New Year’s Eve: Remembering Bert Hinkler’s tragic end amid the snows of Mount Pratomagno

Puss Moth

As another year turns over on its well-oiled axis, it’s almost exactly 85 years since the Hinkler formal photo in suitAustralian pioneer aviator, Bert Hinkler, died when his plane crashed on Mount Pratomagno in Italy during an attempt on the England-Australia record.

Thanks to the efforts of Hinkler admirers in Italy and Australia, a memorial to this extraordinary pilot was unveiled on Mount Pratomagno in August 2015 (see my earlier blog, ‘A boulder for a bold pilot’).

One of those enthusiasts, Cesare Ciabatti, who runs a highly regarded restaurant, Da Giocondo, near the top of the mountain, recently sent photos of the memorial covered in winter snow.

IMG-20171230-WA0008

Despite the beauty of the scene, the image is a reminder of the time of year Hinkler crashed, when the weather for him was not as benign. When the Australian pilot and his plane came to grief on the peak, on 7 January, 1933, there was a vicious storm raging.

Hinkler’s body and the wreckage were not discovered until three months later, when the snows had melted from the slopes. He was just 40 years old.

At other times of the year, when the temperature is not sitting at close to zero, the 2015 memorial, the brainchild of Brisbane man, Kevin Lindeberg, looks like this (below). The 1.4 ton dark basalt boulder was transported from Mon Repos Beach, Bundaberg, Queensland, where the teenage Bert Hinkler first flew, in a home-made glider he built in his backyard.

Darryl Dymock with memorial stone

In September 2016 I was fortunate to be able visit the crash site (see above) and to trek part of a new walking trail, the Hinkler Ring, which connects the various memorials erected over the years and leads hikers to the top of the mountain, where the Croce del Pratomagno sits.

P1040800

Erected by the Franciscans in 1928, the cross stretches its arms across the 360 degree views of the colourful panorama of the Tuscan countryside below.

P1040797The Hinkler Ring is an initiative of Carlo Palazzini and his colleagues in the Club Alpino Italiano, Arezzo, and it makes this wonderful area more accessible to walkers of all abilities.

Mt Pratomagno

I can highly recommend a visit to Mount Pratomagno in Tuscany, a trek around the Hinkler Ring, and a delicious meal at da Giocondo. My wife and I are planning to head back for a re-visit in September 2018.

Weather forecasts New Year’s Eve 2017 

Mount Pratomagno : Min 1° Max 3°

Mon Repos Beach, Bundaberg: Min 26° Max 29°

(Source: https://weather.com)

IMG-20171230-WA0003

I wonder what decisions Bert Hinkler would have made if he’d been able to Google the weather forecast for Mount Pratomagno ahead of his final flight in January 1933.

Further information:

D R Dymock: Hustling Hinkler: The short tumultuous life of a trailblazing aviator (published by Hachette).

Hinkler Hall of Aviation, Bundaberg: www.hinklerhallofaviation.com

http://www.news-mail.com.au/news/hinkler-memoria-unveiled/2741194/

http://www.visittuscany.com/en/attractions/pratomagno-the-mountain-range

Until next time

Darryl R Dymock

 

What writers say

The real measure of ‘truth’ in any novel is not whether the characters, places and events portrayed exist beyond the pages of the book but, rather, whether they seem authentic to us as readers. When we open the pages of a novel, we enter into a pact with it. We want to immerse ourselves in its milieu. We want to engage with the characters, to find their actions psychologically plausible.

~ Graeme Macrae Burnet, ‘Afterword’, The accident on the A35.

(As with the ‘Foreword’, Burnet plays with the reader in what he writes in the ‘Afterword’, so we have to decide if this is the ‘real’ GMB speaking in the words quoted above.)

 

Roly Sussex Short Story Award Success

Less than two weeks after the launch of my book, The Chalkies: Educating an army for independence, I received a phone call to tell me that I had won first prize in the Roly Sussex Short Story Award for 2016. What’s more if I turned up at Government House, Brisbane, the following Tuesday, the State Governor would present me with the award. And so he did. Paul de Jersey AC shook my hand at an impressive ceremony on 18 October and congratulated me as he presented me with the trophy and a cheque.

