Nancy Bird-Walton | What's in a Name


Have you ever driven along Nancy Bird-Walton Drive at Kew and wondered where the name came from? – well it’s a fascinating tale so keep reading:

Nancy Bird was born in 1915 at Kew, near Taree, one of six children of William and Fanny Bird. The family moved to Sydney when she was young.

She attended a private school at Collaroy but left at 13 when her father set up a general store in Mount George, near Taree, and chose Nancy, the practical daughter, to help him.

One day in 1930 everything changed – she went to Mascot for a trial flight, which convinced her that she wanted to fly. She returned to work at the store, saved £200, bought a jacket and flying helmet, and enrolled as one of the first pupils at Charles Kingsford Smith's new flying school at Mascot.

She was the youngest Australian woman ever to gain her pilot's license at the age of 19.

Nancy entitled her autobiography My God! It’s a Woman! the comment a grazier, trapped on an outback property, made after being told the pilot flying to his rescue was named Nancy.

This was pretty much the typical response to a female pilot when Nancy began her career, gaining her commercial pilot’s licence in 1935.

There were few jobs for male pilots at the time, let alone women and Nancy’s parents bought her a Gypsy Moth which she flew around the country working at fairs offering joy flights.

The Reverend Stanley Drummer hired Nancy to transport nurses for the Royal Far West Children’s Scheme to help mothers and babies in remote towns and properties.

Nancy then bought a Leopard Moth and operated as an air ambulance service when she moved to Cunnamulla in Queensland.

After winning the ladies trophy in the South Australian Centenary Air Race from Brisbane to Adelaide in 1936 she took a two-year world tour to study civil aviation. The study was courtesy of the Cutch East Indies Airline which wanted to break into the Australian market.

She met Englishman Charles Walton on her tour and they married in 1939. With the outbreak of the second world war, Nancy-Bird Walton, recruited and trained women for a women’s auxiliary air force.

The WAAF was formed but because she was married, Nancy couldn’t join, so she stayed as commandant of the Women’s Air Training Corps. 

“No matter how foolish, it is not the things in life that you do, but the things that you don’t do, that you regret.”

Nancy Bird-Walton

In 1950 Nancy founded the Australian Women’s Pilots’ Association and was their president until 1990.

She finished in the top five of 61 entries, with her co-pilot Iris Critchell, in the Powder Puff Derby, an all female transcontinental air race in the USA.

Politics beckoned and Nancy helped form the Women’s Movement against Socialism which, she said, aimed to educate Australian women in politics and not vote according to their husbands’ wishes. 

In 1961 she wrote her first book Born to Fly and her autobiography in 1990. That same year she was awarded and OBE and became an Officer of the Order of Australia. 

Nancy was named a National Treasure by the National Trust in 1997 and in 2008 Qantas named its first A380 in her honour. Nancy died just three months after the naming ceremony, on January 13, 2009 at the age of 93.  She was given a state funeral in Sydney.

 Dunbogan man Don Bailey is pushing for the new airport in Western Sydney to be named in her honour.

"Why should one bloke in Sydney or a politician have the final say on what the new airport will be named?”

Don Bailey

“Nancy did it tough, she is a true Australian pioneer,” Don said.

“It’s time we honoured women and named places after them. Why should one bloke in Sydney or a politician have the final say on what the new airport will be named?”

Information in this story was from Nancy-Bird Walton’s obituary, written by Harriet Veitch and Malcolm Brown, and published in the Sydney Morning Herald on January 13, 2009.