Landing of First Airman to Cross Bass Strait:

Lieut. Arthur Leonard Long, a Tasmanian Aviator, successfully flew from Stanley on the N.W. Coast of Tasmania to Melbourne on 16th December 1919. The monument was installed by the Victorian Historical Society after being approached by Mr. W. Russell Grimwade who paid for the monument.

During The Great War, Lieut. Long had been on active service with the Australian Flying Corps. After the Armistice he went to England to purchase some 90 h.p. R.A.F. air-cooled engines from the Aircraft Disposal Board. He then had a plane built appropriate for the engine, capable of carrying one passenger and fitted for acrobatical exhibition work.

He brought his plane, a single engine biplane, to Australia and set up in Tasmania giving flying exhibitions to help the Peace Loans. Subsequently the first aerial newspaper deliveries were made in Tasmania. He then started flights for photographic purposes over the rough Great Lakes district to assist in surveying the area for transmission lines from the Great Lakes to Launceston. After a crash in the area Arthur Long decided to attempt his dream of flying to Melbourne. The biggest hurdle to overcome for the small plane (24’ wide and 18’ long) was that the plane could not carry enough petrol and lubricating oil for the distance.

Long, Bass Strait crossing, Torquay History

Landing at Torquay

– by Pirrie Shiel, History Matters Dec 2019

Had you been outdoors, between Aireys Inlet and Torquay, at about 9.00 am on 16 December 1919, you may have been surprised to glimpse a small bi-plane flying close to the ground. You may have feared it was about to crash. But no, it was the plane piloted by World War 1 veteran, Lieutenant Arthur Leonard Long. It had just made the first ever flight across Bass Strait and he was searching for a suitable place to land.  

Long had prepared for the flight at Stanley, on the northern coast of Tasmania, where some folks had expressed reservations about the wisdom of attempting such a flight. They well knew that the weather in Bass Strait could be treacherous. One sea captain thoughtfully provided him with a lifebelt. But Long was confident and assured the curious onlookers that he had flown greater distances during the war and his plane had been well prepared by his mechanic. The plane was equipped with plenty of petrol and an oil supply rigged up, so the engine could be topped up in the air if necessary, just by pulling on a rope.

The young aviator had woken early on that morning and judged the weather to be suitable for the flight to go ahead. All was ready and by 6.30 a.m. his mechanic was standing at the front of the aircraft, ready to spin the propeller to start the engine. A small crowd wished him well and waved to him as he rose from the ground, continuing to watch until he was lost to sight in the clouds.

 Long was completely on his own as he made his way northward to the mainland.  In those days there was no way to communicate with anyone on the ground and certainly nowhere to make a forced landing or to be rescued if it had been necessary. Picture him in the open cockpit of this flimsy craft with nothing ahead but the clouds, and below the choppy waves. After about an hour he caught sight of King Island off to his left, looking just like low cloud in the distance. He also saw hundreds of large red fish on the surface of the water. Flying on, he was delighted to see below, a small sailing vessel tossing to and fro on the sea but appearing to be standing still. What a surprise those on board must have had at the sight of a plane flying above them.  Another hour and a half passed with buffeting winds slowing his progress, but he thought he must be nearing the mainland. Several times he mistook low cloud ahead for what he hoped was land. His engine continued to run smoothly but as he neared the coast he noted that the oil level was getting low. He pulled on the rope hanging over his head but the rope broke, leaving the engine seriously short of oil. This meant trouble.  He had been flying for about three hours and would need to land as soon as possible to top up the supply, if he was to complete the flight to Melbourne. 

At last he sighted the Aireys Inlet light-house and could at last identify exactly where he was.  The wind slackened after he turned eastward along the coast and he scanned the ground for a place to land.  Finally a suitable field was sighted near Torquay (part of the present day golf course) and Long made his first touch-down on Victorian soil.  He was then able to manually top up the oil without turning off the engine.  If he had, he would not have been able to take off again, because in those days it was necessary to have someone on hand to spin the propeller to start the engine.  Long was able to continue on to Melbourne and after circling the city several times he made an unheralded landing on Carey’s airfield at Port Melbourne.

The next day he was welcomed at the Town Hall and he presented a letter of greeting to the Lord Mayor of Melbourne from his counterpart in Launceston.

1930, May and Leslie Silk at Arthur Long Memorial

This is a story that few may have heard, but on the Esplanade at Torquay there is a memorial to the event, placed there by the Royal Historic Society of Victoria in 1926.  People reading the plaque may wonder, who was the young man who had made that historic flight?  

Arthur L Long was a proud Tasmanian who had been born at Forcett, near the end of the nineteen century. The eldest of a large family, he was working for his uncles in the Palfreyman drapery store in Hobart when, in September 1914, an exciting aerial display took place at the show grounds. Mr Delfrosse Bagery had shipped a primitive aircraft from New South Wales to Tasmania for the purpose of demonstrating the daring manoeuvres that could be carried out in the air. It was the first time Tasmanians had had the opportunity to see a plane, and young Arthur was surely amongst the large crowd who had gathered to witness the event. Could he have believed that one day he too would soar aloft? It all looked like great fun and few would have imagined that planes would soon be involved in deadly battles in the skies over Europe.