My short story, The space between, is a fictionalised account of a woman waiting for her husband when he fails to return from an attempt to be first to fly across the Atlantic, and is based on actual events, as they say in the movies. The title comes from a Celtic belief that there is only three feet between heaven and earth, and that in ‘thin places’, the distance is even less.

The national competition is run by the Queensland Branch of the English Speaking Union, and the award is named after a well-known Professor of Linguistics at Queensland University, Roly Sussex. I am honoured to have won the award.

Unfortunately, no photography was permitted inside Government House, but the photo below shows me with Ann Garms, the ESU (Qld) President, on the steps of this impressive building, after the ceremony. (The sight of me in a suit may come as a shock to family and friends, but that is indeed me.)

It was good to meet with other writers who were runners up or had been highly commended in the competition, which has both adult and school student categories.

The English Speaking Union said it intended to publish the selected stories in an anthology sometime next year.

Meanwhile, The Chalkies made the bestseller list at Avid Reader Bookshop, where it was launched, and also featured on the back page of their Summer Reading Guide (next to the butterfly!)

 

All writers live in hope of being published and then well received, so for a couple of months this author was doing okay in that regard. As all writers also know, however, this is no guarantee that the next piece of writing will be successful. We just keep beavering away, and keep on hoping …

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

 

What writers say:

‘You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.’ ~ Stephen King

 

A different sort of revolutionary road

War and peace

It was 15-year-old Igor Labzin’s first day at high school and he was in trouble for walking on the neatly mown lawn.

‘Stay off the grass,’ the principal said.

‘Thank you,’ Igor said.

The principal frowned. ‘I said, “Stay off the grass”.’

‘Thank you, thank you,’ Igor said.

The principal’s eyes widened. ‘You don’t speak English, do you?’

‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’ Igor said.*

The principal was right. It was March 1962, and Igor and his family had just arrived in Brisbane from Indonesia. He could speak Indonesian, Dutch, Russian and a bit of French, but had no English.

Four years later, Igor graduated from the top class at high school, did an engineering degree, and then embarked on a successful career as a structural engineer in London, Montreal, and Canberra, and he continues to work in that profession.

The other evening my wife and I went to a launch of Igor Labzin’s book, Russia and revolution: My father, the officer, the man.

Igor Labzin

Igor’s father graduated from the St Petersburg Naval Academy in 1918, just months after the start of the Russian Revolution. He had the wonderfully Russian name of Boris Martemianovich Labzin.

The young officer decided to support the White Army rather than the Communists, and Igor’s book traces his father’s life through the ensuing turmoil of civil war and escape to Manila and Shanghai in the 1930s, Indonesia in the 1940s and 50s and finally to Australia.

We knew about the book launch because Igor and my wife Cheryl were in the same class at senior high school and we met him recently at a school reunion. He still lives in Brisbane.

Igor was off the next day to launch his book in St Petersburg, at the invitation of the State Museum of the History of St Petersburg. How’s that for an immediate international audience (although the book has still to be translated into Russian)?

The Australian launch was at the wonderful independent Avid Bookshop at West End, Brisbane, which is a great supporter of new and existing writers. Digital publishing may be gaining ground (and I’ve published online myself), but there’s a lot to say for the smell and feel of a bookshop like Avid, with ‘real’ books.

Igor’s introduction to his father’s life was fascinating, and I’m looking forward to reading Russia and revolution: My father, the officer, the man.

The Hinkler cake

Regular readers of this blog will know of my book, Hustling Hinkler, a biography of the pioneer Australian aviator, Bert Hinkler.

At the abovementioned school reunion, one of my wife’s other former classmates, Narelle McTaggart, told me about a ‘Hinkler Cake’ which had apparently been devised especially for Bert Hinkler’s triumphant return to Bundaberg, Queensland, his home town, in February 1928, after his record-breaking solo flight from England to Australia in a single-engined biplane.

The recipe came from members of the Bundaberg Branch of the Queensland Country Women’s Association, an enduring community organisation that has branches in every Australian state and parallel organisations in other countries, including the Women’s Institute in Britain.

Narelle subsequently sent me the recipe, which is reproduced below. I am hoping to have a go at making a Hinkler cake, but haven’t yet got around to it.

