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.
"If I could make this dream a reality, which seemed very difficult considering I had no aeroplane, no money, a single mother with two children...If I could actually make this happen, other people would say 'if she can do that, I can do what I want’, and that was a very strong thing in me, I felt very strongly about it."
Kim McKay: Good evening everyone, welcome to the Australian Museum. My name's Kim McKay and I'm the director and CEO here and it's my great pleasure to welcome you along to our 19th Trailblazer presentation this evening. And of course we've been running these wonderful talks each week in conjunction with our Trailblazers exhibition. I should say our award-winning Trailblazers exhibition, because we just won the Best Temporary Exhibit in Australia at the Museums and Galleries Awards last month. So we're very proud of that. Yay!
Tonight we're in for a real thrill, a travel, I guess, a journey, something all of us would like to do in life, with the fantastic Gaby Kennard, the first Australian woman to solo circumnavigate the world. And I remember, Gaby, when you completed that. I was a bit younger then, as I think we all were. But I remember it so well, and I thought, oh, I would like to be like her, up there, flying around the world with that bird's eye view, and dealing with all the issues you dealt with. And it was a remarkable, remarkable journey, a remarkable achievement.
And of course we try to put as many Australian women in Trailblazers as possible, to demonstrate that there's been quite a history of Australian women in exploration and adventure, not just in the modern day. Of course we've got some other wonderful women in there who I know you've been inspired by over the years in terms of flying. We were just even talking about Amelia Earhart the American woman a minute ago who I know did inspire you originally.
But you know flight has always been so linked to Australia in so many ways. Right at the very beginning of flight people in Australia were heavily engaged of course through Hargrave and others. So I think that tonight we're in for a real treat. I'm not going through all of Gaby's incredible awards and recognitions. Hopefully you've read about that, but she is going to take us on a wonderful journey tonight, hopefully revisiting some of her adventures. Please welcome the extraordinary Gaby Kennard.
Gaby Kennard: Oh, dear…thank you so much for a lovely introduction, Kim. I feel very honoured, I must say, to be included in this Trailblazers exhibition, because I know there are lots and lots of wonderful trailblazers in Australia, and I'm very honoured, anyway. Thank you for including me.
I thought that I might show you a short video to give you a bit of a flavour of the flight, and then speak for a few minutes, and then pass it over to you, because I think that interaction with you and answering your questions is really much more interesting than you listening to me rabbit on. So what I'd like to do is show the video, Scott, thank you.
Thank you. Gosh, what an experience. And that was 27 years ago, as you could probably tell from the way I looked. Anyway, so much technological development has happened in that 27 years. And my flight was before email, and now of course everybody is using a mobile phone. Of course, no GPS, which is just a wonderful tool for people that fly and drive cars.
I can't imagine life without that technology, actually. No Instagram or Facebook. And frankly if I lose my phone for about 10 minutes I'm in a panic.
Anyway, recently in Europe, I'd like to share something with you, I had an experience which took me back vividly to the day I arrived home at Bankstown on 10th November 1989. I remember vividly standing on the rostrum with Kathryn Greiner, Kay Cottee, Dawn Fraser and good old Bronwyn Bishop; and it was drizzling. There were lots of colourful umbrellas, policemen, noise, about 2,000 people, and my children close by—contrasting to the day that I departed, 12 weeks prior, with only 20 friends and family there.
The MC asked me to speak, wanted me to say something illuminating and how it all was. Unfortunately I was absolutely speechless, I couldn't say a word. Couldn't say a thing. But one of my friends shouted out, who was down there in the group, he shouted out, 'They took the wall down for you. They brought the wall down for you.' And of course he was German, and living in the Blue Mountains. I had no idea what he was talking about, because on my trip I had no contact really with anybody. And I didn't know what was going on in the world. But later I realised what he meant. He meant the Berlin Wall. And it was the 9th of November in Germany that day, the day of reunification of East and West Berlin, and when I saw the remainder of the Wall in Berlin recently, only about a week and a half ago, that day came flooding back to me with such technicolour. It was just amazing.
