No one saw him off and no one was expecting the unassuming Oscar Garden, the first Kiwi to fly from England to Australia.
He had just 39 flying hours under his belt, but New Zealander Oscar Garden was determined to fly his tiny Gipsy Moth from London to Australia in 1930.
At the time, it was considered the most formidable journey. A few months earlier Australians Eric Hook and Jack Matthews had made a forced landing in the deep jungle 240km from Rangoon in Myanmar. Both survived the crash, but Hook became sick and died while they were struggling through the jungle in monsoonal rains.
Scotland-born Garden, aged 27, purchased his plane, which he named Kia Ora, in the aviation department at London department store Selfridges.
No one was at Croydon airport to see him off, apart from a representative of the Vacuum Oil Company, which had agreed to provide fuel supplies at his planned stops along the 19,300km route.
Garden hadn't told his family in Christchurch of his plans and had sought no publicity. On the day he left, The Sun newspaper wrote: "Aerodrome officials have no idea where he came from."
Eighteen days later, he landed at Wyndham in Western Australia. No one had been expecting him and he became known as the Sundowner of the Skies.
Although it was the third-fastest flight at the time - after veteran Australian aviators Bert Hinkler and Charles Kingsford - it captured the world's imagination because of his inexperience.
Garden went on to have a career in aviation around the world before settling back in Tauranga as a tomato grower. He eventually settled in Papakura. He died in 1997.
His daughter, Mary Garden, said that after he retired from flying, "he was forgotten".
She has written a book on his feat, called Sundowner of the Skies. One of his sons-in-law is Kiwi fiction writer Maurice Gee but Mary says her father was adamant he not write the book as there was "too much sex" in his books.
In the below extract, Mary details her father's journey near Jhansi in central India before reaching Australia.
After circling around in near darkness for about half an hour in the hope of signals, he decided to "take pot luck" and ended up crashing between two trees in a ploughed field. Kia Ora overturned, smashing the propeller and damaging the rudder.
Oscar was hanging upside down in the seat's safety straps listening to petrol dripping out from the rear tank. He was horrified to see a local approaching with a kerosene lantern; the plane was in danger of catching fire. As soon as he freed himself he plugged up the petrol tank outlets.
Other Indians were soon on the scene and by using sign language he got them to help him right the plane by removing its wings from one side. The wings were then put back on and the spare propeller he had brought with him installed. Oscar sat under one wing and waited for daylight.
Some of the locals sheltered next to him. None of them could speak English. He was hungry and thirsty, but every time he motioned for food or water, they would give him "vile beedie cigarettes".
He was also cut, bruised, tired and stiff. A couple of his companions must have realised this as suddenly they rolled him over and gave him a vigorous massage, which, he said, "despite its roughness, really did me a lot of good".
At about 4am it started to rain heavily, the "heavens began to teem", Oscar recalled. Within a few minutes the ploughed field became a muddy bog and water began rising up the plane. Oscar set out through the mud, at times plunging up to his knees, until he found a relatively dry strip of land about two miles away. It took several hours for about 50 Indian helpers to tow the plane using a stout rope. About 100 trees that were in the way had to be cut down.
I spent six years in India during the 1970s and travelled through Jhansi on several occasions as it is a major intercity hub situated on the main Delhi–Bombay (now Mumbai) and Delhi–Madras (now Chennai) railway lines.
If only I had been interested in my father's story then! I could have tracked down some of the Indians who helped him and interviewed them using an interpreter. Some of them would never have seen a plane before. Were they frightened? Was my father's story correct? Were 100 trees really cut down? How muddy was it? What did they think of my father? What were their impressions? These are things I would love to know.
Oscar was just getting ready for take-off when one of the locals who had a long stick in his hand, perhaps fascinated by the sight of the propeller turning over, decided to put the stick into it.
He got as much of a shock as Oscar. On take-off, an unexplainable and peculiar thing happened: "It felt like the whole plane was being twisted by some giant invisible hand holding the front while another tried twisting the rear."
It lasted about two minutes before the plane settled down and he was able to fly to the Jhansi airfield. It was now about midday, and after he had a wash and something to eat he checked the plane over. When he could find nothing wrong, he decided to stay the night at Jhansi and have the plane checked out at Calcutta.
The following day, he flew to Calcutta via Allahabad. He had the same unnerving experience during take-off as the previous day, with the plane weaving and twisting for a couple of minutes. He arrived at Dum Dum Aerodrome, Calcutta, at 5.30pm after a flight of 10 hours 50 minutes. When he jumped out of the plane he cheerfully said: "I must have been born lucky," referring to his narrow escape at Jhansi.
