Up There Guillaux

Up There Guillaux

The French pilot who flew higher than anyone at the football.


Maurice Guillaux, with his plane, on 18 July 1914.

Maurice Guillaux, with his plane, on 18 July 1914.

In 1914, Maurice Guillaux, a cocky, confident French aviator, flew Australia’s first air mail flight, from Melbourne to Sydney.  But before his historic feat, he demonstrated many aerial displays over Melbourne and Geelong in the preceding months, including interrupting the Round 11 match between Carlton and St. Kilda.

A few weeks earlier he took his aerial displays to Bendigo, but the South Bendigo Football Club felt his exhibition scheduled on June 1 at Epsom racecourse would clash with their football fixture. They asked him to pilot his plane earlier in the afternoon.

It didn’t impress readers of the local Bendigo paper.

“Letter to the Editor, June 1914

I heartily agree with the letter writer ‘Cannot Attend at 1.30’ in this morning’s issue. Are the public to be dictated to by the footballers. I like a game of football, but I think it is a bit rough when they want to change the hour of the flying exhibition, just to prevent it from interfering with their matches. They did not offer to play their matches in the morning. Then why should the public have to deny themselves the privilege of seeing such an able aviator give his exhibition at 3pm. We don’t always have the chance of seeing an aeroplane, but we can see a football match every Wednesday – Yours, etc  GO UP GUILLAUX”

Guillaux was clearly a showman, so any debate about his displays, even in the letters pages of the paper, was still good publicity.  The public wanted to see an aeroplane fly.  And Guillaux was going to deliver.

The Victorian Football League knew he was coming.
The Age newspaper printed that “M Guillaux, the clever French aviator, will at 3pm to-day, fly from the show ground at Flemington, all over the city and suburbs, making a point of visiting the various football matches and taking note of the scores as he passes along.”

And so he did.  He took off from Flemington at the same time the Junction Oval match between Carlton and StKilda began. 3pm.  After flying around the nearby suburbs, he came into view for the several thousand spectators, as the players made their way out for the third quarter. Carlton were in front by 8 points.

 “There’s the aeroplane’’ was the cry that sprang to thousands of lips at the football grounds” , The Age recorded.
“In a majestic manner the aeroplane sped on, steadier than many birds, swifter than an eagle, unruffled by passing breezes, until it was over the heads of the crowds.”

 The players stopped and looked up.  “The field umpire gave a shrill blast from his whistle but the two captains and spectators were too interested for the minute,  in the man above, and the resumption of play was delayed”

Guillaux had the entire Junction Oval mesmerized.

 “The struggle between inclination and duty affected many of the players. M Guillaux the aviator, circled above the ground, the biplane in the light of the sun, resembling a huge dragonfly, shining like a pearl.  Even football could not hold its own against such an attraction and the thousands of spectators sent their cheers aloft to the bird-man.”

Carlton vs StKilda 1914

Carlton vs StKilda 1914 looking skyward at Guillaux

 Umpire Arthur Wickham, in his 6th game, was adamant the quarter would start on time.  The Argus particularly annoyed at his persistence.

An umpire with more experience would have called up the ball for a minute or two, and enabled the teams to add their cheers to the compliment the crowd paid to the aviator, but obsessed by his duty, or lacking independence, he kept the play going. To have one eye on the biplane and the other on the ball was a task that tried most of the footballers to the limit in optics”

After several minutes entertaining the crowd, Guillaux unveiled his most exciting manoeuvre.  No fewer than three newspaper reports marvelled at his skill.

“Then in splendid fashion it would circle round and eventually , at the guidance of the pilot, dive to earth and fly so low that the people could see the white-capped head of the aviator”
He would then  ‘fling afar ‘dodgers’,  pamphlets detailing his upcoming aerial displays on the following Monday. (The Argus)

Guillaux flew so low to the ground that “his aeroplane came near enough to read the scores posted on the various boards’ the Tweed Daily recalled.

He planed down from a vast height til the whirr of his engine was distinctly audible. The game still went on, but most of the necks were craned upwards.   The Saints were distinctly in the ascendant as the airman performed his striking evolutions, but the Carlton backs responded nobly to the pressure. (The Leader)

“The pilot would then circle round, hear the murmuring applause of the people, the shouting, the cries of approval, and then climbing up rapidly, he would fly away again, and eventually vanish, as it were, into thin air”
(The Age)

He then steered his aircraft to Williamstown, where the second hurdle race scheduled for 4pm was delayed as he circled the racecourse, throwing out pamphlets.  ‘The bookmakers momentarily forgot to cry their odds’ wrote the Baloone Beacon.
From there he returned and landed safely at the Flemington showgrounds.

Guillaux had successfully achieved what he had planned.
Enthral the crowds, saturate the newspapers,  promote himself.
“The aviator evidently considers he is a greater attraction than a football match”  The Geelong Advertiser scoffed.

Yet for a few minutes, Guillaux was.

Carlton vs StKilda 1914

Carlton vs StKilda 1914

About Rhett Bartlett

Wrote the history of the Richmond Football Club. Literally.


  1. Larry from Lonny says

    The photo with everyone looking up into the sky is a beauty rhett

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