Historic flight of Sutherland born aviator
The remarkable story of a Sutherland native who in 1930 set the record for being the youngest pilot to fly solo from the UK to Australia, has now been told by his daughter.
Tongue born Oscar Garden had less than 40 flying hours under his belt when he made the precarious flight in a second-hand open-cockpit Gypsy Moth. He survived several forced landings including a spectacular crash in India.
His derring-do is recounted by daughter Mary Garden in her book Sundowner of the Skies: The Story of Oscar Garden, the Forgotten Aviator.
Mary, a freelance writer living in Queensland, knew little of her father’s life as an aviator. She recalls he didn’t talk much to her about anything “except to bark orders” and her mother and other relatives dismissed his solo flight as “a lot of fuss about nothing”.
It wasn’t until she started researching his life in 1992, drawing on newspaper, magazine articles and extracts from aviation books, that she realised the enormity of what he had done.
Mary was also to discover that to the outside world her father was a carefree adventurer, but to his family he was a different man – a loner devoid of emotion.
Born in Tongue in 1903, Oscar was the grandson of Robert Garden, a wealthy trader who opened a string of shops including a store in Tongue which was taken over by the Burr family in the 1930s. Oscar left north Sutherland when his parents Robert junior and RebeccaGarden split up. He moved with his mother and a sister first to Manchester and in 1920 to Sydney and then to New Zealand, to where his father and other siblings had previously emigrated
On a trip back to the UK in 1930, Oscar gained his flying licence at Norwich flying school and only months later set off from Croydon for Western Australia. He sought no publicity and the only person to wave him off was from the Vacuum Oil Company, which provided fuel supplies at each stop.
Oscar later became chief pilot and operations manager for Tasman Empire Airways Ltd, the forerunner to Air New Zealand. He left the company suddenly in 1947, three years before Mary was born and never piloted a plane again. He died in 1997.
Explaining the title of her book, Mary said a sundowner was an “Australian swagman who arrives unexpectedly out of nowhere at sundown and disappears the next morning”, just as her father had done. The title suited him, she said, as he was forever on the move.
Shehopes to visit Sutherland on her first trip to the UK next year to promote her book.