And I hadn't really thought about that sort of thing, and in fact because it's 27 years ago it's a bit hard to recall, really. It's almost like it was another lifetime ago.
I thought what I might do is give you a few little statistics about the flight and then maybe you can ask me questions, because there's so much I could tell you, and I don't want to bore you.
The aircraft was a nine-year-old Piper Saratoga, which was a great aeroplane, with a 300 hp engine, a reconditioned Continental engine. And I was very confident about that because although it was nine years old and what have you, it carried weight very well. And so I had to have 200 gallons of fuel to give me long distance across the oceans, and so therefore I knew that it could handle being 50% over gross weight, which I was, actually, when I took off with 200 gallons.
And the distance of the flight was about 28,000 nautical miles, and I had 39 stops and I visited 21 countries. And I crossed the Equator five times. I was mainly around the Equator but I went up and down, but crossed it five times.
And I had many long ocean crossings. The longest leg was almost 2,000 nautical miles and that was from Hawaii to the West Coast. And the first crossing was from Cairns to Port Moresby and that was about 500 nautical miles. And I thought that was a really good starter for me, because I hadn't actually flown over water before, except to Tasmania, and we used to follow the islands. We'd island-hop, and of course it was only about 80 nautical miles or something. So 500 nautical miles seemed a reasonable figure for me.
And then the next one was from Papua New Guinea to the Marshall Islands, which was about 1,700 nautical miles. And it was quite interesting coming in to the Marshall Islands because I was quite nervous, really, as you can imagine, because it's sort of going over the ocean and there's absolutely nothing, and it's a fairly isolated part of the Pacific—and then I was so excited when I saw these little atolls coming up, because the highest point of the Marshall Islands is about a metre. So to see them…and they're just coral cays.
But to see these little islands coming up was incredibly exciting for me, and as I landed there it was—because in the tropics, you know, night falls very quickly—and I just shut the engine down and the next thing it was pitch black, and so I felt very happy. And then of course I went from the Marshall Islands to Hawaii via Johnston Atoll, which was this so-called secret military base, and I had no plans to land there at all. But because I was an hour late in flying over this island I was very apprehensive about the amount of fuel I had.
And in fact it was quite a gut-wrenching experience because when you're flying over the ocean and the clouds are putting a reflection or a shadow on the water it looks like a little island, and this little island was so tiny it just was enough for an airstrip. And it just didn't come up, and I thought well I could be miles off track. I could be anywhere in the Pacific, and of course this is what happened to poor Amelia: she was headed for Howland Island and she never found it and she just went into the sea, according to some people, around the area of the Marshall Islands. Anyway, and then from Hawaii to the West Coast, which as I said, was the longest leg of 200.
And then South America to Africa across the South Atlantic, was about 1,700 nautical miles, which was quite something, really. And as for the navigation, I did borrow a fantastic what I thought was a wonderful, wonderful thing, called an Omega Navigation System. But of course unfortunately it was a very poor tool, and when I got to Africa having gone through a lot of storms, I think the circuits were completely fried, so it wasn't…I had to turn it off completely because it would have probably got me lost. I had to turn it off. And unfortunately there were very few places where I could get it repaired.
And so basically I suppose you could say that it was…the navigation was really dead reckoning, which is like the pioneers. And of course GPS came out I suppose about—I think about 12 months after I'd completed my flight.
But now, I think it would be good if you asked me questions, because that way it's far more interesting for everybody, I reckon. So would you like to ask me something? Don't feel shy.
Kim McKay: I'll kick off, Gaby. I wanted to know when you realised you were down on fuel, you were running late and you wanted to land at Johnston Island, and you obviously called Johnston Island on the radio. How did the Americans respond, wanting to take an unknown person on to their base?
Gaby Kennard: Well, they didn't answer me at all…
Kim McKay: [Laughs] That's always a good way…
Gaby Kennard: Thank you for asking that one. No, they didn't answer me, because you see nobody was allowed to land there except for special flights that were approved. And so they weren't expecting anybody that day, and as a matter of fact they did have a navigation beacon on there, like a radio beacon—what they call a non-directional beacon—but I couldn't pick it up, and even though it was very powerful I couldn't pick it up.