Base

1/4 pound self-raising flour                 2oz butter           

2 teaspoons sugar                               Pinch salt

Mix with a little milk. Roll out paste very thin, put in flat buttered tin and spread with raisins, dates and currants

Sponge mixture

2oz butter                                            2 well-beaten eggs (or 1 egg & a little milk)

½ cup sugar (beaten to a cream)       4 tablespoons of milk Eggs

1 cup self-raising flour

Beat and spread on paste and fruit. Bake in a hot oven. When cool, spread with lemon icing.

I don’t know if Bert himself ever got to sample a slice of the Hinkler Cake. If any reader wants to be the first to try out the recipe, I’d be delighted to hear about it on this site, crumbs and all…

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

* The ‘facts’ of this story are as I heard them, so this retelling may be a version of the truth.

 

What writers say

The true unreliability of everything written down utterly fascinates me. Even the person who has set down the so-called facts will still get it essentially wrong. ~ Sebastian Barry

 

 

 

 

Until you know what it is to be a pea …

peas

And the winners are…

The Queensland Writers Centre and the publisher, Hachette Australia, recently announced the successful applicants for their 2015 joint Manuscript Development Program, now in its ninth year. They are:

Patricia Holland’s literary fiction manuscript ‘Lochwall’ (QLD)
Victoria Carless’ literary fiction manuscript, ‘The Dream Walker’ (QLD)
Wendy Davies’ romance manuscript, ‘The Drover’s Rest’ (VIC)
Susan Pearson’s historical crime thriller manuscript, ‘River is a Strong Brown God’ (QLD)
Mary-Ellen Stringer’s contemporary literary fiction manuscript, ‘A Beggar’s Garden’ (QLD)
Angella Whitton’s contemporary fiction manuscript, ‘The Night River’ (NSW)
Kali Napier’s historical fiction manuscript, ‘The Songs of All Poets’ (QLD)
Susan Fox’s commercial women’s fiction manuscript, ‘Mine’ (VIC)
Imbi Neeme’s divorce lit manuscript, ‘The Hidden Drawer’ (VIC).

I remember the excitement I felt when my name appeared on that list in 2010 for my non-fiction manuscript of the story of the Australian trail-blazing aviator, Bert Hinkler, which was published by Hachette Australia three years later as Hustling Hinkler. I also remember the anxiety I felt as I realised I had to polish my work to the highest standard for publication, and then submit it to public scrutiny.

Dawn Barker's book, 'Fractured', was chosen for the Manuscript Development Workshop in 2010, and later published by Hachette

Dawn Barker’s book, ‘Fractured’, was chosen for the Manuscript Development Program in 2010, and later published by Hachette.

From the experience of writers selected for the Manuscript Development Program in the past, not all the authors on the list above will see their books published by Hachette. Some will go on to other publishers; some may not make it to the point of publication, for various reasons.

Whatever the final outcome, selection in itself is an acknowledgment that the writer stands out from the crowd, and has something special to offer. So that alone is an encouragement in an industry where ‘getting a start’ is tough.

I know a writer whose application was unsuccessful this year, and I know how much work she put into the manuscript and how she drew on professional advice to help her shape her story. Even though she missed out on selection, this author is not giving up – she has a back-up plan to seek publication in other ways.

Some of the readers of this blog will know that one of my favourite quotes about writing is from the late science-fiction author, Isaac Asimov:

‘You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.’ Isaac_Asimov

Read, and think, and listen to silence

I’ve been reading a biography of an author who won four Miles Franklin Awards*: Thea Astley: Inventing her own weather by Karen Lamb (University of Queensland Press, 2015), and came across this advice from the distinguished Australian author, Patrick White (1912 -1990), to Astley in 1961:

‘I think you should write nothing for a bit. Read. … Read, and think, and listen to silence, shell the peas, not racing to begin the next chapter, but concentrating on the work in had until you know what it is to be a pea … Then, when you have become solid, you will write the kind of book you ought to write.’ (p. 137)

Fire on the horizon

I was recently in Adelaide, South Australia, taking to ex-Chalkies about Army Education in Papua New Guinea (see previous blogs) and couldn’t resist taking this pic of the jetty at Glenelg around 8 o’clock on a Saturday night.

Glenelg Jetty Adelaide 8pm in mid-October

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

*The Miles Franklin Award award, now worth AU$50,000, was bequeathed by the will of Australian novelist, Miles Franklin, for a ‘published novel or play portraying Australian life in any of its phases’.  All entries for the award must have been published in the previous calendar year.

