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From the website Australians At Work.
Video clip synopsis – In the 1930s Nancy Bird Walton became known as the "Angel of the Desert", working with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Some tried to discourage a woman flying on her own in the turbulent conditions of the outback.
Year of production - 1991
Duration - 2min 48sec
Tags - biography, gender, health, heroism, women, see all tags


She Wanted To Fly

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About the Video Clip


She Wanted To Fly is an excerpt from the program Nancy Bird Walton (26 mins), an episode of Australian Biography Series 1 (7 × 26 mins), produced in 1991.

Nancy Bird Walton: A fully qualified pilot by the age of 19, Nancy Bird Walton went from being the youngest commercial licensed woman pilot in the British Commonwealth to becoming Australia’s “First Lady of Aviation” in the 1970s. She became known as “Angel of the Outback” for her work with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and received an OBE in 1966. In 1977 she became a Dame of St John (Knights of Malta).

Australian Biography Series 1: The Australian Biography series profiles some of the most extraordinary Australians of our time. Many have had a major impact on the nation’s cultural, political and social life. All are remarkable and inspiring people who have reached a stage in their lives where they can look back and reflect. Through revealing in-depth interviews, they share their stories – of beginnings and challenges, landmarks and turning points. In so doing, they provide us with an invaluable archival record and a unique perspective on the roads we, as a country, have travelled.

Australian Biography Series 1 is a Film Australia National Interest Program.

Curriculum Focus


This Digital Resource can be used to achieve the following outcomes:
P.1 A student demonstrates understanding of the relationships between composer, responder, text and context.
P.4 A student identifies and describes language forms and features and structures of particular texts that shape meaning and influence responses.
P.6 A student engages with a wide range of texts to develop a considered and informed personal response.
P.7 A student selects appropriate language forms and features, and structures of texts to explore and express ideas and values.
P.10 A student analyses and synthesises information and ideas from a range of texts for a variety of purposes, audiences and contexts.

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

Background Information


Nancy Bird Walton was born in Sydney in 1915.

She wanted to fly from an early age, and was known for climbing onto fences and declaring herself to be an 'eppy plane’.

She flew for the first time at an air pageant, at the age of 13, paying the pilot extra to perform aerobatics.

At 18 she was learning to fly, under the tuition of no less than Charles Kingsford-Smith. Nancy was among the first of his pupils at his Sydney flying school, even though she needed cushions to reach the rudder pedals.

Nancy had no intention of flying just for a bit of sport, which was a common motivation among women pilots at the time. It was to earn a living. She became the first woman pilot in the Commonwealth to achieve commercial certification to carry passengers. Her family bought her first aircraft, a De Havilland Gipsy Moth. Nancy and a friend, Peggy, set off on a tour, barnstorming and giving joy rides at country shows where many people had never seen an aircraft, let alone a woman pilot.
On tour, she met Rev. Stanley Drummond, who persuaded her to join a flying medical service in outback Australia. With a better equipped aircraft she worked territory not previously covered by the Flying Doctor Service in remote parts of New South Wales.

In 1936 Nancy won the Ladies’ Trophy in the Adelaide-Brisbane Air Race.

After four years in the outback, she took a break, accepting an offer from a Dutch airline to do promotional work. She returned to Australia just before World War 2 began and undertook training women to back up the men flying in the RAAF.

In 1950 Nancy founded the AWPA (Australian Women Pilots Association). The AWPA celebrated its 50th anniversary in October 2000 with a dinner at a restaurant near Adelaide, South Australia, attended by Nancy herself and sixty or so pilots in powered flight, gliding, ballooning — with hardly a man present.

In 1966 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire.

Classroom Activities

  1. Examine the first scene and give reasons why you think the filmmaker starts with this scene.
    1. Briefly describe your reaction when you realise that it is a woman flying.
    2. Briefly describe your reaction when you realise it is an elderly woman.
    1. List eight pieces of information you find out about Nancy Bird Walton from the video clip.
    2. In 25 words or less write what you think is the message of the video clip
    3. As a class write a definition of the word ‘hero’.
    4. Do you think that Nancy Bird Walton is a ‘hero’? Give reasons for your answer and use evidence from the film.
  2. Imagine that you have been asked to introduce Nancy Bird Walton to a school assembly. Write a 150-word introduction that tells students about her life and why she is an important person.

Literacy Activity: Focus= Viewing / Analysing

  1. What gave Nancy Bird the inspiration to become a pilot? (1 mark)
  2. Why was her job important to isolated communities? (1 mark)
  3. What information is added by the inclusion of the black and white still shots? (2 marks)
  4. Would you describe her as a determined woman? Why? (1 mark)

Extension- Research and report on John Flynn and the work of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. (5 marks)

Further Resources


Go to Australian Biography and select Nancy Bird-Walton