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Discover the amazing story of the England to Australia air race of 1919, won by two of South Australia’s favourite sons, Captain Ross Smith and Lieutenant Keith Smith in a free exhibition, Heroes of the skies: The Smith brothers and the Great Air Race of 1919 , opening at the State Library of South Australia on Friday 1 November. Together with their mechanics, Sergeants Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett, the Smith brothers were the first Australian airmen to fly from England to Australia in 28 days in a modified Vickers Vimy bomber.

The exhibition follows the lives of the Smith family from their early days at Mutooroo Station in the far north of South Australia to service in World War One and the public response to the tragic death of Sir Ross Smith in an air crash in 1922.

The exhibition brings to life the excitement of the race and its aftermath through the State Library collections including the Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith Archive, as well as precious items on loan from other libraries, museums, and private collections.

Highlights relating to the race on display include the log-book and the intercom book of the Vickers Vimy, notebooks kept by Ross and Keith, a pocket compass, a magneto from the engine, a piece of Vimy aircraft fabric and a Sidcot flying suit of the day. Photographs taken by the crew during the race are on display and document first-hand their journey. Also on display are the rarely seen knighthood medals awarded to Keith and the ‘flying wings’ won by Ross in the Australian Flying Corps and Keith in the Royal Flying Corps, which were taken into space with astronaut Dr. Andy Thomas in 1996. 

Director State Library of South Australia, Geoff Strempel, says

“We are proud to be a part of the celebrations of the Epic Flight Centenary 2019. This flight is considered one of the world’s great pioneering aviation feats and the story deserves to be told.”  

“This exhibition has been made possible thanks to the donation to the State Library of the personal papers of the Smith brothers by Sir Keith’s widow Anita, Lady Smith in the 1960s. It illustrates the importance of donations from the public and the vital part these donations and the State Library play in the preserving and sharing of the state’s history.”

As well as forming part of the physical display, the donated archives have also been digitised to provide easy access so people from anywhere in the world can explore more about the brothers and their extraordinary achievement. The papers are part of the State Library’s Digital Collections.

The Heroes of the skies: The Smith brothers and the Great Air Race of 1919 exhibition is on display at the State Library of South Australia until 5 April 2020. 

Media Opportunity

The curators of the exhibition and Director of the State Library will be available for media interviews on Friday 1 November 2019, from 10.30 to 11am, in the Treasures Wall, level 1. 

Exhibition details

Heroes of the skies: The Smith brothers and the Great Air Race of 1919
1 November 2019 - 5 April 2020 
Treasures Wall, level 1 
State Library of South Australia 
Corner North Terrace and Kintore Avenue 

Free entry, open daily (except public holidays): 

  • Monday to Wednesday: 10am to 8pm 
  • Thursday and Friday: 10am to 6pm  
  • Saturday and Sunday: 10am to 5pm

Media enquiries

Mark Gilbert 
Marketing Content Librarian 
State Library of South Australia 
Phone: (08) 8207 7355
Mobile: 0403 934 678
mark.gilbert@sa.gov.au 

Download the media release