The “Birdman” in PNG


The late Bill Flewellyn hang gliding over Port Moresby in 1974. Self portrait organised and set up by senior press photographer, the late Denis Williams.

Do you remember when the “Birdman” came to the Goroka Show in 1974 and put on a great exhibition of hang gliding for everybody, with smoke flares and the like? In the previous year, the South Pacific Brewery had taken an elephant to the Mt Hagen show and it had been a huge success. When it was Goroka’s turn to hold a show in 1974 they wanted something equally spectacular so the brewery gave them Bill Flewellyn. He didn’t let them down.

Flewellyn at that time was only 27 years old, and he was almost single-handedly promoting hang gliding as a recreational sport, not just in Australia but in the rest of the world as well.

When he arrived in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Denis Williams was keen to get a picture of Flewellyn gliding over the capital city and Flewellyn was happy to oblige. Williams attached a Nikon with a filtered wide-angle lens to the kite and a long, hand release, then sat back and waited for the result.

What he got thrilled both him and Flewellyn. the “Birdman” had taken not just a beauty of a self portrait but a great aerial shot of Port Moresby’s port and town area. It did end up on the front page of the Post Courier newspaper and some of you may remember that as well. Unfortunately the background has been cropped in this photo, due to the size of my scanner.

Today I took the photo out of its dark album and I could see immediately its archival value. Not only is it a useful historical photo of PNG’s capital in the early seventies,  but it is also a great self-portrait of a young, dare-devil sportsman who helped to make hang gliding the popular adventure sport it is today.

Flewellyn, a South Australian from Barmera, set an Australian altitude record in 1976. In 1977, he launched himself from a hot-air balloon and hang-glided over Japan’s highest peak, Mt. Fuji. Then in 1978 the people of PNG were saddened to read that he had been killed in a hang-gliding accident in Toowoomba, Qld, at the age of 31. He was survived by a wife and two young children.

When I looked at that photo again I thought what a wonderful job both Flewellyn and Williams had done in creating this photo of what was then the pioneering sport of hang gliding, with beautiful Port Moresby as a background.

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