So prior to landing I had called what they called Honolulu Radio and I said, 'Has Johnston Island got their NDB on today, by chance?' And anyway they didn't answer me either. But then it came on. And I thought, oh what a relief! So I knew it was in front of me.
So then when I got there I was so relieved, and I thought well I'll land, and of course then I called them, but they didn't answer me because it was Saturday, they weren't expecting anybody, and it was only on late final that I saw these little figures running to the tower. And so I landed without speaking to anybody and then I was greeted by a truck that had 'Follow Me' in flashing lights. So I followed the truck and I stopped and turned the engine off, and then I realised that I was completely surrounded by soldiers with machine guns pointed at me. But of course it really seriously didn't…I just sort of went a bit blank I suppose, and I thought, 'Oh no, no way they're going to shoot me,' so I relaxed quite a bit.
But I did feel a little bit embarrassed because you see I had this little, what they call a Porta-potty, and it was beside me and it was full, and it was a plastic thing with yellow urine in it, and I thought, 'Oh my God, they're going to see that.' But anyway, I got over that, and the Commanding Officer came up and he had shorts and sneakers and he had just been running around the island. So he said, 'Oh, well…' They were very serious initially, but then he said, 'Would you like an ice cream?' and I went, 'Oh yes, how wonderful!'
So he gave me an ice cream. I don't know where the hell that came from. And I ate it and then he said, 'Would you like another one?' Because obviously I really enjoyed it. And I said, 'Okay.'
And then he said, 'Well what can we do for you?' And I said, 'Well maybe you could give me some fuel.' And he said, 'Yes. We have a drum of avgas in the shed.' But I was rather hoping that I might be able to stay the night, you know, to get over this sort of apprehension and drama that I'd gone through. Anyway, he said, 'I'm sorry, you can't stay. There's no way. We don't have any women on this island and we don't have accommodation, so you'll have to go after we give you the fuel.'
So he gave me the fuel and off I went, into the night. And landed, finally, in Hawaii at 2am in the morning, and it was just so exciting to be going into that area and seeing these little sparkling lights, you know, all the islands of Hawaii. And then I thought to myself, 'Oh, God,' apart from the sparkling lights it was pretty dead and quiet and dark, and I thought, well gee whizz, I hope I can find the airfield all right. And then of course luckily I then saw this high intensity lighting with an arrow sort of pointing towards the runway. And I landed. And then when I landed it was quite strange because I didn't know where the hell I was going. It was all very dark and there was nobody around. And so I just kept taxiing, and I did ask for guidance and they very reluctantly gave me some taxi guidance. And then I stopped and a car came up and took me for processing, immigration and so on. So that was that. Quite exciting!
Audience member 1: Hi Gaby. I'd just like to know what prior experience you had of flying, please, before you took on this momentous trip.
Gaby Kennard: Right. Well, I didn't have a lot of experience, actually. And in fact to get sponsorship—because I needed to get sponsorship—I had to sort of exaggerate a little weeny bit.
I had studied quite a bit though. I didn't have a lot of practical experience. I think I honestly had at the most maybe 450 hours. But I had studied a lot and I got my commercial licence and I had a Class One instrument rating. But very little practical experience. But I had to exaggerate that experience because I needed sponsorship. When I organised the flight I didn't have any money particularly. And so I had to create the whole thing from nothing, and I had to get very professional in my approach to would-be sponsors.
And so I ended up getting enough, and I borrowed the money on my house. I mortgaged my house in order to buy the aeroplane. And then I just relied on sponsorship. And Dick Smith was the first one to give me $5,000. And then once he gave me $5,000 other people came and gave me $5,000 and $10,000 and what have you.
Audience member 2: Thanks so much, it's really interesting. The deeper question I want to ask is what actually really drove you to want to do this? What were you trying to achieve? And the sort of lesser question is what did you do about money when you had to buy fuel in all these weird places?
