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Readers note: This is an excerpt from the Trailblazers: Australia’s 50 Greatest Explorers exhibition, developed in 2015. This content was written as a brief biography on why this person was included in the exhibition.
Inspired by her childhood hero Amelia Earhart, Gaby Kennard became the first Australian woman to fly solo around the world. In doing so, she proved that it’s possible for an ‘ordinary’ single mother of two to fulfil her dream.
Born in Melbourne in 1944, Kennard first thought of flying at an early age. "I would stand on a fence or wall and imagine that I could fly off into the wide world, just by flapping my arms.” When she was seven, Kennard moved to Sydney with her mother and sister. It wasn’t until she was 18 that she learned that her natural father, an American pilot during World War II, had died in a plane crash in New Guinea not long after she was conceived.
At 33, Kennard was a single mum working as a medical detailer for a pharmaceutical company. Although buying a home, she found that by ‘scrimping and saving’ she could afford her first flying lessons. In 1984 she gained her commercial pilot’s licence and three years later, her multi-engine instrument rating.
On 3 August 1989, Kennard climbed into her single-engined Piper Saratoga, specially equipped with long-range fuel tanks, a life raft and emergency rations. A twin-engined plane would have been safer, but this model was all she could afford.
“As I heard the engine roar into life and taxied my plane to the holding bay at Sydney’s Bankstown Airport, a great sense of relief swept over me. This was it.”
Over the next 99 days of her record flight, she faced equipment malfunctions, terrible loneliness and crippling bureaucracy. But inspired by Amelia Earhart and an extraordinary group of female pilots worldwide, she completed the 54,000-kilometre flight.
Crowds of well-wishers greeted Kennard as she alighted from her plane in Bankstown, and even more lined the route of the motorcade that took her from Circular Quay to Town Hall. Kennard recalled seeing black-and-white films of similar scenes greeting Kingsford Smith and other great pioneer aviators. “I didn’t ever think that something similar would happen to me.”
In 1993, Gaby Kennard barnstormed solo around Australia raising money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. She was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2008.
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