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Wed, 13 Nov


Henley Beach

Talk on Aviation Pioneer Captain Harry Butler and The Red Devil

Les Parsons and I will give a talk on Captain Harry Butler and The Red Devil at the City of Charles Sturt library at Henley Beach. Come along and here about the pioneer aviator who introduced aviation and the first passenger flights in South Australia!

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Talk on Aviation Pioneer Captain Harry Butler and The Red Devil
Talk on Aviation Pioneer Captain Harry Butler and The Red Devil

Time & Location

13 Nov 2019, 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm

Henley Beach, Library, 378 Seaview Rd, Henley Beach SA 5022, Australia

About the event


The Red Devil: The story of South Australian aviation pioneer, Captain Harry Butler, AFC

In this presentation, Les Parsons and Dr Samantha Battams will tell the story of Captain Harry Butler, pioneer aviator of South Australia, based on their recent book. Captain Butler made a significant contribution to early aviation in South Australia and Australian postal history. Butler undertook the first passenger flights in South Australia, was the first person in the southern hemisphere to fly over a significant body of water (with airmail), took the first aerial photographs and sold his Hendon airport to the government which became South Australia’s first government airport. The Smith Brothers and crew landed their Vickers Vimy in Butler’s airfield at Northfield after their first UK-Australia flight.

Somewhat lesser known Butler’s strong relationship with another early SA aviation pioneer, Carl Wittber, with whom Butler teamed up with to build an early home made box kite type aircraft, around 1912. Wittber had previously conducted what was arguably the first ever (unrecognised) powered flight in Australia in March 1910 (with Fred Custance) before the famous Harry Houdini claimed the first flight in Australia 8 days later.

After returning from WW1, where he trained over 2700 in the Royal Flying Corps in aerial fighting tactics and engaged in home defence missions, Captain Butler made a significant contribution to repatriation causes in the SA, actively promoting the Peace Loans to assist returned soldiers and their families. Captain Butler hailed from Minlaton, on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. His  original Bristol M.1c Monoplane, on display at Minlaton, was known as ‘The Red Devil’ by the newspapers at the time (as was its pilot), and is the only original one remaining in the world.

At the time Captain Butler was actively flying and promoting aviation and repatriation causes he was possible the most recognised person in the state. He drew large crowds to events, including 20,000 people to Unley Aviation Day of August 1919, where he landed on Unley Oval and performed never before seen aerobatic displays, to raise money for the Peace Loan. He was also involved in Australia’s first Aerial Derby (which he won) to promote the Peace Loan (with a crowd of 40,000 in attendance). He also did 'jetty jumping' over the Henley Beach and Grange jetties to raise money for the SA Tramways Trust, which drew large crowds. The South Australian public turned out in their thousands to watch his wedding and get a glimpse of Butler and his bride when they left the church. 

Captain Butler also drew the attention of several high profile people at this time, including Governor Sir Henry Galway, who received Butler at government house upon his return from WW1, helped to support Butler’s establishment of aviation through the media, and was a regular attendee at his aviation and repatriation events. Chief Justice Sir George Murray was also an avid supporter, and at one time planted a tree that was dropped from The Red Devil on Wattle Day to commemorate the ANZACS. Captain Butler also welcomed Prime Minister Billy Hughes into Adelaide by following his train and performing acrobatics in his monoplane (to a crowd of 200,000, the entire population of Adelaide at the time!). Butler was also officially introduced to Prince (later King) Edward on his visit to Australia. 

Despite Butler’s achievements, contemporary fame and contribution to the post-WW1 community, he has been almost forgotten and this is the first complete biographical history of Captain Butler. This book has illuminated the role of Captain Butler in establishing aviation in South Australia, and has been published in the centenary year of Captain Butler’s first flight over a major body of water in the southern hemisphere.

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