Gaby Kennard: Well I actually…apart from the sponsorship and getting the aircraft equipped, I really didn't have any cash. But what I did is I got credit carnets for the fuel. So I had a carnet for Shell, BP, whatever, Mobil. And I worked out of course where I could get all this fuel, and of course the flight plans I did, I spent a year organising it. So I had the fuel carnets, which was wonderful. And then at the last minute, the night before I left, my husband's brother came to me and he gave me the equivalent of AU$5,000 which I was very grateful for.
In a way I was rather proud and I didn't really want to accept it, but I thought well, I don't have any money, so it would be a very good idea to have that.
So that was the money situation. And as for the…it was a very slow evolution of why I wanted to do it, really, and it goes a long way back. But I suppose one very, very strong reason was that I thought that if I could create this dream, make this dream a reality, which seemed very difficult considering I had no aeroplane, no money, no nothing—a single mother with two children—if I could actually make this happen, other people could say, well gee, you know if she can do that I can do what I want. And that was a very strong thing in me. I felt very strongly about it.
Audience member 2: And we all thank you for that.
Gaby Kennard: Thank you.
Audience member 3: This is not as deep—what did you eat?
Gaby Kennard: Oh, right. Not a great deal, actually. And in fact I lost a lot of weight. I lost about 28 pounds. I mean when I came back I was very thin, which I didn't think about too much, but I did notice when I looked at the photos that I was incredibly thin. Because what would happen is that I would often leave, get up before dawn, leave at the crack of dawn and fly all day, maybe 10 or 12 hours. And nobody was around. Nobody was there to give me any food. I would stay in—say in New Guinea, there was nobody attending, there was nothing, really.
So my aviation friends had told me to take water, plenty of water of course because it was very hot flying around the Equator. And I in fact had a sun shield on the windscreen to keep the sun out, because it was so incredibly hot and drying. So I just had two litres of water at least—maybe I even had four litres of water. And I had some lollies, I had some sweet things which was good for keeping the blood glucose level up. And I might have taken a bit of fruit or something like that. But anything I did take dried out so badly I couldn't eat it.
I ate well when I landed, and had a dinner or something, and if I could have breakfast I would, but often it wasn't available. So lots of water and not a great deal of food. And 28 pounds lighter when I got back. So that's the way to go on a diet, but I wouldn't really recommend it. Not really. I think the 5-2 diet—and I'm sure you've possibly heard of that—is a good one. And that worked.
Audience member 4: Thanks Gaby. What do you think was the worst experience that you had on the trip, and also what happened to the plane after the trip?
Gaby Kennard: Well I think the worst experience was definitely after I had left Hawaii, I went actually to the southernmost, the big island of Hawaii, because it was a tiny bit closer to the mainland of the US. And I took off; I normally would take off late afternoon, maybe about 5 o'clock, and then fly all night so that I could take off in the daylight and land in the daylight. Because when you're really tired and fatigued, you know, you need that going for you.
So I had 100 gallons in the inside of my aircraft and just one seat, right, and all these series of tanks. And I had 50 gallons in each wing, which was the normal sort of amount of fuel that it had. And so I had this complicated switching sequence from one tank to the other that was inside the aeroplane. And the reason for that was to keep the aircraft stable and in balance. And the reason I had all these ridiculous tanks was because I wanted to be an Australian and I wanted to have a VH registration, which meant that it was an Australian aircraft, right? And I had a VHGKF, Gaby Kennard Flight, because I could choose that.
But it wasn't really very safe, because the Americans when they ferry aircraft they have one big rubber bladder of a tank, which is so much more sensible, because it just feeds directly into the normal aircraft fuel tanks and it's not a problem. But with all this switching from one to the other, like I had one tank in the nose, I had two behind me, and then I had two on the top of that so I had a whole lot…I had about six tanks. But anyway, the switch which enabled me to change from one tank to the other, was not behaving normally. And so I just had a very extended time on the first tank, which was in the nose, and then I thought, that's strange, this fuel is lasting longer than it should, and I thought well maybe I'm getting some divine assistance or something, and then I thought oh no, that's not right. And I was absolutely puzzled. But what had happened…and so then when I switched again the engine stopped.
