William Ewart Hart was born on 20 April 1885 at Parramatta. His father William Hart was a local timber merchant born in Parramatta in thirty years earlier. His mother Maria Alice was also born in Parramatta in 1862. William and Maria were married in Parramatta in 1880 and ‘Billy’ was their third child. Hart started his career as a dentist and became the first “qualified” Australian pilot.
He was awarded Australian aviator’s licence No. 1 on 5 December 1911. Hart was apprenticed at 16 to a dentist and was registered as dentist on 26 June 1906. He practiced at Newcastle and Sydney. Hart was interested in aviation. He bought Bristol Box-kite aircraft for £1333 from Joseph Hammond, who was touring Australia as a demonstration pilot for the British & Colonial Aeroplane Co. Ltd. He received few flying lessons from Hammond’s mechanic. His first record flight was on 4 November 1911 from Penrith to Parramatta Park – a distance of about 29 km. He flew a Bristol Box-kite aircraft. This flight took 19 minutes and his aircraft reached an altitude of 3000 feet.
The field where Hart landed in Parramatta Park remains to this day much as it was in 1911. He was a winner of Australia’s first air race from Botany to Parramatta in 1912 – a distance of 32km. He completed the distance in 23 minutes and won the race. In 1912, Hart opened an Aviation School in Penrith, taking on student aviators. In August 1912, he constructed a two-seat monoplane which he successfully tested at Wagga Wagga, but wrecked it in a serious accident at Richmond on 4 September 1912. He was badly injured and never flew again.
He resumed his previous occupation of dentistry. In January 1916, Hart was enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a lieutenant in No 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps. He went to Egypt and Britain as an instructor. He was found medically unfit and return to Australia. He was discharged from duties on 11 September 1916. Hart married Thelma Claire Cock on 10 August 1929 in Parramatta. They lived at Cheltenham. In the 1930s he visited Britain and the United States of America where he observed the latest developments in dentistry. He introduced new dental theories after his return to Australia.
Hart died on 29 July 1943 from heart disease. He was cremated in Rockwood Crematorium on 31 July 1943 with Methodist forms as the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) flew overhead in salute. Air Force Association in its minutes recorded that he was a “respectful, courageous pioneer, soldier, airman, loyal friend and good citizen, lovable personality and gallant gentleman”. A memorial to William Ewart Hart was unveiled in Parramatta Park in 1963.
- Hart-Johnson, Phil, Billy Hart: Australia’s First Licence Pilot: down under’s greatest pioneer aviator also known as Parramatta’s flying dentist, Northair Company, 1994
- Terry Kass et al, Parramatta, A Past Revealed, Parramatta City Council, 1996
- Australian Dictionary of Biography. http://adb.anu.edu.au/
- William Hart Memorial. http://www.ppt.nsw.gov.au/History/european-history/william-hart-memorial
- Vertical File, Local Studies and Family History Library, Parramatta Heritage and Visitor Information centre.