Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 26, 2021

Long Flight Home, by Lainie Anderson

With Father’s Day approaching, we’re all being bombarded with adverts from retailers promoting gifts which they think are suitable for men, and we can see how tricky that is this year because the ‘sporting gift’ is not an option for states in Lockdown.  These gendered approaches to gift-giving have always irritated me because (apart from the socks and hankies option) my father would never have wanted any of what was/is being promoted.  He was always delighted to receive a gift of music or a book or a ticket to a concert—but only classical music and not tools, not sporting or political bios and definitely not gardening books to give my mother more ideas for him to implement!  (Actually, his favourite gift was jars of my home-made lime marmalade, limes in my garden being so conveniently in season at this time of the year).

I thought about this while I was reading this highly enjoyable fictionalised account of the Great Air Race from England to Australia in 1919.  If my father were still alive, I’d be sending Long Flight Home up to him for Father’s Day because he was always interested in history and there were gaps in his knowledge of OzHist because his schooling was in Britain.  But I bet my mother would have snaffled it before he even had a chance to start on it because she had an adventurous streak, and she would have loved the combination of ‘boys-own-adventure’ and a romance sorely tested by the lure of adventure that overcomes the narrator of the story, Wally Shier.

Long Flight Home is based on the real-life story of the pioneering flight, but it’s not told from the PoV of the well-known aviation hero the pilot Ross Smith and his navigator and brother Keith Smith.  Framed by storytelling at the pub in 1968, mechanic Wally Shiers narrates his story, from his reluctant enlistment during WW1 to his capture by the romance of early wartime aviation and his progress through the fledgling Australian air wing to become a sought-after mechanic for the race to win £10,000.  His girl, Helena waits for him at home all through the war but her loyalty falters when Wally doesn’t come home as promised but instead goes to India with Smith and then back to England to prepare a plane for the race.

It wasn’t just a long race, in pursuit of competitors just as keen to win the prize.  It was also highly dangerous and Anderson captures it all.  The freezing conditions in an open cockpit of a Vickers Vimy, the perils of navigation in stormy conditions, the fragility of the plane, and the need for constant repairs necessitating long and difficult hours of work overnight for Wally and co-mechanic Jim Bennett so that the plane could make an early departure next day.  The most dangerous part was the last, when RAF support and airfields ceased and they were flying over uncharted jungle in southeast Asia and landing on airfields barely cleared of tree-stumps.

For pioneer aviation tragics, there is a huge variety of resources at the Epic Flight Centenary website — but if you click on the Recommended Reading link, you will see Long Flight Home right at the top of the list: this is the book that will whet your appetite.

Author: Lainie Anderson
Title: Long Flight Home
Publisher: Wakefield Press, 2019
ISBN: 9781743056639, pbk., 357 pages
Review copy courtesy of Wakefield Press


Responses

  1. Reminds me of the vivid opening section of Colum McCann’s ‘Transatlantic’, in which Alcock and Brown complete the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic in a Vimy in 1919.

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    • I haven’t read that one.
      They were so brave, weren’t they?!

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  2. Ah, I was going to mention Colum McCann’a novel but Tredynas has beaten me to it. That first section of his novel is absolutely brilliant…taught me a lot about the early days of flight. If you haven’t read the book you must put it on your list, Lisa. I have very fond memories of it.

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    • I’ll take your advice. I’ve reserved it at the library… though goodness knows when I’ll be able to go and pick it up…

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      • Is your library not doing drop-offs during lockdown? In that first big WA lockdown in 2020, the library here was doing weekly drop-offs, not that I took advantage of that service because, you know, I had enough of my own books to read.

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        • I don’t think so. I belong to five libraries within driving distance, and I don’t think any of them are doing drop-offs in lockdown. Some, not all, are doing click and collect, and — since I wrote my comment yesterday — my nearest has contacted me to say that I can pick up the book because they *are* doing contactless click and collect (which they haven’t before during *this* level of restrictions i.e. Stage 4 lockdown). OTOH they have put huge effort into supporting children with online activities and storytime, which probably reflects the age profile of their membership.
          The Brighton network OTOH has been running click and collect from about half way through last year. Glen Eira has been very active in offering online author talks, but I haven’t seen much from the Port Phillip network or Casey-Cardinia or Springvale. (Which doesn’t mean they’re doing nothing, it just means that I haven’t paid attention to whatever’s been promoted in their newsletters. One library newsletter is always advertising family history events online, which doesn’t interest me at all, and another does author talks with YA authors which doesn’t interest me either. Plus, some of them, *sigh* only advertise their activities on Facebook or Instagram.)
          I’ve heard of libraries are putting their energies (i.e. their staff time) into ringing their membership, which has earned them big bouquets from people living alone. I can’t imagine how draining it must be to be doing that…

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I choose to read books for lost family and friends too. :)

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    • It brings you closer to them…

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