A boulder for a bold pilot

A boulder from a Queensland beach is now resting on the side of an Italian mountain, as a memorial to the trail-blazing Australian aviator, Bert Hinkler.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I wrote a biography of the famous pilot, Hustling Hinkler, which was published by Hachette in 2013.

Bert Hinkler Memorial, Mt Pratomagno, Italy

Bert Hinkler Memorial, Mt Pratomagno, Italy

Australian Ambassador to Italy, Mike Rann, recently unveiled the memorial on the slopes of Mount Pratomagno, in Arezzo Province.

Hinkler lost his life when his single-engined Puss Moth monoplane crashed on the mountainside in April 1933, during his second attempt on the England-Australia solo record.

The local Italian community and aero club paid tribute to Hinkler at the time as a pioneer international aviator, and Mussolini’s Fascist government accorded him a spectacular State funeral through the streets of Florence.

Bundaberg Aero Club memorial at Hinkler Ring, Italy

Bundaberg Aero Club memorial at Hinkler Ring, Italy

So it is fitting that the Australian, Queensland and Italian governments should unite in support of a memorial to the gallant flier at the place where he crashed.

The boulder is now a feature of an eight-kilometre long mountain trekking path, called The Hinkler Ring, inaugurated by the Italian Alpine Club’s Arezzo Branch.

The memorial was the brainchild of Queenslander, Kevin Lindeberg, who met one of the finders of Hinkler’s crashed plane, Gino Tocchioni , in 1974, and so knew where the crash site was.

Bundaberg City Council arranged for the 1.4 tonne basalt boulder to be transported to Italy from Mon Repos Beach, where Bert Hinkler first flew, in 1912, in a glider of his own design.

Hinkler Ring Memorial Walk. Italy

Hinkler Ring Memorial Walk. Italy

A time capsule buried in the base of the monument includes letters from the recently deposed Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. About 200 people attended the August ceremony, including Australian, British and Italian dignitaries, and Hinkler’s great nephew John Hinkler.

Here is an extract from the Prologue to Hustling Hinkler, the only piece of ‘creative’ non-fiction in the book, about Bert Hinkler’s final flight, in April 1933:

When he passed over the city of Florence around 10 am local time, he was already behind the schedule he’d mapped out. By now he’d been in the air for seven hours, and he was weary from the drone of the engine and battling the elements. Hinkler wished he’d been able to leave London three months earlier, as he’d originally intended, when the weather – and Air Ministry officials! – might have been kinder to him.

He could see cloud on the mountains distantly ahead, and the thought of diverting to Rome attracted him for a moment, but just as quickly he dismissed the idea – any diversion would mean less chance of breaking the record, and his future depended on achieving that goal. He continued south towards Brindisi. As soon as he’d made the decision to go on, patchy cloud began to snatch at the cockpit, and he could feel the cold drilling deeper into his bones. Sharp fingers of wind continued to push and pull at the plane, and for a moment Hinkler wondered if he sensed another tremor through the wings, but dismissed the thought as he wrestled with the controls.

Up ahead, through the clouds, he glimpsed the snow blanketing the Pratomagno mountains. He knew the highest point of the range, the Croce del Pratomagno, the Cross of Pratomagno, was just over 5000 feet, but that held no fears for him – after all, he’d crossed the much higher Italian Alps earlier in the day. Just so long as the winds were not too violent, and the plane held together . . .

Till next time

Darryl Dymock

 

What writers say:

Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind. ~ George Orwell

Books from our backyard 2014

Both my books that were published in 2013 are in the Books from our backyard 2014 catalogue, developed and recently published by the Queensland Writers Centre. Books from our Backyard is a catalogue of books written by Queenslanders or Queensland residents and published in 2013. My two are:

Hustling Hinkler: The short tumultuous life of a trailblazing Australian aviator (Hachette Australia 2013). Available at good bookshops and online through Amazon, Dymocks etc.

Extending your Use-by Date: Why retirement age is only a number (Xoum 2013). Available in print and e-book from the publisher http://www.xoum.co.au and online though Amazon, iTunes etc.

My latest published piece is ‘Working late: Encore careers’, an essay published in Griffith Review literary magazine, No. 45. As a result of that article, I was interviewed on Tony Delroy’s Nightlife program on ABC Radio on 30 July, along with another contributor to that issue of Griffith Review, Gideon Haigh.

