Margareta Gee Collection/Alexander turnbull library
Oscar Garden in the cockpit of his de Havilland Gipsy Moth aircraft at Mascot Airport, Sydney, after his solo flight from England to Australia, 7 November 1930. Reference number: F-181958-½.
Exciting stories of flight surrounded Dr Annamaria Garden as she grew up.
Her father, Oscar Garden, was a New Zealand flight pioneer, being the chief pilot and manager at the country’s first airline, Tasman Empire Airways Ltd (TEAL) during the war, taking a historic solo flight from England to Australia, and becoming one of British Airways’ first pilots in 1936.
“In his era, there were all these entrepreneurial risk-takers who were taking to the air to try and beat each other. For that reason I think it’s a story worth telling,” Garden says. “I’m proud of him. You had to have a bit of grit about you.”
Her book, Oscar Garden: A Tale of One Man’s Love of Flying, is released this month by Mary Egan Press, and while it’s Garden’s eighth book, this one is a personal tale based on the hundreds of stories her father told her growing up, about his flying life.
* The woman who almost made NZ judicial history
* Flashback: First flight opened up New Zealand 90 years ago
* Roger Hanson: Remembering trans-Tasman fun in the flying boat era
Garden was born in Scotland, but spent many years living in New Zealand. In September 1930 while in England, not that long after learning how to fly, he bought a de Havilland DH 60 Moth, a two-seater, pale blue single engine plane – from Selfridge’s aviation department – which he called Kia Ora.
The plane travelled at just 137kmh and it would take him 18 days to travel to Australia, where he was welcomed, and subsequently in New Zealand, to much fanfare.
Garden was twice married, and by the time his daughter Annamaria was born, to his second wife, he’d already left flying. But the stories came thick and fast. “He wouldn’t stop talking,” Annamaria says, “He really came alive when I was talking to him about (flying).”
There were the huts in Indonesia he used to sleep in, petrified, while taking a break from flying, in which he was convinced the locals were cannibals. There was the time his plane came down in jungle between Cape Town and London after some bolts came loose. He talked a lot about flying over the Timor Sea in a tiny, single-engine plane. He was frightened because there were ‘more sharks’ than other bodies of water.
“I just laughed, and said, ‘that’s not true’. (But) he was terrified, not of coming down into water, but coming down into water with sharks.”
There was the Auckland to Sydney flight that took 12 hours and five minutes, and in which they landed with only about five minutes’ worth of fuel left in the tank after encountering bad weather. Garden arrived at the hotel, and “the story is the guy who welcomes them, the manager, took one look at the crew, who were all white-faced, and took them straight to the bar.”
Garden’s book recounts the formation of New Zealand’s first regular trans-Tasman air service, after pioneering flights taken by Charles Kingsford Smith, Charles Ulm, Harold Litchfield, and Tom McWilliam, who completed the first crossing in 14 hours and 25 minutes and returned in 23 hours. (“A gruesome trip,” Garden writes.)
Like most airlines around the world, Air New Zealand has been crippled by Covid-19.
The New Zealand, Australia and British governments created Teal in April 1940, years later renamed Air New Zealand, to run a 23,000km service from New Zealand, to Australia, to Britain.
Garden recalls that her father was often at odds with the government over how Teal was running, including a dispute over whether to replace its two flying boats with land planes. The flying boats could only reach 10,000 feet and struggled in bad weather.
Garden thinks her father would be blown away by Air New Zealand’s fleet now – to push a button and be able to reach 35,000 feet rapidly. He died in 1997 in New Zealand, after spending many years as a horticulturist.
“I think he’d be very proud of Air New Zealand,” Annamaria Garden says.
Oscar Garden: A Tale of One Man’s Love of Flying, published by Mary Egan Publishing, available October 20. RRP: $45.