. On its way down the coast, it continued to suck in moist tropical air and spread its largesse on the areas below. When Oswald reached Bundaberg at the end of January, it whipped up several typhoons as an initial demonstration of its power, then lashed the area with torrential rain. The Burnett River, where Bert Hinkler once famously flew under two of the bridges, reached record heights, and much of Bundaberg was inundated. Some 7500 residents were evacuated and there was widespread damage, particularly in  North Bundaberg (where Hinkler grew up and went to school).

Flooded Bundaberg North January 2013

Flooded Bundaberg North January 2013

The Hinkler Hall of Aviation is located in the botanic gardens in North Bundaberg, and 30 centimetres of water washed through the building, depositing clinging mud across the displays and in the foyer. Significantly for my particular interest, the floodwaters also found their way into the collection store and research rooms. Needless to say, the staff had enough to worry about in restoring the exhibits, cleaning up the place and saving the records (with help from Queensland Museum experts). Lex Rowland, long-time Hinkler enthusiast and one of the Hall of Aviation trustees, rang me to apologise that they wouldn’t be able to help me out with photos on this occasion. In fact, this key tourist attraction has remained closed to the public since that time, although when I was still missing a couple of key photos recently, Lex was able to supply them from the Hinkler House Museum and Research Association database.

Fortunately, many of the Hinkler photos held by the Hall of Aviation are also held by State and national libraries in Australia, and the national archives. Each library holds only a few, however, so it was quite an exercise to go through the full catalogue (which is held on the central Trove database), select the required images, then submit requests to each library individually, complete with payment.

State Library of Queensland

State Library of Queensland


Most of this was done through completing order forms, printing them off, scanning them, and emailing them back. In most cases, the requested photos were sent (in TIFF format) very promptly online, but the denseness of the images meant relatively slow download times on my laptop (up to 30 minutes each time). Each library also indicated how it wants the source of the images acknowledged in the book, and none of the requirements are exactly the same. It was about this time that writing a fiction novel seemed particularly appealing – no photos, no fact checking.

There will be eight pages of black and white photographs in Hustling Hinkler. This will be the first time many of the images have been published in a book, including some I have sourced from elsewhere. What’s more, there is at least one image in the book which has never been published anywhere before, that I think will be a surprise to readers.

Missing out on a few photos hardly compares with coping with the inundation the people of Bundaberg suffered in the floods of January 2013, and I was also fortunate there were alternative sources for the images. The city is still recovering, but I hope the Hall of Aviation might be open again by the time Hustling Hinkler is published in August this year.

P.S. The Queensland Writers Centre earlier this year organised a fund-raising venture called ‘Writers on Rafts’, to help communities affected by Cyclone Oswald.





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