Britain had just declared war on Germany and only weeks later, hundreds of young Australian men were embarking for service overseas. Long volunteered for the Army in May 1915 and after several years serving in Egypt and France, he transferred to the Australian Flying Corps in England, and trained as a pilot. He then flew in bombing raids over France and Belgium during the closing months of the war.

Finally peace was declared and before returning home Long was able to undertake two further courses in aeronautics and civil aviation. He also bought a new Boulton Paul – P9 plane, especially fitted with wicker seats for the comfort of a passenger. The plane was tested, then taken apart and packed into ten crates in readiness for shipping to Australia.  His plan was to introduce the benefits of aviation to the inhabitants of his home state.

Arriving home at the beginning of August 1919, Long had to wait another month for the crates to arrive.  He and a former AFC mechanic, Jack Howard, reassembled the craft at the Hobart show grounds and Long began demonstrating the advantages of flight. During October and November 1919 he ferried a number of passengers between Hobart and Launceston, as well as carrying out other commercial commissions, including, what is believed to be the first aerial delivery of newspapers in Australia. Much to the delight of the locals, bundles of the Mercury were dropped in towns and settlements along a route to the north of the capital.

A photographer from Launceston was amazed when he was able to have the opportunity of capturing views from the air. However the general public considered flying very dangerous and few were willing to risk it. Another difficulty Long encountered was finding suitable places to land, so he generally only flew out of Hobart or Launceston.

It soon became apparent to him that linking with the mainland would be of the greatest benefit. While in Launceston in mid-December, he announced that he planned to cross to Victoria as soon as weather conditions permitted. The plane was prepared with the addition of an extra fuel tank fitted on the passenger’s seat and an oil tank rigged up overhead on the wing.

Early on Monday 15 December Long set off from Launceston, but had to battle head winds all the way to Stanley. There he landed on the Highfield Estate, much to the curiosity of the local town’s people.  The weather made it impossible for him to continue the crossing that day. Conditions cleared overnight, allowing him to set off the following day and successfully complete the flight.

After experienced the crossing, he was more aware of the safety hazards involved and the unreliability of scheduling flights. Weather was always the unpredictable element in any plan for those early, light-weight aircraft. In fact it would be another ten years before any kind of regular service was established between Tasmania and the mainland.

In Melbourne there was strong public interest in aviation, and on Boxing Day 1919 an aerial display was held at a race course at Mordialloc.  The pilots involved were all WW1 veterans who demonstrated their aerobatic skills in mock battles. There was also a race of ten laps between the race course and Princes Bridge in the city, with Arthur Long in his Boulton Paul P9, taking home the winner’s trophy.

Long became convinced that there would be greater commercial opportunities in Victoria, so he set up a company named Aviation Limited and established a landing field to the north of the city, near the Glenroy railway station.  He gathered a small group of pilots and planes to provide a variety of aerial services, such as joy flights, aerial photography and deliveries. They also ferried businessmen and politicians to country town appointments. As an agency for Boulton and Paul, Aviation Ltd sold three more P 9 planes in Australia and in one of them, Long made the first flight to Mildura and then across to Adelaide.

Long’s company was not the only one providing similar services. The competition was keen and expenses high. Accidents were not infrequent and insurance for planes unavailable. In October 1921 Aviation Ltd folded and Long’s Boulton Paul and the airfield were sold. Long, like other young Australian Flying Corps veterans, had foreseen the potential for commercial aviation but it was many years before it became a financial possibility.

Long had not achieved his dream, but with that first flight cross Bass Strait, he had earned his place in Australian aviation history.

Arthur L Long became a successful stockbroker and grazier in Victoria and continued flying privately.  He served in the RAAF during the Second World War and died in 1954.

Arthur Long, Bass Strait crossing, Torquay History

To erect the memorial, Mr. Long visited Torquay with the Victorian Historical Society to identify the site of landing. As is was in an awkward position (now there are houses at the site), the trustees of the Torquay Reserve were approached. They agreed to the erection of the memorial in the reserve overlooking Bass Strait and just opposite Anderson Street. Alsop architects drew up the specifications and Messrs. J.C. Taylor and Sons, of Geelong built the memorial.

Inscription: “About one mile south west of here, on 17th December, 1919, Arthur Leonard Long landed from Tasmania, on the first crossing of Bass Strait by air.”.

On Saturday, 7 November, 1926 the ceremony of unveiling took place in the presence of Mr. Long, residents and members of the Government, Victorian Historical Society, Shire Council and trustees of the Torquay Reserve.

Arthur Long at Launceston with his first passenger, Mrs Nelson from Hobart.
Note the man filling the machine’s tank from a four-gallon can of petrol.

Many thanks to Tiger Moth World