 

 

Andy Warhol owes me 13 minutes

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

You no doubt know of that saying, attributed to the late Andy Warhol, that each of us will be world famous for 15 minutes in our lifetimes. For a moment recently, I thought I had a chance. But it didn’t last 15 minutes. And it wasn’t world-wide. Not even quite national.

It started one weekday morning on the physiotherapist’s couch, where George attached what looked like two chewing gum patches to my knee. The patches were connected to wires running back into a machine that apparently would send electrical impulses to do miraculous things to my patella. As George was telling me about it, I felt my heart flutter, and for a moment I thought he might’ve turned the machine up too high and given me a full charge.

Then I realised it was my mobile phone, vibrating in the pocket of my shirt, with the sound turned off. I didn’t want to interrupt George because he was telling me something important – the overnight test cricket score. As soon as he left me to tend to another patient, I whipped out my phone and found a message to ring the media office at Griffith University, where I work part-time. Channel 7 wanted to do an interview, something to do with my e-book, Extending your use-by date.

A short time later, when I had left the physio’s, Georgia rang from Channel 7, Melbourne. They were doing a story on a 97-year-old Ballarat man who was still working as a mechanic, she said, and wanted to widen it with some comments from me about people working into older age. No problem, I said. That’s what my book is about. Would it be okay if we send a Brisbane-based TV crew to your place around midday? Georgia asked. Sure, I said. Do you have an office where we might film an interview? No worries, I said. Then I rushed home to clean up my office.

The room I use as an office is a small bedroom in our modest house, and fortunately I was able to toss a lot of loose material behind the sliding wardrobe doors. Clearing the desk took a little longer – I’m one of those people whose creativity is fuelled by having stacks of papers and books all around me. (At least, that’s what I tell my wife, who seems to find the explanation highly amusing.) A quick flick with a dusting rag and I was ready for the camera crew. Almost.

The next question was what to wear. I was in my summer at-home working gear of shorts and  T-shirt. Too informal for an interview about my research. I looked through my long-sleeved shirts. Fine stripes and close checks tend to flutter or strobe on camera, and vivid white might send viewers rushing for their sunglasses. Fortunately, I like blue shirts, which TV also likes.

Dressed in what I hoped was a ‘smart casual’ outfit, I waited for the Channel 7 team to arrive. It was hard to settle down to anything in particular, but I took the opportunity to strategically place some books written by fellow authors, in case the camera picked them up: Fractured by Dawn Barker, Ryders Ridge by Charlotte Nash, Bay of Fires by Poppy Gee. My own book, but not the one I was being interviewed about, Hustling Hinkler, was right next to my laptop on the desk.

After a phone call from ‘Daniel’ to tell me they were running late, leaving me to do not very much for a while longer, he and the camera crew turned up. Daniel was the producer/interviewer and he introduced me to the cameraman, the sound guy, and a trainee who had only started that day, and therefore got to carry the camera tripod. With me, that meant five people in my little office. It was lucky I started that diet the week before.

They were all very friendly and professional. The cameraman set up the angles, the sound man held his boom mike overhead, and the trainee held up a soft light to show my best features. I sat on a chair with my back to the desk, and Daniel asked me the questions from another chair parked in the doorway, which is about the only place it would fit.

I felt quite relaxed, Daniel seemed relaxed, the questions were good, and he seemed genuinely interested in the topic of people working into older age.  After the interview, which took about 10 minutes, the cameraman took some additional shots of me typing on my laptop, from different angles. (If he’d asked, I would have told him that the reason I type slowly is that it matches my brain speed.) Then they packed up and left, the trainee again carrying the camera mount.

That evening, towards the end of the one-hour Channel 7 news, there was a nice story about Eric Carthy, the 97-year-old Ballarat man still working as a mechanic at the family garage, with no plans to retire. The story was interspersed with brief clips of Dr Darryl Dymock from Griffith University talking about working into older age, and showing him typing carefully on his laptop. None of the judiciously placed books appeared on screen.

I reckon I was on air for about two minutes, which was good in the circumstances. The show was almost national, I think, although apparently the distant island of Tasmania may have missed out on that segment. I enjoyed the experience, and was very happy to be part of a great story. Eric Carthy is an inspiration.

