Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hart, William Ewart (Bill) (1885–1943)

by Keith Isaacs

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

William Ewart Hart (1885-1943), airman and dentist, was born on 20 April 1885 at Parramatta, New South Wales, third of nine children of William Hart, timber merchant, and his wife Maria Alice, née Gazzard, both born at Parramatta. Educated locally, Bill was apprenticed at 16 to a dentist and was registered on 26 June 1906. He practised at West Wyalong, Newcastle and Sydney.

Mechanically minded, Hart was interested in aviation. In September 1911 he bought, for £1333, a Bristol Box-kite from Joseph Hammond, who was touring Australia as a demonstration pilot for the British & Colonial Aeroplane Co. Ltd. Hart received some tuition from Hammond's mechanic and first flew solo on 3 November. By 16 November he had completed flying tests conducted by the Aerial League of Australia. Presented with Australian aviator's licence no.1, dated 5 December 1911, he was the first airman to qualify as a pilot in Australia. This licence was superseded by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale's certificate no.199, issued by the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom on 29 March 1912.

Meanwhile on 18 November 1911 Hart had flown 47 miles (76 km) from Penrith, via St Marys to Sydney, completing the first cross-country flight in New South Wales in 55 minutes; he was awarded a special plaque. On 3 January 1912 the postmaster-general C. E. Frazer opened Hart's aviation school at Penrith; in March he transferred his operations to Ham Common (now Richmond aerodrome). On 29 June he won Australia's first air race when he defeated the American A. B. Stone (who lost his way) over a 20-mile (32 km) course from Botany to Parramatta Park. During the year the cinematographer Ernest Higgins made eighteen flights with Hart and obtained enough footage for three movies, The Camera in the Clouds (1912), Among the Clouds with a Camera (1912) and Australia Calls (1913).

In August 1912 Hart constructed a two-seat monoplane which he successfully tested at Wagga Wagga, but wrecked it in a serious accident at Richmond on 4 September. He was badly injured and never flew again. In January 1916 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, and as a lieutenant in No.1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, he went to Egypt and Britain, where he was an instructor but, found medically unfit, he returned to Australia and was discharged on 11 September.

Resuming his career as a dentist Hart opened spacious new surgeries on a whole floor of Boomerang House, King Street, in 1918. At St Philip's Anglican Church, Sydney, he married Thelma Clare Cock on 10 August 1929; they lived at Cheltenham. In the 1930s he visited Britain and the United States of America where he observed the latest developments in dentistry. On his return he introduced several new dental theories. In World War II he was rejected, as medically unfit, for the Royal Australian Air Force.

On 29 July 1943 Hart died in Sydney from heart disease. He was cremated with Methodist forms as the R.A.A.F. flew overhead in salute. His wife and son survived him. At the time of his death Hart was vice-president of the Air Force Association; its minutes recorded that he was a 'resourceful, courageous pioneer, soldier, airman, loyal friend and good citizen, lovable personality and gallant gentleman'. A memorial to him in Parramatta Park was unveiled in 1963.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Brogden, The History of Australian Aviation (Melb, 1960)
  • N. Ellison, Wings Over the North (Newcastle, NSW, 1938)
  • W. Joy, The Aviators (Syd, 1965)
  • E. Reade, Australian Silent Films (Melb, 1970)
  • R. J. Gibson, Australia and Australians in Civil Aviation 1823 to 1920 (Syd, 1971)
  • Wings (Melbourne), 31 Aug 1943
  • RAHS, Newsletter, June 1970
  • 14-18 Journal, 1975.

Citation details

Keith Isaacs, 'Hart, William Ewart (Bill) (1885–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hart-william-ewart-bill-6592/text11347, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 19 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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