Guy Menzies was born in the Sydney suburb of Drummoyne in 1909, the son of a well known doctor. He was a handful for his parents from the word go. Sometimes he would pinch stationery from his father’s surgery and write sick notes to get out of school. On one occasion he was found out after a teacher rang his home to see if he was feeling better.
He also ‘borrowed’ Dr Menzies’ car and drove himself to school. There was a huge row the day he went too far and had the cheek to park in the headmaster’s reserved space.
It’s a miracle the car survived, because young Guy was addicted to speed. He raced a motor bike while he was well under-age, using the assumed name, Keith McKay. This was vetoed after ‘Keith’ had a bad fall and had to reveal his true identity.
On another occasion, at the Royal Easter Show, he persuaded the owner of the ‘Wall of Death’ sideshow to let him have a go. Riding up the wall was fine, but coming back down was trickier and he managed to crash the bike. His parents decided that flying might be a safer option and paid for their son’s lessons.
Guy learned to fly with the New South Wales Aero Club, and received his licence in 1928. In 1931, when he was just 21 he decided to attempt the first solo, trans-Tasman flight. It was a daring, but foolhardy plan. He had bought his plane, Southern Cross Jnr., from the famous aviator Charles Kingsford Smith. It was not even equipped with a wireless. Fearing he would be denied permission from authorities, he told everyone he was flying to Perth. He took off from Sydney at 1.00 am on January 7, taking a packed lunch and wearing a shirt and tie. It was a very bumpy ride across the Tasman, but eventually he sighted land and flew as low as he dared.
GUY MENZIES IN NEW ZEALAND
He checked his fuel repeatedly and soon realized there was no option but to bring his craft down. By this stage he could see astonished locals and decided to drop a note in a bottle, ‘Where can I land? Point to nearest town on coast.’ It was not found until much later and as his fuel was now critically low he just took pot luck.
Our young hero crash landed into what he thought was a meadow, but was actually a swampy area of flax. Fortunately he clambered out into the mud with only a few scratches.
Guy was feted throughout New Zealand. Locals who had stripped the plane for souvenirs suffered pangs of guilt and returned it all. They claimed they had simply been looking after things for him.
Back in Australia there were a few in authority who called Guy Menzies a reckless fool, but the overwhelming feeling was one of adulation for a conquering hero. Australia was in depths of the great depression, and like the great racehorse Pharlap and the cricketer Don Bradman, the dashing young pilot had given people something to feel good about. A public subscription was started in Sydney by the Sun newspaper, to show the city’s appreciation. The first donation came from Bradman himself.
More on the trans-Tasman flight from the National Library.
Guy Menzies moved to England later that year and joined the Royal Air Force with the commission of Flying Office