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Mather, Enid Esther (Esther) (1910–1998)

by Kay Saunders

This article was published online in 2022

Enid Esther Mather (1910–1998), aviator, was born on 6 January 1910 at Kelvin Grove, Brisbane, youngest of four children of Irish-born William Mandeville Ellis L’Estrange, electrical engineer, and his Queensland-born wife Mary Emmeline, née Alder. William was a leader of the electricity supply industry in Queensland, and the family lived in a large house, Hunstanton (heritage listed, 1995), at Kelvin Grove. After attending the Brisbane High School for Girls (1914–18), Esther completed her secondary education at the New England Girls’ School, Armidale, New South Wales (1921–28), where she also enjoyed drama, sport, and music. By the mid-1930s she was working in Brisbane as a clerk in her father’s firm, the City Electric Light Co. Ltd. Known to be charming and a good sport, she was a frequent subject in the social columns, leading a professional and sporting life unusual for women in the period. She drove her own car and did not live at her parents’ home but maintained a flat at Toowong.

The visits to Brisbane of the prominent aviators Amy Johnson (1930) and (Sir) Francis Chichester (1931) inspired L’Estrange to take up flying. She joined the Royal Queensland Aero Club and, after two months’ instruction at Archerfield aerodrome—beginning before work at 6 a.m. four days a week—she obtained her private pilot’s licence on 6 January 1936. Her father was her first passenger. The following year, while working full time and studying engineering at the Central Technical College part time, she gained her commercial pilot’s licence. Because of the gender-based discriminatory practices of the time, she was unable to secure employment as a commercial pilot.

A fearless flyer ‘without being foolhardy’ (Mather, pers. comm.), L’Estrange won air races and practised aerobatics. In February 1938 the Royal Aero Club of New South Wales hosted a pageant at Mascot, Sydney, with three-member teams from four State aero clubs taking part. L’Estrange captained the Queensland team and won the individual aerobatics competition. Her ‘almost flawless’ (Daily Telegraph 1938, 7) performance in the three sections of the contest—landing to a mark, formation flying, and aerobatics—led Queensland to victory. She was recognised as ‘Australia’s lady champion aerobat’ (Townsville Daily Bulletin 1938, 5).

On 15 March 1938 at the Anglo-Catholic All Saints’ Church, Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, L’Estrange married Michael Vaughan Mather (1905–1959), a pilot with Qantas Empire Airways Ltd. The couple lived in Sydney. In World War II Michael served in the Royal Australian Air Force, operating flying boats and being awarded the Air Force Cross for evacuating personnel from New Britain on 22 January 1942. Despite her qualifications, Esther was ineligible to join the RAAF as a pilot. Nor was she able to volunteer her services in an auxiliary capacity, despite a lack of trained pilots in Australia. With the first of her three children born in 1940, she was increasingly confined to the domestic sphere. The family moved to Melbourne in 1949. After her husband’s death, she became a librarian and worked in municipal, institutional, and technical libraries.

Having joined the Australian Women Pilots’ Association in 1951, Mather reactivated the Victorian branch as its president (1962–65). She also resumed flying, often with Freda Thompson. From 1965 to 1968 she held office as the AWPA’s federal president for the maximum term of three years. Among a number of initiatives, she instigated and jointly organised the All Women’s Air Show held at Berwick in 1970. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale awarded her the Paul Tissandier diploma (1968) for her contribution to aviation, particularly its private and sporting domains. In addition, she received the Nancy Bird award (1973) of the AWPA, which honoured her with life membership in 1995.

Mather was short and slim, had fair hair, and liked to dress fashionably without going to unnecessary expense. Late in life she expressed her love of adventure through travel, which, as in all things, she planned and organised thoroughly. She was a raconteur, splendid hostess, and good cook. Her son William recalled that she ‘had and gave no coddling or spoiling and never vegetated’ (Mather, pers. comm.). Survived by her daughter and two sons, she died on 7 October 1998 at Coleraine, Victoria, and was cremated.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Australian War Memorial (Canberra). Video interview with Esther Mather conducted for documentary ‘By the Seats of Their Pants.’ Accessed 6 October 2021. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C976537
  • Australian Women Pilots’ Association. Information from records. Held on ADB file
  • Black, Sylvia. East Melbourne Historical Society. ‘Mather, Esther.’ Accessed 6 October 2021. https://emhs.org.au/biography/mather/esther. Copy held on ADB file
  • Buchanan, Rachel. ‘Up in the Air with the Greatest of Ease.’ Age (Melbourne), 1 October 1993, 20
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney). ‘Girl Beats Men in Aerobatics: Wins Interstate Event for Team.’ 26 February 1938, 7
  • Mather, William. Personal communication
  • Richardson, Marie, comp. Australian Women Pilots’ Association: Twenty-One Years of History from 16th September, 1950. Sydney: Australian Women Pilots’ Association, 1971
  • Townsville Daily Bulletin. ‘The Air Pageant: Crowd of 8,000 Present: Spectacular Display.’ 2 May 1938, 5

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Kay Saunders, 'Mather, Enid Esther (Esther) (1910–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mather-enid-esther-esther-31998/text39484, published online 2022, accessed online 1 December 2022.

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