And here I am, and it's at night, it's all dark, and I'm over the ocean. I'm only about 8,000 feet above the water, and the engine stopped. Well I couldn't believe it. I knew that there was something wrong. And so what I did is what you're taught to do, you go through this emergency thing, go back to your main tanks, which were the wing tanks. So I went back to the tanks. But by that time I had lost about 2,500 feet and not a long way to go and I was just terrified, as you can imagine. And I realised that why people come to grief is because often they panic. They go into…they can't think. I just remember I had this vision of my kids, and I thought, oh my God, I've got to work this out, because I've got to get back.
The easiest thing in a way would have been just to say, 'Oh bad luck, I'm dead. Oh, okay,' and just go into the ocean. That would have been the easiest thing. The hard thing was to think. Once I went back to the main tanks, then I had to get back to the auxiliary fuel. And sometimes when I switched to another tank, I thought, it worked and the engine kept going, and sometimes it cut out. But I got better at switching to the main tanks and then trying.
So it was just trial and error. And that was terrifying. Five times the engine stopped between Hawaii and the West Coast, and the thing is when it first happened I was 700 miles east of Hawaii and I knew I couldn't get back. So I had to keep going. So that was really wearing, to put it mildly. When I got to California I was just worn out. And in fact all my body was sore because the tension in my muscles…it was a bit like having a car accident, you know, afterwards you feel sore. It was very difficult for me after that, actually to take off and continue.
I felt like going home. I felt like quitting. And it was a most unusual experience, that quitting thing. I was in California, right, I was supposed to take off and then go to Memphis, I think or wherever my next stop was, and I got in the aeroplane and I filed the flight plan, and I was supposed to take off and I was being very professional, you know, yes, blah, blah to the tower. And then I just had this…start shaking and the sweat just came out of me and I just couldn't go. And I thought, oh my God. This happened three times, can you believe it.
And then on the third time I went back to the little waiting room on the airport and it was so weird, because this guy came on the television, and it was the Hour of Power, I don't know whether you ever remember it. What was his name? In the glass cathedral in California. He was a padre, a very positive sort of guy. Anyway, he was saying, 'You've gotta break through your barrier of fear!' And I thought, right! He's talking to me. And I honestly and truly thought he was. He said, 'You've gotta do it, if you're gonna make it you've got to break through that barrier in life, you've gotta do it.' And so I thought, okay, right. So I went back into the aeroplane and started up, did the rigmarole, was all very professional in my communication with the tower, took off, and since I lifted off the ground I thought oh, my God, that's no big deal. Fine. And instead of doing a 10-hour flight that day, I thought take it easy, do a five-hour flight. So that's what I did. But that was the most frightening thing, apart from the storm over Africa in the South Atlantic, which was unbelievable.
Unbelievable. My God, that was incredible. So the storm was really something too. Shall I tell you about the storm? Okay. Well you know on the West Coast in the South Atlantic west of Africa, they annually have these storms that are spawned off the West Coast. And you know cyclone Katrina—at the time that I was flying from South America to Africa there was this huge cyclone called cyclone Hugo. And in fact I could see the cyclone in the air, and I deviated. Because it was just like a round cloud with a black hole in the middle of it, and I could see it quite clearly.
So I changed my direction a little bit. I was going to land somewhere and I didn't. And then of course when I continued on and got from the last point, Recife on the east coast of South America for Africa, I suddenly saw these amazing flashes of lightning, and I thought oh my God, that looks like storms ahead. And I thought well maybe I can go a little bit to the right of track. But no, the storms were there too. They were left of track and right of track, and I was pretty nervous. I had no opportunity to do anything else but go through them really, and for four hours these storms would throw me up in the air, about 10,000 feet very quickly, and then down 10,000 feet, and everything was just going crazy. Everything that was not tied down was flying around in my aeroplane. And the electrics in the plane were going quite bizarre and crazy. Things were flashing and so I thought right, I have to turn everything off.
All the electrics I turned off, and the only thing that was really going was the engine—which was fantastic—and I thought to myself…I thought to myself well, what can I do? I can only do my best, and the rest is in the hands of the Force. And so I just did my very, very best, and eventually, after about four hours of all this craziness, dawn started to come and I landed in Dakar on the west coast, and thank God. It was the most frightening thing, it really, really was.
