- Honour Roll
There are not many books on the subject of aviation in Australia in the 1930s which fail to mention Freda Thompson. Freda was the first Australian woman to fly solo from the United Kingdom to Australia and gained her Private Pilot License on 16 September 1930. She gained her Commercial Pilot License in August 1932. In 1933, Freda gained her Instructor Rating, becoming the first woman instructor in the British Empire.
She followed this up with Great Britain Air Ministry Private Pilot Certificate No. 6715 gained on 7 July 1934. This entitled her to 'fly all types of flying machines'. Freda set out from the UK and flew solo to Australia in a Gypsy Moth Major. The journey took 39 days flying time and made Freda the third woman pilot to accomplish a solo flight of this magnitude, and the first Australian woman to fly from the UK to Australia. She established a record for the Koepang-Darwin leg.
In 1937, Freda won eight Aero Club trophies and represented Victoria at the Sydney Centenary Celebrations in 1938. She was also the leader of 'a highly successful all-woman formation flying team'. During the years from the 1930s onwards, Freda served a term as the first woman President of the Royal Victorian Aero Club, was made a Life Member in 1941, and honorary membership of the Indian Women Pilots' was conferred upon her.
She was a foundation member of the Australian Women Pilots' Association, and participated in many aviation events. She flew a Hornet Moth on a 10,000 mile flight around Australia in 1950, taking five weeks, and toured New Guinea for three months in 1952. In 1972, Freda was awarded an OBE for services to Aviation. She had also received the George VI and Elizabeth II Coronation medals. The concept of the Freda Thompson Aerial Derby was created in 1972 by Shirley Smith, then President of the Victorian Branch of AWPA.
Freda had won many trophies and had left some of the large ones in the care of the Royal Victorian Aero Club at Moorabbin. As a member of the RVAC, Shirley found the magnificent 'John Haig Cup' which Freda had won in an Aerial Derby from Essendon to Mornington Race Course in 1934. She thought how much fun it would be to organise a similar race to give Freda some pleasure in her lifetime.
The Federal Executive of the AWPA was approached and gave their approval to such a race, providing Freda consented to the use of her name and to donate the John Haig Cup as a perpetual trophy. They also agreed to a small personal memento for the winner and to the race being flown 'solo'. Freda was loathe to accede but she eventually agreed to a solo race around Port Phillip Bay and she would 'flag off' the contestants each year. This she did until 1981.
Shirley, Annette Hislop and Mavis Davies set to work planning and organising the race and when the Department of Aviation gave their approval, they complimented the team on their thoroughness. There were 26 starters. Especially to women pilots, Freda has been a source of inspiration and encouragement. Her death on 11 December 1980 was a sad occasion for all those who knew her. A biography by Joan Palmer, Goggles and God Help Y6C, relates many of Freda's adventures.
After her death, the Aerial Derby was flown by both men and women pilots until 1988. In 1993, the Freda Thompson Aviation Award was donated in her memory, by her sister Claire and Ken Embling.
Reviewed 26 May 2022