On 18 March 1910, Harry Houdini, the world famous escapologist, made what is claimed to be the first controlled powered flight in Australia.

Houdini flies his biplane at Diggers Rest, Victoria in 1910
Houdini flies at Diggers Rest, mp015781

Born in Hungary in 1874 as Ehrich Weiss, Houdini emigrated to the United States with his family in 1878. He became a magician, but rose to fame as an escapologist, freeing himself from chains, handcuffs, jails and straightjackets.

Houdini toured widely in Europe and USA and came to Australia in 1910 where he performed a number of death defying stunts including a leap from Queen’s Bridge Melbourne, with his hands cuffed behind him,as reported in The Argus.

He brought out a Voisin biplane, (a plane with two pairs of wings), and based himself at Diggers Rest, just outside Melbourne, for the attempt. He and his mechanic Antonio Brassac waited for still conditions to attempt the flight. In the Melbourne Argus the following day a statement confirming the flight was published under the names of nine witnesses. He made three successful flights and reached an altitude of 100 feet. In 2010 on the one hundred year anniversary, a new monument was erected in Diggers Rest dedicated to the flight.

A poster advertising Houdini's flight in Victoria.

[Harry Houdini in Australia], mp015780

In December 1919 more flying history was created with the first flight across Bass Strait, made by Mr A.L. Long. He took off from Launceston and in just over six hours, he landed at Torquay before continuing onto Port Melbourne. The article, Memorial at Torquay, published in the Victorian Historical Magazine in 1927, recounts the event. The memorial, erected in 1926, still stands today at the end of Anderson Street on the Esplanade, Torquay.

The Library has many Houdini resources including photographs, books and DVDs. For buddying magicians we also have a guide to researching magic at the Library. The Victorian Popular Culture database has a number of digitised books, pamphlets and journals related to Houdini. This can be accessed by registered Victorian Library users through the State Library of Victoria website (listed under Film and Performing Arts). Museum Victoria also has a page detailing milestones of early Australian flight.

Written by Andrew McConville
Librarian, Digital Access Team


This article has 1 comment

  1. Roy Bridges wrote in ‘That Yesterday Was Home’ an entertaining account of a similar – though less than perfect – flight in Melbourne itself in Spring 1910. My great Uncle Phillip ‘Peter’ Schuler was there with Bridges as the comedy unfolded. Having made an unsuccessful trial flight because of unfavourable winds, the plane was swarmed by people on the MCG at the prospect of a repeat non-performance. Under this pressure of public opinion, the pilot took off, veered at the railway sheds and came down on the tennis courts, ‘with the juice leaking out of it like a squashed bug’!

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