But what it did is this Omega System which I had borrowed and was pretty unpredictable and hopeless, was completely fried. So I had to then turn it off. And then from then on, which was half way around the world, I was dead reckoning like the pioneers. Okay, this is my track, I'm going at about this speed, I should arrive at my destination in…and also I had to be very, very careful with drift, because in aviation navigation there's this rule that if you are one degree off track in 60 miles you're 60 miles off track. And of course if you're going 1,700 miles across an ocean without any way of assessing your position, it's a hopeless situation.
So I became very accurate and careful about never offsetting for drift more than four degrees either side of track. And of course when these great storms were happening, there was lightning flashing here, I thought oh my God, okay, I've got to go to the right of track. And I would seriously change my track. And then there'd be a great lightning strike there, and I'd go oh my God, okay, I'll go left of track.
So I went left and right, left and right. But then I realised as I got to the coast of Africa, oh I think I've gone about 50% to the left and 50% to the right, so I think we should be pretty much on track. And sure enough I was. In all of that 28,000 miles I landed at my proposed destination within...I was just a couple of miles off. So it was pretty amazing, really. So I really enjoyed that!
Audience member 5: I was one of the 2,000 people to greet you at Bankstown.
Gaby Kennard: Oh, really? Thank you.
Audience member 5: I was one of three aerobatic female pilots at the time, and sort of wondering, your journey afterwards, you became an icon and an inspiration. How did that sit with you, or what was your journey afterwards?
Gaby Kennard: It was difficult. It really was difficult, because I was just by myself for all that time, and going through places like Africa and what have you, I didn't talk to many people. So I was very isolated. I had no idea what was happening at home, what was happening in the world. And it was a shock to get back to all of that hype.
And all I wanted to do really was spend time with my kids. And I wasn't able to, so it was very difficult. It was very challenging. And a lot of people somehow or other thought because I was well known and what have you at that point that I was also very rich. And I had people being quite mean. Not everybody, most people were lovely, but I had a couple of people that wanted to sue me for some bloody reason. It was very challenging.
I think that was even harder, truly, all of that hype and drama and people wanting a piece of me. And I really understood what it was like to be a movie star. A movie star that can't cope. Takes drugs, you know…dies. Because not many people can handle that sort of thing. It's really hard. And that was one of the reasons why some years after I came back, not too many, I went to live in America. I went to live in Colorado. And I was very happy, in a way, to do that, because nobody knew me, and it was great. I could be an ordinary person. There's nothing like being an ordinary person. It's pretty cool. It really is.
Audience member 6: I have two questions for you. One is, obviously you've faced quite a few challenges during your journey. Was there any point where you were asking yourself: Oh my gosh, what was I thinking?
Gaby Kennard: Absolutely. Actually I started to think that when I took off from Bankstown. Because I'd been working on this trip for 12 months. I'd been spending about eight hours a day working out where I was going to land, all the strategic things. And honestly, when it got to the day of taking off, I thought oh my God, I'm really going. This is a bit of a shock. I was really quite scared. And of course I hadn't tried out my aeroplane much because I'd been delayed and things weren't right and so I hadn't checked the systems until the first flight, you know, from Sydney to Cairns, which was nine hours.
And so I had this little fantasy after I took off: Oh, maybe what I could do is land in Mudgee and hide for six weeks and then just sort of pretend and then fly back. So that was one fantasy, it really was. I really did think that.
And then there was another occasion when I left New Guinea and I was heading out to the northeast Pacific and it was just nothing but water and there was this lovely little island called Buka in Bougainville that I flew over. And I'd remembered the postcards of all these gorgeous little children playing in the water. And I looked at that island and I saw an airstrip and I thought, oh…I was really frightened to go out into that Pacific, on my own, just out there. And I thought maybe I could just land and forget this.