But I reckon if that’s part of my 15 minutes of fame, I’m still due for 13 more.

A Runaway success, another trail-blazer, & Whispers

Runaway Bay

If you’re unemployed, what do you do if you keep sending your resumé in response to job advertisements and not only don’t get an interview, but not even the courtesy of a reply?

That was a question one of the participants asked at a recent author

Runaway Bay Gold Coast Queensland

Runaway Bay Gold Coast Queensland

event I was invited to present at the library at the intriguingly named Runaway Bay on Queensland’s Gold Coast as part of the city’s impressive program for over 50s.

Another of the large and lively group at the event asked my opinion on how one registered training organisation could be offering an accredited training course for A$45, when others were asking A$2000 for the same course.

As you can appreciate from those two questions, it was an interesting and interested group, and I thoroughly enjoyed the interaction with them as I talked about my e-book, Extending your use-by date. And I tried my best to respond individually and personally to those questions from my own knowledge and experience.

My main message in that book is that we need to accentuate the positive as we grow older, because older people are capable of much more than many people think they are, including older people themselves. Older people need to fight age stereotypes and discrimination, and they need to back themselves, while at the same time being realistic about their capabilities and chances of (re-)employment. But we need to keep chipping away at the ageist attitudes that exist so that people can continue working into older age if they want to, and find stimulating and rewarding work, including as volunteers.

The invitation to speak at Runaway Bay Library came from Rochelle Smith, the Program Development Office for the City of Gold Coast Library Service. I was grateful for the support and positive feedback on the day from Chris Taylor, the Senior Librarian at Runaway Bay.

Dick SmithAO  Entrepeneur & Aviator

Dick SmithAO Entrepeneur & Aviator

Dick Smith

One well-known Australian who keeps extending his use-by date is Dick Smith, AO. Born in 1944, Dick is a very successful Australian entrepreneur, businessman, and aviator. I had heard he was going to Italy to check out the crash site of Bert Hinkler, the pioneer aviator who is the subject of my recent book, Hustling Hinkler, so I sent him a copy. It turns out he’d already bought one, and told me it was a ‘fantastic book, totally absorbing’. Coming from someone who himself could be described as a trailblazer, and who followed part of Hinkler’s 1933 record-breaking flight route to Australia in a round-the world-helicopter flight, that’s a very gratifying and generous response.

Whispers

Thanks to the Queensland Writers’ Centre, I had the opportunity one recent Saturday afternoon to do a short reading from Hustling Hinkler, as part of QWC’s monthly Whispers program. My fellow authors were: Edwina Shaw, Nicola Alter, Adair Jones, and Inga Simpson, and all of us are ‘graduates’ of the QWC/ Hachette Manuscript Development Program, an annual event that attracts applicants from across the country.

Whispers takes place at the Library Café, which is a sheltered outdoor venue, open to the public. So we did our readings to a somewhat mobile audience, some of whom are long-time followers of the Whispers program, some of whom turned up just for the day, and some who thought they were just sitting down with a quiet cup of coffee when a book reading broke out. Good fun, and great to hear those talented writers read from their own work.

From left: Nicola Alter, Darryl Dymock, Inga Simpson, Adair Jones, Edwina Shaw

From left: Nicola Alter, Darryl Dymock, Inga Simpson, Adair Jones, Edwina Shaw

If you had a choice, which author from anywhere in the world would you like to hear read an extract, and from which book?

Dear librarian – please be gentle with Hustling Hinkler

Have you ever wondered where those numbers on the spines of library books come from, the ones you use to find a book on the shelves? (Yes, Virginia, there are still books on shelves; not all of them are downloads.) While indulgently googling my new book, Hustling Hinkler, I chanced upon a reference to it among new acquisitions at the James Cook University (JCU) Library in Townsville, North Queensland. Thanks for buying it, JCU. I was intrigued, however, to see that it is catalogued under ‘Technology (Applied Sciences)’, in the 600-699 range in the Dewey Classification System. But my book is a biography, I thought.