The next day, he discovered the problem he had been having on take-off. When the plane was stuck in the mud in Jhansi the wheels had sunk up to the hubs. The wheels were wire wheels with canvas covers and the mud had oozed inside and dried out. This meant that during take-off, they acted as huge but unevenly balanced weights.
British pilot Mrs Victor Bruce had arrived at Calcutta earlier that day and she was surprised to be greeted by Oscar as she thought he would have been well on his way to Australia. However, she was "jolly glad"' that he had to stop for repairs to his plane as this meant she would have his company on the leg to Burma.
Part of this route crosses the Arakan Yoma range of mountains where the Australian flyers Eric Hook and Jack Matthews had crashed a few months before. (Both survived the crash, but Hook became sick and died. Bruce wrote in her memoir that Hook had "been eaten alive by leeches").
Bruce said she and Oscar "made an arrangement that if either had to come down, the other would fly on in search of help, for it would be useless to land, as both of us would probably be helpless".
The next day they flew for eight hours to Akyab (now Sittwe) where they stopped for half an hour to refuel. The small group of people waiting had warm coffee for them, even though it was a sweltering hot day. Bruce wrote, "I had never felt so hot in my life."
They then flew across the Arakan Yoma range and along the Irrawaddy River to Rangoon. There was a glorious sunset as they came down to land and they could see the glittering golden spire of the famous Shwedagon Pagoda dominating the skyline.
The next morning, October 31, they parted ways. Bruce headed eastwards towards Japan. Oscar flew south to Singora (now Songkhla) in southern Thailand, a trip of 12 hours, with a stop at Mergui. The Mergui airfield was not in a proper state to allow a take-off so Oscar had to organise for the holes in the field to be filled. He said the natives had never seen a plane before.
Over the next two days, Oscar flew to Singapore (a flight of seven and a quarter hours) and onto Batavia (now Jakarta), a flight of seven and three-quarter hours. He arrived at Batavia about midday but was not allowed to carry on because it was a Sunday.
He said in a later interview that the town was a "small paradise" reminding him of the trees and flowers of Australia: "The town is well laid out, and the Dutch residents there show the most wonderful hospitality. Most of them seemed to know a bit of English, and could not do enough to make my short stay as enjoyable as possible."
On November 3, he headed for Sourabaya, the capital of East Java, where he met Flight Lieutenant Hill, who was waiting for a ship to take his damaged plane to a repair shop. Oscar continued on to Bima on the island of Sumbawa (now part of Indonesia).
He again had help from locals, this time from a tribe reported to be head-hunters. As usual, after arriving, he did his maintenance work on Kia Ora.
"I was up there, getting one of the natives to stand beside me with a torch while I checked all the gear. I was dead tired and I was being bitten alive with millions of mosquitoes. I got on top of the engine and had a look. And I found two broken valve springs and I was just dead lucky that I had these two spare ones. So I finished up by replacing them and getting it sorted out."
Valve springs close the engine valves, which act as gatekeepers for fuel and air to enter and exit the combustion chambers of the engine.
If the springs had not been replaced this would have resulted in engine failure.
At midnight, he was taken to the chief's hut where he was fed. He had been given a pocket watch as a souvenir by the Vacuum Oil representative at Sourabaya which he lent to the chief. Using sign language he showed him where the hands would be at 4am, the time he wanted to be woken up. Oscar said that on the dot of 4am he was shaken awake. When he emerged from the hut, he was startled to find about 50 locals sitting on rope beds placed all around the plane.
"I couldn't take it in, that they would guard the plane like that. And I thought, 'My God, what a marvellous thing to do!' When it was time to say goodbye, they gave me something quick to eat for breakfast, goodness knows what it was. I had about 10 pounds in different currencies left. I knew if I came down in the Timor Sea that would be the end of that, I'd be gone, so I thought better for the chief to have it. So, I gave him this money and I sort of pointed to all the villagers and he nodded his head; he knew what I was talking about."
On November 4, after flying to Koepang to refuel, he braced himself for the perilous flight over the Timor sea. It was this last hop aviators dreaded: 500 miles of shark-infested waters. Oscar had no life-jacket or inflatable dingy. Fortunately, there were no incidents and it was with great relief he reached Wyndham at nightfall.
Nobody was expecting him. He had completed the England to Australia flight in 18 days, beating Amy Johnson's record. It was a new record for a novice pilot and the third-fastest time.
Sundowner of the Skies
New Holland Publishers