But I didn't. And then when I'd continued it was a bit like the situation in California, I just sort of felt really light, you know, and I thought oh, it's okay, everything's all right. So I think it's a matter of facing the fear and thinking of the worst thing that could happen and then thinking, oh no, it's going to be okay then. I think that's what happened. That's how it happened. It's great.
Audience member 6: And the second question is, when are you planning to do this again? I want to come with!
Gaby Kennard: Oh, that's very funny. Well I was actually thinking of doing it again some years after I got back, and I was going to do it in a helicopter. And I actually went to Bell Corporation in America and asked them if I could borrow an aircraft. But they wouldn't. And I thought oh, but that's silly. Why do it again? It's ridiculous.
So no, I wouldn't do it again. I did get a helicopter licence though and I did fly a helicopter, but not around the world.
Audience member 7: Okay. It's my turn now, Gaby.
Gaby Kennard: Yes! Go ahead.
Audience member 7: You certainly proved yourself to be a courageous and determined lady and I congratulate you on that. The plane, Golf Kilo Foxtrot, is 35 years old today and still based at Bankstown.
Gaby Kennard: Oh really, do you know it?
Audience member 7: And I've got a cattle property up at [inaudible] and we use it to fly backwards and forwards…
Gaby Kennard: You own it?
Audience member 7: My son Manny, he does the flying. I'm getting a bit old and wobbly now.
Gaby Kennard: Wow! Isn't that great!
Audience member 7: But the plane is a beautiful plane to fly. We love it. And it's still going well.
Gaby Kennard: Fantastic! Oh, that's wonderful.
Audience member 7: And one day it should finish up in a museum.
Gaby Kennard: Yes, I agree.
Audience member 7: So if you want to buy it back, let me know.
Gaby Kennard: Oh, I'm so glad to hear that. That's very special. Thank you for looking after it. Has it still got the plaque in it that says what happened? [Inaudible] Oh, wow! That's special. Thank you for coming and telling me that. One more?
Audience member 8: Thank you for following your dreams and inspiring us. What is your next dream?
Gaby Kennard: Well, my next dream is to win the Archibald Prize. I'm an artist now, and I've been studying art and painting for the last…well, I guess I've been doing it a little bit all my life, but more so in recent years. I went to study at the National Art School and I guess that is something that I would really like to do, so I'm working on it.
Audience member 9: Were you feeling lonely on the plane?
Gaby Kennard: Yes, I was. Yes.
Audience member 10: Can I just add, Elizabeth wanted to know, did you sing or talk to yourself while you were travelling?
Gaby Kennard: Yes, I did. I sang and I talked to myself, yes. And I imagined that I had a committee of pioneer aviators that were helping me, and so I would talk to them. And somehow or other I really believed it. I think you hear about people in ships out at sea and what have you and they have these visions of people. Well I think that's the sort of thing that happened to me, and I sort of believed it and it was very comforting.
Kim McKay: Please thank Gaby Kennard.
You truly are an incredible inspiration, and so self-effacing as you talk about your remarkable trip there. I wanted to know one thing. Did you ever get airsick? Even being thrown around in that storm? Oh, that was good that you didn't get airsick. But I think it's remarkable, the power of the mind and determination. And as you said, lots of solo sailors talk about the presence of someone else with them. We've heard from Tim Jarvis in this series of talks as he went across Antarctica really feeling that there was somebody else with him at different times. And I think it's part of human endurance and resilience and determination to survive that our mind enables us, supports us by making us feel we're not entirely alone, that there is somebody else there with us.
And it's a very extraordinary thing we don't understand yet, maybe. And through these Trailblazer talks and through being involved in the exhibition, I hope we've really brought out some of the stories of people and what makes an adventurer or an explorer, and what makes people determined.
I think there is—we say it in the program, the catalogue for the exhibition, that there's probably, it's not been discovered yet, in our DNA an adventure gene that might exist, because certainly humans are all about going on an adventure and their next quest. And I've certainly noticed among most of our modern day adventurers they're often not satisfied with just one thing—or they do go on to other pursuits and have success in another field through that sheer spirit of determination. So I think it's great to…when you can find that little thing inside of us all that keeps us going in that way.
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.
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.