In case you haven’t come across a copy of Hustling Hinkler: the short tumultuous life of a trailblazing aviator, this non-fiction book is about Bert Hinkler, a record-breaking pilot from rural Bundaberg in Queensland whose life ended tragically at the age of 40 on a mountainside in Italy. Here’s the final paragraph from my introduction to the book: ‘I am not a pilot, nor an expert in aviation, but I have tried to portray how Bert Hinkler perceived the world he grew up in and how he attempted to find a place for himself in it. … it’s a fascinating tale of a man in single-minded pursuit of a dream.’ Doesn’t that sound like a life story, and not ‘applied science’’?

I checked what else was new in the Technology list at JCU that week, and found my book’s shelf-mates included Oral and maxillofacial radiology, Evaluation in a nutshell, the Oxford handbook of midwifery, and the Social media marketing book. It seems that reading in the Technology section would not only broaden your mind, but you could also pick up some handy skills.

I scrolled through other possible categories in the Dewey system. ‘Social sciences’ (300-399) looked promising – all that psychology, sociology, concern for the individual in society stuff. Would Bert fit there? After all, in the book I’ve tried to show the trajectory of his life against the backdrop of early 20th century developments, including the Great Depression, not just aviation. Surely Hustling Hinkler would be happier there.

But no: ‘Social sciences’ was broken down into such sub-categories as ‘Social processes’, ‘Civil and political rights’, ‘General statistics’, lots of law and education, and even ‘Etiquette’, as well as economics, sociology and psychology.  No place for Bert Hinkler there, although he did flout the law occasionally, and some of his behaviour when he was dodging the press or romancing two women at the same time is certainly worthy of study.

Who decides on how a particular book is classified, I wondered. How did Hustling Hinkler come to be 629.13092 HIN/DYM in the JCU Library? Was this the idiosyncratic decision of a university librarian, or is there some faceless person in a central location somewhere (perhaps Canberra, the nation’s locus of control) daily dishing out these numbers, assigning each book to its place on the shelves? Or, is it all automated, with the Dewey classification linked to the ISBN?

I googled a bit more, and found Hustling Hinkler at the Pakenham Library in Victoria, classified as 629.13092 HIN, the same as in the JCU Library. In Western Australia, Curtin University has also catalogued it at 629.13092 DYM. So from the north of Australia to the south, and across to the west, there appeared to be just one number for Hustling Hinkler. The image in my mind of a central librarian, possibly a robot, spitting out classifications for every book ever published, grew stronger.

To confirm my hypothesis, closer to home I looked up the catalogue for Brisbane City Council Libraries and there was HH in the 600s, but at 629.092 HIN, close to but not identical with the other three. Was this the work of a maverick librarian, challenging the system? Nevertheless, the book is still in ‘Technology’.

Later I happened to be talking to a senior librarian on another matter and took the opportunity to ask her about the classification system. She assured me that each book is classified independently by library staff, according to very strict criteria. ‘That’s why it’s called “Library Science”,’ she said. So much for my robot hypothesis.

Nevertheless, I wondered what these criteria might be that would allow a biography to be classified as technology. It all sounded so scientific, when all I wanted was to show the human side of Bert Hinkler. I went back to scrolling through the Dewey System, and came to the 900s – Geography and History. ‘That’s what my book’s about,’ I said. ‘It’s a history of a person, taking place against the history of the world.’ Surely there’s a place for Bert there!

In the 900 range I found the broad category of ‘History and geography’, and also ancient history, and lots of general histories. I was quite taken by 902: ‘Miscellany’, which reminded me of filing systems I’ve had over the years, and at one point I thought a pioneering aviator might fit into 908: ‘With respect to kinds of persons’, which sounded vague enough to include almost anybody. However, my eyes then settled on the very classification I was looking for: ‘920 Biography, genealogy, insignia’. I’m not too sure about the genealogy and insignia (although there were five children in his family, and he did win a medal in World War I), but surely, at least to my untrained thinking, Bert Hinkler’s life story belongs there.

I fear my cause is already lost, however. Hustling Hinkler is sitting on library shelves across Australia* alongside books about mining, medicine, media and metallurgy. If you’re a librarian (or know a librarian), I’d love to hear what those strict criteria are that condemn this record-breaking pilot to such inhuman company. Alternatively if my book comes across your desk and you’re responsible for classifying it, please be gentle with Bert – he had a short, tumultuous life.

