The romance of flight: The Serpentine Air Race - August 1920 and 2022 - Part 1

Regular readers of the AnArt4Life blog will know that I am a bit of train and plane tragic, particularly steam trains and vintage planes.

Recently I went to an air show outside Bendigo, Victoria, at a little place called Serpentine. There is no airport there; a farmer kindly allowed his canola fields to be turned into an air field for just one day, after his harvest! It was held to commemorate a very special event, Australia’s first official air race which was started in the same place in August 1920, 100 years ago!

You may wonder how this qualifies to be written about in an art blog! I think the romance of flight, (particularly in the early days), the beauty of the early planes, the sound of the radial engines, the human endeavour to constantly improve, and the fascination it held for people are all characteristics that apply to any art form.

And if the crowds that came from far and wide to Serpentine in March 2022 are any indication, the romance and fascination of flight is still alive and well today!

The Serpentine Air Race 2022 was the 100 year celebration of the Air Race on 27th August 1920 (but was delayed to 2022 due to covid restrictions).

The original planes in the 1920 race were Avro 504Ks, used in World War I (produced from 1913 to 1932), but there are virtually none still flying today. So the call went out for Tiger Moth owners to come and take part in a timed race, and eight still-flying specimens answered the call!

Whilst DH.82 Tiger Moths are of a later vintage than Avro 504s, being first produced in the 1930s, they were a very appropriate subsititue for the commemoration event!

Originally, four World War I pilots took part in the race starting in Serpentine on 27th August 1920. The purpose was to promote the Second Peace Loan, whereby the Australian Government were asking the people of Australia to buy Government bonds as an investment, just as they had 12 months earlier for the first £25 million "Peace Loan" fund raising.

These Bonds were essentially a loan of money to the Government to build repatriation housing and undertake rebuilding projects which would support returned soldiers and help kick start the economy again after the deprivations of the war years. For this investment, the Government would pay 6% interest to the Bond holder for the duration of the loan, to July 1930.

This was an Australia wide campaign, and every State had a target amount to raise, which was divided up right down to even rural towns! East Loddon Shire residents and businesses had a target of £19,000 pounds to raise, (which they achieved in August 1920). 1

The use of Australian Flying Corp (AFC) aeroplanes and World War I aviators was a novel way to generate interest in the Peace Loan and there was a one-month intense promotion of the bonds. 1

The Serpentine Air Race was a promotion undertaken by the East Loddon Shire to help achieve their target amount. The four pilots who took part were Captain Mackenzie, Captain Matheson, Lieutenant Mustard and Lieutenant Treloar, along with their attendant air mechanics, all of whom served in World War One.

The race route was to fly from Serpentine to the Melbourne Town Hall. A similar crowd was gathered in Swanston Street in the Melbourne CBD to see the planes go past to then land in Port Melbourne.

Captain William Treloar was declared the winner in a time of one hour, fifteen minutes. He was presented with a silver trophy, which the Serpentine district community residents had subscribed £40 (pounds) to purchase. This historic trophy is now housed at the Point Cook Air Museum, just south of Melbourne.1

Here are some more photos of the event in August 1920.......

Whilst I love going to any airshow, I had a further interest in this event as my Grandfather was also a Peace Loan aviator, and flew to Yorketown, South Australia as the Air Mechanic for Lieutenant Miller and Captain McNamara. We still have one of the flyers from this event, below.

Don’t you just love the marketing of the day! Procrastination is the thief of time! And also…….. Buy a £10 bond for your child! It is a good investment!

Tomorrow we will return to look at some images of the Commemorative Air Show held at Serpentine on 20th March 2022...........


  1. With thanks and permission from the East Loddon Historical Society Inc.