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Harry Frederick Baker (1904–1986)

by G. C. Bolton and Andrew Morant

This article was published:

Harry Frederick Baker (1904-1986), speedway motorcycle rider and aviator, was born on 29 July 1904 at Glanville, Port Adelaide, son of Western Australian residents Frederick George Baker, labourer, and his wife Evelyn May, née Smith. The family moved to Perth soon afterwards and Harry was educated at Maylands State and Perth Technical schools. From the age of 18 he was a keen speedway rider; his style earned him the nickname of `Cannonball’ and he was credited with being the first Western Australian motorcycle rider to reach 100 miles (160 km) per hour. In 1927 he won the first silver gauntlet at Claremont Speedway.

One of (Sir) Norman Brearley’s early pupils at the Perth Flying School, established at Maylands in 1927, Baker qualified as an instructor, and started his own business. He then took employment with an importer of Lanz tractors, flying a Klemm monoplane to bring spare parts and service to customers in the wheat-belt. In October 1929 he competed in the Western Australian centenary air race from Sydney to Perth, piloting the Klemm, the smallest aircraft entered.

Joining Brearley’s West Australian Airways Ltd in 1931, Baker initially flew to and from the North-West. On 24 November 1932 at St Mary’s Church of England, West Perth, he married Lilian Gladys Henderson (d.1937). Next month he flew two prospectors to desert country near the South Australian border in quest of Lasseter’s reef. Engine failure forced him to land on a salt pan, 300 miles (483 km) from the nearest settlement, and the de Havilland 50 biplane was severely damaged. Baker made emergency repairs to the aircraft with such improvised materials as mulga saplings, and in a few days was able to fly to Forrest, on the trans-continental railway line. The site of the accident was later named Lake Baker. In another incident in October 1933, shortly after his Vickers Viastra took off from Maylands aerodrome on a commercial flight, the port propeller shattered, piercing the fuselage. With coolness and skill he nursed the plane down in a cabbage patch. One of the eleven passengers was slightly injured; the aircraft was a write-off.

When Australian National Airways Pty Ltd took over WAA in 1936, Baker became chief pilot on the Perth-Adelaide route. On 15 February 1938 at Christ Church, St Kilda, Melbourne, he married with Anglican rites Florence MacDonald, a typist. While flying company aircraft in support of Allied forces in World War II, he helped to evacuate to Perth (1942) refugees from the Netherlands East Indies who had reached Broome; on one flight he carried fifty-two people in a 21-seat Douglas DC-3. From 1946 he was ANA’s representative at San Francisco, United States of America, and then in London. He returned to Western Australia as State manager in 1951, and in 1955 was the airline’s manager at Essendon airport, Melbourne.

Baker retired from ANA that year, having flown more than three million miles in 17,000 flying hours. He later worked in Perth for Lynas Motors Pty Ltd and Wormald Brothers (Australia) Pty Ltd. Divorced in 1969, on 11 July 1970 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Como, he married Veronica May Bishop, née Baldwin, a security officer and a divorcee. He was incapacitated by a stroke in the 1970s and spent his final years in a nursing home at Como. Survived by his wife, and the daughter and younger son of his second marriage, he died there on 8 June 1986 and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Brearley, Australian Aviator (1971)
  • K. Brown (compiler), The All-Time Claremont Speedway Fact File (2000)
  • West Australian, 1 Sept 1927, p 6, 28 Dec 1932, p 7, 29 Dec 1932, p 7, 30 Dec 1932, p 9, 31 Dec 1932, p 9
  • Far Horizons, May-June 1986, p 18
  • B. Bunbury, taped interview with Fred Wayman (1987, State Library of Western Australia)
  • Jimmy Woods papers, Acc 4638A (State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

G. C. Bolton and Andrew Morant, 'Baker, Harry Frederick (1904–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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