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. This is adjacent to the monument for the 80th anniversary.

A poster advertising Houdini's flight in Victoria.

[Harry Houdini in Australia], mp015780

In December 1919 more flying history was created when Lieutenant Arthur Long completed the first flight across Bass Strait. He took off from Launceston, landing at Stanley nearly 3 hours later. Strong winds kept him grounded in Stanley for a day, but on Tuesday 16 December, 1919, he successfully flew across Bass Strait. He landed briefly at Torquay, before continuing on to Port Melbourne in a flight of 4 hours 10 minutes.  A memorial to the flight, erected in 1926, still stands today at the end of Anderson Street on the Esplanade, Torquay. There is also a monument to the flight in Stanley. 1

The Library has many Houdini resources including photographs, books and DVDs. For budding 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.

Written by Andrew McConville
Librarian, Digital Access Team

  1. See these articles for more information on Lieutenant Long’s flight

This article has 3 comments

  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’!

  2. Like the article but the part about the first flight across Bass Strait is far from correct, the 6 hours from Launceston is incorrect as Captian Long left Launceston for Stanley on the day before and had planned to leave from there at 4pm that afternoon but bad weather stopped the flight till the next morning, His flight across from Stanley took 4 hours and 10 minutes with a short stop at Torquay There is a full newspaper report in the Burnie Advocate 17th December 1919 Page 3 on this event.

    • Andrew McConville

      Hi Kerry, Thanks for the additional information. The original reference from the Victorian Historical Magazine included the flight time from Launceston to Stanley, the day prior to the Stanley / Melbourne crossing. I have added in the link to the Advocate and altered the text. Regards Andrew

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