* for which I am very grateful

Hustling Hinkler on tour – and another surprise guest

Alice Wood, the marvellous publicist at Hachette Australia, not only arranged for me to recently do a short tour visiting bookshops and giving a talk or two about my biography of aviation pioneer, Bert Hinkler, called Hustling Hinkler, she also managed to find venues in some of the most spectacular country in south-east Queensland. But neither of us anticipated the surprise guest at my last stop.

At Maleny in the mountains

The tour started in the delightful town of Maleny, which sits at around 500 metres in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, and supports a thriving artistic community (and vice versa, no doubt). It also embraces Rosetta Books, run by the effervescent Anne Brown, who has just installed a magnificent

A familiar face in the window of Rosetta Books, Maleny

A familiar face in the window of Rosetta Books, Maleny

cyclindrical brass coffee machine in one corner, to complement the enticing display of books. My evening talk on Hustling Hinkler was well received by a mixed audience that included several pilots, and we had a stimulating question and answer session afterwards.

Noosa sojourn

Next morning my wife Cheryl and I headed along the road that follows the ridge of the Blackall range, which gave us spectacular views across to the coast. We could see the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean as it pounded that part of the eastern edge of Australia, but when we got up close and

Debbie at Mary Ryans, Noosa

Debbie at Mary Ryans, Noosa

personal at the beachside town of Noosa, the sea became translucent green close to shore and the waves that surfers love to ride were almost iridescent blue. Hastings Street is the No. 1 shopping strip in that part of the world, and I was glad to be able to make a pre-arranged visit to Mary Ryans bookshop where Debbie helpfully set up a stack of Hustling Hinkler copies for me to sign.

Then it was off to nearby Noosa Junction, where Rachel Burgoine and Catherine Fisk warmly welcomed me to the Written Dimension bookshop, and they too happily pulled out their stock of Hustling Hinkler for me to sign. Rachel also persuaded me to buy a copy of ‘The last Explorer’, by Simon Nasht, the story of the Australian adventurer Hubert Wilkins, who receives a tiny mention in my book. It’s a great read.

Rachel Burgoine & Catherine Fisk, The Written Dimension, Noosa

Rachel Burgoine & Catherine Fisk, The Written Dimension, Noosa

It’s great to see these independent bookshops still holding their own in the market in these tough times.

Back to Bundaberg

Saturday morning we drove up the Pacific Highway to Bundaberg Library, where it was gratifying to see a full house for my talk, hosted by the Regional Supervisor, David Cornwell. It was great to have the local long-time Bert Hinkler expert, Lex Rowland, introduce me, and to hear his generous words about the book. I’ve been to Bundaberg a number of times while researching for the book, and Lex

with Bert Hinkler's nephew, Ron, at Bundaberg Library

with Bert Hinkler’s nephew, Ron, at Bundaberg Library

reminded me that my first contact with him and the Hinkler House Museum was in 2004/5.What made the occasion even more special this time was the presence at the library of Ron Hinkler, the famous aviator’s nephew, who told me he was enjoying reading the book. Ron was there with other family members and is still very much on the ball.

I was also thrilled to catch up with old friends – local author and writing stalwart, Sandy Curtis, and a former Griffith University student, Helen Dyer, now working at the Bundaberg campus of Central Queensland University. There were interesting questions from the audience, especially about the writing process, part of which I have written about in earlier blogs, including the significant part

with local author Sandy Curtis (r), Helen Dyer CQU & husband Matt at Bundaberg Library

with local author Sandy Curtis (r), Helen Dyer CQU & husband Matt at Bundaberg Library

played by the Bundaberg writers’ festival, Writefest. Dymocks Bundaberg supported the event and I’m pleased to say I signed quite a few copies of Hustling Hinkler purchased that day, as well as the copies the library was about to put on its shelves for loan.

Blue-green at Bargara

Afterwards, we headed a few kilometres out of town to the blue-green waters of Bargara, the waves rippling only gently on to the beach because of a protective off-shore reef. It wasn’t quite as peaceful back in January 2013, when coastal dwellings were menaced by typhoons, and much of the city was flooded, including the Hinkler Hall of Aviation in Bundaberg North. I’ll talk a little about those events and my recent visit to the now re-opened Hall of Aviation in a later blog.

Bargara Beach

Bargara Beach

Today I saw a bumper sticker for a Brisbane private high school, with the slogan ‘Born to fly’. Bert Hinkler would have liked that.