Houdini – 100 year celebrations

The Keep Australia Beautiful Victorian “Sustainable City of the Year Award” for 2010

In March 2010, the Diggers Rest community celebrated the 100th anniversary of Australia’s first powered, controlled, sustained flight, by Harry Houdini. the festival involved the Diggers Rest Lions Club, Residents Association, Melton and District Historical Society, Sunbury Heritage Society and the Aviation Historical Society of Australia. The “Festival of Flight” brought the whole shire together and included beautification works, improvements to road reserves and parks, historical interpretation, and the creation of a legacy monument.

Melton City Council was given a special commendation award in the Cultural Heritage category for the Houdini Diggers Rest Celebrations, which recognised the 100th anniversary.

James Byass, Kristina McMennemin (Melton City Council), David O’Connor, Pamela Allan

The scale replica of Houdini’s Viosin biplane was constructed by local resident Ian Satur (pictured below) and was on display during the 100th anniversary celebrations of Houdini’s flight at Diggers Rest on Saturday 21 March 2010. The one-third scale replica has a wingspan of approximately three metres and took 10 months to build.


Submission to the Keep Australia Beautiful Panel of Judges

It is with great honour and a privilege that I have been selected to present to you here today.  In the early hours of October 30, 2008 Diggers Rest Residents were shocked to hear the news that our 100 year old hotel was gutted by fire.  The charred remains still stand as a constant reminder of what once was…

Many residents were of the opinion that our little community would not survive without our local watering hole the famous “Diggers Rest Hotel”.

In late 2007 a local resident made a plea to the Melton Shire Council to commemorate the anniversary of “Australia’s First Powered Controlled Sustained Flight” by the famous escapologist – Harry Houdini.

Council’s Tourism and Events team commenced planning in the first quarter of 2008 and called on residents to provide input to what is now being hailed as the best event Diggers Rest has ever held.

Everybody wanted a piece of the action, the Diggers Rest Lions Club, the Melton & District Historical Society, the Aviation Historical Society of Australia, the Residents Groups and the list goes on…

The lead up to the event saw some extraordinary works of art voluntarily hand crafted by local residents which now remain as the legacy of Australia’s Centenary of Flight Celebrations.

These include the Houdini roadside banner, a painting by a local artist, the Diggers Rest Primary School Mosaic Mural, Replica radio controlled model biplane, and the 1/3 scale model of the viosin biplane which now hangs with pride in the Old School House in Diggers Rest.

Diggers Rest was no longer a sleepy hollow, many residents were eager to spread the word about the Centenary of Flight Celebrations.  This engaged residents in active promotion at shire wide events like Carols by Candlelight, the Djerriwarrh Festival, the Australia Day Ceremony, Lakeside Live and regular segments on local radio.

As a community, we wanted this to work and left no stone unturned. Many residents spent a lot of time researching, attending meetings, planning, distributing fliers, sourcing and collating memorabilia ready to showcase Diggers Rest.

A passion to learn more about our hero of yesteryear grew stronger and stronger gaining momentum at every level.  The Diggers Rest Lions Club President produced Houdini update newsletters and a group of residents held an information seminar and invited people interested to learn more about Houdini the escapologist and aviator to attend.

Our local website recorded unprecedented traffic in the lead up to the event.  A supplementary website was created and will now serve as an historical record of the event for future generations to enjoy.

Organisations like the Perth Mint and Australia Post have endorsed Diggers Rest with the title of the “First Powered Controlled Sustained Flight” of an aircraft in Australia.  Both organisations have produced token products in the form of a commemorative silver coin and a postage stamp ensemble featuring the Great Harry Houdini.

Apart from the “Walk to the Diggings” celebrations in 2001, this is the first time that many can ever recall the community of Diggers Rest joining together in search of a common goal.

The celebrations have provided our township with tangible memories with the installation of the interpretative historical panels at the Caroline Chisholm Shelter and the creative Houdini monument taking “pride of place” in the Stan Payne Reserve in Diggers Rest.

The 3 day celebrations which consisted of a ceremonial display and luncheon, a fly-over at the site where Harry Houdini made his original, now famous flight, an air show at Melton Airfield and a Community Family Day at Diggers Rest… A fun time had by all.

Diggers Rest has a wealth of history that has now ignited a dormant passion amongst residents to document and preserve these achievements with honour.  It has renewed the desire for ongoing community participation in new initiatives like the community garden project, the fresh food market and the development of an Aviation Archive Repository to be built right here in Diggers Rest.

On behalf of many residents, who feel privileged to reside in Diggers Rest within the Shire of Melton, do take this opportunity to say thank you.

David O’Connor
Diggers Rest
April 30, 2010